Power Ranking the 5 Greatest Cornerbacks in Minnesota Vikings History

Bob GarmanAnalyst IAugust 15, 2013

Power Ranking the 5 Greatest Cornerbacks in Minnesota Vikings History

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    Welcome to the latest in a series of slideshows that power rank the greatest Minnesota Vikings of all time by position. Each week will feature a different position, and the best Vikings to take the field at that position will be ranked from fifth to first.

    How does a guy get on the list?

    It's all about being a Viking. While stats are taken into account, there are more subjective criteria as well. There's a certain feel to those classic Vikings standing on the sideline at Met Stadium in freezing conditions with steam coming out of their face masks. Those are the quintessential Vikings to many fans.

    Certain players, such as Mike Morris and Scott Studwell, would have fit perfectly in that era. Those are true Vikings. Other players, particularly Adrian Peterson, would have been fun in any era.

    These lists are filled with players who epitomize what it means to be a Viking.

    Last week, wide receivers were in the spotlight. This week, we'll focus on cornerbacks.

    Of the 12 position rankings thus far, this list of cornerbacks was the most difficult to compile. There were some outstanding corners in the history of the Vikings, but the roster was thinner than one might expect. 

    In the end, this list does represent the rich history of the Minnesota Vikings. Here's hoping that some of the current players (we're looking at you, Chris Cook and Xavier Rhodes) eventually achieve enough to make this list.

    Click on as we power rank the top cornerbacks in Minnesota Vikings history.

    All statistics courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference unless otherwise noted.

Honorable Mention: Audray McMillian

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    When compiling the list of candidates for Honorable Mention on this list of the greatest Minnesota Vikings cornerbacks of all time, several players came to mind.

    John Turner was considered for his longevity and his 22 interceptions in eight years in Minnesota.

    Willie Teal almost got the nod for his strong tackling and big-play ability.

    Earsell Mackbee got a look because of his place on some of the most dominant defenses in Minnesota and NFL history.

    In the long run, all of those worthy candidates came up just short of Audray McMillian. He played for five years in Minnesota, compiling 19 interceptions and three touchdowns in his relatively short stay. His best year was 1992, when he had eight interceptions and was named a first-team All-Pro selection. 

    McMillian's big year helped the Vikings get back to the playoffs after a three-year absence, and his big-play ability edges him to the front of the list for Honorable Mention.

5: Nate Wright

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    Some players are defined by one huge play. Dwight Clark will forever be remembered for "The Catch." Franco Harris is still best recognized for his part in the "Immaculate Reception."

    Sadly for Nate Wright, his NFL legacy will always be associated with one unfortunate play. He was pushed down on a Hail Mary play against Dallas in the 1975 playoffs. The resulting Cowboys touchdown knocked what many people felt was the best Vikings squad ever out of the playoffs and cemented Wright in history as "that guy that Drew Pearson shoved."

    True Vikings fans know that Wright was an important part of the dominant Vikings teams of the '70s. He frequently covered the opponent's fastest receiver, and his total of 31 interceptions is fifth on the team's all-time list.

    For his consistent contributions to some of the greatest Vikings teams ever, Wright moves past Audray McMillian and company into the No. 5 spot on the list. 

4: Ed Sharockman

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    Ed Sharockman is a throwback to the origins of the Minnesota franchise. The Vikings drafted him in the 1961 NFL draft, and he joined the team for its inaugural season later that year. He became a full-time starter in his second season and spent his entire 12-year career with Minnesota.

    Sharockman was the first cornerback ever selected by the Vikings in the draft, and he lived up to that billing over his years with the team. A starter for 10 straight seasons from 1962-1971, he was a member of four division championship teams and a starter in Super Bowl IV.

    He intercepted 40 passes during his Vikings tenure, which is good for third on the team's all-time list. His three interception returns for touchdowns tie him for most in Minnesota history. Sharockman was a key element in helping the Vikings transition from an expansion franchise to an NFL power.

    For his invaluable contributions to Vikings history, longevity and sustained excellence, Sharockman edges out Wright for the No. 4 spot on the list of greatest-ever Vikings cornerbacks. 

3: Carl Lee

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    Carl Lee didn't join the Vikings with a ton of fanfare. He was drafted in the seventh round of the 1983 NFL draft and spent most of his first season learning from the bench.

    However, he made his presence felt over the next decade. By the time he was through, Lee had played in 181 games, the fourth most by a Minnesota defender. He accumulated nearly 800 tackles, and his 29 interceptions are good for sixth on the Vikings' all-time list.

    Though his tackle numbers were more than respectable, Lee was known for his coverage skills. He was most often tasked with covering the opponent's top receiver. In 1988, he was named first-team All-Pro when he snagged a career-high eight interceptions. He was also named to the Pro Bowl in 1989 and 1990.

    For his dependability, durability and consistently high performance, Lee sneaks past Ed for the third spot on the list of greatest Vikings cornerbacks ever.

     

2: Antoine Winfield

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    Though his time in Minnesota was relatively short, Antoine Winfield made a huge impact. He was a leader on the Vikings defense almost from his arrival as a free agent in 2004. While his contributions on the field were noteworthy, Winfield's attitude and leadership were almost as valuable to the team.

    Many consider him to be one of the best tacklers to ever play the cornerback position. In his nine years as a Viking, Winfield racked up more than 700 tackles, despite missing time to injury on several occasions. His ability to blitz and to play against the run allowed him to register nine fumble recoveries with two fumble-return touchdowns.

    He was also a staunch pass-defender. Though often paired with lesser cornerbacks, which kept teams from targeting him, Winfield managed to grab 21 interceptions, returning two for touchdowns. His total ranks him ninth on the Vikings' all-time list.

    In an era when some cornerbacks excelled at run defense and others were known as "cover men," Winfield was excellent at both. He was named to three consecutive Pro Bowls from 2008-2010. His ability to play outside or in the slot made him a valuable defender. He was so versatile that he was frequently considered for a move to the safety position.

    For his outstanding leadership, versatility and pure excellence as a member of a shaky secondary during his tenure in Minnesota, Winfield leaps past Lee into the No. 2 spot on the list of greatest Vikings cornerbacks ever.

1: Bobby Bryant

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    Bobby Bryant would have a hard time making a roster in today's NFL. A 170-pound cornerback, he was never the fastest, strongest or most intimidating player on his team. In street clothes, he looked more like a substitute teacher than an NFL star.

    Bryant, a seventh-round pick in the 1967 NFL draft, was much more than a fill-in for the Minnesota Vikings. After watching from the sidelines during his rookie year, he took over full-time starting duties in 1968 and manned the right corner position for the next dozen years.

    He was an accomplished kick returner, but it was his knack for big plays as a defender that cemented him as one of the top defenders to don Vikings horns. He intercepted 51 passes (second on the team's all-time list) and recovered 14 fumbles. He scored four times off of these turnovers.

    Bryant also made big plays as a defender on special teams. He blocked quite a few kicks in his career and always seemed to come up big in Minnesota's perennial playoff runs. He started four Super Bowls as a Viking.

    On the strength of his pure numbers, his penchant for the big play and his role during the most dominant run in Minnesota history, Bryant edges out Winfield as the No. 1 cornerback ever to play for the Vikings.

    Check in next week for the next power ranking of all-time Vikings.

    Is someone on the list who shouldn't be there? Have a player you'd like to nominate? Speak your mind in the comments section below.

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