As I compiled my list of the top 10 NFL cornerbacks of all time I began to realize just how unheralded the players at this position have been over the years. Quarterbacks, wide receivers, running backs, and even kickers seem to get more adulation from fans and media alike, while cornerbacks dwell in relative obscurity. However, over the years there have been some notable exceptions to this rule. There have been a few cornerbacks in NFL history that have been so dominant at their position that their names are remembered in the annals of NFL football lore. Here are my picks for the top 10 NFL cornerbacks of all time:
10 – Mike Haynes – This 9 time Pro Bowler split his career between the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Raiders and was not only an outstanding cornerback, but also an excellent punt returner, using his speed and agility to elude those who sought to bring him down, and he even managed to bring two of those punts all the way back for touchdowns. His speed and his great anticipation made him a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks, and Haynes would routinely come seemingly out of nowhere to steal a sure completion with one of his 46 career interceptions.
9 – Herb Adderly – One of the few players in NFL history who can boast Super Bowl championships with 2 different teams, Herb Adderly was a star with both the Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys, and is an easy selection as one of the top 10 NFL cornerbacks of all time. He won 3 Super Bowl titles in all, and was a key contributor in the powerful defenses of both teams. Adderly finished his career with 48 interceptions, and a staggering 1,046 yards, and average of almost 22 yards per carry!
8 – Champ Bailey – With a name like Champ you know this guy was destined to be an NFL legend, and he lived up to that promise. His real name is Roland, but that just doesn’t have that legendary ring to it, so he decided to go with the nickname his mother had given him as a youth and the rest is history. Bailey has arguably been the greatest cornerback in the game over the past decade, starring for both the Washington Redskins and the Denver Broncos. He has an impressive 8 Pro Bowl appearances on his resume in that time, and he has already racked up an impressive 43 interceptions during his relatively brief career.
7 – Willie Brown – Another oldtimer from football’s glory days, Willie Brown was one of the best cornerbacks in both the NFL and the AFL during his playing days. He pulled down a respectable 54 interceptions over that span, and for 29 years held the record for the longest interception return for a touchdown in a Super Bowl when he picked off a Fran Tarkenton pass and scampered 75 yards for the TD.
6 – Ronnie Lott – Though Lott primarily played as a safety throughout his NFL career, he did spend some time at cornerback. Some would argue at his inclusion on this list of the greatest NFL cornerbacks, but this guy is arguably one of the greatest NFL players at any position and I would be remiss by not recognizing his achievements. A 4 time Super Bowl champion and 10 time Pro Bowler, Lott was the linchpin in the San Francisco 49ers defense that was so dominant during the 80s. Known for his devastating hits, Lott also had an incredible set of hands, picking off 63 passes, bringing back 5 for touchdowns. Had Lott played his entire career at cornerback he would have been a no-brainer for the number one spot on this list.
5 – Darrell Green – This two time Super Bowl champion became known throughout the league as the “Ageless Wonder” as he never seemed to lose a step, even in the latter years of his incredible football career. He played a mind boggling 20 consecutive seasons, all with the Washington Redskins, before finally calling it a career in 2002. During that time he hauled in 54 INTs, bringing back 6 for touchdowns, and was a 4 time recipient of the NFL’s Fastest Man award.
4 – Mel Blount – A 4 time Super Bowl champion with the dominant Pittsburgh Steelers team of the 1970s, Mel Blount’s career stats make him an easy selection for a high spot on the list of the greatest NFL cornerbacks in history. His bump and run style of defense, and his harassment of receivers was so effective that the NFL eventually changed the rules to allow receivers a chance. A good idea, considering that in 1972 Blount did not allow a single touchdown by a receiver he was covering. Blount’s athleticism also helped him make 57 career interceptions, and he even served time as a kick returner, averaging a staggering 25.3 yards a carry when he performed in that role.
3 – Night Train Lane – Dick “Night Train” Lane is another old school cornerback whose accomplishments were so great that he remains to this day one of the greatest to ever play the position. He was a 7 time Pro Bowler and finished his career with a total of 68 interceptions, including a staggering 14 INTs in a single season, an NFL record that still stands today.
2 – Deion Sanders – The original Neon Deion (not to be confused with Deion Branch) is one of the most gifted athletes the sport of football has ever seen. Sanders is not only one of the greatest NFL players ever, but he also had a professional baseball career during the same time. For years Sanders was one of the NFL’s biggest draws, unusual for a cornerback, but his flamboyant personality and his blazing speed made him one of those guys everyone just loved to watch. He is one of a select few NFL players to line up on both sides of the ball, and his 19 total defensive touchdowns as a back and a returner is an NFL record.
1 – Rod Woodson – This guy was an absolute beast at the cornerback position, and his incredible numbers bear that out. He recorded a jaw-dropping 71 interceptions during his career, rushing them back for 1,483 yards (an NFL record), and 12 touchdowns (an NFL record). He amassed 32 fumble recoveries during his career as well, and was regularly used as both a kickoff and punt returner. He appeared in the Pro Bowl 11 times during his playing days, and was a key member of the Super Bowl XXXV winning Baltimore Ravens. Sanders and Night Train might have their supporters, but for my money this guy is a no-brainer for the pinnacle on the list of the top 10 NFL cornerbacks of all time.