By far one of the hardest positions in any sport to play, the cornerback is an essential part of any successful team’s defense. The corner needs to have the wherewithal and skillset to keep up with the top wide receivers in the league, they need to be able to blitz and sack the quarterback, a good wrap-up tackler, and try to read plays to try and anticipate where the receiver’s heading on a route to deflect or pick off a pass.
It takes a special kind of football player to suit up and play corner. There’s a lot of good corners in today’s game and there were a lot of talented corners who retired and eventually made it to the Hall of Fame.
In this list, the top 18 cornerbacks are strictly Hall of Fame players. That’s not to say the guys 19 through 25 don’t belong in the top 10 or even top 5. You could make a debate that they actually should be there. But for all intents and purposes, this list will have Hall of Fame players in the top 18 to try and make it as less subjective as we can. If you’re in the Hall of Fame, you know you are already one of the best to ever play the game.
And when you’re one of the best at your craft, you know a thing or two about how to play your position. Learning from those who’ve been successful at their job can be motivating. So, in this list, you’ll hear from some of the top 18’s Hall of Fame enshrinement speeches, along with the rest of today’s corners from various points throughout their career, so you, too can strive for a Hall of Fame-type career or endeavor or family…whatever good you want to bring to the world.
Here are 25 of the Best Cornerbacks of All Time:
Thanks to The Pro Football Hall of Fame‘s compilation of Hall of Fame players by position and Pro Football Focus’ Ben Linsey‘s “Cornerback Rankings: The 32 best outside cornerbacks entering the 2021 NFL season”, which were good resources in compiling this list.
25 – Darius Slay
“Since I got drafted to Detroit, the city has shown nothing but love & respect, imma really miss pulling up to all the high school games here in Detroit & showing y’all love., I can’t thank y’all enough,” Slay said in an Instagram post. “Big Play will always love the fans! To my New eagles fans, ya boii is READY!!! Playing for Kobe’s favorite NFL team is a dream come true. Man it’s truly a blessing. Time to get to work & show the city what we can do!!!!”
24 – Xavien Howard
“I fly under the radar,” Howard said per Forbes’ Jeff Fedotin. “…(F)or sure…We (the Miami Dolphins) love (being) the underdogs…just keeps us working and keeps us staying humble.”
23 – Marlon Humphrey
“Year 4 in the books..!” Humphrey said in an Instagram post. “Thank God for getting me through the season healthy mentally and physically. Life is good 😎”.
22 – Stephon Gilmore
“My son is only 5 years old, and aware of what’s going on in our world today,” Gillmore said in an Instagram post. “It’s challenged me to become a better man, husband, father, teammate, and human being on earth. I hope my personal story challenges other homes to have conversations with our younger generation. We are responsible for creating change. They are paying attention. They are our future!”
21 – Jaire Alexander
“The only pressure there is, is the one you create,” Alexander said in an Instagram post.
20 – Richard Sherman
“…All too often, we men find it easier to criticize each other, instead of building each other up,” Sherman shared, in part, in an Instagram post tagging other men. “With all the negativity going around let’s do something positive!!🌟 Upload 1 picture of yourself…ONLY you. Then tag as many brothers to do the same. Let’s build ourselves up, instead of tearing ourselves down. 💛💛 COPY AND PASTE 💛💛”.
19 – Jalen Ramsey
“God’s son 🙏🏾 .. ALL GLORY TO GOD TODAY & EVERYDAY,” Ramsey said in an Instagram post. “I pray I let His light shine through me on the field”.
Now, on to cornerbacks in the Hall of Fame.
Each quote from these players is an excerpt from their Hall of Fame enshrinement speech according to their page on the Pro Football Hall of Fame website.
18 – Herb Adderley
“So, there is a beginning and everything. I have to go back to the beginning,” Adderley said. “The beginning is God and I I would like to take time to acknowledge God in my spiritual beliefs because without my health and strength I wouldn’t have been able to participate in football and it wouldn’t be here. So, I want to thank God for number one, making everything possible. And next I would like to thank my brother and father because without them I would not be here mom I appreciate you taking care of me, leading me on the right road with your guidance…”
17 – Willie Brown
“You know before he makes a decision, so the sports writers can get all this straight, before he makes any decision about personnel, he (Al Davis) checks with Mrs. Davis,” Brown said. “Now, if she says it’s okay, then it’s okay. Seriously, thank you Mr. Davis. I appreciate the opportunity to be here today and dear friends of football fans, this is the greatest day of my life.”
16 – Mike Haynes
“…to be a good player at that game I had to work hard. I had to understand what a hundred percent was all about and I had to understand that that goal kept moving higher because the better I got, the higher the standard became,” Haynes said. “And that’s why you hear people talk about give more than 100-percent because it is possible, because it keeps moving. So, you young people set your goals high, you know, it can happen for you. Get the most out of your abilities – that’s what Frank Kush taught us in college and that’s what I think young people who take anything seriously should try to do. Remember there are no limits.”
15 – Emmitt Thomas
“I feel blessed and honored to stand before you today,” Thomas said. “I give God all the honor and praise for letting an undrafted free agent, country boy from little Angleton, Texas, enter the hallowed ground of the Pro Football Hall of Fame…They say I’m here because I played the game a certain way. They say I played the game with heart and determination. It has been written that I played the game with a lot of poise. Countless number of fans have told me I played the game with a high level of integrity.”
14 – Mel Renfro
“…now I am trying to do something for the youth of this nation,” Renfro said. “After all, they are our future. When the governments and schools can’t cope, it is time for the rest of us to pitch in. Athletes need to be role models. We need to present an image to people who want to do the right thing. Devoted to family, community, church. To live honorable lives with ethics, integrity, with grace.”
“In Genesis 3:9, the Lord called to the man, ‘Where are you?’ The man was always running, ducking and hiding. In Hebrews 11 and 12, they called them great men of faith. They went through many trials. Samson, even Moses, tried to get away from what God wanted them to do. They doubted. Jonah, he wandered. It took them a long time to be elevated to do the Lord’s work. They thought they were ready sooner, but they weren’t. God taught them. Gave them the lessons to wait, to be patient, to learn, and their time would come. And that is what has happened to me after I retired from football. I was carrying a lot of baggage. I just wandered. But the Lord was calling, ‘Where are you?’ God had timing for me. It was as if God was saying, ‘You will make it next year, Mel.’ You see, it all kind of fits. Go back to the Super Bowl after awhile away. Go back home after awhile away. Go back to religion after awhile away. And now, back to the NFL after awhile away. I feel now that I am ready. I wasn’t ready before. It wasn’t time, but it is now. And now here I am.”Mel Renfro, excerpt from his Hall of Fame enshrinement speech per the Pro Football Hall of Fame
13 – Dick LeBeau
“I’m proud to be from Detroit, proud of the guys that I played with,” LeBeau said. “My teammates alone Dick Night Train Lane, Lem Barney, Charlie Sanders, Yale Lary and probably the best teammate anybody had, Joe Schmidt, they’re already in the Hall of Fame. I’m so honored I’m going to be in there with them.”
12 – Jimmy Johnson
“Toiling in a situation, trying to be the best that I could be, but in my mind knowing the only way you can be the best that you could be is by repetition, repetition,” Johnson said according to the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s transcription of his Hall of Fame enshrinement speech. “You have to be worked on, cornered in and cornered out to become as good as you can be. So actually feel standing here today that I never reached that level, I never reached as good a football player as I could be, but thanks to God and inner talent I was able to present a picture to those individuals who were voting for the Hall of Fame and my longevity and the level of game that I played from my rookie season to my last.”
For all you cornerbacks out there, here’s a recipe for success that worked for Johnson as he shared in his Hall of Fame enshrinement speech how he worked on his game off the field:
“I watched reels and reels of film,” Johnson said. “I read computer readouts until they came out of my ears, so that I knew exactly what the offensive ends were going to do or try to do or that they could do. and I learned to read linemen, running backs and anything else that moved upon the field. So that I could pick up keys that would allow me to release my decoy pattern a step before I might have. By doing that, I was able to get to distance part of the field that normally I would not have.”
The dedication to the craft was real! That right there should be motivation to keep going no matter what profession you find yourself in. To be adaptable and also find ways to work on the craft and get the job done efficiently to be one of the best at the position.
11 – Darrell Green
Twenty years in the league, 54 interceptions, seven Pro Bowls (per the Pro Football Hall of Fame), Darrell Green is quite simply one of the best cornerbacks to ever play the game. And for Green, the game is bigger than just football.
“…when I went back to A&I I met a family,” Green said. “They were the Malendes family and a good friend named Doug Taft, and they told me about a man named Jesus. Jesus saved my soul, gave me a different perspective on life. He showed me I could be a man and walk right, the things my son talked about. I can have integrity. I can be honest. I can be faithful. I can be true. And so I brought what my parents had taught me and what Jesus had said and I put that to work in my NFL career. And God told me not to leave Washington D.C., so I was there for 20 years. That was during free agency time. Yes, I was a part of that. I was a part of that free agency. But God had a plan for me. I stayed the course. Not only did I stay the course on the field, I stayed the course faithfully to this woman for almost 24 years. Faithfully to my community…”
10 – Aeneas Williams
“My wife and I flew out to San Diego, and Gill Bird taught me how to play the cornerback position, but I didn’t set a goal to be the best cornerback to play the game,” Williams said. “I set a goal to be one of the best husband’s and best men that I could be. Gill and Marilyn Bird modeled not only how to be a great corner, but Gil and Marilyn, thank you. From the bottom of my heart from Tracy and I on helping us know what it’s like to be married in the NFL and raise your children loving and serving your children. Love you guys so much.”
Williams also talked about “begin(ning) with the end in mind”.
“Begin with the end in mind,” Williams said during his Hall of Fame enshrinement speech per The Pro Football Hall of Fame’s transcription of it. “Here’s what I want to do. We’re in the stadium and I’ve talked for over 20 minutes, but we’re going to commercial. I want everybody over here to shout begin with the end in mind. Everybody on this side, I want you to shout die empty. See, Hall of Famers, we die empty. See, we left it on the field. To the current players, it’s your turn. Your career right now is like wet cement. My cement is already dry; so are ours. We’ve put our handprints in it. It’s your turn. You do what you’re supposed to do because God has given you a blessing.”
9 – Ty Law
“I want to thank God for allowing me to be here and experience this with you guys,” Law said. “I wouldn’t be standing here without that faith, which played a major role in my life. I’m representing more than myself sitting here today; I’m representing everyone and everything that had an impact on my life to get to this point. This isn’t about me. This is about us. This is about we.”
“I encourage each and every one of you to start with a small but great practice of believing in yourself. You can’t wait for somebody else to validate your purpose. You have to believe in yourself. You can’t wait for somebody else to tell you that you’re great. You have to believe it yourself. You can’t wait for society to tell you you’re beautiful or that you’re a good person. You have to believe that for yourself. I thank each and every one of you for believing in me and my dreams. Because of you, my legacy lives on. Thank you for this incredible honor. God bless.”Ty Law, excerpt from his Hall of Fame enshrinement speech per The Pro Football Hall of Fame
8 – Mel Blount
“I came from a beautiful family, a family that struggled in the deep south and instilled in their kids that you can do anything if you are willing to pay a price and you can be as good and you are just as good and it doesn’t matter where you come from, it is where you are going that is what makes the difference between failure and success,” Blount said.
7 – Jack Butler
“I am grateful and very proud to be part of this great Class of 2012, and I congratulate the five tremendous men who join me here,” Butler said. “I am thankful to God for all that I have been given throughout my life. I am thankful for the support of my family and friends. I am thankful for my brother, my sister who are here to witness this. I am thankful for my wife, my children, my grandchildren that are here to see this also. Heck, I’m thankful I’m here.”
6 – Champ Bailey
“I’m a firm believer that if you want to create change, you better start with your friends and your family,” Bailey said. “So, I’m starting here today. The first thing people see when they look at me is not a Pro Football Hall of Famer or a husband or a father. They view me first as a black man. “So on behalf of all the black men that I’ve mentioned tonight, and many more out there, who’ve had the most of the same experiences that I’ve had in my lifetime, we say this to all of our white friends: When we tell you about our fears, please listen. When we tell you we’re afraid for our kids, please listen.”
“Two things Darrell Green would always say to me that stuck with me, is your hands are great and your feet are better. Right? Now, he told me he always worked on his feet because he tried to stay away from big wide receivers because he was such a small guy. I appreciate you. I took that nugget. Thank you.”Champ Bailey, excerpt from his Hall of Fame enshrinement speech per The Pro Football Hall of Fame
5 – Ronnie Lott
“Today all this glory goes to God,” Lott said. “My Dad just mentioned how God plays important part in our lives. But as I stand here in the huddle of greatness, I feel so much of Your spirit. This is truly awesome. The gathering of football legends. It’s amazing…to all the football fans out here, I hope you love this game as much as I do. I’ve been very fortunate to be around greatness this weekend. One of the things that I found out about greatness, is the character.
4 – Lem Barney
“Life does not always deal us a fair hand…,” Barney said. “…but the hands that life deals us we must play them. We must play the game of life in order to win and win at all costs. No one ever dreams of getting to this spot once he comes into the NFL, if anyone ever dreams of getting into the Hall of Fame, he is having a nightmare. When dreams of being able to utilize his God given skills and talents and attributes to make them manifest to make them fruits. I believe my skills and talents were manifested.”
Barney went on to say in his Hall of Fame enshrinement speech that “(f)ootball for (him) for 20 years was a way of life.”
“I enjoyed it, I whistled while I worked and every opportunity I had I tried to promote victories and wins,” Barney said. “Life has been good to me and if I die tonight, I wouldn’t die blue because I have experienced great things in life. Love I believe is our most motivating factor we could have in life. Love, love for self, love for God, love for your family, love for friends, love for your coworkers, love for your community, and love for this country. Love our most powerful, powerful weapon. Someone once said that love was the only game in town that is not called off because of darkness and love is powerful.
3 – Dick ‘ Night Train’ Lane
“We didn’t fly first class, we didn’t stay at the holiday Inns, we didn’t even have Gatorade,” Lane said. “We just played some of the best football ever. We were paid at least $3,500, and I didn’t make that much more and still maintained in the perspective of the definitions of professionalism.”
Lane went on to say in his Hall of Fame enshrinement speech that he “can only hope that while the players are striking for improvement that the black players will take this opportunity to band together and deal with the problems of no black coaches, no general managers and no quarterbacks in the NFL–or (he) should say a few.”
“It is not fair or pardonable for Blacks to be treated like stepchildren in Pro Football. It was wrong in my day and it is wrong today. In the League that we have established, management must realize that times have changed and must adopt a new philosophy and a different approach with the players and the game. I know that some people voiced opinion of that retired players shouldn’t have an opinion about the present situation between players and management. I disagree because these players are fighting for some of the very things I wanted in my career.
2 – Deion Sanders
“Thank you, Lord, I thank you,” Sanders said. “Jesus, I love you. If it wasn’t for God, I wouldn’t be here today, so, Lord, I thank you…I made a promise when I was seven years old to this young woman at the age of 27. She was working two jobs just to see if ends could see one another because they never met. And she was slaving over pots and pans on that precise day. I can remember, it was a little high chair right by the kitchen. In the kitchen there was a high chair right by the stove that she was cooking. And I said, mama, because I was tired of seeing her go to work and come home all tired. I said I’m going to be rich one day. Mama, ‘I’m going to make a lot of money, and you will never have to work another day of your life.’ My mama said ‘that’s fine, but until then you get that lawnmower and go out there and cut that grass.'”
“14 years later, that’s why you can’t give up on your dream, your promise, because 14 years later, this dream, this promise came. That I was able to allow my mama to go into a job and say I’m not doing it anymore. My son has blessed me.”Deion Sanders, excerpt from his Hall of Fame enshrinement speech per The Pro Football Hall of Fame
1 – Charles Woodson
A member of the 2021 class that will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in just a few weeks, Charles Woodson is the best cornerback to have played the game on this list. From Ann Arbor and winning the Rose Bowl with the University of Michigan to the NFL and Green Bay, winning a Super Bowl with the Packers, Woodson knew what it took to win from all aspects of the game.
“It’s bigger than me … If you understand that, you understand that it’s bigger than you too,” Woodson once said according to The Pro Football Hall of Fame. “It ain’t about one individual, it never is. We can never get done what we want to accomplish with one individual … It’s bigger than me, it’s bigger than you, but it ain’t bigger than us.”
There you have it! A list of the best cornerbacks in the game. Let me know what your thoughts are in the comments below. And remember, there’s always time to turn the corner for the better in your life.
Charlie Lapastora is a sports/news multimedia journalist who’s reported, written, produced, anchored, shot video/edited on different NBC, ABC, and FOX shows in multiple TV markets, along with digital & new media companies. Charlie has traveled the country telling national sports, news, feature, and original stories on a cable news network, airing on top 10 TV markets, satellite radio, and digital platforms. He is passionate about his faith, family—being a husband to whom he calls the G.O.A.T. of women—about reppin’ his home state of Michigan and Detroit teams (yes, including the Lions), good coffee, and loves how sports brings people together. He’s traveled the world leading and coaching sports camps and has also worked at the Detroit Pistons and LA Clippers’ NBA teams.
- 1 Here are 25 of the Best Cornerbacks of All Time:
- 2 25 – Darius Slay
- 3 24 – Xavien Howard
- 4 23 – Marlon Humphrey
- 5 22 – Stephon Gilmore
- 6 21 – Jaire Alexander
- 7 20 – Richard Sherman
- 8 19 – Jalen Ramsey
- 9 Now, on to cornerbacks in the Hall of Fame.
- 10 18 – Herb Adderley
- 11 17 – Willie Brown
- 12 16 – Mike Haynes
- 13 15 – Emmitt Thomas
- 14 14 – Mel Renfro
- 15 13 – Dick LeBeau
- 16 12 – Jimmy Johnson
- 17 11 – Darrell Green
- 18 10 – Aeneas Williams
- 19 9 – Ty Law
- 20 8 – Mel Blount
- 21 7 – Jack Butler
- 22 6 – Champ Bailey
- 23 5 – Ronnie Lott
- 24 4 – Lem Barney
- 25 3 – Dick ‘ Night Train’ Lane
- 26 2 – Deion Sanders
- 27 1 – Charles Woodson
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