The Top 50 NFL Cornerbacks of All Time
Cornerback is probably one of the most under-appreciated positions in the NFL; I don't think I really understood that until I began combing the Internet to research for this article.
Unfortunately there hasn't been a lot of research and information compilation on all the greats who have played this position in the history of the NFL. I decided to spend some time rectifying that.
While some of the players could be deserving of being moved a couple of places, take a look at the most comprehensive list of the top fifty 50 cornerbacks that has been put together, and enjoy the analysis.
The top few slots might end up really surprising you.
I'd like to thank a few people who gave me some input on compiling the rankings:
Zagerbombs, Philly, Armstrong, and especially Dr. Who?
Thanks for your help, and on to number 50...
50. Terrell Buckley
Terrell Buckley had a true journeyman's career having played with six teams (though two separate stints with the Dolphins) over 14 years.
To this day, he remains the only NFL player to record over 50 career interceptions and never make an appearance in the Pro Bowl.
49. Joe Lavender
Lavender spent most of his nine-year career (in the late 1970s) with the Washington Redskins, despite starting out with the Philadelphia Eagles.
He was a two-time Pro Bowl selection.
48. Dave Brown
Though he started his career in Pittsburgh, he set most of the franchise records for a young Seattle Seahawks franchise.
Dave Brown made the Pro Bowl in 1984, and was an All Pro for two years.
47. Bobby Bryant
Bobby Bryant was as small as they come, earning him his nickname of "Bones."
Despite having dealt with frequent injuries throughout his career, he was an integral part of the Purple People Eaters defense and managed to make two Pro Bowl appearances.
46. Antoine Winfield
Antoine Winfield has had a very strong career in Buffalo as well as Minnesota with 2 Pro Bowl selections.
Winfield might have been higher, but his career interceptions are simply not that impressive.
For example, one of the guys ranked in the top ten had 2/3 of Winfield's career interceptions in his rookie season alone.
Still, Winfield is a solid veteran who entered the league in 1999.
45. Gill Byrd
Gill Byrd made two Pro Bowl appearances in his time with the San Diego Chargers. He is also the franchise's all-time interception leader with a career total of 42.
Since he only played from 1983-1992, it could stand to reason that there was some potential left unexplored in his career, but this is a pretty awesome photo of him manhandling Jerry Rice which really highlights his playing style.
44. Cris Dishman
Cris Dishman had an impressive 13-year career in the NFL, spending most of it with the Houston Oilers. He managed two Pro Bowl selections and a noteworthy 43 interceptions.
43. Asante Samuel
Asante Samuel is a two-time Superbowl winner with the New England Patriots and also a three-time Pro Bowler. He has plenty of time left in his career, though he is now playing the the Philadelphia Eagles.
He has 35 career interceptions at the age of 29, so it is highly likely he will move up this list before the end of his career.
42. Sam Madison
Sam Madison is better known for his days with the Miami Dolphins, and funny enough, as far as I know, he is still a free agent.
He was a 4 time Pro Bowler in Miami from 1999-2002, and he was a Super Bowl winner with the Giants in XLII.
With 38 interceptions in 11 years, a little more could have been desired from him, but he ultimately had a great career.
41. Darrelle Revis
Darrelle Revis will likely end up falling much higher on this list by the end of his career. As it stands now, he is the most promising young cornerback in the NFL, having been drafted in 2007 and already having played in two Pro Bowls.
After winning an AFC Defensive Player of the Year Award, and playing on a Jets team with a bright future, the sky appears to be the limit for the young superstar. He is only 24 years old.
40. Bob Jeter
Bob Jeter was part of the Packer's team that won the first two Superbowls, and he is also enshrined in the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame. He should be as a multiple-time Pro Bowl selection.
He spent the twilight of his 10-plus year career in Chicago with the Bears.
39. Dwight Hicks
Dwight Hicks was only in the NFL from 1979-1986 following a one-year stint with the Toronto Argonauts, but in that time frame he managed to go to four Pro Bowls.
He played for the 49ers as well as spending a season with the Colts. He was defensive captain of the 49ers team that won the 1984-1985 Superbowl.
38. Bobby Boyd
Bobby Boyd spent eight years with the Baltimore Colts after being drafted out of Oklahoma in 1960.
Among his accomplishments include two Pro Bowls and being named to the 1960s All-Decade team.
If that wasn't enough, his staggering career total 57 interceptions is a Colts franchise record not likely to be soon broken, and he managed it in fewer than 10 seasons.
37. Eric Wright
Not to be confused with the Eric Wright playing for the Browns currently, this guy was part of a devastating tandem the San Francisco 49ers took with back-to-back picks in the 1981 NFL Draft.
Wright was a two-time Pro Bowler in a 10-year career, but he also managed to start on four Superbowl winning teams.
If you can't guess his defensive companion, I'll give you a hint:
He definitely appears higher up on this list.
36. Jimmy Patton
Jimmy Patton was a five-time Pro Bowler for the New York Giants who was drafted in 1955.
His career after coming out of Mississippi was impressive, but it ended with tragedy.
He was killed in a car accident in the mid-1960s, and never got the chance to fully leave his mark on the game.
35. Louis Wright
Louis Wright was a first round draft pick in 1975 who spent his entire career with the Denver Broncos.
Among his notable achievements were 5 Pro Bowl invitations in a dozen year career and being named a member of the 1970s NFL All-Decade team.
What is really holding Wright down on this list is his limited number of career interceptions, which totals in at only 26. That is likely partially because people didn't throw at him, but that does hurt him in the formula.
34. Pat Fischer
Well, not only did Pat Fischer have an incredible 56 career interceptions, he managed to be selected to the Pro Bowl three times in the 1960s and is considered by many to be one of the greatest Washington Redskins.
He spent most of his career in the 1960s with the St. Louis Cardinals before moving to Washington.
His career spanned the incredible time frame of 1961-1977.
33. Nnamdi Asomugha
Nnamdi Asomugha has been the brightest spot on an Oakland Raiders team that has been hampered by managerial incompetence. He has managed three Pro Bowl appearances and he is only 28 years old.
While his paycheck is currently massive, it has to be noted that the guy would likely be better if he was with another team.
Still, he has been the modern definition of a "shut-down corner" in multiple seasons.
By the end of his career, I imagine he will be moved up this list. However, Asomugha is still a work in progress, so he doesn't quite have the resume of a lot of the older guys.
He is the highest ranked, relatively young cornerback on this list though.
32. Bobby Dillon
Bobby Dillon made it to four Pro Bowls with the Packers in the 1950s. He is also Green Bay's all-time interception leader, having attained 52.
As an interesting tidbit, he did that with just one eye. He also managed to have nine interceptions in two separate seasons.
31. Jack Christiansen
Jack Christiansen was selected to five Pro Bowls in his 1950s career with the Detroit Lions.
He was also selected to the NFL's 1950s All-Decade team, and he went on to be a head coach in the 1960s and 1970s for the San Francisco 49ers and the Stanford Cardinal.
30. Everson Walls
Everson Walls spent most of his career with the Dallas Cowboys throughout the 1980s, and amassed 57 interceptions before retiring.
He also was able to get four Pro Bowl selections and he was a part of the Superbowl XXV winning team.
29. Hanford Dixon
Hanford Dixon was part of my favorite cornerback duo of all time. Most people remember he and his partner as terrifying faces for the Cleveland Browns in the 1980s, and also for being exploited on John Elway's fabled "Drive."
He also managed to be a three-time Pro Bowl selection.
28. Frank Minnifield
Frank Minnifield was on the side opposite Hanford Dixon. He was only in the NFL for eight years but still managed to make the 1980s NFL All-Decade team.
He also went to four Pro Bowls.
I likely would have moved him a little higher up on the list, but I felt bad splitting him and Dixon up. They simply belong together...
27. Troy Vincent
Troy Vincent spent his career with four different teams, though most of his time was spent in Philadelphia.
He went to five Pro Bowls (1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003) and also won the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award in 2002.
While he was controversial in his presidency of the NFLPA, as some suggested he violated player financial privacy, Vincent is certainly worthy of praise for his career on the field.
His last year in the league was 2006 with the Washington Redskins.
26. Charles Woodson
As one of the few guys still active on the fringes of the top 20, Charles Woodson has seen a lot in his NFL career.
The six-time Pro Bowler debuted in 1998 for the Oakland Raiders, and at the age of 33, is still playing for the Green Bay Packers. He has a career total 45 interceptions, making it conceivable for him to reach marks set by some of the greatest of all time.
He is a member of the 2000s NFL All-Decade team.
25. Ty Law
Ty Law won three Super Bowls with the New England Patriots in the past decade. He also was named to five Pro Bowls and has an impressive career total of 53 interceptions.
He is a member of the NFL 2000s All-Decade team.
His appearance last season in Denver did not go well, however, and it is likely the book is shutting on his storied career.
24. Emmitt Thomas
Emmitt Thomas played in Kansas City for most of the 1970s. In his career, he managed five Pro Bowl appearances and an incredible 58 interceptions.
His number 18 jersey is retired by the Kansas City Chiefs.
23. Eddie Meador
Eddie Meador is an unbelievable eight-time Pro Bowler who played for the Los Angeles Rams during the 1960s.
He also was named to the NFL's 1960s All-Decade team. He is still the Rams all time interception leader with 46.
22. Jimmy Johnson
Jimmy Johnson was a five-time Pro Bowler, member of the NFL Hall of Fame, and member of the NFL 1970s All-Decade team.
He spent his career with the San Fransisco 49ers.
21. Lester Hayes
Lester Hayes was a five-time Pro Bowler, two-time Superbowl Champion, and a member of the 1980s NFL All-Decade Team.
He also managed to win a Defensive Player of the Year Award in 1980.
20. Albert Lewis
In a 15-year career, Albert Lewis made the Pro Bowl four times. However, his inclusion this high on the list stems from what Jerry Rice said.
When Rice calls you the toughest cornerback he has ever played against, you know you're doing something right.
Lewis is a member of the Kansas City Chiefs Hall of Fame, as he played with the team into the early 1990s.
19. Ken Riley
Ken Riley was a four-time Pro Bowler who played with the Cincinnati Bengals throughout the 1970s.
He managed a staggering 65 career interceptions, which was the fourth most in NFL history when he retired.
18. Eric Allen
Eric Allen was in the NFL throughout the 1990s as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles and New Orleans Saints. He managed 54 career interceptions.
He was also selected to six Pro Bowls.
17. Lemar Parrish
Lemar Parrish made an incredible eight Pro Bowls in a career with the Cincinnati Bengals that spanned the 1970s.
He also managed 47 career interceptions, and the Bengals used him as an effective kick returner.
16. Ronde Barber
As a member of the 2000s NFL All-Decade team, Ronde Barber is one of only two players ranked this highly.
He has a Superbowl ring and five Pro Bowl appearances. His career with Tampa Bay, which began in 1997, has been incredible.
15. (a) Aeneas Williams
Being named after a classical hero seemed to inspire Williams to a magnificent career.
He played with the Arizona Cardinals and St. Louis Rams from 1991 to 2004 and was named to eight Pro Bowls. He has a career total 55 interceptions.
15. (b) Roger Wehrli
As a 7-time Pro Bowler, Roger Wehrli dominated the 1970s as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals.
As a member of the NFL Hall of Fame, and a member of the 1970s All-Decade team, Wehrli is definitely among the best who have ever played the position.
An initial oversight on my part, Wehrli was described by Roger Staubach as "a great, great defensive back. You had to be aware of him all the time."
Many consider him to be the original shut-down corner.
14. Dick LeBeau
LeBeau just gained entrance into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year for an incredible career throughout the 1960s.
Most of his career was spent in Detroit, where he put together 62 interceptions (the seventh most all-time).
He is a defensive genius and currently on the coaching staff of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
13. Lem Barney
Lem Barney was a seven-time Pro Bowler who played for the Lions from 1967 to 1977.
His career interceptions total 56.
He was also named to the NFL 1960s All-Decade team and he was the 1967 NFL defensive rookie of the year.
Barney is a member of the NFL Hall of Fame.
12. Herb Adderley
Herb Adderley is a Green Bay Packers legend who made the 1960s All-Decade team. He was in five Pro Bowls.
He was on the Packers Superbowl I and Superbowl II winning teams, as well as the Dallas Cowboys team that won Superbowl VI.
Adderley was a key component of both defenses but has always considered himself a Green Bay Packer.
He is one of the few men that openly states he does not wear his Dallas Cowboys Superbowl Ring because of his loyalties.
Still, as a 3-time Superbowl champion with two different legendary teams, Adderley deserved respect on this list.
11. Mel Renfro
As an incredible 10-time Pro Bowler, Mel Refro played with the Cowboys from 1964 until 1977.
He is in the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor. He was also elected to the Hall of Fame in 1996.
And finally...on to the top 10...
10. Emlen Tunnell
As a nine-time Pro Bowler who played for the New York Giants in the 1950s, Emlen Tunnell had an astounding 79 career interceptions.
That magnitude is almost incomprehensible in today's game, which is why he earned his nickname, "Offense on Defense."
He was also a 9-time Pro Bowler, 2-time NFL Champion (pre-Superbowl) and an 8-time All Pro selection.
He obviously made the 1950s All-Decade team.
It is really hard to compare a guy like this to today's players, but his spot somewhere on the top of the list is undeniable.
9. Mike Haynes
Mike Haynes got his start in New England, which is where his number is retired, but he also is a legend in Oakland. Having played with Lester Hayes, Haynes went to nine Pro Bowls.
His NFL accomplishments extend far beyond that, however, as he was named to the 75th Anniversary NFL All-Time team.
He busted into the NFL as the 1976 Rookie of the Year, but he didn't enjoy championship-caliber success until playing with the Oakland Raiders, where he won Superbowl XVIII.
He is also a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.
8. Willie Brown
Willie Brown's statistics are staggering. He started his career in Denver rather than Oakland where he had most of his success.
However one thing justifies his ranking:
The guy invented "bump and run" coverage. Granted, in the 1960s and 1970s, the rules on pass interference were much lighter.
It is hard to knock a guy who became a sensational champion.
He is often remember for his interception of Fran Tarkenton in Superbowl XI which he returned 75 yards for a touchdown.
That record stood for a long, long time.
He is currently a coach for the Oakland Raiders.
7. Champ Bailey
Champ Bailey is the highest ranked player who is still playing. He is a nine-time Pro Bowler who will likely make more at the age of 31. The only year of the last decade that he didn't make the Pro Bowl was 2008.
The guy is the embodiment of a shut down corner. If he hadn't been injured, he likely would have made the Pro Bowl in 2008 as well. Obviously, with those types of Pro Bowl appearances, he made the NFL's 2000s All-Decade team.
Josh McDaniels has yet to trade him, but since he is good, that will likely happen in the near future.
(I'm a Broncos fan)
6. Darrell Green
Darrell Green is a seven-time Pro Bowler who had an incredibly long career from 1983-2002. He is one of the greatest Washington Redskins ever, and frankly deserves to be here because of his career's length.
He played well into his career's twilight. Very few 40 year old men can do that (Brett Favre is challenging that theory).
Green is a 2-time Superbowl champion (XXII, XXVI), the 1996 Walter Payton Man of the Year, and a member of the NFL 1990s All-Decade team.
He recorded 19 seasons with at least one interception, and an incredible, record setting 20 seasons with the same team.
5. Ronnie Lott
Ronnie Lott has an award named after him, so lets start there.
He played both cornerback and safety in his amazing career with the 49ers, which has earned him wide respect as one of the greatest defensive backs in league history.
Lott was drafted out of USC in 1981, and then went on to be a 10-time Pro Bowler, a 4-time Superbowl champion (XVI, XIX, XXIII, XXIV), a member of the NFL 1980s All-Decade team, a member of the 1990s NFL All-Decade team (he only played through 1994), and a member of the 75th Anniversary NFL All-Time team.
Ronnie Lott is as incredible as they come.
4. Deion Sanders
"Neon" Deion is a guy that many would have liked to have seen at number one.
His statistics simply don't allow it in comparison to the rest of the top-5 company.
Sanders had an impressive 8 Pro Bowl selections and won 2 Superbowls (XXIX, XXX). He was also the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1994.
His place so prominently on this list is largely because of what people remember about him, rather than his numbers.
He was, surprisingly, a big time journeyman, having only played 5 seasons in Dallas and having spent his career with 5 total teams.
Even the best at his position get limited respect.
3. Mel Blount
Mel Blount spent his entire career in Pittsburgh, where he played from 1970-1983.
He was a 5-time Pro Bowl selection and a 4-time All Pro. He is a member of the NFL 1980s All-Decade team and the NFL 75th anniversary All-Time team.
He was also the NFL's 1975 Defensive Player of the Year.
What sets him apart from the pack though is his 4-time Superbowl Champion status with the Steelers (IX, X, XIII, XIV) and his playing reputation.
He was part of the Steel Curtain Defense, is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and was ranked 36 on the Sporting News' 100 Greatest Football Players of all time.
2. Rod Woodson
Rod Woodson is an 11-time Pro Bowler.
He spent his career with 4 different teams, but still managed to build an incredible resume along with his Pro Bowls.
He won a Superbowl (XXXV), was the 1993 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, is a member of the 1990s NFL All-Decade team, is a member of the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time team, and joined the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009.
He returned an impressive 12 interceptions for touchdowns and will always be remember for his illustrious career with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Woodson is one of the greatest NFL players of all time.
1. Dick Lane
Dick "Night Train" Lane invented the modern cornerback position in the 1950s. He was voted the best cornerback of football's first 50 years, and frankly, I haven't seen anything change his status as the best cornerback.
He started out with the Los Angeles Rams before moving to the Chicago Cardinals, but he ended his career in Detroit, which is where he found most of his success.
He was a 7-time Pro Bowl selection, a member of the NFL 1950s All-Decade team, a member of the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time team, and he is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
My personal favorite stat however is the 14 interceptions recorded in his rookie season.
Dick Lane paved the way for everyone who came after him. He deserves the number one of all time title.
He is remembered, by those who watched him, for his vicious hits.
Thanks for reading!