Darrell Green vs. Deion Sanders

Widely considered as the two best cornerbacks to ever play the game, Deion Sanders and Darrell Green had extremely successful but different careers in the NFL.  It’s fun to compare two players who played the same position so let’s compare Sanders to Green on a number of aspects.

Speed

On NFL Network, the NFL’s top ten list of fastest NFL players ranks Deion Sanders at number three, and Darrell Green at number one.  The program claims Sanders could run a 4.2 but according to http://www.gridironstuds.com/blog/the-fastest-40-yard-dash-ever/ Green, for a number of years, would clock in at 4.0 – 4.2.  Additionally, according to statisticbrain.com, Sanders ran a 4.21 while Green ran a 4.15.  Anything under 4.2 is practically unheard of.  That’s track worthy speed, maybe even Olympic worthy.  Green was known as the fastest man in the league for several years in a row, catching speedy running backs like Eric Dickerson and Tony Dorsett at the last second to prevent a touchdown.

Winner: Green.  Sanders was fast but no one, literally no one, was faster in the NFL than Darrell Green for most of the 1980s and 90s.

Big Plays

Deion Sanders: 68 yard punt return in NFL debut in 1989, six interceptions for 303 yards and three scores in 1994, nine interceptions returned for touchdowns in his career.

Darrell Green: 52 yard punt return for touchdown in a 1988 playoff game, two interceptions in 1992 Super Bowl, six interceptions returned for touchdowns in his career.

The interesting stat that stands out to me is that Sanders recorded 53 interceptions for 1,331 yards while Green registered 54 interceptions for just 621 yards.  Sanders had more than twice as much yardage on interception returns than Green.  This means that when Sanders picked off a pass, he was determined to run with the ball in his hands and score if possible.  It also means that Green probably dropped more passes or forced the quarterback to not challenge him as much as he would against Sanders.  As far as fumble recovering is concerned, Green’s 131 yards returning fumbles greatly outweighs Sanders’ 15.

Winner: Sanders gets the edge because he possessed that superstar attitude.  He wanted the ball in his hands more than Green and demonstrated how he was able to evade defenders as a ball carrier.

Versatility

Sanders ran back six punts for scores and three kicks for scores, ending his career with over 2,000 punt return yards and over 3,000 kick return yards.  Green recorded just over 600 yards returning punts and no touchdowns in the regular season.  Sanders also played stints on offense for most of his career.  In 1996, he was the second leading receiver on the Cowboys, second only to Michael Irvin.  In his career, Sanders caught 60 passes for 784 yards and three touchdowns, solid stats for any wide receiver.  Green on the other hand, played just on defense.  Not to mention, Sanders also had a nine year career in the MLB with several different teams.

Winner: Sanders.  A defensive back, punt returner, kick returner, wide receiver, and center fielder in one body?  That has to win.

Durability

Sanders played 14 years in the NFL with the Falcons, 49ers, Cowboys, Redskins, and Ravens.  He retired in 2001 but came out of retirement for the 2004 and 2005 seasons to play with the Ravens.  In comparison, Green played for 20 seasons straight, recording at least one interception for 19 consecutive seasons, an NFL record.  And, he did it all with the same team, the Redskins.  Sanders was 38 years old for his last NFL season while Green was 42.

Winner: Tie.  They each played an extremely long time, even if Sanders took a few years off and played in the MLB.

Tackling

According to pro-football-reference.com, Sanders averaged 35.2 tackles in his career whereas Green averaged 58.15 tackles.  This is the most overlooked stat when people talked about Sanders and Green.  I understand that people like focusing on turnovers when they place value on players but sound tackling is a fundamental in football.  As far as I can tell from the footage, Green was the better tackler.  He took smart angles and wrapped up.  He can also be seen chasing down running backs like Tony Dorsett and Eric Dickerson – not easy tasks.  Also, remember, Green played for 20 straight years.  All that head-bashing takes a physical toll on a player and he still played that long as a solid tackler.

Winner: Green.  He was just a little more consistent in the sound tackling aspect of football.

Verdict: Overall, when I look at Deion Sanders I see a flashy play-maker and when I look at Darrell Green, I see a consistent, reliable player with very few flaws.  When it comes down solely to who’s the better cornerback, I’ve got to give Darrell Green, the man who claims he’s never had one beer or smoked one cigarette, the slight edge because I think it’s absolutely insane and ridiculous that someone could play cornerback at such a high level for 20 years (1983-2002).  Football is so painful and Green stuck through it for so long.  That will win my vote any day.

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