Over the years, it’s become harder and harder to rank the best cornerbacks of all time.

It seems with each generation, there is an even larger collection of elite cornerbacks. That makes the pool of cornerbacks who can be considered among the best corners of all time rather large. That’s why we put together a list of the 20 greatest cornerbacks in NFL history.

Best cornerbacks of all time

Even selecting just 20 of the best cornerbacks of all time proved to be a challenge.

However, the greatest defensive players in NFL history deserve plenty of recognition. That’s why we put a lot of consideration into our ranking of the 20 best corners of all time.

20. Dick LeBeau

Younger fans will remember Dick LeBeau mostly as a great defensive coordinator. But he was also one of the top cornerbacks of the 1960s.

 
 
 
 

LeBeau spent his entire career with the Lions, and while he only went to three Pro Bowls, he was far more impactful than that would suggest. Of course, his accomplishments as a player largely pale in comparison to his 45 years in the league as a coach.

19. Ronde Barber

While some only know him as Tiki’s twin brother, Ronde Barber had quite the career himself. He was a five-time All-Pro and a five-time Pro Bowler while spending his entire career with the Buccaneers.

When the Bucs had a dominant defense in the early 2000s, Barber was a big part of those teams. To date, he still holds the NFL’s all-time record for most consecutive starts by a defensive back with 215 (224 with playoffs).

18. Ken Riley

During the 1970s, Ken Riley was surely among the elite corners in the NFL. For a guy who played quarterback in college, wasn’t selected until the sixth round, and immediately converted to cornerback in the pros, Riley took to the position far better than most.

The fact that he’s anywhere near the top of the list of the best cornerbacks of all time is a testament to him as an athlete. Despite little experience at the position, Riley went on to play 15 seasons in the league, collecting 65 career interceptions.

17. Richard Sherman

Other corners had longer careers, but Richard Sherman was truly an elite cornerback throughout much of his 11 seasons in the league. He was an integral part of Seattle’s “Legion of Boom” secondary that helped the Seahawks win Super Bowl XLVIII.

Between 2012 and 2016, Sherman was the best corner in the league, at times taking away an entire half of the field.

After a couple of injury-plagued subpar seasons, Sherman returned to form as a Pro Bowler in 2019 before more injuries further contributed to his decline. But before that happened, Sherman was good enough to earn a spot among the best cornerbacks ever.

16. Lem Barney

Lem Barney is a great example of a player who went to a smaller college but hit the ground running. As a rookie, he led the NFL in interceptions and won Defensive Rookie of the Year.

That season, he returned three picks for a touchdown, which remains a record that he shares. From there, Barney continued to excel, ultimately going to seven Pro Bowls on his way to the Hall of Fame. For his career, Barney had 56 interceptions, three of which he ran back for touchdowns.

15. Aeneas Williams

Imagine going from not being offered a scholarship to college to become a Pro Football Hall of Famer. But that’s the story of Aeneas Williams, who didn’t even join the football team at Southern as a walk-on until his junior year.

He’d eventually become a third-round pick and then went to the Pro Bowl eight times. Williams led the NFL in interceptions in 1994 during his breakout season and would eventually make the NFL’s 1990s All-Decade Team. He’s truly one of the most inspirational stories in NFL history, not to mention a great cornerback.

14. Ty Law

Fans of the Patriots surely remember Ty Law fondly for his contributions to three Super Bowl wins. But Law was more than just a cog in Bill Belichick’s machine.

He led the NFL in interceptions twice and went to five Pro Bowls during his Hall of Fame career. Granted, the last few years of his career didn’t go that well. But during his decade with the Patriots, he was consistently one of the best cornerbacks in the league, earning a spot on the 1990s and 2000s All-Decades Teams.

13. Mel Renfro

There aren’t many players at any position that have gone to 10 straight Pro Bowls, but Mel Renfro is one of them.

He spent his entire career with the Cowboys, going to the Pro Bowl as a rookie in 1964 and then in nine straight seasons after that. Renfroe also led the league in interceptions in 1969, eventually finishing his career with 52 picks.

The caveat is that he began his career at safety and also played on offense. But once he was moved to cornerback, he was a natural. As a track star in college, Renfroe could match any wide receiver stride for stride, making it tough for them to get away from him. Ultimately, that made him one of the best cornerbacks ever and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

12. Herb Adderley

Unfortunately, Herb Adderley isn’t always remembered as one of the all-time greats in Green Bay Packers history. But he was a part of five teams in Green Bay that won an NFL championship while also helping the Packers win the first two Super Bowls.

In fact, Adderley was the only player to play in four of the first six Super Bowls, as he ended his career with the Cowboys, helping them win Super Bowl VI. In addition to being a winning player, Adderley went to the Pro Bowl in five straight seasons from 1963 to 1967 and had 48 interceptions during his career, making him one of the premier cornerbacks of the 1960s and one of the great forgotten corners in NFL history.

11. Mike Haynes

In addition to being a feared kick returner, Mike Haynes was consistently among the best corners in the NFL for more than a decade. He had the size, speed, and physicality that teams covet at cornerback.

Haynes took the league by storm in 1976, winning Defensive Rookie of the Year and going to his first Pro Bowl. He’d end up going to eight more Pro Bowls in the next 10 seasons. Haynes would end up being a member of the 1980s All-Decade Team, but you can put him against just about any cornerback from any generation and Haynes will hold his own.

10. Willie Brown

Despite going undrafted and getting cut from his first NFL team, Willie Brown somehow ended up having a Hall of Fame career. During the 1960s, he was named an AFL All-Star five times and then went to the Pro Bowl in four straight seasons from 1970 to 1973 after the merger.

During that time, he was one of the elite cornerbacks in either league, helping the Raiders win three Super Bowls. In fact, in the first Super Bowl win, Brown had a 75-yard pick-six against Fran Tarkenton to help seal the win. In his Hall of Fame career, Brown had 54 interceptions, including four in a single game, which is no small feat.

9. Emlen Tunnell

As the first African-American player to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Emlen Tunnell has a special place in history. He got there by being one of the best cornerbacks of his generation.

He played from 1948 to 1961 and was an obvious choice for the NFL’s 1950s All-Decade Team. During the 1950s, Tunnell went to nine Pro Bowls in addition to being a six-time First-Team All-Pro selection.

He also helped both the Giants and Packers win an NFL championship during his career. At the time of his retirement, Tunnell owned the NFL records for career interceptions and interception return yards and remains near the top in both categories. He also showed impressive durability by playing in 158 straight games at the time he retired.

8. Darrelle Revis

They only give nicknames to the greatest cornerbacks in NFL history. That’s how we know Darrelle Revis belongs among the best. The area he could cover became known as “Revis Island” for his ability to be left isolated with top-notch receivers and shut them down.

There aren’t many cornerbacks in the history of the NFL who have excelled at one-on-one defending quite like Revis. He also maintained that high level of play for close to a decade before becoming merely above average late in his career.

During his third season, Revis set the single-season NFL record with 31 defended passes. Over his first five seasons, he averaged 19 defended passes per season before teams started to avoid throwing in his vicinity altogether. Starting in his second year, Revis went to the Pro Bowl seven times in eight seasons, only missing out in 2012 only because he tore his ACL. Revis wasn’t quite the same after that, but his reputation still carried a lot of weight for the rest of his career.

7. Charles Woodson

In addition to being the only defensive player to date to win the Heisman Trophy, Charles Woodson put together a standout career in the NFL. He spent most of his career with the Raiders, although he won a Super Bowl while playing for the Packers.

Woodson took home Defensive Rookie of the Year honors in 1998 and would eventually win Defensive Player of the Year in 2009. He led the league in interceptions twice and was also named to nine Pro Bowls.

Woodson is also tied for the all-time record in defensive touchdowns. Despite finishing his career as a safety, Woodson played over a decade in the NFL as a top-notch safety, helping him get to the Hall of Fame as one of the best cornerbacks ever.

6. Dick Lane

With a nickname like Night Train Lane, how could Dick Lane not be considered among the best cornerbacks of all time?

His nickname aside, Lane played during the 1950s and 60s and can still be counted among the toughest players and best tacklers to ever play the game. He played for the Rams, Cardinals, and Lions across his 14 seasons in the league, earning seven Pro Bowl trips and 10 All-Pro selections, including seven First-Team All-Pro nominations.

While his clothesline style of tackling eventually became banned, Lane had already established himself as one of the most feared tackles in the league. On top of that, Lane set the single-season NFL record for most interceptions in a season with 14. That record was set during this rookie year and still stands today. He’d end up racking up 68 interceptions and six touchdowns in his Hall of Fame career.

5. Mel Blount

Whether Mel Blount would survive in today’s game given his physical style of play and the propensity of refs calling pass interference is up for debate. But there’s no question that there was no better cornerback during the 1970s.

He was Pittsburgh’s best defensive back and a huge key when the Steelers won four Super Bowls during that decade. Blount was so physical with wide receivers that the league eventually had to change the rules.

But even after that, Blount continued to play at a high level and went to five Pro Bowls while also winning Defensive Player of the Year in 1975. Among those of his generation, Blount was surely the best cornerback around, although he can still go toe-to-toe with most of the best corners of all time.

4. Darrell Green

There is an almost endless list of things to say about Darrell Green. For starters, he spent 20 seasons in the NFL, showing impressive longevity. He made seven Pro Bowls and helped Washington win two Super Bowls along the way.

His accomplishments are made even more impressive by the fact that he was just 5’9’’ and always considered an undersized player. Of course, he was also a track star in college and owns the NFL record for the fastest 40-yard dash time in league history.

Green is also the only player to record an interception in 19 consecutive seasons. To date, he remains the oldest player to record an interception and played in more games than any other defensive back in NFL history. The list goes on and on for Green, who surely fits the description of one of the greatest cornerbacks in NFL history.

3. Champ Bailey

Among corners during the early 2000s, nobody can top Champ Bailey. Starting with his second year in the league, Bailey went to the Pro Bowl 12 times in the next 13 years, setting the record for most Pro Bowl selections by a defensive back.

There was almost no decline in his play until the very end of his career. Keep in mind that he was an elite sprinter in college who also participated in the long jump and triple jump. That athleticism easily translated to the football field, helping to make Bailey one of the best cover corners for a long time.

It wasn’t just his reputation that put Bailey in the Pro Bowl every year. He continued to get the job done year after year, eventually setting the all-time record with 203 defended passes. That record says everything you need to know about how good Bailey was and how long he was able to maintain a high level of play.

2. Rod Woodson

Rod Woodson is not only one of the best cornerbacks of all time but he’s also among the best defensive players in league history, period. With cornerbacks, the numbers don’t always tell the whole story, although Woodson holds the NFL record for the most interceptions returned for a touchdown and ranks third with 71 career interceptions, which says a lot about what he accomplished.

Naturally, he led the league in interceptions twice during his career, although he didn’t need to do it in 1993 when he won Defensive Player of the Year honors. Woodson also ranks close to the all-time record with 32 fumble recoveries, which is a lot for a defensive back. Of course, there aren’t many cornerbacks – or any defensive players for that matter – who went to the Pro Bowl 11 times or lasted 17 years in the league. Even if Woodson moved to safety late in his career, all of his formative years were spent as one of the league’s elite cornerbacks.

1. Deion Sanders

There are few athletes in the history of American sports as great as Deion Sanders, making him an easy choice as the best corner in NFL history.

He was a natural when it came to blanketing wide receivers, at least when he wasn’t also playing pro baseball. Sanders also had an incredible ego, although he earned it with the way he kept elite wide receivers from making an impact. During his 14 seasons in the league, Sanders made the Pro Bowl eight times, missing out just once between 1991 and 1999.

He also earned Defensive Player of the Year in 1994 and was a part of two teams that won the Super Bowl. Even if you take away his exploits as a kick returner, where Sanders was also an elite player, he still did enough to prove himself to be the best cover corner the NFL has ever known.

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