Top Five Greatest Cornerbacks In New England Patriots History

Who is the greatest cornerback in Patriots history?


Oct 26, 2022

The history of the New England Patriots is made up of all-time talent.

Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback who ever lived. Rob Gronkowski had the most dominant stretch the NFL has ever seen out of a tight end. Sports Illustrated proclaimed John Hannah the “Greatest Offensive Lineman of All Time” halfway through his playing career. But, one position in which the Patriots have boasted top-end talent throughout their history is cornerback.

J.C. Jackson went from an undrafted free agent to a Super Bowl champion and Pro Bowler in New England. Darrelle Revis won the only Super Bowl of his Hall of Fame-worthy career with the Patriots. Asante Samuel locked down opposing receivers for some of the greatest defenses in team history. And those are the guys who didn’t make the list.

Here are the absolute best.

5. Malcolm Butler (2014-2017; 2022)
Malcolm Butler could have retired the day after Super Bowl XLIX and found his way onto this list. He is the author of the greatest play in team and Super Bowl history, intercepting Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson at the goal line to steal a ring off his finger and ignite the second half of a 20-plus-year dynasty. That was just what he did to cap off his rookie season as an undrafted free agent.

Bill Belichick controversially let Revis and Brandon Browner, the starters in 2014, go ahead of the 2015 season and appointed Butler as the Patriots’ new No. 1 cornerback. He rewarded New England with a Pro Bowl birth in 2015 and an All-Pro nod in 2016, helping the Patriots capture another Super Bowl in the latter season.

Sure, the circumstances in which he departed were murky at best, his tenure only lasted the length of a UDFA contract and his second stint in Foxboro is best left ignored, but without Butler, the Patriots are short one Super Bowl banner.

4. Mike Haynes (1976-1982)
Mike Haynes may be better known for his career with the Raiders, in which he won a Super Bowl and was named First-Team All-Pro twice, but his best football came as a member of the Patriots.

Haynes entered the NFL as the fifth-overall pick in 1976 and immediately became the league’s best cornerback. His eight interceptions are still a Patriots rookie record and were good enough to earn his AP Defensive Player of the Year and the first of five consecutive Pro Bowl nods. Haynes recorded 28 interceptions in seven seasons with the Patriots and was inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame in 1994. His No. 40 is still retired by the team to this day. Had the Patriots not been so allergic to playoff success during his tenure, Haynes would be much higher on this list.

3. Stephon Gilmore (2017-2021)
Stephon Gilmore’s tenure in New England only lasted four seasons, but the man known as “Gilly Lock” packed enough memories into that time to last fans a lifetime.

Looking to improve a Super Bowl-winning defense from 2016, Belichick signed Gilmore to a five-year, $65 million contract in the opening hours of free agency in 2017. Over the course of that deal, Gilmore made three Pro Bowls, was named First-Team All-Pro twice and became the first Patriots player to take home a Defensive Player of the Year award in 2019. He also anchored a Patriots secondary that allowed just three points in Super Bowl.

But more than all the accolades and numbers, Gilmore’s Patriots career will be remembered for the big plays. His pass breakup in the 2017 AFC Championship Game put the finishing touches on an underrated Patriots classic. His pick-six against the Miami Dolphins in 2019 was the start to the “Boogeymen” defense. And his interception of Jared Goff in Super Bowl LII locked up the final championship of the Belichick-Tom Brady era.

2. Raymond Clayborn (1977-1989)
There are two things Raymond Clayborn has to boast above most other Patriots cornerbacks, production and longevity.

For 13 seasons Clayborn locked down opposing No. 1 receivers, racking up 36 interceptions — a team record that still stands today. He made three Pro Bowls as a Patriot and combined with Haynes from 1977 to 1982 to make up what was the most talented defensive backfield in the NFL. His performance in the 1985 AFC Championship game is the stuff of legend, intercepting Dan Marino to begin a rout of the Miami Dolphins and send New England to its first Super Bowl.

As hot-tempered as they come, Clayborn was known to mix it up with teammates, members of the media and even his coaches, but when it mattered most the Patriots could always count on him to come up with a big play. He was inducted into the team Hall of Fame in 2017 after signing a one-day contract to retire a Patriot.

1. Ty Law (1995-2004)
The Patriots roster wasn’t exactly chock full of superstars when Belichick arrived in 2000, but it did have one in Ty Law — who New England’s coach built the foundation of a dynastic run around.

For as important as Brady was to New England’s offensive success throughout his 20-year run as quarterback, Law was equally as important to the Patriots’ defensive success throughout their first two Super Bowl runs. Law’s sheer dominance of Peyton Manning single-handedly won games for New England during those years, and the snapshot of his pick-6 against the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI is what Patriots fans look back on as the moment where they knew their team had a chance. All of this came after Law had already finished top-three in DPOY voting and established himself as one of the league’s top corners.

Law is tied for the team lead with 36 interceptions and owns the team records for interceptions returned for touchdowns (six) and interception return yards (583). Doing all of that in 10 seasons with the Patriots that saw him make four Pro Bowls and two All-Pro teams. At the turn of the century, there was no one better than Law.

Honorable Mention: J.C. Jackson (2018-2021), Asante Samuel (2003-2007), Ron Bolton (1972-1975), Jonathan Jones (2016-Present)

Thumbnail photo via Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports Images
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