Emmitt Smith was a schmoe that got lucky? WRONG!
Let's discuss the last one first. (These stats are according to profootballreference.com). I decided to check both of them in the Barry vs Emmitt heyday, in the early to mid 1990's, when Dallas was winning their NFL championships, and Detroit was winning the NFC Central regularly. The numbers I checked kind of surprised me. I compared the two players with the second leading rusher on the team during those years, and decided to calculate their yards per carry. That's a measure of their offensive line's efficiency, right? In 1990, Emmitt Smith and Barry Sanders both had tons of carries, and did very well in the yards per carry department, but their backups tell a story, too. Barry's backup averaged 7.7 yards per carry, and Emmitt's backup was 4.0. Both are great numbers, but there's a big gap, don't you think? Then you look up the ensuing years, and with the exception of 1991, Barry's backups far outpaced Emmit's. In 1991, Emmit's backups had a 5.3 to a 5.0 for Sanders, but let's look at 92 and '93. Barry's backups 6.2 and 4.6, to Emmitt's 3.6 and 3.6. Looking on from that, Barry's backups would gain amazing ypc, to Emmitt's medicore ypc. So, for those football insiders, the "offensive line" theory, is wrong.
Durability. According to TheFreeDictionary.com, the definitions of durability are: 1. Capable of withstanding wear or decay. 2. Able to perform over a long period. Sanders' durability is one that is of wonderful proportions. Emmitt's was legendary.Sanders, according to NFL.com missed a mind-boggling six games his entire career, but Emmitt missed 5. I don't care how good your teammates are, unless you run to the end zone untouched every carry, you're going to get pounded and tackled and beaten. That will take its toll. Let's also take into account that in Sanders' later years, the Lions would take him out in goal line situations, given his propensity to take losses, explaining Emmit's 169 TD's to Barry's 99.
Mental toughness. Not every year Dallas had Emmitt was a Super Bowl or a playoff year. Some of those teams were equally bad, or worse than Barry's consistent playoff teams in the 90's. After another rebuilding year, Sanders quit. Just went. Emmitt held on, and only left reluctantly when Jerry Jones refused to sign him. Both ran their hearts out every game, but it can wear on you, and Barry, while extremely tough, wasn't quite as tough as Smith was.
People ask me if I'd take Emmitt over Barry from the beginning, and I would answer yes, every time. Emmitt was a better pass receiver, pass blocker, and was more of a team player than Sanders was.I never saw Sanders pull a Walter Payton and crush a bliting linebacker or safety, and I never saw him make a tough sideline catch with a safety hanging off of his back. While Sanders was more spectacular to watch, Emmitt was more substance. Cut away your team bias, and actually look at the numbers in front of you.