Being a cornerback is an unforgiving job. Not only are you expected to stay on your toes and know where the ball is going, but you also need good hands and enough know-how to swipe down the pass, intercept it, or bring down some of the quickest NFL players.
While quarterbacks may get the most accolades, cornerbacks are responsible for keeping both the offense down to earth. These are the cornerbacks who have the best man-to-man coverage in NFL history.
3. Mel Blount
In a world where social media, ESPN, and access to nearly any NFL game can give fans recency bias, it’s important to look back at the people who competed at a superstar level in a different era. Blount’s 13-year career with the Pittsburgh Steelers served as a bridge between an old era of professional football and one akin to what we see today.
It’s hard to pinpoint what made him so good in the limited statistics of yesterday, but what Blount offered was a complete package. His 57 interceptions and 736 ensuing yards were astronomical for his day. Defenses feared the five-time Pro Bowler as he figured out their routes and stopped helpless targets in his path. A two-time All-NFL talent, the only thing Blount missed was a Super Bowl ring.
2. Deion Sanders
Deion Sanders is known as much for his loud personality as he is for his play on the field, but don’t let TV highlights and a career in music fool you; Sanders would be on the list either way. The cornerback had a superstar run spread across three teams from 1991 to 1998. Some of his numbers were truly legendary.
In 188 career-games, Sanders consistently gave his teams what they needed on defense and made offensive players squirm when they sensed him in the vicinity. He amassed 53 interceptions and 500 tackles. What Sanders did with those interceptions, however, sets him apart. His 1,331 career interception return yards are the fourth-most in NFL history. Nearly a quarter of those, 303 yards, came during his lone season in San Francisco.
Sanders won two Super Bowls with the Niners and Dallas Cowboys. He even had a few strong seasons in his late thirties when he came out of retirement for the Baltimore Ravens. His son, also named Deion, is a current high school phenom making a name for himself on the other side of the field.
1. Charles Woodson
Charles Woodson wasn’t silent all the time, but he was when compared to the flash and charisma of Sanders. Woodson also had non-football pursuits, like the wine empire he started at the beginning of his career. He wasn’t a perennial Pro Bowler, but he consistently put up star-like seasons in his prime. The fact that his Pro Bowl seasons stretched out over the course of his entire career confirms this.
A terror on defense, Woodson wasted no time when he entered the NFL in 1998. For the next 18 seasons, he became one of the most well-respected players. Woodson didn’t have one strength on the field. Instead, he showed an eclectic tool belt, grabbing 65 interceptions for his career and garnering almost 1,000 interceptions. Woodson also got 983 tackles, showing defenses that even if they caught the ball, they were not safe.
Eventually, Woodson got his first Super Bowl with the Green Bay Packers in 2010. His balanced play and fierce competitiveness may make him the best man-to-man defender the league has ever seen.