One of the most underrated positions in sports is the cornerback. Now more than ever teams are realizing the importance of the positions so let’s take a look at the 5 greatest to ever play the position.
5. Charles Woodson
Charles Woodson may be the best zone corner to ever play the game, proven by his switch to free safety later in his career. But don’t let that fool you to think he was only a river boat gambler. Woodson also possessed fluid hips and excellent technique from the press position.
Not to mention the return ability he possessed shown by his 11 career interceptions for touchdowns which ranks second all time behind Rod Woodson. Charles Woodson also added two fumble return touchdowns compared to Rod Woodson’s one, which puts them in a tie for the most defensive touchdowns of all time with 13.
Woodson won Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1998, Defensive Player of the Year in 2009, and was a three time first-team all pro. Woodson’s return to Oakland saw him move to free safety, which in three years, added 10 interceptions bringing his career total to 65 which ranks tied for 5th all time.
Woodson would also win Super Bowl 45 with the Green Bay Packers and was a first ballot hall-of-famer in 2021. He would also lead the NFL in interceptions twice after joining the Packers, and finished his 7 years in Green Bay with 38 interceptions.
4. Mike Haynes
Mike Haynes is easily the greatest combination of size, length, and fluidity at the position ever. The tape on Haynes is why he ranks this high even if his numbers may say otherwise. Simple put, his career film is a teaching video on how to play the position.
Haynes stood 6-foot-2-inches tall and weighed 192 pounds with long arms, and mirrored every receiver he played against. Haynes is literally the reason the term is used today.
Haynes won Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1976 with the New England Patriots where he spent 7 years, being named second team All-Pro six times before signing with the Oakland Raiders. In Oakland Haynes would be named first team All-Pro twice in back-to-back years while also winning Super Bowl XVIII.
With only 46 interceptions you may wonder if he lacked ball skills, but the answer is no, he simply didn’t get thrown at enough, which is what happens when you literally mirror the receiver.
3. Dick Lane
If you didn’t like the Herb Adderley Selection you definitely won’t like this selection. However, Dick “Night Train” Lane doesn’t care that you don’t like to do research. Lane was easily the most feared corner ever and is the reason for many rule changes throughout NFL history.
As a rookie Lane set the NFL record with 14 interceptions in a season at a time when they only played 12 games a year. Again, he would lead the NFL in interceptions two years later with 10. Lane would finish his career with 68 interceptions which ranks 4th all time.
One of the reasons for his success at intercepting the quarterback was because he invented baiting the quarterback. Lane would purposely make it look like a receiver was open before using his speed to close on the ball at the last second.
Dick Lane is easily the greatest tackling, and hardest hitting, cornerback of all time. He was ranked by NFL network as the 2nd most feared tackler to ever play the game. Not just cornerback, but any player regardless of position.
In order to stop Lane’s dominance the league first implemented the facemask penalty making it illegal to tackle by the facemask. However, that didn’t stop Lane from scaring the rest of the league.
The NFL would then have to ban the closeline as a form of tackling, Lane even said “there has never been a good tackle in the history of the league below the eyebrows.”
Lane was a former wide receiver, which explains his excellent ball skills and blazing speed. Lane’s speed is why he is called “Night Train” because he was said to be as fast as a locomotive.
2. Rod Woodson
Woodson switched to safety for the final five years of his career which is where he had 24 of his 71 career interceptions which ranks third all time. During that stretch Woodson twice led the league in interceptions once in 1999 with the Baltimore Ravens and the other in 2002 with the Oakland Raiders.
Before his time at safety Woodson was the only other person to ever be mentioned with Deion Sanders for best cornerback in the league during the late 1980s and 1990s. From 1989 to 1994 Woodson was a five time first team All-Pro and won Defensive Player of the Year in 1993 while finishing second in 1994.
Woodson was absolutely the most versatile cornerback to ever play, as mentioned earlier he could play safety, but it was also his ability to play the nickel position that truly separated him from the rest.
He was not asked to play the nickel as much as todays’ cornerbacks due to 21 personnel being the base offensive package compared to todays’ 11 personnel. However, his tackling ability matched with unrivaled quickest over short areas made him possibly the greatest nickel cornerback ever.
However, one does not get ranked as the second greatest cornerback ever if he could only play the nickel position. He was a technician with pump and run coverage as well as having one of the greatest breaks on the ball while playing off coverage.
Not to mention the return skill that he possessed made him an instant field position weapon for any defense and return team. Woodson is second all-time in interception return yards with 1,483 only trailing Ed Reed.
Woodson has the most interceptions returned for touchdowns with 12 and is tied with Charles Woodson for the most defensive touchdowns of all time with 13.
However, Rod Woodson also added two punt returns and two kick returns for touchdowns ranking him 3rd all time with 17 non-offensive touchdowns, only behind Devin Hester, and the man that will be ranked number one on this list of the greatest cornerbacks to ever play.
1. Deion Sanders
I only going to say this once, I DO NOT CARE THAT HE DIDN’T WANT TO TACKLE!
Deion Sanders is the fastest, quickest, and smartest cornerback to ever play the game. Sanders had the most fluid hips, the best hands, and the best footwork ever at the position. He was also the greatest playmaker with the ball in his hands the NFL may have ever seen regardless of position.
Nicknamed Prime Time for a reason in his first NFL game he returned a punt for a touchdown and never looked back as he would go on to revolutionize the cornerback position.
From 1992-1998 he was a six time first team All-Pro and the only year he didn’t get selected was due to injury. During that stretch he also won Defensive Player of the Year in 1994, while finishing 3rd in the MVP voting, the highest ever for a cornerback.
He also finished top five in Defensive Player of the Year voting in 1993 and 1998. Deion Sanders also led the league in punt return touchdowns three times, kick return touchdowns twice, and kick return yards once.
Sanders has the second most non-offensive touchdowns of all time with 19 only trailing his protege Devin Hester. Deion was also asked to play wide receiver countless times during his career showing his ability to affect the game in every aspect.
He is fourth all time in interception return yards and tied for 5th all time in interception returned for touchdowns. Sanders totalled 53 career interceptions, which would have easily been more if the opposing quarterback didn’t decide to not even throw the ball to his side of the field.
Prime Time also won back-to-back Super Bowls, one with the 49ers in Super Bowl XXIX and the Cowboys in Super Bowl XXX. The Cowboys had a chance at four consecutive Super Bowl wins if they could have beat Sanders’ 49ers in the NFC Championship game ahead of Super Bowl XXIX.
However, Sanders was so dominant that season the Cowboys made him the highest defensive back to ever play at the time just so they didn’t have to play against him again. He would reward them by helping them win their third Super Bowl in four seasons.