Cassy Aite

The 12 Best Cornerbacks of All Time

Mar 31
8 minutes

Out of all the positions on the football field, quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers seem to get the lion’s share of attention. In most cases, the defensive side of the line of scrimmage is ignored almost entirely. Yet the unsung heroes of the gridiron are often on the opposite side of the ball.

Cornerbacks are the definition of elite athletes in the NFL and beyond. They can shut down wide receivers nearly a foot taller, have closing speed for tackles and long passes, and possess unmatched mental toughness. It just might be the most difficult position in football.

Despite their importance, only a select few cornerbacks have endured a lengthy career of shit-talking, interceptions, playoff wins, and triumphs. Ranking the best cornerbacks of all time is no easy task either, but we’ve compiled a list of those worth mentioning.

The 12 Best Cornerbacks of All Time

A shutdown corner is worth its weight in gold. Their instincts, natural talent, and athleticism are without question, allowing them to disrupt passing lanes and frustrate offenses. Yet the greatest cornerbacks of all time do even more. They get into the heads of opponents, are loud and boisterous off the field, and play up to their abilities when the game is on the line. Compared to other defensive backs, linebackers, and defenders, these guys just seem to be in the right place at the right time.

Let’s go down the list of the best cornerbacks of all time and what they’ve done to solidify themselves in the pantheon of great NFL players.

1. Deion Sanders

Arrogant and loud-mouthed but always seemingly able to back it up, Prime Time will always have a deserving spot among the best cornerbacks in NFL history. Between 1989 and 2005, Sanders picked off 53 passes, won NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1994, has a Super Bowl ring from his role on the 1995 Dallas Cowboys, and was named a first-team All-Pro nine times. In 2011, Prime was selected as a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Amazingly, he had his best years better years between 1989 and 1997 while also playing in Major League Baseball, solidifying him as one of the best cornerbacks of all time and one of the planet’s greatest athletes ever.

2. Aeneas Williams

Aeneas Williams as a member of the Rams

Though his 10-year tenure with the lowly Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals hindered his distinction as a household name, Aeneas Williams quietly became an elite cornerback. Selected in the third round of the 1991 NFL Draft, Williams quickly established himself as a ballhawk, picking off 55 passes throughout his career en route to five All-Pro selections.

In 2001, Williams was traded to the St. Louis Rams, becoming the cornerstone of a vastly improved offense. Though he never won a Super Bowl, his memorable highlight happened in the 2001 divisional playoffs, when he intercepted two Brett Favre passes and returned them for touchdowns. He was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2014.

3. Mike Haynes

Drafted in the first round of the 1976 NFL Draft, Haynes was an absolute monster on the field for the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Raiders of the 70s and 80s. Though his 46 interceptions aren’t as impressive as some other players on this list, his tenacity, speed, and coverage are still the basis of proper cornerback positioning and footwork in the NFL today.

An eight-time All-Pro selection and nine-time Pro-Bowler, Haynes was also named to the NFL 75th Anniversary Team, the NFL 100th Anniversary Team, and the NFL 1980s All-Decade Team, demonstrating his case as one of the all-time greats at the cornerback position.

4. Lester Hayes

No one liked seeing Mike Haynes line up across from them, but he wasn’t the only player to be wary of. Though he wasn’t as decorated as Haynes, Lester Hayes harrassed wide receivers and teamed with Haynes to form arguably the best secondary in the history of the league.

Famous for his bump-and-run coverage, Hayes intercepted 13 passes for the Oakland Raiders in a single NFL season — second for the NFL record only to the Detroit Lions’ Dick “Night Train” Lane. While he only teamed with Haynes for four years and retired in 1986, Hayes is still regarded as one of the best cornerbacks of all time — and the type you’d want to slot in your IDP.

5. Rod Woodson

With 71 interceptions — good for third in NFL History — Woodson embodies all of the greatest aspects of a shutdown corner. Prior to his NFL career, Woodson qualified for the Olympics in the 110-meter hurdles, a testament to his speed and athleticism.

Woodson was also one of the most durable cornerbacks in history, playing an astonishing 17 years with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, Oakland Raiders, and San Francisco 49ers. With nine All-Pro selections, 11 Pro Bowl appearances, 13 defensive touchdowns, and 13.5 sacks, Woodson was one of the best cornerbacks of all time

6. Darrell Green

Darrell Green as a member of the Redskins

From the time he got on the field, Darrell Green was a force to be reckoned with on both sides of the ball. In his first-ever pre-season game, Green returned an Atlanta Falcons punt 61 yards for a touchdown. While his returns made him a dual threat, his play at cornerback was equally as impressive.

From 1983 to 2002, he made seven Pro Bowls and four first-team All-Pro appearances en route to a Hall of Fame career — highlighted by 1,159 tackles and 54 interceptions.

7. Willie Brown

An inspirational player and person, Brown was cut from the Houston Oilers in 1963. But with a can-do attitude, he tried out for the Broncos the next year and made an instant impact as Rookie of the Year.

Over the course of 15 years, Brown was a feared cornerback, earning All-Pro and All-AFL honors seven times and spots on the NFL 100th Anniversary Team, the NFL 1970s All-Decade Team, and the AFL All-Time Team.

8. Charles Woodson

Although he has no relation to Rod Woodson, Charles Woodson is also in the discussion as one of the best cornerbacks of all time. After becoming the lone defensive player to win the Heisman as a cornerback at Michigan, Woodson captained the Green Bay Packers and Oakland Raiders for 18 seasons, amassing nine Pro Bowl appearances, leading the league in interceptions twice, and ultimately, earning a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

9. Mel Blount

Part of the Steelers’ Steel Curtain defense, Mel Blount was one of the most feared cornerbacks of his era. Thanks partly to lax pass interference rules, Blount was a four-time Super Bowl champ, six-time All-Pro, and intercepted at least one pass each season throughout his career from 1970 to 1983.

10. Richard Sherman

Richard Sherman as a member of the Seahawks

"Well, I'm the best corner in the game! When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that's the result you gonna get! Don't you ever talk about me!"

In 2014, Sherman took exception to 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree, shouting these words at sideline reporter Erin Andrews — but with good reason. The Seattle Seahawks corner dominated Crabtree and hundreds of other receivers throughout the years.

Spirited, effective, and the best in the league for several of the 2010s, Sherman’s flamboyant attitude made him famous — but so did his five All-Pro selections, five Pro Bowls, and 37 career interceptions.

11. Darrelle Revis

A member of the New York Jets for most of his career, Darrelle Revis — nicknamed Revis Island for his ability to shut down receivers — was one of the best cornerbacks of all time, or at least the late 2000s and 2010s.

Revis appeared in seven Pro Bowls and was a four-time first-team All-Pro player, delivering 29 interceptions, 497 tackles, and 139 pass deflections along the way. A member of the 2010s All-Decade Team, Revis will forever be remembered for his crystal ball instincts and tight coverage.

12. Champ Bailey

Dominant for 15 years, Champ Bailey was the scourge of AFC offenses during his time with the Washington Redskins and Denver Broncos. Bailey was known for his next-level athleticism, giving the ability to cover almost every wide receiver, regardless of their size or speed.

Retiring in 2014, Bailey had 12 Pro Bowl appearances — a record for cornerbacks — 908 tackles, 52 interceptions, and seven forced fumbles. Though he never won a Super Bowl, his regular-season and playoff football is the stuff of legends.

Cornerbacks, the IDP, and the D/ST

In the fantasy football world, defensive players are often an afterthought. But if you’ve recently entered an IDP league or consistently falter when choosing the D/ST, keeping an eye on the top NFL cornerbacks is essential.

With the ability to rack up fantasy points via tackles, fumbles, defensive touchdowns, and interceptions, the cornerback position can make or break your weekly matchup. If you want to get a leg up on the competition, check out Wise Guys Edge. Using Vegas sportsbooks odds, Wise Guys Edge compiles the numbers and figures you need to start the right IDP or D/ST and sit the others. And with a helpful blog of tips, strategies, and other knowledge, you have everything you need to excel on the virtual gridiron — all in one place.