Ronde Barber announced his retirement today, and he brings to an end one of the most productive and yet unheralded careers in NFL history. The former third round pick out of the University of Virginia came into the league without much spectacle, seemingly too small and slow to make an impact as a shutdown cornerback. But with the Buccaneers quickly developing their own brand of defense, the “Tampa 2″, Barber had the opportunity to stand out as a smart, playmaking defensive back who was versatile enough to play various roles and absolutely baffle opposing offenses with his array of coverage and blitzing options. Barber helped blaze a trail for players who lack the measurables scouts love in lockdown corners, but who possess the knowledge and have the instincts to be a disruptive force in a zone defense.
So where does Ronde Barber rank among the all-time greats at his position?
When it comes to durability and reliability he’s the best of all time. Barber played at a high level until his 16th season, and since November 21st of 1999 he had started every single game the Tampa Bay Buccaneers played. He played at a high level in a very Cal Ripken Jr. sort of way, he never had the name or incredible talent to be seen as one of the best players in the league, be he went to work every day and made a huge impact on the team and on the fans and community he represented. His durability and streak of games started is absolutely untouchable as compared to similar streaks of other defensive backs, and is a credit to his work ethic, football IQ, and reliable play throughout his career.
Now we turn to production and we see again that Barber’s statistics prove he’s one of the most impactful players in the history of the league at the cornerback position. Ronde’s 47 interceptions and 28 sacks alone put him in a category by himself, as the only player with 40 career interceptions and 20 career sacks. He didn’t just get sacks, however, as he and Ray Lewis are the only defensive players to register over 1000 tackles, 20 sacks, and 30 interceptions over the span of their productive careers (obviously, tackles haven’t always been tracked accurately, nor have sacks, so these stats are among players of the past couple of generations).
Barber’s playmaking ability is another factor that further sets him apart from other defensive backs. In his storied career, Barber scored 14 times on non-offensive plays, which makes him the fourth highest all-time in this category. Only Deion Sanders, Devin Hester, and Rod Woodson had more touchdowns of this variety in their careers, meaning he is the highest ranked player who did not benefit from being a full-time return man at any point in his career (Barber did field three punts in his career, which obviously pales in comparison to the returning done by the other players on this list). In fact, he and Mike Vrabel are the only players in NFL history with 10 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, and 20 sacks (and Vrabel scored on offense with the Patriots, something Ronde never had to resort to). Barber was disruptive and creative as a defensive player unlike any other player in NFL history.
So where does Ronde Barber rank all-time amongst cornerbacks? Night Train Lane, Rod Woodson, Deion Sanders, and Jimmy Johnson all made a huge impact on the position, and it’s hard to deny that there have been other great corners. But when you combine the durability, productivity, and playmaking ability of Ronde Barber, I believe you create one of the five best cornerbacks in the history of the NFL, and a sure-fire Hall of Famer. The things Ronde Barber did for this team will be sorely missed, but for now let’s celebrate one of the most impressive careers that an NFL player is capable of having.