Top 10 cornerbacks of all time

Profile Picture: Ashley Anderson

July 12th, 2021

They’re fast, sometimes flashy, and incredibly intimidating. Cornerbacks are some of the most critical defenders on the field, particularly in the NFL’s modern, pass-focused era.   

From one true shutdown corner to a pair of all-purpose defensive backs, here are the top 10 cornerbacks in NFL history.

10. Ty Law

What three-time Super Bowl champion Ty Law did in the regular season is nothing to scoff at, but his brilliance in the postseason is what makes his career special.

The five-time Pro Bowler recorded an interception for a touchdown off a pass by Saint Louis Rams quarterback Kurt Warner in the New England Patriots’ upset, 20-17 Super Bowl win over “The Greatest Show on Turf” in 2002 and picked off Indianapolis Colts QB Peyton Manning three times in the 2003 AFC Championship Game.

Because of Law’s physicality against some of the league’s best receivers, the NFL more strictly enforced the five-yard illegal contact rule following the Patriots' Super Bowl-winning season in 2003.

In 2009, the two-time NFL interceptions leader (1998, 2005) retired with 53 interceptions, 169 pass deflections, seven defensive touchdowns, and five sacks. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2019.

9. Aeneas Williams

While the Arizona Cardinals achieved just one winning season during Aeneas Williams' 10-year tenure in Phoenix, he managed to stand out as one of the best cornerbacks of his time.

An eight-time Pro Bowler, he intercepted six passes as a rookie and led the league in interceptions (9) the following season.

In the 1998 playoffs, Williams picked off a pair of Troy Aikman passes in a 20-7 win over Dallas and pulled down a pass intended for Minnesota Vikings receiver Randy Moss in the Cardinals' 41–21 loss in the Divisional Round.

Considered one of the greatest shutdown corners in NFL history, Williams also tied an NFL record in 2000, when he returned a fumble 104 yards for a touchdown in a game against Washington.

He switched to free safety upon joining the Rams in 2001 and retired with 55 interceptions, nine touchdowns, five forced fumbles, and 795 tackles.

8. Darrell Green

One of the most versatile cornerbacks of his era, Darrell Green helped Washington's franchise collect two Super Bowl titles in a four-year span.

A seven-time Pro Bowler, Green was not only incredibly fast (a trait he attributed to eating Tootsie Rolls), but also durable. 

Throughout 20 seasons in Washington, he missed just 25 games, while he amassed 54 interceptions, which he returned for 621 yards and six scores, and tallied two interceptions returned for touchdowns in the postseason.

He also holds the record for most consecutive seasons with an interception (19) and the most games played by a defensive player (295).

7. Charles Woodson

Tom Brady's former Michigan teammate was a G.O.A.T. in his own right.

The longtime cornerback for the Oakland Raiders earned NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1998, after he posted five interceptions for 118 return yards, one defensive touchdown, two forced fumbles, and 64 tackles.

In 2009, he led the league in interceptions (9) and defensive touchdowns (3), which earned him NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

One of Woodson's most famous games came against Brady in the 2002 AFC Divisional Round, in which Woodson seemingly sealed a victory with a strip-sack of Brady late in the fourth quarter. However, the ruling was overturned via the infamous "Tuck Rule." 

The Patriots went on to win the Super Bowl that year, but Woodson finally got his ring with the Packers in Super Bowl XLV.

In 2015, he retired with an NFL record 13 defensive touchdowns (tied with Rod Woodson and Darren Sharper), 65 interceptions (fifth most in history), 20 sacks, 155 passes deflected, and 1,105 total tackles.

6. Dick "Night Train" Lane

In 1952, Dick "Night Train" Lane joined the Los Angeles Rams and immediately etched his name in history.

As a rookie, the vicious tackler set the single-season record for interceptions, with 14 across 12 games — a mark that will likely never be surpassed, even with today's 17-game schedule.

The seven-time Pro Bowler also led the league in interceptions (10) in 1954, and ranks fourth all time in interceptions, with 68. His 1,207 interception return yards are the sixth most by any player in NFL history, and his 298 interception return yards in 1952 were just three yards short of an NFL record, at the time. Today, that total ranks seventh best for a single season.

5. Champ Bailey

Longtime member of the Washington Redskins and Denver Broncos, Champ Bailey was considered one of the best at his position throughout his 15-year career. The skilled CB was selected to 12 Pro Bowls, a record at his position, and led the league in interceptions (10) in 2006.

For his career, he recorded 908 tackles, 52 interceptions (26th all time), and 203 passes defended, the most by any player in NFL history.

In 2009, Bailey didn’t allow a touchdown pass in 80 targets and was credited with holding Larry Fitzgerald to just three catches for 19 yards in a game against the Cardinals in the 2010 season.  

His ability to play at an elite level for as long as he did makes him a standout corner during the modern era, but his skill at shutting down some of the best receivers in the NFL places him in the top five of all time at his position.

4. Mel Blount

Four-time Super Bowl champion Mel Blount helped make the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense one of the most dominant in the league. His 6-foot-3 frame mixed with his speed, tenacity and physicality enabled him to crush receivers with his "bump-and-run" pass defense.

Blount was such a ferocious defender that the NFL implemented a rule change, named the "Mel Blount Rule," which eliminated contact with receivers five yards past the line of scrimmage. The new rule didn’t affect Blount’s production, though. He altered his style of play and still made three more Pro Bowls, on top of the two he earned in ’75 and ’76.

Blount ended his career in 1983 with 57 interceptions (13th in NFL history) and 736 return yards. He intercepted at least one pass in all 14 of his NFL seasons and topped the league in interceptions (11) in 1975, the same season he claimed Defensive Player of the Year. He also picked off three passes in Super Bowl competition, including two thrown by Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach.

3. Darrelle Revis

Statistically speaking, Darrelle Revis’ résumé isn’t earth-shattering compared to other cornerbacks, but the numbers don’t tell the entire story.

The seven-time Pro Bowler built a reputation as such a deadly defender that opposing quarterbacks did their best to steer clear of his spot on the field — nicknamed Revis Island.

Revis could shut down any team’s No. 1 receiver, including the likes of Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, and Calvin Johnson. In 2009, the most yards he permitted while guarding a receiver one-on-one was 58, and he held Moss, Owens, Chad Johnson, and Reggie Wayne to no more than five catches or 40 yards that year.

Revis spent the majority of his career in New York (2007-12, 2015-16), where he reached the AFC Championship Game in 2009 and 2010. He played one season in Tampa Bay in 2013, then signed a one-year contract with the Patriots in 2014 and won a Super Bowl that season.

In Super Bowl XLIX against the Seattle Seahawks, Revis recorded a sack and allowed just one reception — though, that catch was a three-yard touchdown by Doug Baldwin, who bumped Revis into an NFL official to force an opening for the catch. It was the only time quarterback Russell Wilson targeted Baldwin the entire game.  

In all, Revis totalled 29 interceptions, plus six forced fumbles and three defensive touchdowns throughout his career. His stats may not be memorable, but opposing quarterbacks will never forget the nightmares he caused them on the field.

2. Rod Woodson

Throughout the 1990s, Rod Woodson made a compelling case as the most complete cornerback of all time, if not the greatest. The 11-time Pro Bowler could do it all, from picking off passes to tackling, creating fumbles, and rushing the passer.

While with the Pittsburgh Steelers (1987-1996), he forced 20 fumbles and scored six defensive TDs. He also tallied six sacks in 1992, the second most by a Steelers player that season.

For his career, Woodson recorded 71 interceptions (third all time) for 1,483 yards (second all time). His 12 interceptions returned for a touchdown rank first in NFL history, as do his 32 fumble recoveries by a defensive player. He also set a record with the most Pro Bowl nominations at his position (11) and earned NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1993, after he racked up eight interceptions and 95 tackles.

In September 1995, Woodson tore his ACL in the season opener against the Detroit Lions. He missed most of the season after having reconstructive surgery but returned to play in the Steelers’ 27-17 loss  to the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl XXX. Woodson later won a title in Super Bowl XXXV as a free safety for the Baltimore Ravens. He made the change to safety in 1999 and primarily played that position while with the Ravens and Oakland Raiders, where he reached one more Super Bowl (a loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2003) and closed out his career.

1. Deion Sanders

There’s not much Deion Sanders couldn’t do—except tackle well. But that didn’t matter much, because the menacing cornerback kept most opposing players from getting open in the first place.

Known as "Prime Time" and "Neon Deion," Sanders is considered by many the greatest at his position. He didn’t just excel at cornerback, either. He spent time as a return specialist and wide receiver. Not to mention, he played nine seasons as an outfielder in Major League Baseball in the midst of his 16-year tenure in the NFL.

The dual-sport star competed in multiple Super Bowls, one World Series, and gained notoriety for his excellence on the field and his personality off of it. Sanders began his career at the Atlanta Falcons (1989-1993), then jumped to the 49ers for one season, where he helped the team win Super Bowl XXIX. One year later, he signed with the Dallas Cowboys, with whom he triumphed in Super Bowl XXX. Sanders also briefly played for the Redskins and Ravens, before he retired in 2005.

The Hall of Famer intercepted 53 passes (24th all time) for 1,331 yards (fourth all time) in his career. His 25.1 yards per interception return is the best in NFL history, and he’s fifth in interceptions returned for a touchdown (9).

Sanders was an eight-time Pro Bowl nominee, nine-time first-team All-Pro selection, and NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1994. The spirited speedster talked the talk and backed it up in a way few people can, all while setting the gold standard at cornerback.  

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