Who was the best CB of all-time?

Courtesy of Detroit Lions

Champ Bailey pursues during action against the Buffalo Bills at Invesco Field December 21, 2008

(Bailey photo courtesy of Eric Bakke/Denver Broncos)
(Night Train Lane cover photo courtesy of the Detroit Lions)

Talk of Fame Network

Cornerback has often been called the loneliest position in football because you’re alone an island and every mistake you make is visible to all watching, be it on the sideline, in the stands or on television.

You need thick skin and a short memory to survive at corner in a game where the rules are all stacked against the defense. But the best of the best somehow manage to thrive — and that’s the subject of our Talk of Fame Network poll this week. Who is the best of the best? Who is the best cornerback all-time? We’re offering up eight of the most talented and decorated cornerbacks in history for your perusal. Here are your options:

Champ Bailey. A member of the 2000s NFL all-decade team. The seventh overall pick of the 1999 draft, Bailey would go on to play 15 seasons – and was a Pro Bowler in 12 of them, an NFL record for the position. He intercepted 52 career passes, including 10 in 2006 when he led the NFL. Bailey spent his first five seasons with the Redskins before he was traded to the Broncos for RB Clinton Portis. He went to the Pro Bowl in his final four seasons with the Redskins and then eight times with the Broncos. He brought size (6-0, 192) and speed (4.28 40) to the position.

Mel Blount. A member of the NFL’s 75th anniversary team and the 1980s all-decade team. The NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 1975. Played on four Super Bowl champions with the Steelers and ranks sixth among pure cornerbacks with 57 interceptions. He was huge for a cornerback at 6-3, 205 and played a physical brand of football in an era when defenders could jostle receivers up the field. He arrived in the NFL as a third-round pick out of Southern and went on to become one of four Hall of Famers off Pittsburgh’s Steel Curtain defense of the 1970s along with Joe Greene, Jack Ham and Jack Lambert.


(Blount photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Steelers)

Willie Brown. A member of both the 1960s and 1970s NFL all-decade team. Brown played 16 seasons, winning an AFL championship in 1967 and three Super Bowls. He ranks 11th among pure cornerbacks with 54 interceptions. A four-time Pro Bowler, Brown was voted an All-AFL cornerback three times and was a two-time first-team NFL All-Pro. Undrafted out of Grambling in 1963, he was cut in camp by the Houston Oilers but signed by the Denver Broncos. He became a starter as a rookie and stayed there for four seasons before his trade to the Raiders. He returned a Fran Tarkenton pass 75 yards for a touchdown in the 1977 Super Bowl.

Darrell Green. A member of the 1990s NFL all-decade team. The 28th and last player selected in the first round of the 1983 draft, Green went on to play 20 seasons in the NFL, all with the Washington Redskins, and win three championships. His 54 interceptions tie Willie Brown for 11th all-time among pure cornerbacks. He never intercepted more than five passes in a single season, but intercepted at least one pass in 19 consecutive seasons, an NFL record. Green was voted to seven Pro Bowls but only was selected first-team All-Pro once. Green was only 5-8 but made up for any size deficiencies with his speed. He reportedly clocked a 4.09 40-yard dash while with the Redskins.


(Green photo courtesy of the Washington Redskins)

Mike Haynes. A member of the NFL’s 75th anniversary team and the 1980s all-decade team. The NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1984. The fifth overall pick of the 1976 draft by New England, Haynes went to six Pro Bowls with the Patriots before his trade to the Raiders in 1983 for a first- and second-round draft pick. He then went to three more Pro Bowls with the Raiders, with whom he won his only Super Bowl. Haynes intercepted 46 passes to rank 26th among pure cornerbacks and twice was a first-team All-Pro. He also returned 112 punts in his career for a 10.4-yard average and two touchdowns.


(Haynes photo courtesy of the Oakland Raiders)

Jimmy Johnson. A member of the 1970s NFL all-decade team. The sixth overall pick of the 1961 draft, Johnson ranks 23rd among pure corners with 47 interceptions. His best season was six in 1965 but, like Green, built an impressive streak of thievery. Johnson intercepted at least one pass in 14 consecutive seasons. He went to five Pro Bowls in his 16-year career, all with the San Francisco 49ers, and was a first-team All-Pro selection four times.

San Francisco 49ers cornerback Jimmy Johnson (37) is seen in action during an NFL game in this undated photo. (Tony Tomsic via AP)

(Johnson photo courtesy of the San Francisco 49ers)

Dick “Night Train” Lane. A member of both the NFL’s 50th and 75th anniversary team, plus the 1950s all-decade team. The NFL’s all-time leading interceptor among pure cornerbacks with 68, including an NFL-record 14 as a rookie in 1952 – a record that has stood for 64 seasons. Lane also played receiver early in his career and caught a 98-yard touchdown pass for the Chicago Cardinals in 1955. Like Willie Brown, Lane was not drafted. He played ball for four years in the Army and, upon his release, tried out for the Los Angeles Rams. Lane went on to play 14 seasons with three teams and went to seven Pro Bowls. He was a three-time first-team All-Pro and one of the NFL’s most ferocious tacklers ever to play the position. His clothesline tackle was eventually outlawed by the NFL.

Courtesy of Detroit Lions

(Lane photo courtesy of the Detroit Lions)

Deion Sanders. A member of the 1990s NFL all-decade team. The NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 1994. Sanders was the fifth overall pick of the 1989 draft by the Falcons and would go on to win Super Bowls with both San Francisco and Dallas. He went to eight Pro Bowls and was voted first-team All-Pro eight times. Sanders also played parts of nine Major League Baseball seasons. A .263 hitter, Sanders led the National League in triples in 1992. He also returned kicks, scoring touchdowns on six punt returns and three kickoff returns. He also scored nine touchdowns on interceptions and two more on receptions.

Deion Sanders

(Sanders photo courtesy of the Dallas Cowboys)

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  1. bachslunch
    November 23, 2016

    Very good group to list, and very perceptive to have Jim Johnson among the options. Johnson and Deion Sanders were (according to Dr. Z at least) the two best cover corners ever to play, while Dick Lane and Willie Brown were the best bump and run corners ever. He also listed Haynes, Roger Wehrli, and Albert Lewis as being “the three great technicians,” presumably for cover technique.

  2. Rick Gosselin
    November 23, 2016

    You could make a case for Lem Barney being included on this list as well.

  3. Darrell Green
    November 28, 2016

    Darrell Green was the smallest of all of these corners and made the greatest impact for the longest period of time with one team

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