Last spring, we began our countdown of the top-10 former Denver Broncos’ players who belong in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. We got all the way to No. 2 before the season kicked off, and today, we unveil No. 1.
Champ Bailey is, without a doubt, a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. He was the best cornerback of his era and when people argue the best cornerback of all-time, he is most definitely in the discussion. Which is why, in his first year of eligibility, Bailey ranks No. 1 on the list of Broncos who need to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Bailey’s credentials are outstanding. He was voted first-team All-Decade cornerback for the 2000’s. He was a first-team All-Pro three times to go along with his seven All-Pro selections in total. He holds the record for most Pro Bowls for a defensive back at 12.
A remarkable 80 percent of Bailey’s 15 seasons ended with a Pro Bowl nod. He maintained ultimate productivity coupled with longevity.
Bailey finished his career with 52 interceptions to rank tied for 15th all-time when he retired. When you consider that he was the most feared cornerback in the NFL during his stint, forcing opposing signal-callers to avoid throwing in his direction at all costs, those 52 picks are even more incredible.
Bailey was a master of taking away half of the field and was truly a shut-down cornerback in every sense of the word. He almost always shadowed the opposing team’s best receiver and had outstanding games against future Hall of Fame opponents on many occasions, typically limiting them to few or no catches the entire game.
Furthermore, Bailey is recognized as having arguably the best season by a cornerback. Ever. He may very well have produced the best back-to-back seasons, also. He followed up an eight interception season (two returned for touchdowns) in 2005 with the greatest season ever in 2006.
That year he intercepted 10 passes, which is remarkable because he was only targeted 35 times the entire season. What is even more amazing is he allowed only four receptions in his coverage. I’ll say it again, only four receptions in 16 games that season. That level of greatness may not ever be duplicated.
With his coverage prowess one may think that blanketing receivers was all he cared to do, but Bailey wasn’t just a pass defender, he also played the run very well. He did not shy away from contact like many of the ‘all-time’ great cornerbacks, which is why he should be ranked ahead of players like Deion Sanders. Bailey’s willingness to provide run support was one of the reasons he ended his career with 908 total tackles.
The only missing accomplishment on his Hall-of-Fame resume is a Super Bowl ring. He did play in one with the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII, but unfortunately most of the team didn’t show up for the game.
It would be a travesty and frankly a sham if Bailey was not elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. He was the greatest of his era and maybe the greatest cornerback in the storied history of the game.