When people recall the decade of the 1990's, it usually brings back memories of great offense. Indeed, the 1990's were probably the greatest offensive times we'll ever see talent-wise, with future or current Hall of Fame players such as John Elway, Brett Favre, Emmitt Smith, Troy Aikman, Jerry Rice, Tim Brown, Barry Sanders, Marshall Faulk, Jim Kelly, Curtis Martin, Jerome Bettis, Joe Montana, Cris Carter, Michael Irvin, Thurman Thomas, Marcus Allen, Steve Young, Andre Reed, Warren Moon, Shannon Sharpe, and even Peyton Manning putting up significant numbers in the decade.
But one thing many people have forgotten was that the 1990's was also a time of great defensive players, and for that reason today I am counting down the top 10 defensive players of the 1990's.
And now, here are your Top 10 Defensive Players of the 1990's.
10. Kevin Greene - Greene entered the 90's as a Pro Bowl Left Outside Linebacker with the Los Angeles Rams. In 1993 Greene left LA and headed to Pittsburgh where he helped put the Steelers defense over the top. In 1994, Green lead the NFL in sacks, and in 1995 Greene helped lead the Steelers to the Super Bowl. Greene then left Pittsburgh and headed to Carolina where he again lead the league in sacks in 1996. Double digit sack seasons wold follow the next three years, and at 37, Greene would retire after the 1999 season, with four Pro Bowls and two first team All Pro bids in the 90's.
09. Warren Sapp - Warren Sapp is one of the best defensive players of all time, and that status was born in the mid 90's when Sapp entered the league. From 1997 to 1999 Sapp was the leader on a Tampa Bay defense that helped vitalize an awful franchise. In 1999 Sapp was named the NFL's defensive Player of the year, recording 12.5 sacks in 15 games.
08. Derrick Thomas - Derrick Thomas made the Pro Bowl every season from 1990 to 1997, playing by Right and Left side Outside Linebacker. In both 1990 and 1991 Thomas was selected as a first team All Pro, and in 1990 Thomas picked up an astounding 20 sacks in 15 games. Though a car accident took his life after the 1999 season, Derrick Thomas is not just a Hall of Famer, but also the face of the Chiefs franchise in the 1990's.
07. Cortez Kennedy - Few defensive lineman have had more dominant decades than Kennedy had in the 90's. A Pro Bowler in 8 of 10 season in the decade, Kennedy was also a three time All Pro, and 1992 Defensive Player of the Year. On top of that Kennedy spent his entire career with the Seahawks, whose losing ways in the 90's may be the reason that Kennedy has yet to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Kennedy finished the decade with 56 sacks, 10 forced fumbles, and close to 500 tackles, in 135 starts.
06. Rod Woodson - Woodson defined the cornerback position in the 90's with the Pittsburgh Steelers. From 1990 to 1994, Woodson would make five Pro Bowls and 4 All Pro teams. In 1993, Woodson would win the Defensive Player of the Year award. He'd go on to start a Super Bowl and play in another Pro Bowl with the Steelers before leaving the team in 1997. In 1999 the Ravens converted Woodson to Free Safety where he again made the Pro Bowl and lead the league in interceptions. In the 1990's, Woodson would pick up 10 defensive touchdowns.
05. Junior Seau - In the 1990's the San Diego Chargers were Junior Seau's team. The former USC Trojan hit the ground running in his professional career which began in 1990, and made the Pro Bowl every year from 1991 to 1999. In 1992, 1993, 1994, 1996, and 1998 Seau was a First Team All Pro, and in 1994 he helped the San Diego Chargers get to their first Super Bowl in franchise history. Though he was never a sacks machine, Seau had six 100+ tackle season.
04. John Randle - It is likely that no DT in NFL history will ever have the run that John Randle had from 1993 to 1998. In each of those six season Randle was selected to both the Pro Bowl and 1st Team All Pro teams. Randle also had double digit sacks in each of those seasons, including a league leading 15.5 in 1997. In 1998 the Vikings converted Randle to DE, where he continued to pick up double digit sacks in both 1998 and 1999. Randle finished the decade with over 100 sacks, a tremendous accomplishment.
03. Deion Sanders - Perhaps the most notorious defensive player of the 90's, if not NFL history, Sanders won two Super Bowls in back to back years with different teams, went to eight Pro Bowls, and was acquired six First Team All Pro selections. In 1994 with the 49ers, Sanders returned four interceptions for touchdown en route to an NFL defensive player of the year award. What made Sanders so dangerous was how fast he was; to this day no athlete in the league has shown the grace with speed that Sanders had in his prime. Sanders athleticism may be unmatched in NFL history, and his 1,331 career yards on interception returns are second in NFL history.
02. Reggie White - Let me set something straight; besides Lawrence Taylor, Reggie White is probably the best defensive player in NFL history. At the very worst White is the 3rd best. The reason that White, a nine time Pro Bowler and four time All Pro in the 90's is not considered the best defensive player of the 90's is because White's two best seasons were probably in 1987 and 1988 where he picked up 39 sacks in two seasons. Also, though White was still a dominant player in the 1990's, he was no longer the best defensive end in the league. That being said, White still won the defensive player of the year award in 1998, and helped the Packers win Super Bowl XXXI in 1996. White ended his career as the All-Time sacks leader, and if you count his USFL sacks, he'd still be #1. White briefly retired in 1999, but came back in 2000 with the Carolina Panthers citing that "God told him to." Had White played the 1999 season, it's likely I'd consider him the best defensive player of the decade.
01. Bruce Smith - An eight time Pro Bowler and six time All Pro in the 90's, Smith was crucial in helping the Bills go to four straight Super Bowls from 1990 to 1993. In both 1990 and 1996 Smith was named Defensive Player of the Year, the only player two win the award twice in the 90's. Though he never lead the league in sacks, he came in the top ten five times, as well as starting 20 playoff games. I've selected Bruce Smith as the best defensive player because of his consistency. He never lead the league in sacks but he was up there every season. For a defensive end Smith was also a tackles machine, picking up 608 tackles in the decade, including two 100+ tackle seasons. Although his 5 game 1991 season should even out with Whites missed 1999 season, Smith still started Super Bowl XXVI that season; one of four he would start in the 90's.