Though many think Football is a game of offense, the defensive backs play a significant role in securing a victory. It is their duty to restrain the opponent’s offense from scoring. It is a very difficult job; however, there have been many legends who were masters in it.
When a defensive lineman or linebacker fails to tackle a player, it is only the defensive back who can stop a player from scoring. Over the years, there have been many great defensive backs, but here is a list of the ten best defensive backs of all time who took it to an art form.
Best Defensive Backs of All Time
Measuring the contribution of a defensive back is difficult since they stay behind and silently contribute to the victory of the team. They are the unsung heroes for the team’s achievements. In this list, their tackles, sacks, forced fumbles, etc., have been prioritized to count them as the best defensive backs of all time:
- Ronnie Lott (1981-1995)
- Mel Blount (1970-1983)
- Rod Woodson ( 1987-2003)
- Ed Reed (2002-2013)
- Deion Sanders (1989-2005)
- Dick Lane (1952-1965)
- Darrel Green (1983-2002)
- Make Haynes (1976-1989)
- Ken Houston (1967-1980)
- Kenny Easley (1981-1987)
1. Ronnie Lott
|Full Name||Ronald Mandel Lott|
|Date of Birth||May 8, 1959|
|Place of Birth||Albuquerque, New Mexico|
|NFL Draft||1981 (San Francisco 49ers, Pick: 8)|
|Teams||San Francisco 49ers, Los Angeles Raiders, Kansas City Chiefs, New York Jets|
|Super Bowl Champion||4 Times: XVI, XIX, XXIII, XXIV|
Most defensive backs, even the other great players in this list, you will find were great in the cornerback position or in the safety position. Lott, on the other hand, was great in both positions.
After an amazing college career, Lott was drafted into the NFL in 1981. He was the pick number eight in the draft and was recruited by the San Francisco 49ers. He was the key player for pass deflection for the 49ers in the nineties. Lott is a four-time super bowl champion as well.
From his 192 game appearances, he made a total of 1146 tackles along with 63 interceptions and five defensive touchdowns, making him the top player in our list of best defensive backs of all time.
Career stats of Ronnie Lott:
|Games||Tackles||Sacks||Forced Fumbles||Interceptions||Defensive TD|
2. Mel Blount
|Full Name||Melvin Cornell Blount|
|Date of Birth||April 10, 1948|
|Place of Birth||Vidalia, Georgia, U.S.|
|Height||6 ft 3 in|
|NFL Draft||1970 ( Pittsburgh Steelers, Pick: 53)|
|NFL Defensive Player of the Year||1975|
|Super Bowl Champion||4 Times: IX, X, XIII, XIV|
|Pro Bowl||5 Times: 1975, 76, 78, 71, 1981|
The five-time pro bowler Mel Blount played as a cornerback for the Pittsburgh Steelers for 14 seasons from 1970 to 1983. He is a four-time super bowl champion and one-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, which he won in 1975.
Blount was born in Georgia in 1948. He had his debut in the NFL in 1970. During the draft, he was the pick number 53, not something you may expect from a legend. Yes, hardly anyone could expect that a 53rd pick would one day become one of the best defensive backs of all time in the NFL’s history, but Blount did it.
He was a cornerstone for the Steelers’ defense in his time. He played 200 games in 14 seasons and made 57 interceptions. He retired in 1983 and became a Hall of Famer in 1989.
Career stats of Mel Blount:
|Games||Fumble Recoveries||Interceptions||Defensive TD|
3. Rod Woodson
|Full Name||Roderick Kevin Woodson|
|Date of Birth||March 10, 1965|
|Place of Birth||Fort Wayne, Indiana, U.S.|
|Height||6 ft 0 in|
|NFL Draft||1987 (Pittsburgh Steelers, Pick: 10)|
|Teams||Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders|
|NFL Defensive Player of the Year||1993|
|Super Bowl Champion||XXXV|
The list of the best players always varies. But no matter who makes the best defensive backs of all time in the NFL, Rod Woodson’s name must be in it. He defines the role of defensive backs.
Woodson was a key member of the Baltimore Ravens super bowl championship winning team in 2000. He holds the record for career most fumble recoveries (32). Besides, he has 71 interceptions by his name and 12 defensive touchdowns from 238 games.
Woodson was born in Indiana in 1965. He was the number 10 pick in the first round of the 1987 drafts. Woodson played for four different teams in his seventeen-year-long career. After his retirement, he acted as defense coach for several teams and currently is the head coach of the XFL’s Vegas Vipers.
Career stats of Rod Woodson:
|Games||Tackles||Sacks||Forced Fumbles||Fumble Recoveries||Interceptions||Defensive TD|
4. Ed Reed
|Full Name||Edward Earl Reed Jr.|
|Date of Birth||September 11, 1978|
|Place of Birth||St. Rose, Louisiana, U.S.|
|Height||5 ft 11 in|
|NFL Draft||2002 (Baltimore Ravens, Pick: 24)|
|Teams||Baltimore Ravens, New York Jets, Houston Texans|
|NFL Defensive Player of the Year||2004|
|Super Bowl Champion||XLVII|
|Pro Bowl||2003, 04, 06, 07, 08, 09, 2010, 11, 12|
During the 2002 NFL draft, perhaps nobody thought the 24-years old Louisianian would make a place among the best defensive backs of all time. Reed was the 24th pick in that draft and was recruited by the Baltimore Ravens.
Reed quickly made a place for himself in the limelight with his tackling ability. In 2004, just two years after his draft, Reed was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He is a five-time first-team all-pro and nine times pro bowler. He was in excellent form throughout his career.
With 1,590, Reed holds the record for interception return yards. There have been very few safeties as great as Reed. He made seven defensive touchdowns in his career.
After having a legendary career, he retired in 2013 but was not detached from pro football. He started working as a coach and is currently the head coach of Bethune–Cookman.
Career stats of Ed Reed:
|Games||Tackles||Forced fumbles||Interceptions||Defensive TD|
5. Deion Sanders
|Full Name||Deion Luwynn Sanders Sr.|
|Date of Birth||August 9, 1967|
|Place of Birth||Fort Myers, Florida|
|Height||6 ft 1 in|
|NFL Draft||1989 ( Atlanta Falcons, Pick: 5)|
|Teams||Atlanta Falcons, Dallas Cowboys, Baltimore Ravens, Washington Redskins, San Francisco|
|NFL Defensive Player of the Year||1994|
|First-team All-Pro||6 Times: 1992, 93, 94, 96, 97, 98|
|Super Bowl Champion||2 Times: XXIX, XXX|
|Pro Bowl||8 Times: 1991, 92, 93, 94, 96, 97, 98, 99|
Deion Sanders was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in 1989. He was the overall 5th pick in the draft, thanks to his exceptional performance in the college team. He had a long career of 16 years and became a two times Super Bowl champion, 8 times Pro bowler, and 6 times first-team all-pro. In 1994, he was named the best defensive player of the year too.
Sanders played in five different teams in the NFL and ended his career in 2005 as one of the greats of the game.
Career stats of Deion Sanders:
|Games||Tackles||Receptions||Forced Fumbles||Interceptions||Touchdowns||Passes Deflected:|
6. Dick “Night Train” Lane
|Full Name||Richard Lane|
|Date of Birth||April 16, 1928|
|Place of Birth||Austin, Texas|
|Height||6 ft 1 in|
|Teams||Los Angeles Rams, Detroit Lions, Chicago Cardinals|
|First-Team All-Pro||7 Times: 1956, 57, 59, 1960, 61, 62, 63|
|Pro Bowl||7 Times: 1954, 55, 56, 58, 1960, 61, 62|
|Date of Death||January 29, 2002|
Richard Lane, also known as the “Night Train,” is one of the best players from the 1950s. He was included in the NFL 50th/75th/100th Anniversary All-Time Team. He was so good for anyone to match his level. He was a dangerous tackler and was given the nickname “necktie” for his aggressive approach.
Lane was a cornerback and has been an idol for all the next-generation defensive backs. He is a seven-time first-team all-pro, seven-time pro bowler, and two-time NFL interceptions, leader. He played six seasons for the Detroit Lions and became a Detroit Lions All-Time Team member.
Lane was born in 1928 in Texas. He had a very struggling and miserable childhood, being abandoned at three months old. He grew up in poverty, but that only made him stronger as a human being. He was determined to win in the field, and it was nearly impossible for offenses to pass through him.
From dumpster to the best defensive back of all time, he came a long way. Lane died at the age of 73 in 2002, leaving behind an inspiring legacy.
Career stats of Dick Lane:
|Games||Return Yards||Interceptions||Defensive TD|
7. Darrell Green
|Full Name||Darrell Ray Green|
|Date of Birth||February 15, 1960|
|Place of Birth||Houston, Texas|
|Height||5 ft 9 in|
|NFL Draft||1983 ( Washington Redskins, Picks: 28)|
|NFL Man of the Year||1996|
|First-Team All-Pro||4 Times: 1986, 87, 1990, 91|
|Super Bowl Champion||2 Times: XXII, XXVI|
|Pro Bowl||7 Times: 1984, 86, 87, 1990, 91, 96, 97|
For nearly two decades, Darrell Green was like the great wall of China in the Washington Redskins’ defense.
The Washington Redskins picked Green in the 1983 draft. He had a good record as a cornerback in his college team Texas A&M–Kingsville. Green immediately became a major player for the Redskins, but it was the 90s when Green was their key defender.
Green helped the Redskins win two Super Bowl championships in 1987 and 1991. He is a seven times pro bowler and four-time first-team all-pro. In 1996, Green was announced as the NFL Man of the Year. In his long career, he made over eleven hundred tackles from 295 games.
Green was born in 1960 in Texas and went to Jesse H. Jones High School. Since high school, Green earned a reputation for his speed, and that continued in his pro football career.
His fellow players and the media gave him the nickname “Ageless Wonder.” He was close to playing 300 games but decided to retire in 2002. He holds the record for playing the most consecutive seasons (19) without breaks. Besides, no other defensive players have played as many matches as Green.
With such a long and successful career, Green stands among the best defensive backs of all time in the history of the NFL.
Career stats of Darrell Green:
|Games||Tackles||Sacks||Forced Fumbles||Interceptions||Defensive TD||Returned Yards|
8. Mike Haynes
|Full Name||Michael James Haynes|
|Date of Birth||July 1, 1953|
|Place of Birth||Denison, Texas, U.S.|
|Height||6 ft 2 in|
|Teams||New England Patriots, New Angels Raiders|
|First-Team All-Pro||2 Times: 1984, 85|
|Super Bowl Champion||XVIII|
|Pro Bowl||9 Times: 7976, 77, 78, 79, 80, 82, 84, 85, 86|
The nine times pro bowler Mike Haynes was the 5th pick in the 1976 draft. The same year he was named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. His dominance in the defense was visible throughout the 80s, and he was acknowledged by being included in the NFL 1980s All-Decade Team.
He was also included in the NFL 75th and 100th Anniversary All-Time Team. Haynes played for the New England Patriots till 7982 and then joined the Los Angeles Raiders, where he won the Super Bowl Championship in 1984.
Haynes was born in Texas in 1953 but went to John Marshall High School in California. He was in Arizona during his college, and Haynes surely had a journey some early life.
After playing pro football for over a decade, Haynes retired in 1989 after an achievement-full career. To honor his contribution, the New England Patriots retired jersey no. 40.
Career Stats of Mike Haynes:
|Games||Interceptions||Defensive TD||Returned Yards|
9. Ken Houston
|Full Name||Kenneth Ray Houston|
|Date of Birth||November 12, 1944|
|Place of Birth||Lufkin, Texas|
|Height||6 ft 3 in|
|NFL Draft||1967 ( Houston Oilers, Pick: 214)|
|Teams||Houston Oilers, Washington Redskins|
|First-team All-Pro||2 Times: 1975, 78|
|Pro Bowl||12 Times: 1968-1979|
The 12 times pro bowler Ken Houston is one of the best defensive backs of all time. He was drafted into the NFL in 1967, and from 1968 to 1979, he never missed the pro bowler list. He is also a two times first-team all-pro.
Houston started his pro football career with Houston Oilers, where he played for six seasons, then joined the Washington Redskins. He is among the 80 Greatest Redskins. Houston holds the record for the most interceptions returned for touchdowns in a season (4).
He played a total of 196 games and made 49 interceptions, along with 21 fumbles recovered. Houston became an idol for the next generations, and he was honored with the Texas Sports Hall of Fame for his contribution to the fame of Texas Sports.
Career stats of Ken Houston:
|Games||Fumbles Recovered||Interceptions||Defensive TD||Returned Yards|
10. Kenny Easley
|Full Name||Kenneth Mason Easley Jr.|
|Date of Birth||January 15, 1959|
|Place of Birth||Chesapeake, Virginia|
|Height||6 ft 3 in|
|NFL Draft||1981 ( Seattle Seahawks, Pick: 4)|
|NFL Defensive Player of the Year||1984|
|4× First-Team All-Pro||1982, 83, 84, 85|
|Pro Bowl||1982, 83, 84, 85, 87|
Being mentioned as one of the best defensive backs of all time only after playing seven seasons proves how good Easley was.
Easley was the 4th pick in the 1981 draft when he was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks. In 1984, Easley was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year. The five times pro bowler had a career record of 8 sacks and 32 interceptions.
Easley’s career was cut short after the 1987 season when he was diagnosed with severe kidney disease. However, that could not stop him from being included in the NFL 1980s All-Decade Team. Many believe he could have been the greatest defensive back if he could have a bigger career.
Career Stats of Kenny Easley:
|Games||Sacks||Interceptions||Defensive TD||Interception Yards|
Playing as the defensive back requires good athletic ability. Being the last line of defense, they need to be strong, fast, and energetic. These players on the list had all the qualities and became the prototype of the best defensive backs of all time in the NFL. Their legacy will keep them alive for hundreds of years to come.
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