Friday, June 14, 2019

Players of the Decade—1990s

By John Turney
This is the fifteenth in a series of picking players of the decades. We began with 1915-25, the 1920s, the 1925-35 period, the 1930s1935-45, the 1940s1945-55 the 1950s, 1955-65, the 1960s, 1965-75, the 1970s, 1975-85, the 1980s, 1985-95 and now the 1990s.

Here are the picks for the decade for the nineties—

1990s Player of the Decade
Emmitt Smith
Once again, like some previous picks, this one is easy.

1990s co-Defensive Players of the Decade
Bruce Smith and Junior Seau

Smith shares the 1990s award with Junior Seau. Even the best experts couldn't separate them.

Smith was the Defensive Player of the Year in 1990 (AP, PFWA, NEA), 1993 (PFWA, NEA)  and 1996 (AP, PFWA). Additionally, he was the NFL Defensive Lineman of the Year in 1990, 1993, 1994, and 1996 and the AFC Defensive Lineman of the Year in 1990, 1993-97. 

Seau, often errantly listed as a Middle/Inside Linebacker, was a WILL 'backer who was usually stacked. He was a big-play machine—from 1990-99 Seau averaged 11.5 tackles for loss a season (if you slide his 'decade' to 1991-00 the average rises to 12.5 a year). He also had 41 sacks in the decade, excellent for a linebacker who was not a "rush backer" or who played defensive end in nickel.

He was the NEA Defensive Player of the Year in 1992. He was voted the NFL/AFC linebacker of the Year from 1992-94 and in 2000. 

The honorable mentions for the 1990s are Reggie White and Rod Woodson.

1990s Player of the Decade Runner-Up 
Barry Sanders
Sanders had some competition, but in the end, he had the second-best decade in the 1990s of any player. Sanders was an amazing talent and could take any run to the house. He did have flaws—not much of a blocker, not a great receiver, and was often taken out of the game in short yardage and goal line situations but the positives outweighed those things. He's not a back we'd take if we had a choice of anyone (we prefer Emmitt, Marshall, Walter—guys who did it all) but his 1990s accomplishments were too good to ignore.

We are giving honorable mentions to Brett Favre, (3 MVPs, 1 ring), Steve Young (2 MVPs, 1 ring), Jerry Rice, and Bruce Matthews.

1990s Defensive Player of the Decade Runner-Up
Deion Sanders
Sanders barely trails Bruce Smith and Junior Seau. Sanders was the AP Defensive Player of the Year in 1994 and was First-team All-Pro eight times (six consensus). Sanders was also the NFC Defensive Player of the Year in 1993 and 1994 and he won Defensive Back of the Year awards in 1991, 1993, 1994, 1997, 1998, and 1999.

In the metric introduced by Stats, LLC, called the 'individual defensive passer rating' Sanders led the NFL three times (1994, 95, 97) and was second in 1996. Gannett News Service's Joel Buchsbaum, said in the early to mid-1990s, "(W)ill take the opponent's best receiver out of the game" and "is the best athlete and cover cornerback in the league" and later added, "Perhaps the best cover corner ever with great big-play potential".

While there are issues (due to baseball and other issues, a few times a season you had to start your nickel back. He won two rings and it could be argued he was the difference maker in those Super Bowl wins, helping the 49ers going over the hump in 1994 and then going to Dallas and getting them back on top.

He was an excellent kick and punt returner and also played offense and did it well.

In the final analysis, it was the "16/60" (16 games sixty minutes) factor that kept Sanders behind Smith and Seau. He just missed too much time hurt or playing baseball.

next up: 1995-05


  1. pro scout inc. liked Seau a lot. Do they break up the rankings to inside and outside backers?

  2. So I take it Seau was beating out guys like Donnie Edwards, Willie Thomas, and Seth Joyner for that top will spot?

  3. In base defense, yes. PSI has overall ranks, but also a base grade and a nickel grade...In nickel he was one of the 2 LBers (On Mike one Will) but as a stack backer he as also beating out guys like Ken Norton. He was, though, overall higher graded than any of the Mikes, too. He just did more things. And was better at making big plays

  4. That really shows why PSI is the best. They just go so in depth.

    Whoops I forgot about Sam Mills, he had some big years in early 90s and then mid 90s with Panthers. He seemed like a worthy mention.

  5. Would love a breakdown of Deion’s career breaking down his individual passer rating grades per season.