Out of all the lists I’ve made thus far, this one was the toughest. You really could go either way with many of these players, especially the cornerbacks.
Anyway, here’s what I came up with.
Top 10 Cornerbacks
1. Champ Bailey- The Champ is here. If you read my top running backs of the decade, you read why the Bailey, Portis trade was one of the greatest trades ever because of how it benefited both teams so adamantly. Bailey was one of the rare corners who stuck to a receiver like glue and had unbelievable ball skills. He had the quickness to stick to underneath routes, and the speed to stick with deep threat receivers. One play defines his career. In the 2005 NFL Divisional Playoffs, Bailey intercepted Tom Brady in the end-zone. He ran the ball all the way back to the one-yard line. The Broncos won the game and advanced to the AFC Championship Game.
2. Ronde Barber- The twin brother of former running back Tiki Barber. Ronde is an all-around corner. He became the first cornerback in history to amass over 20 career interceptions and sacks. He wasn’t the most athletic, but he was smart, instinctive and savvy. In the 2002 NFC Championship Game, Barber took all the air out of Veterans Stadium when he sealed a Bucs win over the Birds after he returned an interception 92 yards for a touchdown.
3. Charles Woodson- He sealed the 3 spot after winning the Defensive Player of the Year Award this past season; the first corner to do so since Deion Sanders achieved the distinction 15 seasons ago. Woodson had 9 interceptions and returned 3 of those for a touchdown. He was very physical and aggressive; excellent in helping against the run.
4. Ty Law- He was tough, physical and always made the big plays on the big stage. His most important play came in Super Bowl XXXVI when he intercepted Rams quarterback Kurt Warner, returning the pick 47 yards to paydirt. Law had absurd ball-skills to go along with his wide-receiver like hands.
5. Nnamdi Asomugha- Approximately two years ago, I had a friend ask me who the best corner in the league was. I said Nnamdi Asomugha, he literally thought I made the name up. He never heard of the guy. I guess it sucks playing in Oakland. I have also had people tell me, well how come he doesn’t have any interceptions? I just laugh. Anyone who judges this guy because he doesn’t have any picks clearly doesn’t know anything about football. He takes half the field away, no one throws at him, he simply has superior cover ability.
6. Troy Vincent
7. Chris McAllister
8. Patrick Surtain
9. Antoine Winfield
10. Sheldon Brown
Honorable Mentions- Asante Samuel, Terrence Newman, Dre Bly, Rashean Mathis, Terrence McGee, Shawn Springs, Sam Madison, Samari Rolle, Deltha O’neal, Marcus Trufant, Al Harris, Walt Harris, Quentin Jammer, Aaron Glenn, Bobby Taylor
Some Names to Throw Out for Next Decade- Darrelle Revis, Tracy Porter, Mike Jenkins, Leon Hall, Eric Wright, Leodis McKelvin, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Aqib Talib, Antoine Cason, Malcolm Jenkins, Tramon Williams, Brandon Flowers, Vontae Davis, Alphonso Smith, Joe Haden, Kyle Wilson
Top 10 Safeties
1. Ed Reed– The best ball skills, instincts and closing speed I have ever seen. He played head games with the quarterback, constantly baiting quarterbacks to throw interceptions. Reed holds the NFL record for longest interception return for touchdown, 108 yards. He is simply a “game-changer.”
2. Brian Dawkins- Dawkins was the heart and soul of the Eagles defense. He was an emotional leader, getting his team fired up with bone-crunching hits. He was fantastic at pressuring the quarterback in Jim Johnson’s complex blitzing schemes. He is one of ten players to have over 20 career interceptions and sacks.
3. Troy Polamalu– An intrical part in Pittsburgh’s zone-blitz packages. He had marvelous ability to stop the run, and play back in coverage. He played with reckless abandon, throwing his body around.
4. Darren Sharper- He showed this past season that he’s still got it. With the Saints Sharper set the record for most interception return yards in a season, eclipsing Ed Reed’s mark of 358 yards set in 2004. Sharper had 374 interception return yards.
5. John Lynch– He was predominantly known for his fantastic tackling ability. In fact, in NFL Films top 10 feared tacklers, Lynch came in at number 10. He played a coach on the field, always helping out his defense with positioning. Lynch wasn’t athletic, but he was great at taking the proper angles to the ballcarriers.
6. Rodney Harrison
7. Adrian Wilson
8. Bob Sanders
9. Sean Taylor (What could have been)
10. Roy Williams
Honorable Mentions- Donovan Darius, Nick Collins, Adam Archuleta, Rod Woodson, Lance Schulters, Sammy Knight, Lawyer Milloy, Kerry Rhodes, Mike Brown, Ken Hamlin
Some Names to Throw Out for Next Decade- Quinton Mikell, Jairus Byrd, Roman Harper, Brandon Merriweather, LaRon Landry, Michael Griffin, Reggie Nelson, Kenny Phillips, Louis Delmas, Eric Berry, Taylor Mays, Earl Thomas