NFL Power Rankings: Who Are the Top 50 Active Defensive Backs in the League?
Find a shutdown corner, and he can completely take away one side of the field. Cornerbacks on this list were graded heavily on their coverage skills, the most important attribute of a successful corner, but I also looked for good all-around players who play well in run-defense, can rush the quarterback and don’t commit too many penalties.
For safeties, I looked for players who can play multiple aspects of the game, but I focused more heavily on a blend of pass-defense and run-defense. I combined the cornerbacks and safeties on one list, picking 29 corners and 21 safeties for my top 50.
And if you missed any of my other top 50 lists, click here.
50. Kyle Arrington, CB (New England Patriots)
Kyle Arrington spent 12 days on the practice squad for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2008 before he was released. Arrington found a job with the New England Patriots and broke out with a seven-interception campaign in 2011. He started the season at an unbelievable rate, picking off three of the first 12 passes thrown his way.
49. Yeremiah Bell, S (Miami Dolphins)
Yeremiah Bell has had an underrated career.
Bell was a sixth-round draft pick of the Miami Dolphins in the 2003 NFL Draft and worked his way into the starting lineup by 2006. Bell led the team in tackles for three straight seasons (2008-2010), earning a Pro Bowl selection in 2009.
At nearly 34 years old, Bell is probably entering the last stage of his NFL life, but he's still a good tackler and above-average strong safety.
48. O.J. Atogwe, S (Washington Redskins)
It's surprising that the St. Louis Rams released O.J. Atogwe rather than pay him the $8 million bonus he was due. He's a quality safety—one the Washington Redskins were fortunate to pick up.
Atogwe was hampered by multiple injuries in his first season with the Redskins, but he should be at full strength again in 2012. When he’s healthy, he's an underrated player in pass coverage.
47. Antoine Bethea, S (Indianapolis Colts)
Antoine Bethea has started 64 straight games for the Indianapolis Colts and made two Pro Bowls, although he's still largely under the radar. Bethea struggled in pass coverage in 2011, giving up four touchdowns without intercepting a pass, but he's still very effective in playing the run.
46. Josh Wilson, CB (Washington Redskins)
Wilson was a second-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens back in the 2007 NFL Draft, and although he’s bounced around the league to some extent, he's a good cover corner with 11 interceptions in the past four seasons. He is substantially better than DeAngelo Hall on the other side of the field.
45. Nate Clements, CB (Cincinnati Bengals)
Other than in 2009, Nate Clements has stayed remarkably healthy since the Buffalo Bills took him in the first round of the 2001 NFL Draft. Clements started 15 of 16 games in his first season with the Bengals, allowing just 51.9 percent completions on passes thrown his way.
44. Donte Whitner, S (San Francisco 49ers)
The Buffalo Bills never should have taken him with the eighth overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft, but Donte Whitner has developed into a solid safety at this point in his career.
Whitner graded as the sixth-best in the league in 2011, according to Pro Football Focus, and he was substantially better than teammate Dashon Goldson, who earned a Pro Bowl selection.
43. Richard Sherman, CB (Seattle Seahawks)
The Seattle Seahawks have two very underrated cornerbacks. Richard Sherman's 2011 numbers were close to that of shutdown caliber; he allowed just 46.4 percent completions, 5.87 yards per attempt and a 57.3 passer rating, while recording four interceptions.
42. Ryan Clark, S (Pittsburgh Steelers)
Ryan Clark wasn’t much of a player in Washington, but he's developed into a very formidable safety now with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Playing opposite Troy Polamalu surely helps, but Clark has also managed to stay healthy for the last four seasons in Pittsburgh, and he's pretty solid in pass coverage.
41. Tyvon Branch, S (Oakland Raiders)
The Oakland Raiders deemed Tyvon Branch too valuable to simply leave in free agency, so they gave him the franchise tag for now. Branch has played all 48 games the last three seasons, and he's one of the best in the league at playing against the run.
40. Michael Griffin, S (Tennessee Titans)
Since the Tennessee Titans made Michael Griffin their first-round pick in the 2007 NFL Draft, he's appeared in all 80 games and been to a Pro Bowl. Griffin is solid in pass coverage and run-defense, although he's not typically mentioned in discussions among the game's best safeties.
39. Jabari Greer, CB (New Orleans Saints)
Just nine cornerbacks rate as a better player since 2008 (according to Pro Football Focus) than Jabari Greer. In 2011, Greer started all 16 games for the first time in his career, defending a personal-best 19 passes.
38. Kerry Rhodes, S (Arizona Cardinals)
Kerry Rhodes broke his foot in 2011 and missed nine games, but he's been able to stay healthy for the vast majority of his seven-year NFL career. Rhodes picked off a career-high four passes for 174 return yards in 2010 before failing to record a pick in limited time in 2011.
37. Ike Taylor, CB (Pittsburgh Steelers)
His numbers really dropped off in 2011, but Ike Taylor is still a good cornerback. He played virtually every defensive snap for the Pittsburgh Steelers, holding opposing quarterbacks to a 41.7 completion percentage and 54.8 passer rating before he was absolutely torched by Demaryius Thomas in the Wild Card round.
36. Brandon Browner, CB (Seattle Seahawks)
Brandon Browner probably didn't deserve the Pro Bowl selection he got for the 2011 season, but six interceptions and 15 passes defensed are very impressive totals.
Browner needs to work on his penalties, though, as he committed an outstanding 15 in 16 games.
35. Brandon Carr, CB (Kansas City Chiefs)
Carr will be a big name in free agency, as the 25-year old has started 64 of 64 games since being drafted in 2008. Carr allowed fewer than 50 percent of passes thrown his way last season to be completed, and he recorded four interceptions.
34. Brian Dawkins, S (Denver Broncos)
The fact that he's still a productive safety after 16 years in the league is just remarkable.
Brian Dawkins may retire now that he has suffered a neck injury. He's also a free agent, but Dawkins is still coming off a productive season. He's lost a step or two in pass coverage, as one would expect, but he's as fearsome as ever in the run game.
33. Jason McCourty, CB (Tennessee Titans)
With a strong 2011 season, Jason McCourty surpassed his brother Devin as the best McCourty defensive back in the NFL.
Jason was targeted more times than all but two cornerbacks, which explains the 802 yards he gave up, but he held quarterbacks to a solid 76.2 passer rating and defended 10 passes. Jason is at his best as one of the elite run-stuffers in the league.
32. LaRon Landry, S (Washington Redskins)
LaRon Landry is hitting the free agency market, and he will probably not be back with the Washington Redskins. Since he's coming off a torn Achilles tendon and has opted to go with alternative medical procedures, Landry is taking a great risk in terms of both his future and the kind of contract he will get in the offseason.
Landry may have to sign a one-year "prove-it" deal, and if he can stay healthy for that, he could get a long-term deal. He struggled in pass coverage in 2011, but whichever team signs him for next season will know they're getting an absolute workout freak.
(Seriously, click look at him.)
31. Corey Webster, CB (New York Giants)
Back in the prime of his career, Corey Webster was actually one of the NFL's elite cover corners, although he didn’t receive a lot of recognition.
Webster started all 16 games in 2011 for just the second time in his career, but made the most of his time. He picked off a personal-best six passes and totaled 16 passes defended. Webster was also durable enough to play more snaps than all but three cornerbacks in the league during the regular season.
In the playoffs, Webster gave up just 112 total yards and no touchdowns, playing a major role (although largely unnoticed) in the New York Giants' Super Bowl championship.
30. Tramon Williams, CB (Green Bay Packers)
Tramon Williams broke out in 2010 with six interceptions, a Pro Bowl selection and a game-sealing pick of Michael Vick in the NFC Wild Card Game.
He followed that up with a disappointing 2011 campaign, giving up more than 1,000 yards in pass coverage during the regular season and another 125 in the postseason. Williams let up more than 100 yards in a game five times, ending the season by giving up 178 and 125 in consecutive games.
Williams does have a natural feel for the ball, as evidenced by his four interceptions, and he also suffered from the Green Bay Packers' lack of a solid pass-rusher on the defensive line. Williams should return to form in 2012, although if Nick Collins can't come back from his neck injury, Williams may not be the same player again that he was in 2010.
29. Kenny Phillips, S (New York Giants)
Kenny Phillips is an extremely underrated player in pass coverage, and no safety was better in that department during the 2011 season.
Phillips didn't allow a touchdown on 29 pass attempts his way, recording four interceptions and holding quarterbacks to just a 36.2 passer rating. Like Corey Webster, Phillips doesn't receive a lot of recognition for his strong play in the secondary, but he had a key role in the New York Giants' world title.
28. Aqib Talib, CB (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
This ranking is for Aqib Talib the player—not Aqib Talib the man who can't stay out of trouble with the law.
Talib is a playmaker, and even though he missed three games due to injury in 2011, he still tied for the NFL lead in interceptions for touchdowns with two. Talib has 17 career interceptions in 54 games, although the knock on him is he can't stay healthy, having never played a full 16-game season.
Talib gave up far too many touchdown passes (six) in 2011, but he also was affected by the poor play opposite of him from Ronde Barber. Talib should have a bounce-back year in 2012, if he can actually get onto the field.
27. Vontae Davis, CB (Miami Dolphins)
Before the season, Vontae Davis said he and Sean Smith were the best cornerback tandem in the NFL.
They then went out and gave up 517 yards to Tom Brady in Week 1, and Davis had to leave each of the Miami Dolphins' first two games early with injuries.
Davis didn't have the strongest 2011 season, missing four whole games later in the year. He also suffered from the poor play opposite him from Smith, who went on to have one of the worst seasons of any corner in the league.
Davis was a first-round pick in the 2009 draft, and he's a star waiting to happen. He has a good nose for the ball, as he recorded four interceptions in just 12 games.
26. Chris Gamble, CB (Carolina Panthers)
After beginning his career at Ohio State as a wide receiver, Chris Gamble converted to cornerback and went in the first round of the 2004 NFL Draft. He hasn't made a Pro Bowl in eight seasons with the Carolina Panthers, but he has been extremely solid.
Gamble turned in some strong performances against several of the NFL's top receivers in 2011. He held Larry Fitzgerald to just 39 yards on two catches, kept Roddy White at just one catch for 14 yards and one catch for nine yards in their two matchups, and limited Greg Jennings to just four yards.
Gamble hasn't stayed fully healthy throughout his career. He has played all 16 games just three times in eight seasons and missed one game in 2011. But Gamble has quietly developed into a shutdown corner, as evidenced by the 45.0 completion percentage he surrendered on passes thrown his way.
25. Quintin Mikell, S (St. Louis Rams)
Quintin Mikell worked his way up from being an undrafted free agent in 2003 to an All-Pro strong safety by 2008. He signed a four-year deal with the St. Louis Rams in the offseason, despite coming off several terrific seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Mikell went to a team with far less all-around defensive talent, but he still started all 16 games, recorded two interceptions and forced an impressive five fumbles. Mikell is adept in pass coverage, giving up just a 61.6 passer rating on attempts his way, and he did this with an awful pair of cornerbacks playing in the same defensive backfield with him.
24. Brandon Flowers, CB (Kansas City Chiefs)
Since the 2009 season, Pro Football Focus rates Darrelle Revis as the only defensive back better than Brandon Flowers. Flowers has flown largely under the radar, but he's a Pro Bowler in the making, and that helped earn him a five-year, $50 million extension with the Kansas City Chiefs in the preseason.
Flowers started all 16 games for the first time in his career in 2011, recording four interceptions and 20 passes defended. He gave up far too many touchdown passes (the eight he let up were more than any corner in the league except for Stanford Routt's nine), but he was also targeted so many times. Flowers also played very well against the run.
23. Jairus Byrd, S (Buffalo Bills)
Jairus Byrd had a terrific rookie season in 2009, a subpar sophomore campaign in 2010 and then a fabulous year in 2011.
Byrd intercepted three passes, forced three fumbles and recorded a career-high 75 tackles. He is exceptional in both pass coverage and run-defense, and he's an All-Pro in the making.
22. Eric Berry, S (Kansas City Chiefs)
The Kansas City Chiefs picked Eric Berry with the fifth overall selection in the 2010 NFL Draft, and he gave them a terrific season as a rookie.
Berry made the Pro Bowl, was the only member of the Chiefs' defense to play in every defensive snap and led the team with four interceptions. He is also an exceptionally adept pass-rusher for a safety.
Berry tore his ACL in the first week of 2011 and was subsequently placed on injured reserve. He says he intends to return for the start of the 2012 season, although he probably won't be at 100 percent when he does make it back simply because of the severity of his injury.
21. Kam Chancellor, S (Seattle Seahawks)
Kam Chancellor sat his rookie season behind veteran Lawyer Milloy in 2010, but took over the starting spot in 2011 when the Seattle Seahawks let Milloy go.
Chancellor responded with a terrific season, intercepting four passes, defending 12, forcing two fumbles and accumulating 73 tackles. The team knew they had a future star when they picked Earl Thomas in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft, but to get two Pro Bowl safeties in one draft—and Chancellor in the fifth round—speaks volumes about the scouting department.
20. Carlos Rogers, CB (San Francisco 49ers)
The San Francisco 49ers signed Carlos Rogers to a one-year deal, and he responded with the top season of his seven-year career. Rogers can't get the franchise tag since the team already gave that to safety Dashon Goldson, so he will be looking for a long-term deal.
Rogers recorded six interceptions for 106 return yards and a touchdown in 2011, adding 19 passes defended. Rogers held quarterbacks to a 61.9 passer rating, and although he benefited greatly from the pressure that Justin Smith and Aldon Smith gave to opposing teams, Rogers finally played like the upper first-round pick the Washington Redskins made him back in 2005.
19. Earl Thomas, S (Seattle Seahawks)
Safeties are probably at an all-time weak point in the NFL right now, and with Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed nearing the tail-end of their careers, Earl Thomas is set to emerge as the league's best at his position.
Thomas made the Pro Bowl and received a Second-Team AP All-Pro selection in 2011 (although his 2010 rookie season was good enough that he probably should have received recognition then, too). Thomas hasn't missed a start in two seasons, and has averaged 3.5 interceptions and 64 tackles per year.
18. Leon Hall, CB (Cincinnati Bengals)
The Cincinnati Bengals let Johnathan Joseph go in free agency, and then extended Leon Hall to the tune of four years and $39 million.
Hall—a first-round pick in the 2007 NFL Draft—had never missed a game in his five-year career until he tore his Achilles' tendon midway through the 2011 season. Hall is still young, he's a lockdown cover corner and he should be able to rebound from this injury. The Bengals had better hope he's the same player in 2012 because he's extremely vital to the success of their young organization.
17. Joe Haden, CB (Cleveland Browns)
Joe Haden is just 22 years old, he was the seventh overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft and he's going to be a top cornerback in this league for the next decade or more.
But allow me to first focus on an extremely disappointing 2011 season.
After picking off six passes as a rookie, Haden failed to record a single interception in his next year. He gave up three touchdown passes and allowed quarterbacks to post an 87.0 passer rating a season after giving up just two for a 50.1 passer rating. Haden also committed a whopping nine penalties in 2011.
I'm not the least bit concerned that Haden won't develop into a top corner; in fact, he is one already, and I fully expect him to bounce back with a Pro Bowl campaign in 2012.
16. Charles Tillman, CB (Chicago Bears)
Charles Tillman has had a very similar career to Chris Gamble. Both were drafted in the upper rounds of the NFL draft, and both have been extremely consistent, solid cornerbacks, just probably not in the discussion of the best at their position.
After missing one or two games due to injury for five straight seasons, Tillman responded to play all 16 games in both 2010 and 2011. He recorded five interceptions, 14 passes defended and four forced fumbles in 2010. He followed that up with three picks,—two returned for touchdowns—12 passes defended and four more forced fumbles in 2011, which earned him his first career Pro Bowl selection.
Tillman is extremely physical and is a fabulous run defender; he has 27 forced fumbles in nine seasons. To give you a comparison, Asante Samuel has six in his nine seasons. Tillman also averages 70 tackles per season, a terrific total for a corner, and he has recovered nine fumbles.
He plays solid, fundamental, all-around football, and it's high time Tillman gets the praise he deserves for his prowess at the cornerback position.
15. Antoine Winfield, CB (Minnesota Vikings)
Antoine Winfield has long been one of the NFL's more underrated defensive superstars, and he's a complete cornerback who can play the pass and stop the run as good as anyone in the league.
Winfield rates as the second-best defensive back in the league since 2008 (according to PFF), trailing just super cover corner Darrelle Revis, but significantly ahead of players like Ed Reed, Troy Polamalu and Champ Bailey. That's even more remarkable considering Winfield has suited up for just 47 games in the past four seasons, the equivalency of not even three seasons, which gives Winfield the edge in a per game basis.
Winfield is coming off an injury that caused him to miss 11 games in 2011, and he's now missed six or more games in three of the past five seasons. He still rated as the sixth-best corner in the league this past year despite suiting up for just five games.
Winfield is also a superb player against the run, and he didn’t give up a touchdown pass in 339 snaps.
14. Nick Collins, S (Green Bay Packers)
The early reports on Green Bay Packers safety Nick Collins were that he might never recover from the neck injury he suffered in Week 2 of the 2011 season. Collins underwent cervical fusion surgery on his neck soon after and has been doing some light physical activity since sustaining the injury.
If we as NFL fans have learned anything about neck injuries from Peyton Manning, it’s that neck injuries are every bit as serious as they sound.
It's a shame for the Packers, because Collins was coming off three consecutive Pro Bowl seasons, and he was arguably the top safety in the NFC. He was a premier ball-hawk who helped Green Bay win a Super Bowl following the 2010 season, and he recorded 17 interceptions for an incredible 439 return yards and three touchdowns in a three-year span from 2008-2010.
To say the Packers missed Collins in 2011 is an understatement. The team went from second in scoring defense, fifth in overall defense, fifth in passing yards allowed and third in net yards allowed per attempt to rankings of 19th, 32nd, 32nd and 30th.
13. Eric Weddle, S (San Diego Chargers)
I didn't realize just how good Eric Weddle was in pass coverage until I checked out the statistics of opposing quarterbacks throwing his way in 2011.
Weddle picked off seven passes, which was a major factor in his Pro Bowl selection, but he also allowed some incredible numbers against him: just a 40.0 completion percentage, 4.1 yards per attempt and a 25.8 passer rating.
Those numbers make him by far the best cover safety in the NFL, and he’s also not too shabby against the run.
In addition to his Pro Bowl selection, Weddle's seven picks tied him for the league lead in interceptions, and he was named the San Diego Chargers' Defensive Player of the Year in addition to his nomination for his second straight AP All-Pro Team.
12. Cortland Finnegan, CB (Tennessee Titans)
There once was a man named Cortland Finnegan,
AJ burned him again and again.
He went up and caught the ball again,
Poor old Cortland Finnegan. Burned again.
Okay, well other than trying to cover Andre Johnson, Cortland Finnegan is a stud cornerback and probably the best seventh-round corner I can remember. And it's not as if Finnegan is the only corner who has trouble covering the 6'3", All-Pro Johnson.
Finnegan had just one interception in 2011, but he also gave up just two touchdowns on 82 pass attempts his way. He allowed just 5.56 yards per attempt, and he's an incredibly physical corner—one of the absolute best in the league against the run.
11. Nnamdi Asomugha, CB (Philadelphia Eagles)
After signing a five-year, $60 million contract with the Philadelphia Eagles in the offseason, it looked like Nnamdi Asomugha was the key to putting the team over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC.
Asomugha suffered through arguably his worst season as a pro. He was used incorrectly by defensive coordinator Juan Castillo all season, but he was also simply outplayed on several plays, most notably on a jump ball to Victor Cruz in Week 3 that catapulted Cruz's career and also on a pass in the corner of the end zone to Brandon Marshall in Week 14. Both of these passes should have been defended by the 6'3" Asomugha.
Asomugha actually recorded three interceptions, matching his total from the previous four seasons, but that's because he was actually targeted in Philly. Asomugha allowed 61 percent completions, eight yards per attempt and four touchdown passes. He also looked awful in run-defense and was flagged for a handful of costly penalties.
I have full confidence Asomugha will rebound strong in 2012. Like DRC and Asante Samuel, he struggled to learn Castillo's defensive scheme, and the lockout in the offseason didn't help. Asomugha was a four-time reigning Pro Bowler for a reason when the Eagles signed him, and he's still just 30 years old.
10. Champ Bailey, CB (Denver Broncos)
After 13 seasons in the league, at probably the most difficult defensive position, Champ Bailey is still a top 10 defensive back. He has been to 11 Pro Bowls—the most of any cornerback in league history—and has a shrine in the Pro Football Hall of Fame all but assured.
Bailey missed three games with a hamstring injury in 2011, and he's now played in all 16 games just twice since 2005. He's definitely in the twilight phase of his career, but Bailey is still a lockdown corner. He allowed just two touchdown passes in 63 pass attempts and recorded 10 passes defended.
Bailey is also a terrific run-stopper, and he rarely commits penalties.
9. Adrian Wilson, S (Arizona Cardinals)
Adrian Wilson has long been one of the NFL's top safeties, going to five Pro Bowls and making three All-Pro teams with the Arizona Cardinals. Wilson is terrific in all facets of the game, particularly rushing the quarterback, as he holds the league record for a defensive back with eight sacks in a season (2005). He is also a member of the exclusive 20 interception-20 sack club.
Wilson allowed just 14 receptions and one touchdown pass in 2011, holding quarterbacks to a 64.3 passer rating. He set a career-high with 14 passes defended and tied for third-best among all safeties with six quarterback pressures.
8. Johnathan Joseph, CB (Houston Texans)
The Houston Texans had by far one of the more underrated signings of the offseason when they inked Johnathan Joseph to a five-year, $48.75 million deal. The move paid off, as Joseph made his first Pro Bowl and helped the Texans go from the 32nd-ranked defense in 2010 to second-best in 2011.
Joseph, a former first-round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2006 NFL Draft, added four interceptions in his 15 starts and then another one in the Texans' first-ever playoff win. He registered 18 passes defended and did so without a quality season from Kareem Jackson opposite him on the field.
7. Lardarius Webb, CB (Baltimore Ravens)
Lardarius Webb was one of the biggest Pro Bowl snubs this past season, as he turned in an absolutely sensational campaign.
Webb was forced into the starting lineup early in the year due to injuries, and he started 15 games for the Baltimore Ravens. Webb intercepted five passes and, most impressively, didn't allow a single touchdown pass. Webb's five picks were more than all three corners selected to the AFC Pro Bowl this year, and he's probably the best of the group in playing the run.
Webb also returned a punt for a touchdown, giving the Ravens an added bonus as an electrifying punt returner. He is still just 26 years old and has proven to be a steal as a third-round pick of the Ravens in the 2009 NFL Draft.
6. Brent Grimes, CB (Atlanta Falcons)
Other than Darrelle Revis, Brent Grimes was probably the best cover corner in the league last season. He graded as Pro Football Focus' second-best overall corner, even though he missed four games due to injury.
Grimes yielded just a 44.6 percent completion rate, 4.61 yards per attempt and a 62.9 opponents' passer rating. He recorded just one interception, but he also gave up only two touchdown passes.
Grimes is set to hit free agency, and he will be one of the most sought-after players in the league. The former Division II superstar is now an NFL star, and he’s 28 years old at one of the league’s most coveted positions.
Grimes says he has no plans to sign the franchise tag with the Atlanta Falcons. And considering last offseason Johnathan Joseph and Nnamdi Asomugha got $49 million and $60 million deals, respectively, Grimes has to be hoping for something close to that value.
5. Asante Samuel, CB (Philadelphia Eagles)
He's as one-dimensional of a player as there is in this league, but Asante Samuel still cracks my top five because of how simply good he is as a playmaker on defense.
Samuel has recorded 45 interceptions since entering the league in 2003, and he’s led the league twice. He picked off just three passes in 2011, but he also played in only 11 games.
Samuel is known widely around the league for being a gambler, as his trademark is to bait the quarterback into throwing the ball and then proceeding to jump the route. What's remarkable about his numbers, though, is they they scream shutdown corner; Samuel allowed just a 47.5 percent completion rate, 4.85 yards per attempt and a 52.4 passer rating.
He started the year poorly as he adjusted to Juan Castillo's new defense, but unlike Nnamdi Asomugha, Samuel rebounded to finish the season strong. Samuel is notably poor in tackling, and he’s a liability in the run game, but his prowess as a ball-hawk are enough that he's worth the $10 million the Philadelphia Eagles are paying him per season.
4. Charles Woodson, CB (Green Bay Packers)
I've heard people say they think Charles Woodson is the greatest cornerback in NFL history. Woodson was drafted fourth overall by the Oakland Raiders in the 1998 draft after a stellar career at the University of Michigan, and he's made eight Pro Bowls in his 14 NFL seasons.
Most impressively about Woodson’s career is that he appeared to be in the twilight of his career in the mid-2000s, but bounced back with a strong season in 2008, making his first Pro Bowl in seven years. He won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award in 2009, his 12th season in the league.
Woodson is coming off his fourth straight Pro Bowl appearance, having tied for the league lead with seven interceptions, mostly by playing in the slot. He also recorded 17 passes defended, notched two sacks and recorded 63 tackles.
There aren't many 35-year-old cornerbacks still in the league, let alone players who put up those kind of numbers. Woodson gave up four touchdowns in pass coverage, a figure a little higher than his previous seasons, but he also led all cornerbacks in quarterback pressures (eight) and he finished third in stops (29) in run-defense.
3. Ed Reed, S (Baltimore Ravens)
It seems every year anymore we hear reports that Ed Reed may retire after the season, but he's still going, and he's going strong. Reed has said he will be back for 2012, and that's good news for the Baltimore Ravens.
Reed started all 16 games in 2011, recording three interceptions and 10 passes defended. His numbers were down from the league-leading eight picks he posted the year before, but it's also difficult to maintain that rate.
Reed was at his finest in the postseason for the Ravens. In two playoff games, he was targeted nine times, allowing just two completions for 20 yards. Reed picked off one pass and recorded an incredible five passes defended.
Including his postseason numbers, Reed allowed just a 41.8 passer rating on attempts going his way. That's precisely why he will be entering the Hall of Fame on his first try whenever he finally decides to hang it up.
2. Troy Polamalu, S (Pittsburgh Steelers)
Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed are the clear-cut top two safeties in the NFL, but I have Polamalu higher because he's coming off a better season, and he's a much more effective all-around player.
Polamalu graded as PFF's top overall safety in the 2011 season with a value of +22.3 (including the playoffs), and he’s been the website's top safety since 2008 with a +57.6 value.
Polamalu is terrific in all aspects of the game—playing the run, covering the pass and rushing the quarterback. He can play close to the line of scrimmage like a blitzing linebacker or back deep like a safety trying to prevent the deep pass.
His reckless style of play causes him to miss his fair share of games due to injuries, but he suited up for all 16 contests in 2011. Polamalu's 66 tackles were his most in six seasons, and his 14 passes defended were his top value since the Pittsburgh Steelers' last Super Bowl championship in 2008. Polamalu is still just 30 years old and he can probably play for four to five more seasons, which is terrific news for Steelers fans.
1. Darrelle Revis, CB (New York Jets)
Darrelle Revis is probably the game's finest shutdown corner the NFL has seen since Deion Sanders.
Revis was named to his fourth straight Pro Bowl and third straight AP All-Pro team in 2011, finishing the season with four interceptions for 185 return yards, including a 100-yard touchdown.
Revis' finest attribute is his ability to completely shut down one side of the field, and he did so to his normal abilities in 2011. Revis allowed just a 41.2 completion percentage on passes thrown his way, along with a remarkable 45.6 passer rating. Those numbers put him first among all NFL cornerbacks this past season, and Revis is also a fine player in run-defense.
In the first five games of the season, Revis looked to be a candidate for not only the Defensive Player of the Year award but maybe even the MVP. He allowed just four completions for 42 yards in a five-game span, recording one interception and two passes defended. Quarterbacks had a completion percentage of 28.6 against him.
Considering Revis is still just 26 years old, he's going to be the best cornerback in the league for many more seasons.