It’s early July, so naturally we’re ever so close to the NFL Season but still so far away that news is sparse. To help fill the void, I decided to look at some all-time selections at six different positions—Quarterback, Running Back, Wide Receiver, Tight End, Defense and Coaching. Over the next six weeks, I’ll be giving my Top 10 at each, continuing today with players in the Secondary.
Before we jump in, I thought I’d share a bit about this process. First, I was born in 1981 and have been watching football since the mid-to-late 1980s. The NFL has been around a lot longer, but in order to make sure bias doesn’t play too big a role in choices, I’ve limited this look back to the last 41 years, since 1980. Second, this is a subjective list. While I consider stats, performance and metrics, I’m the one doing the evaluation, so ultimately it’s my list. I encourage you to share your own thoughts and criticisms each week in the comments.
Now, on to the list. The group will appear in ascending order, beginning with one or two each week that just missed. On to this week’s list!
Just Missed: Darrelle Revis (New York Jets, 2007-2012, 2015-2016; Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2013; New England Patriots, 2014; Kansas City Chiefs, 2017)
Stats: 29 INTs, 139 passes defensed, 4 forced fumbles, 12 fumble recoveries, 2 sacks
About: Revis Island was something to be feared by quarterbacks for a number of years. Revis didn’t end up with eye-popping interception numbers, but that was frequently because people wouldn’t throw at him. When they did, it wasn’t very successful. His 139 passes defensed, including a league-leading 31 in 2009. Revis bounced around a bit in his later years, collecting a Super Bowl title in his one season with the Patriots, but I’ll always think of him as a Jet. He’s a seven-time Pro Bowl selection as well.
10. Ty Law (New England Patriots, 1995-2004; New York Jets, 2005, 2008; Kansas City Chiefs, 2006-2007; Denver Broncos, 2009)
Stats: 53 INTs, 108 passes defensed, 7 forced fumbles, 5 fumble recoveries, 5 sacks
About: Law was a force in the secondary for many years, most notably with the Patriots. Like Revis, he bounced around a bit to end his career, but for many years he was a lock-down corner for Bill Belichick and the Patriots. He earned five Pro Bowl berths and was a three-time Super Bowl champion and was elected to the Hall of Fame. He was a fierce competitor and has had a great second career working with the NFL. He was a lot of fun to watch as long as you weren’t playing against him.
9. Steve Atwater (Denver Broncos 1989-1998; New York Jets, 1999)
Stats: 334 solo tackles, 24 INTs, 6 forced fumbles, 8 fumble recoveries, 5 sacks
About: Atwater was a fierce hitter during a different era of the NFL. He was the rock in the back end of the Broncos’ defense, leading many John Elway-era teams to the playoffs, and winning two Super Bowls with the Broncos at the end of his career. He finished with a last season with the Jets, but he’ll always be a Bronco to me. He was one of my favorite players and someone I long thought was under-rated. He finally got his call to the Hall of Fame and I’m thrilled to see him inducted in August. He was also an eight-time Pro Bowl selection.
8. Rodney Harrison (San Diego Chargers, 1994-2002; New England Patriots, 2003-2008)
Stats: 920 solo tackles, 34 INTs, 78 passes defensed, 15 forced fumbles, 9 fumble recoveries, 30.5 sacks
About: Harrison was a beast in the defensive backfield. For many years, that meant watching my Broncos face off against him twice a year. Then, after a number of stand out years with the Chargers, he moved to the Patriots and was a rock in their defensive backfield. He’s unfairly remembered for being the defender during the helmet catch in the Super Bowl loss to the Giants, but he was part of two Super Bowl-winning teams with the Patriots. He was a fierce hitter and fierce defender. It’s shocking he only made two Pro Bowls. I imagine some day he’s going to be in the Hall of Fame, and he’s been a great contributor to NBC’s Sunday Night Football.
7. Darrell Green (Washington Football Team, 1983-2002)
Stats: 54 INTs, 6 forced fumbles, 10 fumble recoveries, 1 sack
About: Green played all of his Hall of Fame career with Washington and was one of the best corners and most impressive athletes in the game. He played 20 seasons, an impressive track record for any position, let alone corner. And throughout, he was one of the fastest players in the NFL. He played in an era where they didn’t keep some of the stats we have today, but he was one of the best corners in the game for years, making the Pro Bowl seven times and winning the Super Bowl twice. Green was the Walter Payton Man of the Year in 1986, too. He was fun to watch play and fun to watch run.
6. Troy Polamalu (Pittsburgh Steelers, 2003-2014)
Stats: 583 solo tackles, 32 INTs, 107 passes defensed, 14 forced fumbles, 7 fumble recoveries, 12 sacks
About: Polamalu was a fierce defender in the backfield for the Steelers. He played with a lot of passion and a lot of style during his run, too. He was one of the most exciting players to watch play and was a real game disrupter. He made the Pro Bowl eight times, was a two-time Super Bowl Champion, Defensive Player of the Year in 2010 and is in the Hall of Fame. He was also a heck of a pitch man.
5. Champ Bailey (Washington Football Team, 1999-2003; Denver Broncos, 2004-2013)
Stats: 52 INTs, 203 passes defensed, 7 forced fumbles, 6 fumble recoveries, 3 sacks
About: Bailey was an incredible shut-down corner. I was blessed to watch him play up close for 10 seasons with the Broncos. He was a great leader on the field, too, and a true game-changer. My favorite play he ever made was intercepting Tom Brady in the end zone in the playoffs and nearly taking it the distance for a touchdown. Bailey put up some impressive numbers and made the Pro Bowl and incredible 12 times in his 15 seasons, earning a Hall of Fame berth. He’s one of the best corners to ever play.
4. Ed Reed (Baltimore Ravens, 2002-2012; Houston Texans, 2013; New York Jets, 2013)
Stats: 534 solo tackles, 64 INTs, 139 passes defensed, 11 forced fumbles, 13 fumble recoveries, 6 sacks
About: Reed was a fierce defender that was one of the best to ever play the game. He locked down the back end, disrupting pass plays and serving as the anchor for one of the best defensive units in Baltimore. He made the Hall of Fame and was nine-time Pro Bowl player and Defensive Player of the Year in 2004. He also won a Super Bowl with the Ravens. His final season he bounced between the Texans and Jets, but for most of his career he was a great part of the Ravens’ defensive attack.
3. Rod Woodson (Pittsburgh Steelers, 1987-1996; San Francisco 49ers, 1997; Baltimore Ravens, 1998-2002; Oakland Raiders, 2003-2004)
Stats: 530 solo tackles, 71 INTs, 20 forced fumbles, 32 fumble recoveries, 13.5 sacks
About: I loved watching Woodson play. He was a great cornerback and then made the transition to safety. He had many great years playing for the Steelers, then had some productive seasons with the Ravens and the Raiders. He was tough to beat and a great leader on the field, making the Pro Bowl 11 times and earning Defensive Player of the Year honors in 1993. He was a Super Bowl champion and a member of the Hall of Fame. He’s one of the best secondary players I ever saw compete.
2. Deion Sanders (Atlanta Falcons, 1989-1993; San Francisco 49ers, 1994; Dallas Cowboys, 1995-1999; Washington Football Team, 2000; Baltimore Ravens, 2004-2005)
Stats: 53 INTs, 10 forced fumbles, 13 fumbles recoveries, 1 sack
About: Neon Deion, just the name conjures excitement. Sanders is arguably the most memorable and best corner to ever play. He made plays on defense and Special Teams, playing for five different teams during a Hall of Fame career. He was larger-than-life on the field and off the field, which made him an exceptionally fun player to watch. Sanders was an eight-time Pro Bowl selection, two-time Super Bowl champion and Defensive Player of the Year in 1994 as well.
1. Ronnie Lott (San Francisco 49ers, 1981-1990; Oakland Raiders, 1991-1992; New York Jets, 1993-1994)
Stats: 1,146 combined tackles, 63 INTs, 16 forced fumbles, 17 fumble recoveries, 8.5 sacks
About: When you think of the best players ever to play in the defensive backfield, Ronnie Lott is the top of the list. He was a beast for the 49ers before wrapping up his career with the Raiders and Jets. Lott was a fierce competitor, even losing part of a finger while playing the game without missing a beat. He is in the Hall of Fame, a 10-time Pro Bowl selection and four-time Super Bowl Champion. He’s one of the best to ever play the game and was an easy selection atop this list.
Matthew Fox is a graduate of the Radio, Television and Film program at Biola University, and a giant nerd. He spends his free time watching movies, TV, and obsessing about football. He is a member of the FSWA. You can find him @knighthawk7734 on Twitter and as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast.