So, how GREAT is Champ Bailey?

July 21, 2007

 Connor Byrne over at realfootball365.com just listed off his top Defenders for 2007. He has Champ Bailey listed at #2, right behind Charger LB Shawne Merriman. While I, personally, think Champ owns the top spot without question, it really is hard to compare apples to oranges (or in this case CB’s to LB’s).

So, if it’s difficult to say Champ is the best over-all Defender playing today, what about saying he’s the best corner to EVER play the game?

Can we honestly claim that he’ is the G.O.A.T. (greatest of all time) for his position?

Many ‘experts’ will quickly say that it is impossible to compare modern cornerbacks with their ancestors of fifty years ago. They will point out two major issues. One, that modern stats were not kept back in the olden days, therefore you can’t compare like statistics. Secondly, they will point out that SO many rules have changed between tackling and contact allowed, that no comparison can be made to modern players.

Both of these are reasonable. But this is the OFF-SEASON people… and we don’t have anything better to do (unless you want to read other article on Mike Vick?). So, now that I’ve mentioned the general foolishness of this post, lets have some historic fun!

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The first comparison everyone throws out there is Deion Sanders (oh, what a surprise). I think I should quickly run over this one so we can move on to more exciting (but somewhat older) corners of yesteryear…

Deion Sanders recorded 429 tackles, 123 passes defended and 53 interceptions over his 14 year career. He also won two Super Bowl rings. He was a remarkable athlete, but his cover skills were alway better than this tackling. Luckly, we have modern stats for Deion, so we can easily compare the two.

Deion Sanders (by his 8th year) — Tackles=282, Passes Defended=83, Interceptions=34

Champ Bailey (by his 8th year)– Tackles=493, Passes Defended=138, Interceptions=39

Deion Sanders has been credited with the statement “You show me a corner that can tackle, and I’ll show you one that can’t cover.” To this I present CHAMP BAILEY! He has already passed Neon Deion’s TOTAL career tackles and passes defended numbers and is on pace to beat his total interception numbers. Deion may be the only NFL player to also play in a World Series, but when it comes to pure cornerbacks, Champ has him beat hands down. Champ is the complete package — tackling & covering.

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OK, now for some contenders from past generations. I had to limit my list to ‘pure’ corners (not defensive backs which include safeties). The records for career interceptions fall to some of histories best Safeties, but we’re talking right now about CORNERBACKS. The following men have more than excelled at this position — they have redefined it in their time. Almost all of them are in the Hall of Fame and their accomplishments are staggering….

First, I must make a Raider’s disclaimer, as many of them will ask why Lester Hayes isn’t on this list. To be honest, I just don’t think he is in the same class as the other men I have listed. He is best known for getting Stickum banned in 1981. And while Sticky Finger Lester Hayes did record 13 interceptions that year, the year after its ban it dropped to 3 (and he totaled only 14 more intercepts in his last six year of his career). In fact, Champ has equaled his total number of career interceptions in his first eight years. And while Lester does have a Super Bowl ring, his numbers just aren’t comparable to these other men.

Broncos Logo We’ll start with another man that Champ actually played with at Washington. A man that played 20 years at the corner position. That’s right, Darrell Green. From 1983 until 2002, Green amassed 54 interceptions and 8 TD’s. He spent all 20 years with the Redskins and owns Super Bowl rings from #22 & #26. However, if you compare them at year eight of Green’s career, Champ’s 39 interceptions overshadow Green’s 24. Now, just for fun, let’s project what would happen if Champ were to go another 12 seasons at his current pace — he would have nearly 100 interceptions! We can only hope Champ plays until he’s 42! 🙂

Broncos Logo Next in my list would be Mike Haynes. Haynes attended nine Pro Bowls over his 14 season career. He ended his career with 46 interceptions, four TD’s and a Super Bowl ring (Raiders SB#18) — no wonder he’s in the Hall of Fame. Of course, at year eight in Hayne’s career Champ has him by 10 interceptions and several TD’s. Champ needs a ring and a couple more Pro Bowls, but things look good for Champ vs Haynes.

Broncos Logo Denver’s closest thing to a challenger would be Hall of Famer Willie Brown. (OK, he played most of his career in Oakland.. but his first three years were with the orange & blue). Brown intercepted 54 passes and scored two touchdowns. His biggest steal, however, came in Super Bowl XI, when he returned an interception 75 yards for the clinching touchdown. Again, at year eight Champ has Brown by 7 interceptions and a few TD’s. He only needs 18 more interceptions and a ring or two to pass Brown, but that should be obtainable.

Broncos Logo Another Hall of Famer, Richard Lane (better known as Dick “Night Train” Lane) was a true beast. He blew onto the NFL scene in 1952 with a rookie record 14 interceptions. By the time his 14 year career was done, he had racked up 68 interceptions, 1207 yards and five TDs. He was named to seven Pro Bowls, but never won a Super Bowl ring. Night Train vs Champ would be a great match up (or fantasy team tandem), but Champ plays in a different era than Lane. Lane was a ball hawk, but that was before Pass Interference become what it is today. Lane was also considered a great open field tackler at the time, but tackling from the neck and head were legal then. Even so, by Night Train’s 126th game, he had racked up 58 interceptions (19 better than Champ’s total for the same number of games).* And while Champ has tighter rules to deal with, if Champ plays another 6 years, he has a chance to match Lane’s 68 interceptions. And if Champ can added a ring or two, that would allow him to pass the old Night Train.

Broncos Logo But without a doubt, I would have to say that Champ’s biggest challenger for G.O.A.T. Cornerback would be Pittsburgh Steeler legend and current Hall of Famer, Mel Blount. From 1970 until 1983, Blount terrorized wideouts. He was 6’2″ and 205 lbs of pure ball-hawking madness. He not only appeared in five pro bowls, but also won four Super Bowls (#9, #10, #13 & #14). In his 14 seasons he totaled 57 interceptions, 13 fumble recoveries and scored a total of four TDs. Most impressively, Blount’s harassment of his receivers single-handedly forced the NFL to adopt the Pass Interference Penalty (originally nicked named the ‘Melblount’ rule). With four World Championship rings, and more interceptions than Prime Time, Blunt is the man to beat if you want this title. At the 126 game mark in Blount’s career, Champ would be trailing him by only one interception, but the real challenge that Blount creates is not statical.* Blount won FOUR rings and changed the game. Mark my words, this will be Champ’s biggest rival for the G.O.A.T. title.

* As the number of games each season was shorter (12 instead of 14), I have compared their numbers at game ~126 in their career with Champ at the same point (end of 2006). Thanks, Dean, for pointing that out!

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In summary, I think Champ has the skills, talent, intelligence, drive (and is on the right team) to top all of these guys. He has already shown the world eight awesome years of dominance. If he can maintain that level of play for the next few years and play wisely into his 13-14 year in the league, there will be no other corner in the history of football that could rival him.

And I, for one, am truly excited that we have the honor of having Champ play in a Denver uniform and I can’t wait to see what he accomplishes in 2007 and beyond!




  1. You have to remember that when you are comparing the stats of older cornerbacks that they did not play 16 game seasons. The 16 game season did not start until 1978, I believe.

  2. Great post. Most of yours are.

    One thing: It’s Lester Hayes. 😉

  3. Dean: Good point. More games means more plays, which means more passes and more chances at interceptions, etc. In fact if you went by number of games, Champ’s eight year career would need to be compared to those older player’s 10th season. I’ll have to take a look at that and see what a difference it makes.

    Thanks for the feedback!

    TS: Fixed — Thanks! 🙂

  4. Champ Bailey is without a doubt the best corner in the NFL. He really doesn’t get enought credit and probably never will because he’s not that flashy. I hope he wins a ring.


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