Football 101: No. 24, Deion Sanders
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Reminder that from here on, we’ll have a new Football 101 essay every Wednesday throughout the NFL season, leading right up to Super Bowl Sunday. And if you want to track the countdown, Brilliant Reader Ed B put together this awesome spreadsheet.
Recently, over at Football Perspective, two wonderful football historians — Bryan Frye and Brad Oremland — counted down the greatest football players in history. I have leaned on their knowledge and research throughout this countdown because I think they’re both incredibly smart about the game and because they really dug deep. I mean, Bryan counted down the THOUSAND best football players.
I have brought each of them up multiple times during this countdown, but today I want to focus specifically on them because, honestly, I think their disagreement on Deion Sanders is the clearest way to explain just what an oddity Sanders was.
Bryan ranks Deion as the 11th-best football player ever.
And Brad did not have Deion in his Top 100 (he ranked him 112th).
“Deion Sanders had a glaring hole in his game,” Brad wrote. “He wasn’t a tackler.”
“Teams didn’t pay him outrageous sums of money to tackle running backs on sweeps,” Bryan countered. “They paid him to remove the other team’s best receiver from the face of the earth. Sanders did that better than any other man ever to play.”
“He was,” Brad wrote, “sort of a defensive Cris Carter (“All Cris Carter does is catch touchdown passes”), who didn’t always give max effort on routine plays. … I’m not alone among analysts and historians in feeling that Sanders was overrated.”
“An interesting aspect of his personality is that he liked people to think he succeeded without really trying,” Bryan wrote, “but there have been several stories from teammates about Sanders carrying a DVD player with him and studying tape while teammates were relaxing. … Sanders was also known to keep detailed notes of offensive coordinators’ tendencies, route combinations, etc. … It was never as easy as he wanted us to think it was; he only made it look that way.”
Yes, Deion Sanders inspired strong feelings. He still does.