Wednesday, May 1, 2019

The NFL's Top Corners of All-Time

OPINION
By John Turney
As with the other posts in this series, 'All-Time' begins around 1950. We are leaving the two-way era choices to those better qualified than us.

A few things to remember, lists can be deceiving and sometimes there is not much difference in a player who is (for example) 12th and one who is 25th. Similarly, someone at 35 may not be tons better than someone who is 65th. So, think of them as groups—maybe the top fifteen are elite, the best of the best. The next 20 are great, a Hall of Fame level, then after that, the next 30-40 or so are a Hall of Very Good group and then some notables after that.

We used our own research, film watching and also mined thoughts from writers (Paul Zimmerman, TJ Troup, Joel Buchsbaum, and others), coaches, scouts, and former players to compile our list. So, you may not agree, but you cannot suggest we have not done our due diligence.

We included lots of stats, tackles, passes defensed, but don't put tons of stock in them. Passes defensed in the AFL in the 1960s were ridiculously high—essentially it was a "nearest defender" stats. Some teams were very low, not counting interceptions among them as they are now. So we corrected that but even interceptions can be deceiving.

Interceptions, of course, are always good, but sometimes a corner will have a big year then he's not thrown at the next year and some guys picked off an average of five or six pretty consistently. It's part of the axiom of  "All NFL statistics are skewed".

However, we decided to put in charts some of which we got help from by Pro Football Reference, ESPN, and other sites. But much of it pre-1998 is our own research.

Enjoy:

1. Night Train Lane
Lane would be outlawed today. While it's true that the game is more sophisticated now and the players today are bigger and faster and stronger, Lane is one of the throwbacks who could play today. He had sprinter's speed and very good size, listed at 6-1, 194, later reports were that he was closer to 6-2 and well over 200 pounds, likely around 210. He was the best hitting corner ever, and his hits now would not be legal and was a very good tackler in run support. He was also a great edge rusher on kick block units.

He had tremendous instincts and quickness, he was a gambler-type who, like all great ones, could bait passers into challenging him, only to pick the pass off and even take it the other way.

He scored six defensive touchdowns (five were picks) and played some wide receiver and defensive end in his time. He also played some safety with the Cardinals and was an All-Pro at that position. He still holds the NFL record for interceptions in a season with 14. Many of the picks that year came late in the season and thus was left out of the Pro Bowl since the voting took place before the end of the season, but he also wasn't All-Pro. We at PFJ would credit him for the 1952 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, even though there was no such award then.

Says coach, researcher, and author T.J. Troup, "Night Train is the best of all-time. After his legendary rookie season at right corrner where he intercepted 1 passes times in the last nine games of the regular season, he changed technique in 1953. He would align close to the line of scrimmage outside of a flexed receiver so he could see the receiver and quarterback. He would run with the man with ease and DENY the quarterback any kind of opportunity to throw, thus only a few picks that season."

"Though rock solid against the run, was not asked to do much run support at right corner. He was fearless in run support at left corner, and of course, hunting heads."

"He was traded to Cardinals, and played right safety and left safety first half of '54, then finishes at left corner. He would align at 7 on an angle to see the quarterback and receiver at the same time. He is superb in '56 (Cardinals only winning season for the decade) and is up and down in '57-'59, some terrific games, somewhere he is just there. He was traded to Lions and plays excellent pass defense in '60, yet some receivers with quickness burn him on occasion. Not in 1961 is at his peak in physical play his still-burning desire to make plays and was excellent in '62 in year eleven."

Bart Starr said, "Don't throw anywhere near him, he's the best there is". Herb Adderley went further and said, "He's the best defensive back ever to play this game." Johnny Sample also threw in his kudos for Lane as well.

George Allen also said Night Train was the best corner, ever, saying, "He was a gambler but he got away with it. He had guts and when he went for the ball he usually got it. Somehow he always seemed to get good position on a receiver. He was a competitor and he was someone who could make a play and turn a game around for you".

Lane, himself admitted that he gambled but explained, "It wasn't a gamble, it was a setup".

2. Deion Sanders

As a pure cover corner, Sanders ranks as the best. He was a smart, motivated and instinctive player. He was also a winner-type, a highly motivated and competitive person. He led the NFL in individual passer rating several times and was always a threat to take a pick for a score, which he did nine times in his career (plus one scoop and score as well).

In the metric introduced by Stats, LLC, called the 'individual defensive passer rating' Sanders led the NFL three times (1994, 95, 97) and was second in 1996. Gannett News Service's Joel Buchsbaum, a premier talent evaluator of the time said in the early to mid-1990s, "(W)ill take the opponent's best receiver out of the game" and "is the best athlete and cover cornerback in the league" and later added, "Perhaps the best cover corner ever with great big-play potential".

"Sanders gives everything he has: Said Jerry Glanville, "he works as hard as anyone on the field".

He was a top-flight kick and punt returner as well with six punts returned for touchdowns and three kickoffs went for touchdowns as well. Brett Favre said Sanders was the top corner he ever faced.

Sanders, though not often challenged managed 53 interceptions. He was eight-time All-Pro (six were consensus) scored on nine pick-6s and one touchdown on a fumble return). He also scored six touchdowns on punt returns, three more on kickoff returns and while playing wide receiver. three receiving. He's a Pro Football Hall of Famer and has a great chance to be named to the upcoming 100th Anniversary Team.

3. Rod Woodson
Another player with good size (6-0, 200) and great speed, having been a sprinter in college. He was as good a complete corner as there ever has been. He was great at run support and could cover any receiver in the NFL as was testified by Buchsbaum who called him a "prototype cornerback" and "no cornerback makes more big plays . . . a scoring threat on defense"

Marty Schottenheimer added, “He has tremendous personal pride in everything he does, including not only his play but his preparation. He’s got great ball skills…great hands.” Brett Favre named Woodson the second-best (behind Deion Sanders) as the best corner he faced.

 “Great players make great things happen. It’s not because of their talents. It’s because of their dimensions. He’s a solid guy and solid players make solid decisions in this game. You need a solid person who has confidence in himself and can get the job done." was Ronnie Lott's evaluation.

He was also a fine kick and punt returner (2 kickoffs returned for touchdowns and two punts for scores) as well as an excellent kick and punt blocker. He ended his career as a safety and was a Pro Bowler at that position as well.

Woodson scored 13 defensive touchdowns (12 pick 6s) and Woodson ranks third all-time with 71 career interceptions. He was a member of both NFL's 75th Anniversary team a First-team All-Decade team for the 1990s and the AP Defensive Player of Year for 1993.

Retired as NFL's all-time leader with 1,483 (since broken) yards off of 71 career interceptions. He had one Super Bowl win, a six-time All-Pro and voted to eleven Pro Bowls and was voted Hall of Fame in 2009.

4. Charles Woodson
And 18-year NFL vet, Woodson began his career like a bang, but via injuries and a little but of sub-par play he began his 'second' career in Green Bay at age 30. He played his best football there as a corner, then moving to slot corner in nickel/dime, allowing him to cover the slot, or blitz, play safety (just to mess with quarterbacks) or be a big help in run support. Like Rod Woodson, he moved to safety his final years and earned a Pro Bowl spot at that position at age 39.

“His talent level, mixed with his football IQ are a match that I’ve never seen in another player,” said his teammate Aaron Rodgers. Said Ronnie Lott declared that Woodson is the greatest. “Hands down,” Lott said. “His body of work has shown that time hasn’t affected him.”

Stated Buchsbaum, "He is what every team is looking for a big, strong corner who can jam a receiver on the line of scrimmage or run with him all over the field".

Woodson was the 1998 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award and the 2009 NFL Defensive Player of the Year award and was a four-time All-Pro (three consensus) and also was a four-time Second-team All-Pro selection and was voted to nine Pro Bowls. In the defensive passer rating Woodson had top 10 in rating allowed in times (a #1, a #4 and 2 - #5's).

This Woodson also scored 13 defensive touchdowns (11 pick 6s) and forced 33 fumbles had 20 sacks and 38.5 run/pass stuffs.

5. Herb Adderley
Adderley was a complete corner—he was a coverage expert, a hitter, and a ball hawk. The Packers had the best coverage for any team in the 1960s and Adderley was a major reason why that was true.  Adderley returned seven interceptions for touchdowns during regular seasons and another one  Super Bowl II. Adderley's 48 interceptions rank him high among the all-time leaders. His interception returns totaled 1,046 yards for a 21.8-yard average. He had seven scoring returns.

As for honors Adderley had six NFL title rings was First-team All-Pro five times, Second-team All-Pro twice times named to the Pro Bowl or was All-Conference seven times, and was a member of the NFL's 1960s All-Decade Team. 

Adderley didn't play bump-and-run coverage much, if at all—he liked to play off the receiver a bit. He reasoned that every once in awhile he was going to get faked out, "Everyone gets beat, but the question is if you can recover". Adderly could.

"Lombardi had certain players who he’d call into his office and talk to, others he’d talk to on the field or in the locker room. One thing I remember he said to me…He said I was the best cornerback he’d ever seen. In front of the whole team, he said I was the best athlete … I’ll always remember that."

"Adderley is the most difficult man in the NFL against a passing attack for three reasons," a leading receiver once explained. "First is his all-around ability. Second is the great help he gets from the rest of his defensive unit. The third is that Adderley himself is the best team player of any cornerback I know." "I'm just thankful he's playing for the Packers."

Tom Landry said that Adderley was the best "cluer" ever, meaning he could read offenses and diagnose the play and put himself in the right position. George Allen named him the best cornerback ever, "Adderley anticipated plays superbly. Wherever the ball was, he was. If it was a pass he was the best single coverage I ever saw, if it was a run he came up and got into it". Bart Starr stated that Adderley was "the greatest cornerback ever to play the game".

Adderley, like Night Train, was a hitter (though not quite as vicious) and Steve Sabol once said, "The only adjustment Adderley would have to make to play in the modern game was he'd have to eliminate "the clothesline tackle".

Adderley left the Packers after the 1969 season and played three years with Dallas, two of which were stellar, in 1971 he didn't allow a touchdown pass and helped the Cowboys secure their first Super Bowl trophy.

He was also a very good kick returner and kick blocker as well.

6. Willie Brown
Among our favorite NFL Films shots is the one of Willie Brown running towards the camera after picking off Fran Tarkenton in Super Bowl XI with the commentary, "Old man Willie". It was a fitting tribute to Brown who was among the best bump-and-run cover corners ever.

Brown began his career in Denver and ended up being a classic Raider. He played 16 seasons, 12 as a Raider. He was a seven-time All-Pro (five consensus) and was a Second-team All-Pro twice more. He was voted to nine Pro Bowls/AFL All-Star games. He picked off 54 passes and was credited with 331 passes defensed.

Chosen by Charlie Joiner as the toughest cornerback he faced in his career. And Paul Warfield was named Brown number two on the list of the best corners he faced. George Allen said, "Willie was a complete player, he had fast feet, fast hands the acrobatic ability to twist and turn in midair to react to the ball."  Lance Alworth has the final say, "(H)e's the best, no one close."

7. Mike Haynes

"The Shadow". Haynes was an All-Pro with the Patriots for seven seasons and a holdout forced a trade to the Raiders who he was again All-Pro and Pro Bowler, plus a co-winner of the 1985 NEA NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

A tall athlete (6-2) with smooth movements, he was very effective in man coverage, something Raider owner Al Davis coveted when he sent multiple draft picks to the Patriots for Haynes."He can catch up so fast and jump so high," Raiders safety Vann McElroy told Sports Illustrated of Haynes in 1984, "that if he's within four yards of a receiver, he's basically covered."

Said, Buchsbaum, "Physical skills are similar to Wright’s and his hands are better but the lack’s Wrights consistency and does too much gambling for the interceptions. In 1985, Buchsbaum said, "Nobody covers better." Steve Largent named Haynes as the best cornerback he faced in his career as did Kellen Winslow. He was said to have "made pass coverage look easy".

In all, Haynes was All-Pro five times (three consensus) and a Second-team All-Pro thrice more to go with his nine Pro Bowl selections.

8. Mel Blount
Blount took a few years to get up to speed but by the time Bud Carson arrived in 1972 Blount was ready for prime time and Carson's cover-2 defense was perfect for Blount who was a big, strong physical player. His style of roughing up receivers was a major impetus in the NFL putting in the one bump rule (within five yards of the line of scrimmage) in 1978, colloquially known as the "Mel Blount rule".

Blount got better every year and in 1974 he was the AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year as he led the NFL with 11 interceptions and helped the Steelers win their second straight Super Bowl.

He ended his career with 57 interceptions and two more rings and a total of dour All-Pro selections (one consensus) and two additional Second-team selections.

"Tall, quick, and strong" is how Harold Jackson described him when he named him the best cornerback he ever faced as did Paul Warfield. He was a good kick returner, too.

9. Jimmy Johnson

A Paul Zimmerman favorite, Johnson was a great man-coverage corner for the San Francisco 49ers who was elected to the Hall of Fame. He was a four-time All-Pro and a four-time Second-team All-Pro four times.

Early in his career, he played some offense at receiver and also spent a year as a safety. Zimmerman said that in his early career he "couldn’t record much of anything because he didn’t make any plays, and the reason for that was that no passes were thrown in his direction" And later Zim said, "I’d never seen anyone as smooth and graceful in his pass coverage."

Ultimately Zimmerman definitively stated that "The two best cornerbacks in the history of the NFL are Night Train Lane and Jimmy Johnson. Case closed."

10. Darrelle Revis
"Revis Island" was the nickname given to Revis in 2009 when he shut down the best receivers in the game all year long. During that season, Revis matched up with Randy Moss (twice), Terrell Owens (twice), Andre Johnson, Steve Smith, Reggie Wayne, Roddy White, Marques Colston and Chad Johnson. In those 10 games, that Murder's Row of Pro Bowl receivers combined for 27 receptions for 224 yards (or 2.7 catches for 22.4 yards per game) and a single touchdown. Revis, meanwhile, intercepted four passes during those games.

His coach Rex Ryan said, "This was the best year a corner has ever had, the most impact a corner has ever had in the National Football League."  Brandon Marshall added, "I've been around some great ones ... practiced against Champ Bailey, last three years, practiced against Charles 'Peanut' Tillman, played against some great guys. I didn't play against Deion, I don't think. But Darrelle Revis is the best in the league. Ever. Ever. Ever."

2009 was not the only top season Revis had, in the Stats, LLC., individual defensive passer rating Revis was first in 2009 and also in 2011 and was third in 2015.

11. Aeneas Williams
Williams had an impressive rookie season in 1991. He had his first career pick in his NFL debut, a game in which he also deflected four passes. He finished the year tied for the most interceptions in the NFC with six. For his efforts, he was named the NFC Defensive Rookie of the Year by the NFLPA.

He earned a Pro Bowl nod and All-NFC acclaim for the first time in 1994 when he added another conference interception title with a career-high nine interceptions. Williams was also named First-Team All-Pro four times and a Second-team All-Pro once. He was voted to Pro Bowl eight times and he was selected to the NFL's All-Decade Team of the 1990s.

In all, he registered 55 interceptions which he returned for 807 yards and nine touchdowns. He also shared the NFL record for longest fumble return of 104 yards, one of three scoop and scores in his career, giving him a total of 12 defensive scores.

Williams was overshadowed to a large extent since his career was roughly the same time period as Deion Sanders. However, as it was once put by one coach at Suber Bowl XXVI, "At his peak Sanders does give you more in terms of coverage, but remember, Sanders missed a lot of time with injuries and baseball, so for a month of the season you were starting your nickel back, with Aeneas he's never missed a game or a start, so that speaks to dependability. Also, Aeneas gives you more in run support and in tackling and in blitzes"

Michael Irvin said about Williams, "It's a personal challenge. Aeneas has good speed, good reaction. You try and attack a corner's weakness, but it's hard to find a weakness in Aeneas. He ain't no fool." Said Buchsbaum, "combines smarts with ability . . . a supersmart savvy veteran who is a master of his craft but is not flashy".

12. Richard Sherman
In 2013 Deion Sanders declared Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman was the best cornerback in the NFL.

According to Pro Football Focus, "Since the start of 2013, Sherman has been targeted 310 times and has allowed 149 receptions for 2,036 yards, eight touchdowns and has tallied 20 interceptions in the regular season.  Among 86 cornerbacks with at least 200 targets in that span, Sherman not only ranks first among cornerbacks in passer rating allowed (51.2), he also ranks first in catch rate (48.1%), first in coverage snaps per reception allowed (18.5), fourth in coverage grade (91.6) and fourth in forced incompletion percentage (17.7%)."

Sherman had an NFL-best 32 interceptions from 2011 to 2017. He had eight interceptions in both 2012 and 2013 and had four in one season as recently as 2016. In the individual defensive passer rating, a Stats, LLC., metric Sherman had led the NFL once, was second twice and had two other seasons in the top ten.

Said, Doug Farrar, "After a slight decline in 2016 (it was later revealed he had been dealing with a knee injury throughout the year), Richard Sherman had a great start to the 2017 season before tearing his Achilles. He was able to play more press-man coverage this year, looking more fluid and fast in his movements as the defense evolved to be less zone-oriented. It's questionable whether Sherman will ever be the same again as he turns 30 years old this offseason and recovers from such a massive injury."

Says T.J. Troup, "Though was asked to play cover 3 zone corner for Seattle, this is misleading—since when a man enters your zone, you have him thus almost like man to man. He is verbal, aggressive, and one of the best in the last 25 years of playing the ball that is thrown high. He is adequate in run support, yet was not asked to do that a whole lot and is solid technique on backpedal, and running with the receiver, though he is not the fastest."

In 2018 Sherman signed with the 49ers after an Achilles injury ended his stay in Seattle and he responded with a Pro Bowl-level season, he was rarely targeted—a sign of respect from opposing quarterbacks. Former Seattle linebacker Dave Wyman went on to call Sherman "the best tackling corner in NFL history". Now, Night Train Lane and Herb Adderley fans may take issue with that, but of the post-1960s group, Wyman is likely right in naming Sherman tops in tacking.

“I think I’ve got about four or five more (seasons) in me,” Sherman said. “At some point, everybody makes the transition to safety if you’re smart enough to play that game. I’ll probably do that in a couple years, or whatever the team needs.”

13. Champ Bailey
A 12-time Pro Bowler and newly elected Hall of Famer, Bailey was an all-around corner—great in coverage and would force the run.

He had a top 10 passer rating allowed amongst CB's 3 times (#3 '06, #7 '00, #7 '12) but he never led the league or Conference. He also had more major 'dips' in that stat than the players ahead of him—he'd be excellent then have years where he wasn't in the top 20 for example.

His twelve Pro Bowls are impressive to a degree, but when you factor in that fans began to vote for the Pro Bowl in the mid-1990s and that Denver has a strong fan base known for actively participating in the Pro Bowl voting it's no wonder that Bailey has twelve and some less-than-deserving safties late in their careers got to a few Pro Bowls late in their careers.

The better gage is the consensus All-Pro selections and Bailey was afforded that three times (plus one First-team selection) and was a Second-team All-Pro three more times. He led the NFL in passes defensed once (2002) and in interceptions (2006) and was also very good in run support with a lot of tackles for loss in both the run game and short passing game.

Buchsbaum, "Has replaced Deion Sanders as the best cover corner in the league". Like Sanders, he has an uncanny knack to play the ball but unlike Deion, he is quite willing to come up and support against the run and to tackle and the meaning of being a team player."  Steve Smith, said that Bailey was the best cornerback he had faced in his career which is an impressive endorsement.

14. Ty Law
In the defensive passer rating metric, Law was top 10 in rating allowed 4 times (a #1, a #3, and 2 #4's). He was a Second-team All-Decade pick for the 2000s and twice an All-Pro and a five-time Pro Bowler.

Peyton Manning's comment was "When Ty is admitted into the Hall of Fame, I should be his presenter because I did more to put him there than anyone else, He was like another receiver out there.'' Said his coach, Bill Belichick, "You couldn't give him help. He didn't want it. He trusted himself and we trusted him. He could do anything we asked: play press corner, play zone, play man, tackle and catch.''

15. Louis Wright
Said Buchsbaum, “Is a prototype cornerback, Wright forces the sweep in textbook fashion and is so adept at coverage he is often asked to cover Lynn Swann, John Jefferson and Cliff Branch with no help." Several years later he added this, "(H)e is so good teams rarely throw near him, thus he doesn't get the publicity of the 'you get yours, I will get mine corners' who give up long passes but get interceptions . . Wright can do no wrong according to the experts . . . covers like glue."

Harold Jackson named him the second-best he ever faced, "very tough on man-to-man coverage". Hall of Famer Steve Largent also named Wright the second-best corner he ever faced.

USA Today's Gordon Forbes said, "Way down the interception list because quarterbacks throw the other way." Cliff Christl reported, "Most receivers say Wright is the best man-on-man defender in football. He is hardly ever thown at anymore . . . He's so big and fast he looks like he's running the route". Wright supports the run better than any corner in football"

16. Darrell Green
Green played forever and was a seven-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro in 20 seasons. In 1991, his ninth season he was a consensus All-Pro and helped the Redskins win their third Super Bowl (Green's second).

Green was a Second-team pick on the NFL 1990s All-Decade team, he picked off a pass in NFL-record 19 straight seasons and ended his career with 54 career interceptions and was voted to the Hall of Fame in 2008.

He is the fastest of all the corners on this list, and among the smallest but used good positioning and smarts to cover taller receivers.

17. Patrick Peterson
Doug Farrar, "As the Arizona Cardinals played more zone coverage in 2017, especially in the first-half of the season, Patrick Peterson's production dipped despite maintaining his usual high level of play. He continues to be one of few corners who regularly follow a receiver, proving capable of matching up with any receiver archetype. His season was overshadowed by other corners, but he remains a top-tier player at the position with his blend of incredible athleticism and solid technique.

Says author T.J. Troup, "His mental framework of accepting all challenges is shown in his body language. He is a solid run defender, yet corners of today must play the pass first, and he ranks near the top. He has a smooth backpedal, can shift his hips and turn and accelerate. He plays ball in flight well, thus can make the pick and excels at both man and zone coverages."

Peterson is already a four-time All-Pro (plus one as a return man) and a seven-time Pro Bowls (again, one as a returner) and is likely a lock for the 2010s All-Decade team. If he keeps this pace up for a few more years he's going to be on the Hall of Fame level.

18. Emmitt Thomas
Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2008 and the Chiefs Hall of Fame in 1986, Thomas played cornerback for 13 seasons with Kansas City (1966-78) and finished his career with a franchise-record 58 interceptions including an AFL-leading nine in 1969 and an NFL-leading 12 in 1974 (he also led in yardage and in TD scores in 1974).

He was a member of both of Kansas City’s Super Bowl squads, registering four INTs during the club’s postseason run in 1969 that culminated with a win in Super Bowl IV. Thomas was All-Pro twice (1974 and 1975) and a Second-team All-Pro in 1969 and 1971. He went to five Pro Bowls/AFL All-Star games. All-told he got post-season honors in eight of his thirteen seasons.

"He was a great athlete with tremendous speed and height," Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson said of Thomas. "He could stay with a guy. You could put him on the other team's top receiver, and he could do one heck of a job."

Bobby Bell said. “Emmitt was a very intelligent, smart football player. He was a scholar of the game. The stats show it. The interceptions, the Pro Bowls. It was all there. He had all the phases of the game down pat.”

Thomas was also a student of the game. The Chiefs ran an early version of the Cover 2 in Thomas' heyday, but he wasn't sitting in underneath zone coverage. It was a complex, multifaceted scheme for its era, and Thomas transitioned smoothly from the high-flying antics of the AFL to the more sophisticated (and rugged) post-merger NFL, even as the rest of the Chiefs organization faded from relevance.

19. Lem Barney
Barney was the NFL's defensive rookie of the year in 1967 when he led NFL with 10 picks and 3 touchdowns. Was chosen as one of the two best cornerbacks he faced by Charley Taylor (Night Train was #1).

He was an all-around player, serving as the Lions punter for a couple of seasons and was a good kick and punt returner. He was All-Decade in the 1960s and was All-Pro in 1968 and 1969 and was Second-team All-pro in 1967, 1970 and 1973 and was a Seven-time Pro Bowler.

He finished his career with 56 picks and returned them for over 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns plus he returned four kicks for touchdowns (including one missed field goal).

20. Mel Renfro
Renfro was an All-Pro safety, but also a great corner. It's difficult to classify him as either one because his career was split almost evenly, like Jack Butler and some others.

Was reported to be a cerebral player, something thinking too much, a bit on the sensitive time, but an extremely talented and smooth athlete.

He was a ten-time Pro Bowler and a four-time All-Pro, however, it seems as highly rated as he was as a safety he might have been a better cornerback. So that is where we've listed him. He was considered a very smooth "classy" corner. He was a fine kick- and punt returner, too.

21. Roger Wehrli
Ranked in top five by Proscout Inc., in 1976-79. John Madden called him a "one-stepper" a corner who can match a route change by a receiver with one step, as opposed to two or three steps, which lesser, but good corners, can do. "Consistency is Wehrli's forte", said Cliff Christl.

Teammate Larry Wilson said, "I've never seen a man come up with big plays so consistently. He's uncanny". Roger Staubach said he was the cornerback he "avoided the most".

Wehrli was a seven-time Pro Bowler and was All-Pro in 1970, and 1974-77. He was also Second-team All-Pro in 1971. His major contribution of special teams was being one of the better kick holders ever—scoring a touchdown on a fake in his first and last NFL season.

22. Albert Lewis
Lewis possessed outstanding recovery speed, great turn-and-run agility, and a 38-inch vertical leap. He innovated the "catch" technique of jamming receivers off the line, waiting for them to make their first move before delivering a jolt up near the top of the shoulder pads. The catch technique made it harder for receivers to run quick slants on defenders, making it an ideal counterattack against the West Coast offense.

Said Buchsbaum, "Nobody can cover like Lewis, he's the best man-to-man defender in the game". And none other than Jerry Rice stated that Lewis was “the toughest cornerback he ever faced". Outside of Darrell Green and Deion Sanders, he may be the fastest player on our list having been times in the 4.35 40-yard dash and he also had very long arms which helped him defend quick slants and also to block punts. Lewis is also likely the best punt blocker in the history of the game.

 According to Willie Brown, who was the Raiders secondary coach in the 1980s and 1990s said, "Albert Lewis, he's the best." And Brown went on to praise Lewis's ability to bump a receiver on the line of scrimmage.

He was one of the top two nickel backs in the NFL in 1983 (as a rookie) and an All-Pro in 1989 and 1990 and a Second-team All-Pro in 1986. He probably should have gotten post-season honors in 1985 as well.

23. Lester Hayes
A college linebacker converted to a cornerback and was gaining honors as early as his third season. In his fourth season, 1980 he picked off 13 passes plus had a number more in playoffs and was the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year. Gained some weight and his trademark stickum (which he says he used to prolong bump-and-run coverage) was banned in 1981 and he struggled. However, he rebounded in 1982 and was a top-flight cover corner until his career ended. He could block some kicks, too, though not what we'd say was elite in that category.

He was five Pro Bowl selections and was First-team All-Pro in 1980, 1981, 1983 and 1984 (1980 consensus) and a Second-team All-Pro selection in (1979) and a was an NFL 1980’s All-Decade Team pick. John Jefferson, at the height of his talents, called Hayes, 'The best I've faced".

24. Ronde Barber

A primary zone corner, Barber was a unique player. He could jam receivers and disrupt their routes as is required by the Tampa-2 defense. He'd also move into the slot in nickel situations where he was great at run force (63.0 stuffs on run and pass plays) and at corner blitzes (28 sacks) for a total of 91 plays behind the line of scrimmage, an amazing total for a corner.

He ended with 1231 tackles, 211 passes defensed, 47 picks (8 returned for scores) 12 fumbles recovered (4 returned for touchdowns). He also blocked three kicks and recovered one blocked kick for a touchdown and scored a safety and returned one punt for a touchdown. In NFL history no one scored defensive more times than Barber when you include the playoffs 13 TDs and one safety for 14 defensive scores). Barber was a big-play machine.

So he wasn't a stellar man-to-man cover corner, he was a great zone corner and was a big part of the success for the Bucs defense. He was a second-team member of the 2000s All-Decade Team and a three-time All-Pro (plus twice a Second-team All-Pro) and a five-time Pro Bowler. In addition, Barber was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week nine times, tied for the most-ever for a defensive player (tied with Lawrence Taylor and Bruce Smith—though in fairness in LT's first three seasons the NFL didn't have an award).

25. Abe Woodson 
A largely forgotten player who did a lot of things well. He was a first-class kick- and punt returner on top of being a great cover corner. He was a five-time All-Pro and a five-time Pro Bowler. He was one of the first corners that quarterbacks avoided he was just too good at blanketing receivers.

Coach Troup's comments of Woodson, "He was, of course, was the best kickoff return man in the league from 1959-'64. Though he did play some at right safety, he was almost always the right corner for 1959 & '60. His bump-and-run man-to-man coverage was the best in the league. He was quick, fluid, and played the ball well in flight. Not a lot of interceptions, but because he was always on top of his man, there was no room for QB to get the ball in there. His best trait was simply his ability to quickly change direction----great feet, and speed."

26. Dick LeBeau
LeBeau faced challenges other corners didn't. The Lions liked to dog their right linebacker and that left LeBeau alone on an island a lot.

He picked off 62 passes which is still in the top five ever among cornerbacks. He was a three-time Second-team All-Pro (1964, 65, 70) and was All-Conference in 1966 and a Second-team All-NFC in 1971.

27. Lemar Parrish
Parrish was the fastest defender in the Bengals secondary, so he often drew coverage against Paul Warfield, Lynn Swann, Cliff Branch and other speedsters of the era. He was renowned for his deep man coverage ability and his toughness when taking on bigger receivers or playing run support, not to mention his ball-hawk capabilities.

"Fred O' Conner, his defensive backs coach with the Redskins, "I cannot imagine how good the corner would be who is better than Lamar. He's as good as any who ever played the game." Jack Pardee said, "Lemar occupies a lonely island every week".

He was a three-time All-Pro and a seven-time Pro Bowler (plus one as a returner). From time to time we hear the yarn than Parrish went to more Pro Bowlers than teammate Ken Riley and because Parrish was a good punt returner and that gave him an advantage. That did occur in 1970. However, none of the other Pro Bowl selections that Parrish received were due to his prowess as a returner. Other players filled that slot on the Pro Bowl teams, not Parrish.

In 1972 he had a good year as a returner but no Pro Bowl. In 1974 he was a dominant returner but he was Second-team All-Pro as well, as a cornerback, not a returner, so that Pro Bowl was based on his play as a corner. We suspect some of the brass in the Bengals organization were trying to push Riley for the Hall of Famer over Parrish (who was not a career-long Bengal) and that is how the 'returner knock' reared its head.

28. Erich Barnes
And underrated player by many contemporary fans and writers. He was a big player (6-3), in the Night Train Lane mold. He was All-Pro in 1961 and 1964 and a Second-team All-Pro twice. He was All-Conference/Pro Bowl eight times. he intercepted 45 passes and seven went for scores and he also had one scoop and score.

Coach Troup's comments are, "Erich Barnes first two years in 1958 & '59 were outstanding. Strong vs. the run, and his speed sure helped in pursuit, though almost always at corner, the Bears did try him at safety (he was adequate). Barnes was the best run support left corner in football in the early sixties."

"He played the ball well in flight, he was sure-handed. His longs arms and angles in recovery are shown on film time and again. When Erich was beaten, he got over it quick yet his strongest trait was his ability to recover when beaten."

He was also a big hitter, "Barnes himself once said, "The harder you hit the better it is. I like to take the game to the offensive ends, make them feel like they are on defense. I figure the harder I hit, the rougher I play the better it is for me".

He was a fine kick blocker as well, one of the top twenty ever in our view.

29. Charles Tillman
"Peanut" played 13 years and was All-Pro once, but was on at least a Pro Bowl level for several other seasons. He picked off 38 passes and forced an amazing 44 fumbles. He had eight pick sixes and had a ninth defensive touchdown on a scoop and score.

30. Eric Allen
Buchsbaum, "not elite like Sanders but always a good cover guy. Always a big-play guy but always had Reggie White playing in front of him". Allen went to six Pro Bowls and was All-pro once and a Second-team All-Pro twice. he picked 54 passes and took right to the house, along with one fumble recovery.

31. Ken Riley

Terry Bradshaw remarked, "I've had about 90 passes picked off and number 13 over there has about ten of them." Riley was All-Pro in 1983 and a Second-team All-Pro in 1975 and 1976. The "Rattlesnake" was also First- or Second-team All-AFC in 1975, 76, 81, and 83.

He ended his career with 65 interceptions, second all-time among cornerbacks. Actually, when one takes out the interceptions Night Train Lane had when playing safety, Riley becomes number one among corners in picks.

There is often talk of Riley and the Hall of Fame. And it rests on his total number of interceptions. However, when polled year after year the players and coaches left him off their ballots. The media noticed him as All-Pro once, Second-team twice, which is sparse for a Hall of Famer. And when we add in Proscout, Inc., who never had him higher than 31st and he was never a 'blue' corner we have to say this:  At some point doesn't someone have to say he was a great player to make the Hall of Fame?

If the media doesn't and the players and coaches didn't and the major scouting firm doesn't then is picking off a lot of passes (did teams avoid Lemar Parrish?) enough for the Hall of Fame?

32. Raymond Clayborn
Clayborn was the corner who got picked on when Mike Haynes was playing the opposite corner but be grew into a fine corner in his own right—An All-Pro in 1983 and 1986 and a Second-team All-Pro in 1985 (he was All-Pro as a kick returner in 1977).

He was said to "play the run with abandon" and had terrific recovery speed but also reported that he maybe should have been "better than he was." Buchsbaum reported this, "A complete corner who rarely gets beaten deep and though he can no longer run a 9.5 he can stay up with the speedsters".

A true ballhawk, excellent in zone coverage. John Madden used to say that Walls benefitted from played on the same side as Ed Jones, and with Jones' height and reach it affected balls that went to that side, allowing a corner to make plays on balls he wouldn't be able to otherwise.

Nonetheless, he had a great five-year run then five years after that, played role in Bill Belichick's 1990 Giants defense that shut down the K-Gun passing game in the Super Bowl.

Walls led the NFL in interceptions three times, was a four-time Pro Bowler and a three-time All-Pro.

34. Pat Fischer
Fischer played seventeen years and picked off 56 passes in his career. He was All-Pro in 1964 and 1969 and Second-team All-Pro in 1965 and 1972. He was also All-NFC in 1975.

Said George Allen, "Pat Ficher was one of the most amazing athletes I've ever seen. He was short but could really leap and could somehow cover the tallest receivers on the highest throws . . . He was a tough cookie, a real bump-and-run guy". 

He was one of the best 'axers' of the time, a move that allowed a player to throw a body block at the receiver at the line of scrimmage and take him out of the pattern. Fischer also liked to think he perfected the moved of getting his hands in-between the receiver's arms and separating them to cause the receiver to be unable to complete the catch.

35. Bobby Boyd
Boyd was a 1960s All-Decade pick and a four-time All-Pro and averaged 6.3 interceptions per season in his nine-year career. He excelled in the Colts roll zone coverages and would come up and support the run. He was also a very good holder for placekicks.

George Allen reported, "Bobby Boyd was small, but he was a lot heavier than Pat Fischer. He wasn't the fastest fellow but he was quick enough. The Colts—and Don Shula—used him very well. They used him in a lot of zone defense and he was maybe the best zone defender I ever saw."

36. Aqib Talib
A fine man to man corner, an ideal fit for a Wade Phillips defense. He's a five-time Pro Bowler and was an All-Pro in 2016. He's played eleven seasons and already has ten pick sixes.

37. Hanford Dixon
Twice an All-Pro and once a Second-team All-Pro and a three-time Pro Bowler. He was a Pro Bowl level player from 1983-85 as well.

38. Asante Samuel
A two-time All-Pro and a Second-team All-Pro once and a four-time Pro Bowler, Samuel earned two Super Bowl rings with the Patriots and led the NFL in interceptions twice. Also credited with leading the NFL in passes defended twice as well.

39. Troy Vincent

Vincent was a five-time Pro Bowler and an All-Pro once and a Second-team All-Pro once as well. He led the NFL in picks once and passes deflected once.

40. Gary Green
"Cocky" Similar in style to Pat Thomas, Buchsbaum, "Tough hitter who covers well, a yo-yo his first couple of years who is playing as well as anyone . . . he is extremely physical on the run and is a top pass defender with remarkable recovery and acceleration".  Cromwell, "Loved the game.  Played hard.  He played on his raw talent."

He received post-season honors from 1981-85, and was an honorable mention on Paul Zimmerman's 1980 All-Pro team, just losing the nod to Pat Thomas, ironically and was called the best of the rest by Cliff Christl in 1979 (meaning only second to his All-Pro picks that year) and was on Christl's 1980 All-Pro team—the point being he was getting major notice in the two seasons prior to his years with "honors". In 1980 Christl said, "a complete corner who seldom gets beat".

Green was also a top kick blocker rushing from the edge on kicks and punts

41. Nnamdi Asomugha
Picked off eight passes in 2006 and then teams avoided him after that and he picked off just seven the rest of his career. Went to three Pro Bowls from 2008-10 and intercepted just two passes in those three seasons combined, which illustrates the point.

He was First-team All-Pro twice and Second-team All-Pro twice. He signed a big-money contract with the Eagles in 2011 and was not the same player he was in Oakland.

42. Cornell Green
A four-time All-Pro at corner before he moved to safety. He was a big man, (6-3, 210) but was more of a finesse player than a big-time hitter. As a safety was an All-NFC once and a Second-team All-NFC. He was a five-time Pro Bowler, three as a corner.

We are listing him as a corner, same as we did for Renfro because, though close, we think both were better at corner than safety. His size and long arms helped him in coverage and in kick blocking. He was likely the best Cowboys edge rusher on punts and placekicks to this day.

43. Sam Madison
First-team All-Pro in 1999 and 2000 and a Second-team All-Pro in 1998 and 2002. He was All-Pro from 1999-02. Madison was noted for excellent man coverage and for that five-year period may have been the best cover corner in the NFL.

44. Frank Minnifield
A small, tough corner, aggressive. He was a two-time All-Pro, a four-time All-Pro and was a Second-team pick on the 1980s All-Decade team.

45. Monte Jackson
Jackon was rated a top corner from 1975-77 by Proscout, Inc., he has fast (4.5) and strong than almost any corner ever, benching 350 pounds and around 190 pounds. he has one of the two best seasons by a corner of the 1970s in 1976 when he picked off ten passes, returning three for scores. He was a consensus All-Pro that year and was All-Pro again in 1977.

He got into weight lighting even more and with an up-and-coming Pat Thomas the Rams shipped Jackson to the Raiders for the old Lawrence Welk deal, "a one, a two, a three" as in a 1st rounder, a 2nd rounder and a 3rd round pick.

Jackson never played as well with the Raiders as he did with the Rams, losing his starting job in 1980, though he had a mini-comeback in 1982 as a nickel back.

However, people remembered how good he was at his peak. On an ABC Monday Night Telecast Fran Tarkenton said, "He was the best". Harold Jackson named him one of the five best he faced and added, "he can do it all".

Said Buchsbaum, "Can cover and play the ball as well as anyone. Sticks to his own corner of the field instead of coming up against the run. Also has shown little inclination to play hurt". Said his teammate Nolan Cromwell, "Probably the most talented CB I played with. He had great speed and agilities but questioned his desire for the game. "

46. Butch Byrd
A three-time All-AFC pick and a five-time AFL All-Star star selection. Byrd had a difficult task in the AFL with all the great receivers in that league and the passing game that was prevalent, still, he really upgraded the corner play for the Bills in 1964 and helped them to back-to-back AFL titles and averaged six picks a season in his seven seasons with the Bills.

47. Chris Harris
A starter, but moves inside to slot corner in sub defenses and year-in and year-out plays at a high, high level. He's been All-Pro once and a Second-team All-Pro twice and gone to four Pro Bowls. In just eight seasons he has 19 picks and 21 run/pass stuffs. He's always, seemingly, making key plays.

48. Robert James
Knee injuries ended his career early, but was according to Joe DeLamielleure, "He was one of the most amazing players that I ever played with...he was a defensive end in college...I think he was the reason they changed the “ bump-and-run”...he stopped receivers in their tracks... instinctive, fast, knowledgeable and on top of that he was one of the strongest players, pound for pound, that I ever played with...one of the greats."

In his short career, he was All-Pro twice and a three-time Pro Bowler. The sky was the limit for a guy (like Monte Jackson) that was a shutdown corner for a short time but for that time they were the best in the business.

49. Dale Carter
Said Buchsbaum. "Can cover almost as well as Deion (Sanders) and is a lot more physical but has too many lapses in concentration and technique". "When he is on the top of his game he can dominate almost like Deion". If he could improve his concentration and learned to control his temper he could be a combination of Rod Woodson and Sanders."

50. Antoine Winfield
Winfield was a three-time Pro Bowler. He was extraordinary in making plays in the backfield, most on run support. He ended his career with 59.5 stuffs, second only to Ronde Barber.

51. DeAngelo Hall
A three-time Pro Bowler had five pick-sixes and returned five fumbles for touchdowns for a total of ten defensive scores.

52. Dave Whitsell
Very good cover corner, a Second-team All-Pro in 1967 when he led the NFL in picks. Was very solid from 1961-63. He was the best edge kick blocker ever and a fine holder

53. Terry McDaniel
McDaniel was a three-time Second-team All-pro and was selected for five Pro Bowls. Scored eight defensive touchdowns (six interceptions and two fumbles returned).

54. Donnell Woolford
A Pro Bowler in 1993 and All-NFC in 1994 he was a solid corner.

55. Brent Grimes
A twelve-year veteran, a one-time Second-team All-Pro, and a four-time Pro Bowler. He was also the NFL Alumni Defensive Back of the year in 2011.

56. Antonio Cromartie
And All-Pro in 2007 when he led the NFL in picks and was a four-time Pro Bowler. He had a bog interception yer in 2007 but his best football and highest grades were with the Jets.

57. Stephon Gilmore
One of the NFL's top corners currently, he's been All-Pro once and a Pro Bowl pick once if he stays on the current pace he can really move up. Tom Brady is already on that bandwagon calling Gilmore "the best cornerback in the game".

58. Johnathan Joseph
Joseph is perhaps the most underrated corner of his generation. Though he went to just two pro Bowls and was First-team All-Pro just once (2011) but some scouts think he should have been All-pro more often than that. More than many ahead of him on this list. In fact, we may be underrating him still. In his career he picked off 30 balls, taking seven to the house and is still a strong starter for the Texans at age 35.

Dr. Z. "I love the way he plays football"  Cromwell, "Tough.  Cocky.  Loved to play the game." Thomas was a Pro Bowler in 1978 and 1980 and an All-Pro in 1980. After a three-interception performance in 1979 teammate Fred Dryer declared, "Let me tell you something, nobody is better than Pat Thomas. Nobody."

60. Rod Perry
Dr. Z wrote in 1981, "Rams' Rod Perry didn't make the Pro Bowl. On straight coverage, he's as good as any." Said Cromwell, "A very good player.  He made the most of his physical attributes.  Hard working and smart."  As said to be "peskier than a mosquito" by one writer.

Perry was All-NFC/Pro Bowl in 1978 and 1980 and 1981 may have been his best season. In 1976 he picked off eight passes. He was dogged by knee injuries missing quite a bit of time in 1977 and 1979 because of it.

61. Eric Wright
A good man cover corner he was All-Pro once, Second-team All-Pro once and an All-NFC pick three times. He was 6-1 and had long arms, "great length" as the scouts would say, and that was a tremendous help in pass coverage for him.

62. Rolland Lawrence
A smaller corner, tough, aggressive. He was a consensus All-Pro in 1977 and received First- or Second-team All-NFC honors in 1975, 1977-79. He picked off 39 passes in eight seasons.

63. LeRoy Irvin
Cromwell, "Leroy made the most of his abilities and talents. He liked football, loved to practice and loved the game." Irvin worked his way into being an All-Pro from being an average player for the first few years of his career.

He began as a nickel back in 1980-82 usually as a safety as either Cromwell or Johnnie Johnson would play up or in the slot or short middle, depending on the year and situation, but by 1983 he was ready to start at the right corner. By 1985 he was a Second-team All-Pro in 1985 and in 1986 he was a First-team All-Pro. Paul Zimmerman picked him for the Sports Illustrated All-Pro team in 1988. He was also an All-Pro as a punt returner in 1981 (consensus) and 1982.

64. Mark Haynes
"Provides solid run support and terrific coverage" according to Buchsbaum. Seemed to hold out quite a lot and that led to him being traded to the Broncos. When motivated he was very good which was about seven of his ten seasons.

65. Jerry Gray
Cromwell, "Smart. Tough. Worked hard to prepare himself to play every game." Gray was a Pro Bowler four times and was All-Pro once and a Second-team pick three other times. Often played safety in nickel and dime situations. He was tall and had good speed and was a hitter—in college was called a "trained killer" by Barry Switzer.

66. Eric Davis
All-Pro in 1995 and a two-time Pro Bowler and won a ring with the 49ers in 1994.

67. Cris Dishman
Dishman was All-Pro in 1991 and a Second-teamer in 1997. In 1989 he was one of the top nickel backs in the NFL and for a decade was solid year-in and year-out.

68. Carl Lee
A three-time Pro Bowl and was a First-team All-Pro in 1988 and Second-team All-Pro in 1989. Worked hard to become excellent after a few seasons as merely adequate, essentially a self-made All-Pro. Most of his interceptions in his All-pro year of 1988 were in man coverage.

69. Tim McKyer
Played for eight teams in twelve seasons, McKyer was a fine man-cover corner (he liked to challenge receivers like Lester Hayes did). Has three rings and twice received post-season honors.

70. Rashean Mathis

71. Samari Rolle

72. Dave Brown

73. Ken Reaves

74. Aaron Glenn

75. Willie Buchanon 
One All-Pro (1978) and two Pro Bowls (1974 and 1978), a bit injury-riddled missing most of 1973 and 1975, he picked off nine passes in 1978. Had a good knack for forcing fumbles for a corner, forcing seven in five years from 1977-81, good for that era. 

76. Casey Hayward
On the rise. With a couple of more seasons like the last few, will crack the top 50.

77. Patrick Surtain

78. Gill Byrd
All-Pro once, Second-team All-Pro twice and two Pro Bowls. Moved to safety for a couple of years then back to corner. A nice end to his career with 31 picks in his last five years and received all his post-season honors in those seasons.

79. Dick Lynch
We may be shorting him here, but all these players from the 40s to the 90s are "Hall of Very Good" type players. Had a monster year in 1963 and led the NFL in interceptions in 1961 and 1963.

He was miffed when in the late-1960s the media was writing about bump-and-run coverage being new. He was confident he, and others, did it more than a decade earlier. Coach Troup can confirm this claim based on his extensive film study.

80. Irv Cross
A solid corner, one of the best edge kick-blockers ever. He was adept at axing, one of the top two-three at that ever. He had good size and decent ball skills but wasn't targeted a lot. He was a Pro Bowler in 1964 and 1965 and was on that level in 1966 as well.

81. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie

82. Fred Williamson

83. Jesse Whittenton

84. Joe Lavender

85. Bobby Bryant


86. Chris McAlister

87. Josh Norman
Norman was a top-flight corner for the Panthers in 2015 when he was a consensus All-Pro. He then signed a contract with the Redskins and his play leveled off. We will see if he can find his All-Pro style.

88. Ashley Ambrose

89. Nate Odomes

90. Xavier Rhodes

91. Kent McCloughan
A very highly regarded corner in his time, he was All-AFL twice and considered as good a bump-and-run corner as there was in the NFL/AFL at the time.

John Madden described that during pass coverage drills McCloughan gelt more comfortable on the line of scrimmage rather than off five or ten yards. McCloughan asked if he could play it that way all the time and he did. Yes, other players did it prior to him, but they'd vary it and McLoughlan was likely the first to do it all the time, at least according to Madden.

Injuries took their toll and as a result, his legacy was somewhat lost.

92. Herm Edwards
Another of the cocky, talking cornerbacks like Pat Thomas or Gary Green but backed it up with very solid play, a good cover guy and fair tackler but somehow outperformed his talent.

93. Darius Slay
An All-Pro in 2017 and Pro Bowler in 2017 and 2018 and he led the NFL in interceptions in 2017, Slay is moving up the charts as a fine, fine cornerback.

94. Eugene Daniel
Daniel was a solid corner for a long time and was a very good kick blocker in the first part of his career. He was a Football News All-AFC pick in 1985 but never again received post-season honors.

95.  Janoris Jenkins
"Rabbit" is another of the players who likes to sit back and 'bait' quarterbacks. In seven seasons he's picked off 18 passes taking seven to the house, as well as taking a fumble back for a score. As a rookie in 2012, he scored four defensive touchdowns. In 2013 and 2014 he was a top guy who could cover with the best and was even a guy who could block a kick for you but he's slipped a little since then, but in his prime, he could make plays. It remains to be seen if he can recharge and get back to a Pro Bowl-level of play.

96. Dick Westmoreland
Westmoreland was All-AFL in 1963 (helping Chargers to AFL title as a rookie) and a Second-team All-AFLer in 1964 and 1967 the latter in which he led the AFL with ten interceptions.

97. Earlie Thomas
TJ Troup calls him "underrated and very solid. He played just six seasons but in the early 1970s he was the best secondary man the Jets had.

98. Willie Williams
Williams bounced from the Giants to the Raiders and then back to the Giants and didn't make much impact. But in 1968 he earned the starting right corner spot and proceeded to lead the NFL in interceptions with ten. The following year he was a Pro Bowler and in 1970 he was still on a Pro Bowl level but team success dragged and he didn't get any honors after that and he called it a career after the 1973 season.

99. J.C. Caroline
Caroline had a great rookie season as a defensive halfback, then moved to safety before moving back to the corner in 1960 where he was a starter through 1962. In 1963 when the Bears won the NFL Championship he was an extra back, having lost his job to Benny McCrae.

100. Marcus Peters
Peters is number 100 with an 'up' arrow. He's only played four seasons but has been All-Pro once, Second-team All-Pro once, the Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2015 and been to two Pro Bowls and has 22 picks in those four years. He's a 'cluer'—likes to sit back in zone defenses and read the quarterback and make a break tp the ball. He struggled some in 2018 in Wade Phillips's scheme which called for more man coverage than he was used to, but in the right scheme he could put up the big interceptions numbers again.

101. Bennie McRae
McCrae was a Second-team All-Pro in 1965 and was a solid corner for the Bears from 1963-70. Aside from 1965, his 1967 season was special as well. That year he played a lot of slot or even linebacker in the "Dooley Defense" which was a forerunner to the "Big Nickel" so often used today.

102. Clancy Williams
A solid but not spectacular corner, but was effective for the Rams defense from 1966-70, the Allen years. He had a knack for forcing fumbles (seven in his first three years) and was a key player in the 66-70 defense that allowed a defensive passer rating of 54.6 (good for 4th best in that span) and allowed the fewest points in either league in that same. Sure, the Fearsome Foursome was the driving force but good coverage helped that a great deal and Williams and safety Eddie Meador were the driving force in that aspect of the defense.

103. Mike Williams
Williams didn't get many post-season honors but was an underated player who was one of the top two corners in 1979 according to Proscout, Inc.

104. Louis Breeden
A consensus All-Pro in 1982 Breedon was supposed to be the 'next' great corner yet it didn't work out. A gambler who picked off seven passes in 1980 and was excellent in 1981 as the Bengals went to the Super Bowl but tailed off in 1983 and later.


105. Bryant Westbrook

106. Cortland Finnegan

107. Bernie Parrish

108. Shawn Springs

109. Kevin Ross
Over 1000 career tackles, high for a corner, played off some early in his career. He was short, but tenacious. Moved to safety late in his career.

110. Ken Ellis

111. Zeke Moore

112. Bob Jeter

113. Mike Bass

114. Dwayne Woodruff 




We had many more who we could have listed but had to end it somewhere. We will revisit this in the future and reserve the right to make changes but we feel like he gave it the old "college try" and hope you think it is a good read and can see some defensive statistics (meaningful or not) that are not found anywhere on the Internet.

116t. Perry Williams

116t. Marv Woodson
A Pro Bowler in 1967 when he totaled 7 picks.

116t. Brady Keys
A Pro Bowler in 1966, Keys was also a fine punt return man. 

Comments appreciated below.

17 comments:

  1. I have the same top 10 although in a different order. I'm a big fan of DBs. Serious rankings of cornerbacks and safeties are up my alley.

    JWL (Big League)

    ReplyDelete
  2. thanks. it's hard to do...gave it our best shot

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I like the bug guy. I tore that Thomas drawing out of an old program and put it on my overhead filing cabinet at my prior job. That reminds me I have to display it in my new office.

      Delete
  3. I love these articles. As a Raiders fan did I over rate Kevin Ross?

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    Replies
    1. No, he a fine, in fact, I had him listed but the list went into the 130s . . .so he got deleted, but I added him at you suggestion, but all the guys in the 60-108 category could be mixed up and not be wrong. He played along time, but eventually it came to being a Pro Bowler twice in 13 years.

      But he was a fine player, played with a lot of cushion, especially early. I am sure plenty of people will list guys not on the list that are certainly as good as who we have.

      Delete
  4. where do you find the time? simply extraordinary....of course, confirmation of my personal opinion is always welcome....no recency bias here.....Night Train Lane...sooo great....such a classic exemplar of what is so compelling about "old school" pre-merger (pre-AFL?)
    pro football

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  5. I would put Wehrli a bit higher. His charts were strong for me. His game against bob hayes in 1970 is on youtube and was simply awesome. Man to man against hayes and he broke up a deep post.

    Darrell Green a tad low. Agree with everything else.

    How much footage of Johnson of san francisco did you boys watch? Seems like a hard guy to find tape of.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Great list of players, but as usual, subjective for every teams, fans...

    The big question, which everyone debates to this very day, was how great Deion Sanders was ?
    As a coverage corner, and ballhawk, he undoubtedly was one of, if not the best ever.
    But Jimmy Johnson, Willie Brown and especially
    Mike Haynes were just as good as well, but they were better tacklers. Deion was smart enough to realize that his coverage skills and overall talent, not to mention, big play ability, could put teams over a barrel, which is why he made so much money, but tackling and run support, were never going to be his strong suits. Then, there was his selfish pursuits of baseball, which put his Atlanta Falcons team in the hole early, because he would miss up to four or five games, when early losses could kill a teams chances of making the playoffs.
    With Deion not there all season to help the Falcons, it could have had a hand in costing Jerry Granville his job, though Glanville had other problems with the team.

    I was a Cowboy fan then, and even though I understood Sanders talent and appreciated him helping the Cowboys win another championship in 1995, he frustrated me because he didn't earn his money enough for me by being a TOTAL cornerback, who could tackle and force run support and due to his contract, forced alot of the Cowboys depth to disappear, which hurt our chances to win more in 96-98.

    I know Sanders should be a HOFamer but to me, he is a polarizing figure just like butter finger hands, Terrell Owens.

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  7. Thanks guys for listing Robert James of the Bills...He could kill smaller receivers and OJ Simpson said so, during an ABC broadcast of the 85 Pro Bowl. Said that if James had played during the 80s, little receivers like Duper or Clayton or others wouldn't have gotten off the line of scrimmage.
    Another great Bill was Antione Winfield...he could hit and tackle as well and could have been listed higher.
    I thought Bernie Parrish was just as good as Bobby Boyd or Pat Fischer, but gets a bad rap for being militant towards the NFL Owners Establishment. He should have had more good seasons but was blackballed out of the league by weasel, Art Modell.

    Thought Eric Allen and Erich Barnes should be in the Hall and love Asante Samuel's ballhawking ability. If he catches Eli Manning's interception in the 2008 Super Bowl, the Patriots would had the next perfect season after the Dolphins...

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  8. Abe Woodson only played nine seasons, and I think was injured his final year in football. Does he deserve HOF consideration, considering his career was similar to Ken Easley, short but outstanding ?

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  9. Wehrli was amazing, would have him a notch lower than Willie Brown and Jimmy Johnson but not that far behind them. He should be higher on the list. The Ken Riley controversy is like the Jim Marshall story. Just a very good player who played a long time, Parrish was clearly better than Riley, Eller was clearly better than Marshall.

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  10. Had Robert James not injured his knee, we would be talking about him with the same reverence as Jimmy Johnson and Roger Wehrli. Just an amazing corner, what a shame it was when he got injured.

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  11. Im trying to understand how Dre Bly doesn't make anyone's list. List after list. Dre is never mentioned, yet his #'s are better than the vast majority of people always put in front of him.

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  12. Antoine Winfield at #49 is a crime. He did everything (zone coverage, man coverage, blitzing, ability to play slot, run support) well. Several of the guys listed above him were great at certain things, but only average in others. Give me the guy who can do everything well.

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    1. A crime? WInfield a great zone corner. Not as good in man. That is where he lacked.

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  13. coverage reigns supreme at corner so I can agree with john on Winfield. would you call him one of the top run forcing corners in recent history at least?

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  14. Cool list! It shows a different perspective!

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