No. 4: Packers CB Charles Woodson

Could Charles Woodson in his prime stop Hall of Famer Jerry Rice in his? MATCHUP GALLERY ESPN.com Illustration


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JAMES LOFTON: I don't know how long they've been keeping the stats, but when you look at forced fumbles, Charles Woodson is way up there above other defensive players in the league and on par with a lot of defensive ends. He has the strip tackle down. He's not just there to strip the ball away, he's there to make the tackle and strip simultaneously. It's a unique skill set. The one thing you want from a defensive back is you want someone who is willing to stick his face in there.

And the term "cover corner," which became synonymous with Deion Sanders, to me, meant "won't tackle." I heard someone call Woodson a cover corner once, and I said, "No, he's not a cover corner. He's a corner. He's a defensive back and he will light you up." That -- beyond the interceptions, the fumbles, the interception and fumble returns -- the fact that he will hit you and will still hit you at this stage of his career is the most impressive thing about Charles Woodson.


LARRY CSONKA: Charles Woodson isn't a hardass, but he's tough. He would have had an even better nose back when we played. It wasn't a game of inches back then as much as it is today. He would've been in the middle, picking off passes. I just like to watch him play.


FLOYD LITTLE: He's one of the great defensive players. He's smart. He's got a great intellect and he can play both corner and safety. He covers very well and he can close on the ball. He doesn't have to be physical, but he is a physical player. But I like him because he is smart, because he accelerates and because he knows where the ball is going based on the formation. He's been around long enough to know when the ball is coming and when he can close on it. He covers well, he tackles well and he doesn't make a lot of mistakes.


MARCUS ALLEN: Let's give Charles Woodson some love. I like the way he plays. Not only is he great at larceny, but he can tackle too. He tackles and he'll come up and hit you. He's not defined by the corners today who think their only responsibility is to cover wide receivers. He can hit somebody, too.



Woodson broke his leg on Dec. 2 in a game against the Jets and on Christmas Eve had a titanium plate inserted so that he could play in the postseason, eventually helping Oakland reach Super Bowl XXXVII.

How do you play in three playoff games and a Super Bowl with a broken leg? A little bit of mind over matter and a little bit of injection -- actually a lot of injection. With a broken bone, though, that stuff wears off pretty quick. I know. I felt strongly about that team and I was trying to win a Super Bowl, so there were no second thoughts about it. But if I hadn't felt so strongly about that team, maybe not.

It's hard. Playing with an injury, you have to really be sharp mentally to make sure you're already in position instead of trying to react. I was making tackles instead of breaking up passes or getting an interception. But it doesn't matter to your teammates or opponents or yourself: if you play hurt, you still have to play well.

It's frustrating and once that stuff wears off, you spend a large part of the game just trying to get through the pain. But for a chance to get to hold the Lombardi Trophy, that kind of pain is worth it.



As a defensive back, Woodson has it all. He has the speed to play cornerback. He has the body big enough to play safety. His tackling ability is exceptional. Because he was good at playing press-man coverage, he could have thrived in the 1960s and 1970s, when cornerbacks were allowed more contact with receivers. Later in his career, he could have moved to safety and handled the hitting responsibilities. Woodson has the football smarts to read quarterbacks and make plays. He reminds me of Hall of Famer Rod Woodson, another guy who could hit and cover.

CLAYTON ON HALL OF FAME CHANCES:Because he's been so good for so long, he has a great chance of making it. Being defensive MVP in 2009 when he was in his 30s probably sealed the deal.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Follow Clayton on Twitter @ClaytonESPN



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Additional reporting by ESPN The Magazine's Morty Ain, Louise Cornetta, Amy Parlapiano and Alyssa Roenigk.