Ranking the 10 Best Cornerbacks in Steelers History

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By: John Walker
SteelerNation.com

 

The Pittsburgh Steelers have a rich history of defensive excellence. The words “Steelers” and “Defense” are practically synonymous with one another in the football world. Tough. Nasty. Dominant. Vaunted. Hard-Nosed. Those are the kinds of players that fit the mold of a black and gold defender. While most people immediately translate those words to one of Pittsburgh’s several star linebackers over the years, it’s worth noting that their history of corner backs is also a rather solid one. And since this group doesn’t seem to ever get the notoriety it deserves, I thought it would be fun to rank the 10 best corner backs to ever wear a Steelers uniform.

 

10. Chad Scott (1997-2004)

A throwback name you may have forgot about until you decided to check out this list. The Steelers’ 1997 1st round pick had a solid career in Pittsburgh. In his 7 seasons with the Steelers, Scott totaled 19 interceptions (4 returned for a TD), 98 passes defensed, and 415 tackles in 91 games. Here’s some random Steelers trivia for you. Can you guess who recorded the last interception at Three Rivers Stadium? You got it. Chad Scott.

 

9. Joe Haden (2017-Present)

Some of you may be surprised to see Haden on this list for two reasons. One, you may feel there hasn’t been 8 CB’s better in Pittsburgh’s history. Or two, you don’t think 3 seasons is enough time to crack a list like this. I understand. Either way, Haden is just too good for me to leave off this list. If such a large part of his career wasn’t spent in Cleveland, he would’ve been much higher on here. Haden was an immediate game changer for the Steelers. His arrival in Pittsburgh was the start of the rapid turnaround in the secondary that struggled for years. He’s notched 8 interceptions and 36 passes defensed in just 42 games for Keith Butler’s defense. Haden earned a Pro Bowl nod last season as the #1 CB for the Steelers dominant defense.

 

8. William Gay (2007-2011, 2013-2017)

“Big Play” Willie Gay! What would a list like this be without a guy that has a nickname like that? In Gay’s 2 stints with the Steelers, he only spent one full season as Pittsburgh’s top corner back. However he was a solid CB2 and certainly played his role in helping the Steelers win Super Bowl 43. He played in all 16 games of all 10 seasons while in Pittsburgh. Gay only had 11 career interceptions as a Steeler, but he surely made them count and returned 5 of them back for a touchdown. That number is good enough to tie him for the most in franchise history and land him 8th on this list.

 

7. Deshea Townsend (1998-2009)

Townsend’s stellar 12-year Steelers career resulted in 2 championship rings. He was a key piece in Pittsburgh’s Super Bowl 40 run, and contributed in a reduced role in Super Bowl 43. He did everything in Pittsburgh. He played in all 16 games in 9 of his 12 seasons for the Steelers. Townsend was solid in coverage (21 interceptions and 111 passes defensed) and was a physical force for a cornerback, which was reflected by his 460 tackles, 15.5 career sacks, and 5 forced fumbles. Townsend remained involved in football after he retired and is currently enjoying a successful coaching career.

 

6. J.T. Thomas (1973-1981)

A four-time Super Bowl champion just misses the cut for the top 5. Thomas spent all but one year of his career in Pittsburgh, and even earned a Pro Bowl nod in 1976. On a tough team to stand out on that was polluted with Hall of Famers, Thomas managed to carve out a key role on Pittsburgh’s legendary 70’s defense. He was always overshadowed by his counterpart who will appear down the list, but Thomas is 1 of only 21 Steelers to be a part of all 4 Super Bowl wins in the 70’s (9, 10, 13, 14). In 116 career games for Pittsburgh, he managed to total 19 interceptions, and even score 2 touchdowns.

 

5. Dwayne Woodruff (1979-1990)

Perhaps the most forgotten about Steelers cornerback there was. Woodruff played his entire 12-year career in Pittsburgh. Despite winning a ring his rookie season as part of the Super Bowl 14 team, he spent most of his career on subpar teams that struggled to find any significant success. Woodruff himself though had a nice career with 37 interceptions, 4 fumble recoveries, and 5 total defensive touchdowns. He either led or co-led Pittsburgh in interceptions in five different seasons. In 1982, the Steelers named Woodruff the team’s Most Valuable Player for the season.

 

4. Ike Taylor (2003-2014)

Another corner that played all 12 seasons of his career in black and gold, Taylor may be the most under appreciated Steeler of the last 20 years. He played a key role in both Super Bowls 40 and 43, and held down Pittsburgh’s #1 CB slot for nearly a decade. His 518 career solo tackles prove he was one of the most physical cornerbacks of his era. Taylor also totaled 2 forced fumbles, 5 fumble recoveries, and 3 sacks. Ike was a solid cover corner and excelled in run support, but the knock on him was his hands. Despite the struggles with drops, Ike still/(only) recorded 14 interceptions in his career. Several of them came at crucial times though, and what many fans aren’t aware of is the fact that Ike Taylor holds the franchise record for most consecutive postseason games with an interception. The “Professor of Swagger University” was good enough to find himself 4th on this list, the highest of any Steelers CB not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

 

3. Jack Butler (1951-1959)

The Steelers legend lands third on a crowded podium at the top of this list. Butler also occasionally played at wide receiver, but he excelled as one of the best cornerback’s of his time. The 2012 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee played every season of his career with Pittsburgh. He totaled 52 interceptions, which was tied for the most in a career at the time of his retirement. Butler racked up several accolades and was named to 4 Pro Bowls, earned 4 First Team-All Pro nods, and the NFL’s 1950’s All-Decade Team. The Steelers named Jack Butler one of the greatest 33 players in their history, subsequently landing him as a member of the Steelers All-Time Team. After the conclusion of his playing career, Butler spent 46 years with the BLESTO Scouting Combine and is credited with scouting over 75,000 college athletes.

 

2. Mel Blount (1970-1983)

One of the most decorated and feared defensive players in NFL history, Pro Football Hall of Famer (1st ballot) Mel Blount comes in at second on the list. Blount was the dominant cornerback of his era and was a stalwart on the legendary dynasty that won 4 Super Bowl championships in the 1970’s. He was in fact so dominant that the NFL had to change the rules for defenders in order to give receivers a chance to succeed. Known as “The Mel Blount Rule”, his nasty, physical style of play changed the way the game was played forever. Blount adapted and was still the best at his position. He made the Pro Bowl 5 times in his career and was twice named a First Team All-Pro. In 1975 he led the league in interceptions and was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Blount is well regarded as one of the best cornerbacks ever and has since been named to the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team, NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team, and the NFL 1980’s All-Decade Team. He joins several other cornerbacks on this list as players who spent their entire career as a Pittsburgh Steeler.

 

1. Rod Woodson (1987-1996)

Perhaps the greatest cornerback of all time. He spent 10 of his 17 career seasons with the Steelers, and was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. In the 10 years he spent in Pittsburgh, he went to 7 Pro Bowls and was named First Team All-Pro 5 times. He won the Defensive Player of the Year Award in 1993 along with AFC Player of the Year that season as well. He holds the NFL records for most fumble recoveries (32) and interceptions returned for touchdowns (12) in a career. Of course with spending 7 seasons with 3 other teams, not all of those numbers were accumulated in Pittsburgh. However, 5 of those interceptions that were returned for a touchdown did take place in a Steelers uniform, and that ties him with William Gay for the most in franchise history. Woodson did go on to win a Super Bowl with the rivaled Baltimore Ravens (we won’t totally hold that against him), but there’s little doubt that he was the best cornerback to wear a Steelers uniform.

 

So there’s my list! I had fun putting it together, and there’s a few you can certainly argue either way. I’d love to hear your thoughts and even see your lists as well! What do you think, #SteelerNation?

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