Charles Woodson is the Best Defensive Back Ever

  • Solid tackler

    This is probably the weakest argument, considering we’ve seen defensive backs much better than Woodson. (Antoine Winfield comes to mind. And, of course, Dick “Night Train” Lane.) But it’s not weak in terms of oh he couldn’t tackle. He had poor technique, didn’t want to show in run support, and just straight up wasn’t physical. (Hi, Deion.) It’s weak when compared to the rest of his game. Charles Woodson was better than decent at tackling. In fact, he was probably underrated. He was/still is the complete package.

    Woodson has 861 tackles for his career, which spans back to 1998 during his first go-round with Oakland. That’s nearly double what Sanders finished his career with. It’s more than Champ Bailey had. And it’s not far off the pace of similar players like Rod Woodson and Ronnie Lott. Woodson was extremely physical and aggressive, and Green Bay’s defensive coordinator Dom Capers used him as a Swiss Army Knife, lining him up all over the field during his Packers tenure, so you know his team had faith in Woodson’s ability to put people on the ground.

    Even this year, playing for a lost cause and nearing the age of 40, he’s still getting physical. He had seven tackles against Houston in Week 2, and had 16 in the first three games.

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  • Versatility

    Over his 17 years in the NFL, Charles Woodson has played every position in the secondary. He’s been a stud at both corner spots. He’s starred at strong safety at times for Green Bay during the prime of his career, and now handles free safety duty with the Raiders.

    He’s lined up all over the field, been a blitzer, been the last time of defense, been a shadow corner. He’s even lined up as an outside backer at times, at less than 200 pounds. When he went to Green Bay in 2006, Woodson even started returning punts, which he hadn’t done since he was winning a Heisman Trophy at Michigan. Very few shutdown corners have been able to successfully make the transition to other positions but Woodson not only excelled at it, he had no problems changing positions and responsibilities year to year, sometimes game to game. That made him a weapon, something that couldn’t be replicated. There were better shutdown corners, but no one who affected the game in as many ways as Woodson did.

    Woodson was a Prime Time clone as a Wolverine, catching 11 passes for 231 yards during his final year in ’97. That season, he scored three offensive touchdowns and was a feared returner. Tom Brady, a backup quarterback on that team, even called him the school’s best receiver. Woodson hasn’t contributed much outside of defense since coming into the NFL, but he has tied a record with 13 defensive touchdowns.

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  • Toughest era

    Woodson has done all of this while playing in an era that’s seen seven 5,000-yard passing seasons. Before 2008, it had only been done once in NFL history. In fact, Woodson has been in the league for 38 of the league’s 50 highest passing yard seasons.

    It’s no secret that the game favors offenses at this point. Harsher punishment on targeting defenseless offensive players and helmet-to-helmet hits. Closer calls on defensive pass interference. The latter day NFL is difficult for even the best cornerbacks. Yet Woodson has accumulated 57 interceptions, 11 of which he returned for touchdowns, and has forced 32 fumbles. He has also made eight Pro Bowls, won the Defensive Player of the Year in 2009, and won the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year in ’98.

    Woodson never totally relied on his cover skills, which have been somewhat negated by the modern game. (Or at least have made life harder on DBs.) He’s a game-breaker, and has a sixth sense for creating turnovers. I’m not sure any defensive back has ever been better in that regard.

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  • Long career

    Woodson has one glaring black mark on his resume. It’s the one thing critics and analysts always come back to whenever discussing this topic. What happened in Oakland from 2002 to 2005? Woodson went from making four straight Pro Bowls to start his NFL career to fizzling out with the Raiders amid disputes with head coach Bill Callahan and injuries — a shoulder in ’02, a cracked fibula in the same year, a broken leg in ’05. In a way, however, he should get credit for overcoming all of that and reinventing himself as a 30-year-old, an age when a lot of speedy defensive backs lose their spot.

    When Oakland released him following the ’05 season, he had just two suitors and ended up in Green Bay despite admitting that he didn’t even want to be there. It was the perfect marriage, and probably saved the corner’s career.

    Now that he’s back in Oakland, Woodson is on his fourth or fifth life as an NFL player, still causing havoc, still making plays. Last year he had the second-most tackles of his career and started every game. This past summer, he contemplated retirement before letting everyone know he still had a lot of football left in him. When was the last time you saw a 38-year-old who could still play like this? Not much has changed since he was turning in one of the greatest college football seasons ever at Michigan.

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  • Ballhawk

    Tied for the most defensive touchdowns in league history, with a nearly unparalleled ability to take it to the house, Woodson is one of the greatest ballhawking defenders you will ever see. With the Packers from 2006-09, after years of getting avoided by quarterbacks, this dude had 28 interceptions. (If Ed Reed doesn’t find his way back onto a team, Woodson is the active leader in career picks.)

    But where Woodson really stands head and shoulders above the rest of his competition is with his unique ability to strip the ball. Ask Tom Brady about that one. Woodson was involved in the infamous “Tuck Rule” playoff game in 2001 between New England and Oakland and has forced 32 fumbles throughout his career, including nine during a spectacular two-year span in Green Bay.

    In his eyes, at least, that makes him special. Last year against San Diego after a 25-yard fumble return for a touchdown, tying a record, Woodson said, “I’m one of the greatest to ever play this game.”

    I have to agree.

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When Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was asked last October if former Dallas player Deion Sanders could’ve shut down Calvin Johnson, the answer was pretty predictable. Yes, he could have, Jones said, and we all believed him too. To proclaim someone other than Deion Sanders the best defensive back in NFL history is almost heresy at this point. He was that good, that fast, that quick, that feared. Prime Time is considered one of the greatest athletes in any sport — right up there with Bo Jackson — let alone at one of the most underappreciated positions in football.

But he’s not the best defensive back we’ve ever seen.

There’s a man playing in 2014 — and turning 38 years old today — who is better, who has been better. No, he was never feared the way Sanders was, and he lacked the same unmistakable charisma that made Sanders a national icon while coining phrases like “If you look good, you feel good. If you feel good, you play good. If you play good, they pay good.”

This man also couldn’t stop Johnson. Not in 2014. Not ever. He doesn’t have the personal experience that Darrelle Revis has. He doesn’t have the explosiveness of Patrick Peterson. He doesn’t have the height or moxie of Richard Sherman. (And even with all of that, none of those guys can stop Megatron.) But despite all of that, despite a mid-career slump, and despite playing for one of the worst teams in the NFL this year, Oakland’s Charles Woodson is the Best Defensive Back Ever. Here are five reasons why.

Follow Sean on Twitter at @seanesweeney