As far as I am concerned, this argument starts and ends with one name.
In my mind, this man invented the phrase “shut down corner” long before the likes of Champ Bailey and Darrelle Revis came into the NFL. Some may say this guy had as much hype as any athlete to ever play defense in the NFL, which very well could be true and would be tough to argue against in a debate. But behind that hype was a fine cornerback. He was the best.
Who am I talking about? None other than Deion “Prime Time” Sanders!
I never have been the biggest fan of “Neon Deion”, despite his southern roots. He grew up in South Florida and eventually played collegiate ball at Florida State. After an impressive career as a Seminole (both in football and baseball), Sanders was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons.
Much of the highlights he established as a Falcon were centered on flashy punt returns (and let’s be real, much of Deion’s reputation was and still is built on flash) but the guy was truly a shutdown corner.
He was not a good tackler. If the quarterback was to throw a quick toss to the receiver and Sanders had to tackle him, chances were the receiver could rack up some Yards-After-Catch! But with the game on the line and the opposing team needing to drive down the field, Sanders was the guy I wanted defending the number one receiver. That receiver would not beat Deion.
After leaving the Falcons, he went to San Francisco, where he won a Super Bowl with the 49ers. But one year in the Bay Area was enough and he made his way to Dallas, which is really where he gained the most notoriety. (Jerry Jones and Deion Sanders working together had to be quite a scary thought, though. Who would ever get to say anything else when those two were in the room, huh?)
Intercepting 53 passes over a career is impressive. Averaging over 25 yards per interception return is remarkable. Scoring nine times after those interceptions is extraordinary. Achieving all of those numbers while rarely having the ball thrown his direction is what makes Sanders’ accomplishments amazing.
Before Revis was making news for his contract holdout, he was known primarily as THE shutdown corner in the NFL. He was the guy that opposing offensive coordinators would game-plan around. Keep in mind Revis has essentially been the guy for a year or two. Sanders was THAT guy for a decade, as evident by his eight Pro Bowl appearances, and six-time first team All-Pro selections.
What is also impressive to me is that from 1991-1999, he was either first or second team All-Pro with the exception of one year (1995), and that was the year he was coming back from arthroscopic surgery.
No matter what you thought about Sanders and his extremely outgoing personality, you have got to admit that he certainly backed it up while out on the gridiron enough to prove that he was the best to ever play cornerback in the NFL.