With apologies to Dick "Night Train" Lane and Mel Blount, among many other legendary cornerbacks from a time before mine, I selected five cover men who I had the joy of watching during their careers for my Team for the Ages CB corps — Deion Sanders, Charles Woodson, Rod Woodson, Champ Bailey and Aeneas Williams.
Sanders and Rod Woodson were not only speedy and sticky cover men, they were elite returners — of kickoffs and interceptions — which upped their game-changing potential on any given play on the defensive side of the ball. Long before Darrelle Revis and Richard Sherman were taking away half of the football field, Sanders and Woodson were doing it.
Sanders might have been the most feared player in the NFL for a portion of his career, which is ironic because he often showed little interest in tackling. But with few playmakers before or since did it almost feel like a fait accompli that he'd do something spectacular once the football was in his hands — in any of the three phases. And Rod Woodson was every bit as dynamic – perhaps even more so after taking the football away, with an NFL record 12 pick-sixes — and, unlike Sanders, his toughness and urgency on every play, run or pass, was also truly unique.
Bailey and Charles Woodson make the cut because of their remarkable longevity and adaptability, in addition to rare natural gifts and NFL accolades that are almost countless. Bailey, a 12-time Pro Bowler and member of the 2000s All-Decades team, excelled for Washington, then exceeded almost impossible expectations in a decadelong second career act in Denver. Woodson, similarly, was a monster on two different clubs — and playing two different positions — during his 18 seasons. Woodson was also a jack-of-all-trades and master of each, amassing 20 sacks and 28 forced fumbles to supplement his 65 picks and 11 defensive scores. Few players in the history of the NFL can rival Charles Woodson's versatility.
Then there's Williams, whose residence in this space might surprise some. But he was a ball magnet who could also go from defense to offense in the blink of an eye, and Williams had special crunch-time chops, with six interceptions — including two pick-sixes — in just six postseason contests. He'd also come up and stop the run, and like Woodson, went to multiple Pro Bowls as a corner and safety.