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Top 10 Defensive Backs Not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame

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These guys could shutdown receivers and make plays in the secondary, but they haven't yet made it to Canton. Today, I'll rank the top 10 defensive backs not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.


10. Ken Riley

He's one of the most underrated cornerbacks in league history.

A sixth round pick in 1969, Ken Riley switched from quarterback to cornerback and he immediately made an impact. In his rookie year, he recorded 4 interceptions and 66 return yards. He also recovered 2 fumbles, added another 334 yards on 14 kickoff returns, and even caught 2 passes for 15 yards on offense. For the rest of his career, Riley established himself as one of the top defensive backs in Professional Football, recording three or more interceptions in all but three of his 15 seasons. In his 15 Pro Football seasons, Riley recorded a total of 65 interceptions, 596 return yards, five touchdowns, 18 fumble recoveries, 96 fumble return yards, 334 kickoff return yards, and 15 receiving yards. His interceptions, interception return yards, and interceptions returned for touchdowns are all Bengals records. Riley retired after the 1983 season as a four time All-Pro.

He doesn't get recognized as a Hall of Famer because there isn't a standout moment from his career.

9. Dave Grayson


No AFL quarterback wanted to throw in his direction.

After going undrafted and being cut by the Cowboys for being labeled to small, Dave Grayson signed with the Chiefs in 1961. In his first season, he set a franchise record with a 99-yard interception return for a touchdown. in his first three seasons, he finished in the top two in kickoff returns each year. In 1965, Grayson was traded to Oakland and moved from cornerback to safety in 1967 to help the Raiders reach Super Bowl II. In 1968, he led the AFL with 10 interceptions. Grayson retired after the 1970 season as a six time AFL All Star, four time All-Pro, two time AFL Champion, a member of the All-time AFL team, and is the AFL's all time leading interceptor with 47 picks to go along with five touchdowns.

Grayson unfortunately gets lost to history thanks to the Raiders developing one of the best secondaries in league history during the 70's. Given his distinction as the the AFL's all-time leader in interceptions, that alone should garner him Hall of Fame consideration.

8. Everson Walls


He quietly had one of the most productive careers a corner has ever had.

An undrafted free agent, Everson Walls signed with his hometown Dallas Cowboys. Although he was being targeted by opposing quarterbacks who were throwing away from more experienced players like Dennis Thurman, he made an immediate impact by leading the league in interceptions with 11. Walls continued his dominance in the 80's leading the league in interceptions two more times. He and Ed Reed are the only two players in NFL history to lead the league in interceptions three times. He spent his final seasons with the Giants and Browns before retiring after 1993. In his 13 seasons, Walls was a four time Pro Bowler, three time All-Pro, three time league interception leader, five time Cowboys interceptions leader and Super Bowl XXV champion.

Its a mystery what the Hall of Fame voters have against Everson Walls. To come into the NFL undrafted, lead the league in interceptions three times, and still rank tenth in league history with 57 interceptions has to warrant a gold jacket.

7. Jake Scott


He was a key piece in the "No Name" Defense.

After spending his first year in the Canadian Football League, Jake Scott was drafted by Miami in the seventh round of 1970. He was the team's starting strong safety and primary punt returner. Scott was a key member of the 1972 Miami Dolphins undefeated season, and was named Super Bowl MVP of Super Bowl VII by recording two interceptions in the Dolphins'14-7 win over Washington. In Super Bowl VIII, he recovered two fumbles. Scott spent his final years in Washington before retiring in 1978. He was a five time pro bowler, five time All-Pro, the Dolphins all time leader in interceptions, two time Super Bowl champion, and Super Bowl VII MVP.

Scott gets lost in history because of the fact that he played on a defense nobody knew. His last year in Washington was also a big disappointment.

6. Jack Tatum


"The Assassin" was one of the hardest hitting safeties in league history.

A first round pick by Oakland in 1970, Jack Tatum was brought in to be Dave Grayson's replacement. In his first game, he knocked out future Hall of Fame tight end John Mackey and quickly became known for his hard hitting skills. In 1972, he set an NFL record with a 104-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown. By 1976, he helped the Raiders to Super Bowl XI where he delivered one of the games hardest hits by knocking the helmet of Vikings wide receiver Sammy White in Oakland's dominating victory. During his final season with the Oilers in 1980, he set his career high with seven interceptions to give him a total of 37. In his 10 seasons, Tatum was a three time Pro Bowler, two time All-Pro, and Super Bowl Champion.

Tatum likely loses out on Hall of Fame consideration due to the nature of his hits by today's standards. His hit on Patriots wide receiver Darryl Stingley resulted in Stingley becoming a quadriplegic for the rest of his life. Given his impact on the game and how he helped create the Raider identity, his career should be remembered as one of the best safeties of the 70's.

5. Cornell Green


"Sweet Lips" switched sports to become a star defensive back.

Undrafted in 1962, Cornell Green was a star basketball player who never played football in college and signed with Dallas for $1,000. He learned the cornerback position enough to start as a rookie and was the fulltime starter in his second year. HE became a big contributor to Tom Landry’s intricate defensive schemes and a feared defender during his career. In his final five seasons, he transitioned to strong safety where he stayed until he retired after 1974. He intercepted 34 passes, recovered seven fumbles, and scored two touchdowns in his 13 year career while never missing a game. He was a five time pro bowler, four time All-Pro, and Super Bowl champion.

Green likely gets forgotten because of his low number of interceptions for as long as he played. He probably dropped twice as many picks as he had. But to go from playing basketball to being an All-Pro defensive back has to be respected.

4. Lemar Parrish


He was Deion Sanders before Deion Sanders.

A seventh round pick in 1970, Lemar Parrish immediately made an impact not just as a defensive back but also as a kick returner on special teams. In his rookie year, he recorded five interceptions, a fumble recovery, 194 yards returning punts, 482 yards returning kickoffs, and scored two touchdowns. In 1974, Parrish set a franchise record with an NFL leading 18.8 yards per punt return average. In his 13 seasons, he recorded 47 interceptions for 462 yards, 13 fumble recoveries for 65 yards, 131 punt returns for 1,205 yards, 61 kickoffs for 1,504 yards, and 13 touchdowns. Parrish left Cincinnati due to contract disputes an he spent his final seasons in Washington and Buffalo before retiring in 1982. He was an eight time pro bowler and five time All-Pro.

He dealt with injuries late in his career and his departure from Cincinnati didn't help. Had he played his entire career alongside Ken Riley, the two could have been remembered as one of the best cornerback duos in history.

3. Deron Cherry


He is one of the best free safeties in history.

After going undrafted in 1981, Deron Cherry made the Chiefs roster by playing safety and punter. He had six 100 tackle seasons in his 11 years as a member of the Chiefs, with a career total of 927 tackles. He is Kansas City's all time leader in fumble recoveries with 15 and ranks third in team history in interceptions with 50. Cherry retired after 1991 as a six time pro bowler, five time All-Pro, and a member of the 80s All-Decade team.

Cherry played for Kansas City before they were a contender. Had he spent a majority of his career with guys like Neil Smith, Derrick Thomas, Albert Lewis, and Kevin Ross, Kansas could have won a couple Super Bowls and Cherry would have been a first ballot Hall of Famer.

2. Eric Allen


He was cornerback who could take an interception back for a touchdown almost every time.

A second round pick in 1988, Eric Allen was an immediate starter and a true playmaker in the Philadelphia secondary. He is the only player in NFL history to run back three or more interceptions for touchdowns in two separate seasons. His most famous moment came in 1993 when he returned an interception 94 yards for a touchdown which has been labeled as the greatest interception return in history. In his 14 seasons, Allen was a six time pro bowler and three time All-Pro.

Allen gets lost in history because his teams never won a championship. Also it doesn't help that he played 14 years between three teams questioning why Philadelphia was willing to let him go.

1. Lester Hayes


"The Judge" was one of the best shutdown corners of his era.

A fifth round pick in 1977, Lester Hayes converted from a linebacker/safety hybrid to play cornerback. In 1980, he was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year after intercepting 13 passes, one shy of tying "Night Train" Lane's NFL record. In 1983, the Raiders acquired Mike Haynes in a trade and the duo formed arguably the best cornerback tandem in league history as they are widely reckoned as being the prototypes for fast and physical corners. He retired after the 1986 season as a five time Pro Bowler, six time All-Pro, the 1980 Defensive Player of the Year, a member of the 1980's All-Decade Team, and two time Super Bowl champion.

When people think of Lester Hayes today, one word comes to mind. "Stickum." Hayes famously used to coat his arms and legs with the adhesive substance which helped his interception totals his first four seasons. Stickum was banned by the league in 1981, and Hayes had just 15 interceptions over his final six seasons. The fact his teammate Fred Biletnikoff used Stickum his entire career and still made the Hall of Fame, the same could be argued for Lester Hayes.

People's Poll

Questions & Answers

Question: Where is Lester Hayes?

Answer: His interception numbers went down after stickum was banned, but he was still making all-pro teams and pro bowls. Doesn’t help he was also playing across a Hall of Fame corner in Mike Haynes.


Kevin Goodwin on August 14, 2015:

Steve Atwater is a complete snub and should be in the Hall of fame.

Troy Taylor (author) from Anywhere on July 24, 2015:

Safety is definitely the least represented Paul. The next least represented position is tight end with only eight.

Paul Edmondson from Burlingame, CA on July 24, 2015:

Atwater hit people so hard it made me uncomfortable. He will get in some day. Fascinating that so few safety's are in the hall. Is there another position with less?

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on July 24, 2015:

A lot of great names. As far as someone on your list that has fail off many radars: Deron Cherry. People forget just how awesome he was.

CJ Kelly from the PNW on July 24, 2015:

Atwater, Shell and Allen are the biggest omissions here. But I would have Harris and Cherry as well.

I'm pretty easy when it comes to the Football Hall of Fame. If you pass the eye test with me, you're in. The entire starting 22 from the Steelers in the 1970s should be in the HoF. Really enjoy your HoF series. Will keep checking them out. Voted up and shared.