Statistical production, individual awards, team success, longevity, supporting cast, level of competition, raw talent and overall athletic ability all factor heavily in determining overall greatness. Sometimes, you simply know greatness when you see it.
So all factors were considered when trying to determine who the greatest defensive backs of the BCS era have been. Here are the Top 50 cornerbacks and safeties since the BCS was implemented in 1998:
1. Ed Reed, S, Miami
The star safety is one of the greatest to ever put on the pads. He led the team as a freshman in interceptions and forced fumbles en route to back-to-back All-American seasons in 2000 and '01. He led the nation as a senior with nine interceptions for 209 yards and three touchdowns. His leadership helped a stacked Miami team go unbeaten and claim the BCS National Championship in 2001. He was named Big East Defensive Player of the Year. Reed holds the school record for career interceptions (21), return yards (389) and defensive touchdowns (5). He was a first-round pick by the Baltimore Ravens in 2002. Oh by the way, Reed was a Big East track and field champ in the javelin.
2. Roy Williams, S, Oklahoma
One of the biggest hitters in college football history, Williams dominated college football during his time in Norman. He led the Sooners to an unbeaten BCS National Championship in 2000 while setting the school record for tackles for loss by a defensive back (12.0). The following year, he claimed the Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back as well as the Nagurski and Jack Tatum Trophies and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors. He was a unanimous All-American, first-round pick of the Cowboys in 2002 and will go down in Red River Shootout lore for this spectacular play in the Cotton Bowl.
3. Eric Berry, S, Tennessee
It didn’t take long for Berry to make his name known as an SEC defender. He posted a school record with 222 INT return yards on five picks, led all SEC freshmen with 86 tackles and was named SEC Freshman of the Year. He then returned seven interceptions for 265 yards as a sophomore en route to his first of two unanimous All-American seasons. He was also the SEC Defensive Player of the Year that year. As a junior, Berry returned to win the Thorpe and Jack Tatum Awards and ended with an SEC record for interception return yards. Used on offense and special teams as well, Berry’s superior athletic ability made him the fifth overall pick of the 2010 NFL Draft.
4. Sean Taylor, S, Miami
The 2001 Miami national title team might be the best college team ever assembled and Taylor was one of just four true freshman to see playing time that year. He earned All-Big East honors as a sophomore en route to another national title game in 2002. His 2003 campaign, however, is one of the best in school history. Taylor led the nation with 10 interceptions and his rare blend of size and speed made him Big East Defensive Player of the Year. Miami was 35-3 during Taylor’s time and he left school early to be the fifth overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft.
5. Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
The supremely gifted Peterson played in every game as a true freshman for the defending BCS champs. One of the most versatile, impactful athletes in the nation, Peterson scored on both defense and special teams throughout his career. He was a dynamic return man who brought a rare explosiveness to the game. As a junior, Peterson won the Thorpe and Bednarik Awards and was named SEC Defensive Player of the Year while being recognized as an All-American for a second time. He was taken fifth overall in the 2011 NFL Draft.
6. Terence Newman, CB, Kansas State
Newman did a little bit of everything for Bill Snyder and Kansas State. He returned kicks and punts and even played some wide receiver. The lockdown cornerback was an two-time All-Big 12 pick, a unanimous All-American, the Jim Thorpe Award winner as the nation’s top DB and a first-round pick by the Cowboys in 2003 (weirdly, also 5th overall). Newman also was a two-time Big 12 outdoor track champion in the 100 meters and the league champ in the indoor 60 meters.
7. Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
One of the best pure covermen in the history of the SEC, Claiborne was a lock-down corner for LSU in two full seasons as the starter. He developed a reputation as a sophomore with five picks and 37 tackles en route to All-SEC honors. After that, no one threw at him. Despite teams staying away from him and a teammate getting more Heisman hype, Claiborne was named the nation’s top defensive back with the Thorpe Award and was a unanimous All-American. He helped LSU to a perfect 13-0 regular-season mark and an SEC title and a berth in the BCS national title game. He was taken sixth overall in the 2012 NFL Draft.
8. Derrick Strait, CB, Oklahoma
As the Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year, Strait helped lead the Sooners to a perfect BCS National Championship as a freshman. By his senior season, Strait had led Oklahoma back to the BCS national title game and was recognized nationally with the Thorpe and Nagurski Trophies as the nation’s top defensive player. Strait also was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2003 before getting selected in the third round of the '04 NFL Draft.
9. Antoine Winfield, CB, Ohio State
Winfield might be the most underrated defensive back in the history of all levels of football. The consensus All-American helped Ohio State win 43 games in four years and nearly (or should have) played in the first BCS National Championship game in 1998. He was given the Thorpe and Tatum honors as a senior as the nation’s top defensive back before being selected 23rd overall in the 1999 NFL Draft.
10. Mark Barron, S, Alabama
The superstar safety was a three-time All-SEC pick, two-time All-American and helped the Crimson Tide win two BCS National Championships. He finished his career with 237 tackles, 13.0 for loss, 5.0 sacks and 12 interceptions. Many coaches called him the best player in the SEC in 2011 and he was taken with the seventh overall pick in the '12 NFL Draft.
11. Troy Polamalu, S, USC
The big-play machine was a three-year starter for the West Coast powerhouse. He was a two-time All-Pac-10 selection, a consensus All-American and stuffed the stat sheet his entire career. The big hitter finished with 278 tackles, 29.0 for loss, six interceptions and four blocked punts. Polamalu led USC back to prominence with a league title and trip to the Orange Bowl before being taken in the first round of the 2003 NFL Draft.
12. Jamar Fletcher, CB, Wisconsin
The Badgers’ coverman has as complete a resume as any during the BCS era. He was a two-time, first-team All-American and three-time, first-team All-Big Ten selection. He helped Wisconsin to back-to-back Big Ten and Rose Bowl championships and was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. He holds UW’s all-time record with 21 interceptions and was named the nation’s top defensive back with the Thorpe and Tatum Trophies as a senior in 2000. He was a first-round pick in 2001.
13. Champ Bailey, CB, Georgia
From a versatility standpoint, few have ever been as explosive and dynamic as Champ Bailey. He was a lockdown cornerback, an elite returnman and a dangerous wide receiver. His senior season — the only year he played during the BCS era — Bailey posted 52 tackles and three interceptions on defense and caught 47 passes for 744 yards and five scores on offense. He was a two-time, first-team All-SEC pick and won the Nagurski Trophy in 1998. He was the seventh overall pick in the 1999 NFL Draft.
14. Carlos Rogers, CB, Auburn
The Tigers coverman started 10 games as a freshman, earning Freshman All-American honors. He was a mainstay on the outside of Auburn’s defense for four years and it culminated in a historic 2004 campaign. Rogers was named the Thorpe Award winner, an All-American and helped Auburn to a perfect 13-0 record. He was the ninth overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft.
15. Malcolm Jenkins, CB, Ohio State
The Ohio State Buckeyes have a long tradition of great defensive backs and Jenkins is one of the most decorated. He started and was an All-Big Ten first-teamer for two unbeaten regular season teams that made it to the BCS National Championship in 2006 and ’07. He was a two-time All-American, Jim Thorpe winner, three-time All-Big Ten pick and was the 14th overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft.
16. Eric Weddle, S, Utah
Few players have ever done more for their team than Mr. Weddle. He was a freshman All-American at cornerback before shifting to safety for his final three years. He won back-to-back Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year Awards and was a consensus All-American. When his collegiate career was over, Weddle posted 277 tackles, 18 interceptions, 22.5 tackles for loss, nine forced fumbles, 10.0 sacks, returned 52 punts, rushed 52 times for 259 yards and six touchdowns. He also threw a touchdown, recovered onside kicks, was used as an emergency punter and held at times on the field goal team.
17. Mike Doss, S, Ohio State
The Buckeyes safety was a rare three-time All-American, three-time, first-team All-Big Ten pick and won the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in 2002 for the BCS National Champions. He finished his career with 331 career tackles, eight interceptions, eight fumbles recovered and 6.0 sacks. He was a second-round pick in the 2003 NFL Draft.
18. LaRon Landry, S, LSU
The LSU safety might be the most physically imposing defensive back of the BCS era. He started 10 games as a true freshman for Nick Saban and the 2003 BCS National Championship squad. He made 80, 92 and 70 total tackles respectively during his three-year career and was a two-time All-SEC pick and 2006 consensus All-American. The thumper was the sixth pick in the 2007 NFL Draft.
19. Antoine Cason, CB, Arizona
The California native was a four-year contributor for Arizona from 2004-07. And fans knew all about Cason after he won Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Week after his first collegiate game. He scored four times (2 INT, 2 PR) as a senior and he capped his electric career with the Jim Thorpe Award. He was a two-time, first-team all-conference pick and was the 27th overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft.
20. Anthony Poindexter, S, Virginia
He was a leader and one of the hardest hitting players to ever play the game — and made one of the most famous tackles in NCAA history. He set a school record with 98 tackles as a sophomore and was an All-American as a junior in 1997. Despite getting injured late in the year, Poindexter earned ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors and became a two-time All-American.
21. Michael Huff, S, Texas
The superstar safety from Texas was a Freshman All-American in 2002 before earning back-to-back first-team All-Big 12 honors as a junior and senior. He was a unanimous All-American on the 2005 BCS National Championship team and was a first-round pick in the '06 NFL Draft.
22. Aaron Ross, CB, Texas
Ross was a bit of a late bloomer but played a key role on the 2005 BCS National Championship squad. He capped his career in Austin with a stellar 2006 campaign in which he won Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors and the Thorpe Award. Ross played 51 games during his career but only started 15 times, posting 205 tackles, 10 interceptions and was a dynamic punt returner. He was a first-round pick in the 2007 NFL Draft.
23. Phillip Buchanon, S, Miami
He was an electric return man and helped lead Miami to the 2001 BCS National Championship. For a school stacked with defensive backs, the first-round pick of the Raiders in 2002 was the best pure cover corner.
24. Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State
An excellent all-around football player, Banks was just as good a leader and tackler as he was pure coverman. He was a first-team All-American and Thorpe Award winner for the Bulldogs. He posted 158 tackles, 11 interceptions and was a second-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.
25. Daymeion Hughes, CB, Cal
The shutdown corner started games all four years of his career, capping his Cal tenure with the Lott Trophy and Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year honors. He was a consensus All-American with 72 tackles, eight interceptions and 19 passes broken up before getting drafted in the third round in 2007.
26. Tyrone Carter, S, Minnesota
The Florida native was a tackling machine for the Golden Gophers, finishing his career with an NCAA-record 584 tackles. He was a two-time All-American and won the 1999 Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back.
27. Aqib Talib, CB, Kansas
Along with Todd Reesing and others, Talib is responsible for the “glory” years of Kansas football. The two-time all-conference pick won the Tatum Trophy and was a unanimous All-American in 2007. He helped lead the Jayhawks to their only BCS bowl berth and win before getting picked 20th overall in the 2008 NFL Draft.
28. Antrel Rolle, S, Miami
Along with Sean Taylor (No. 4), Rolle was one of just four true freshmen to play on the dominant 2001 BCS National Championship team. He was an All-Big East pick as a sophomore and a unanimous All-American in the ACC in 2004. He was the eighth overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft.
29. Joe Haden, CB, Florida
Haden was the first true freshman cornerback to ever start opening day for the Gators. He helped lead Florida to the BCS National Championship in 2008 and was named National Defensive Player of the Year in '09. He also was a unanimous All-American that year and went seventh overall in the 2010 NFL Draft.
30. Deltha O’Neal, CB, Cal
The All-American was also the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year, Mosi Tatupu and Pop Warner Award winner. O’Neal set an NCAA record by returning four interceptions for touchdowns as a senior. He was a first-round pick in the 2000 NFL Draft.
31. Taylor Mays, S, USC
Mays was a rare three-time All-American from 2007-09 and a second-team All-American in '06 as a freshman. He helped lead the Trojans to three consecutive Pac-10 championships with an overall 34-5 record from 2006-08.
32. Leon Hall, CB, Michigan
He never missed a game in his four-year, 50-game career and led Michigan to three Rose Bowl appearances. He is Michigan’s all-time leader with 43 passes broken up and intercepted 12 career passes. The All-American was a first-round pick in the 2007 NFL Draft.
33. Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
Quarterbacks stayed away from this flamboyant coverman. He was the 2010 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and a unanimous All-American. The two-time All-Big 12 pick was a first-round selection by the New York Giants in the 2011 NFL Draft.
34. Quentin Jammer, CB, Texas
The consensus All-American was a two-time, first-team All-Big 12 selection while at Texas. He finished his career with 195 total tackles and seven picks before being selected, of course, fifth overall in the 2002 NFL Draft.
35. Reggie Nelson, S, Florida
The hard-hitting safety patrolled center field for the BCS National Champions in 2006 with six interceptions and 51 tackles. He was a consensus All-American and Tatum Trophy winner in 2006. Nelson was taken in the first round of the 2007 NFL Draft.
36. Tyrann Mathieu, CB, LSU
The Honey Badger won the Bednarik Award, was an All-American, made impact plays and was a Heisman finalist. However, he was also suspended multiple times, eventually kicked off the team — costing himself two full seasons — and was abused in the 2011 BCS National Championship game. It makes him one of the most difficult players of the BCS era to evaluate.
37. Keiwan Ratliff, CB, Florida
The dynamic playmaker finished his All-American Gators career with school records for interceptions (9) and was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year by some outlets. The two-time All-SEC pick was a second-round selection in the 2004 NFL Draft.
38. Jimmy Williams, DB, Virginia Tech
Playing multiple positions all over the defense, Williams was an unanimous All-American, ACC champion and Jack Tatum Trophy winner in 2005. He was a second-round pick in the 2006 NFL Draft.
39. Jamaal Brimmer, S, UNLV
One of the more underrated players of the BCS era, Brimmer won back-to-back Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year Awards and was a first-team All-American. He also helped UNLV to one of its biggest upsets in school history over Wisconsin in Madison.
40. Marcus Trufant, CB, Washington State
He started all four seasons for the Cougars and helped lead Washington State back to the Rose Bowl in 2002. He is arguably the best defensive back in school history and was the 11th overall pick in the 2003 NFL Draft.
Related: The Top 30 Tight Ends of the BCS Era
41. Jim Leonhard, S, Wisconsin
42. Chris McAlister, CB, Arizona
43. Fred Smoot, CB, Mississippi State
44. Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
45. Tay Cody, CB, Florida State
46. Alphonso Smith, CB, Wake Forest
47. Deon Grant, S, Tennessee
48. Corey Webster, CB, LSU
49. Eric Reid, S, LSU
50. Phillip Thomas, S, Fresno State
The Next 25:
51. Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State
52. Adam Jones, CB, West Virginia
53. Antonio Cromartie, CB, Florida State
54. Lito Sheppard, CB, Florida
55. DeAngelo Hall, CB, Virginia Tech
56. Donte Whitner, S, Ohio State
57. Marlin Jackson, S, Michigan
58. Will Allen, S, Ohio State
59. Earl Thomas, S, Texas
60. Kyle Wilson, DB, Boise State
61. Tracy Porter, CB, Indiana
62. Brandon Flowers, CB, Virginia Tech
63. Jason Allen, S, Tennessee
64. Tom Zbikowski, S, Notre Dame
65. Craig Steltz, S, LSU
66. T.J. Ward, S, Oregon
67. Kenny Phillips, S, Miami
68. Vontae Davis, CB, Illinois
69. Michael Griffin, S, Texas
70. Bernard Pollard, S, Purdue
71. Kerry Rhodes, S, Louisville
72. Johnathan Joseph, CB, South Carolina
73. D.J. Moore, CB, Vanderbilt
74. Shane Walton, S, Notre Dame
75. Javier Arenas, CB, Alabama
Top 50s of the BCS Era:
The Top 50 Quarterbacks of the BCS Era
The Top 50 Running Backs of the BCS Era
The Top 50 Wide Receivers of the BCS Era
The Top 30 Tight Ends of the BCS Era
The Top 50 Offensive Linemen of the BCS Era
The Top 50 Defensive Linemen of the BCS Era
The Top 50 Linebackers of the BCS Era