Maybe I sound like John “Captain Obvious” Madden, saying something like this, but interceptions are among the most demoralizing things that can happen to an offense. A tackle for a loss is rough, and a sack not only puts an offense back a few yards but it also involves a quarterback being tossed into the mud, which will make an o-line miserable. Picks on the other hand, take the ball from the offense and start a brand new series for the team who caught the pass. A defensive back or linebacker with hands quick enough to pick off the occasional ball is worth his weight in gold. Especially because of what has to “click” in order to make such a play.
I’ll use the best cornerback in the league as my example, Richard Sherman. I no longer say that in such a way as to mock him for shouting it after the 49ers game, but watching him play on NFL Replay and any of his highlight reels on YouTube essentially shows how much of a complete defensive back he is. He led the league in picks last year and played unbelievably well throughout the playoffs. First, he’s pretty fast. His 4.54 running of the 40 in the combine a few years back is not representative of his ability to cover even the fastest receivers in the league. Other than that, he can read a quarterback’s eyes and can anticipate plays developing while running at full speed and watching for receivers slants, outs, etc. Beyond that, any DB looking to make a pick has got to have soft hands. Throughout high school, the attitude was; a good corner is just a wide out without hands. Sometimes this is true among guys in the NFL, but not on this list. Here are the top 10 active player interception leaders. Seeing as its free agency time in the NFL right now, we'll include some information on each player’s current contract situation.
10 Antonio Cromartie -28 INTs
Just over a week ago, Cromartie was released by the Jets. According to Cromartie himself, he has enjoyed his time with the team and wants to retire with them, but it is unclear whether New York has similar thoughts. His eight years in the league have been productive with three Pro Bowl selections and having led the league in interceptions back in 2007. He also holds the record for the longest NFL play of all-time, having returned a missed field goal for a touchdown back in 2007. Although his future is somewhat uncertain right now, he is definitely still a solid cornerback with a few good years left. It is hard to determine where he will go at this point, as some teams are reluctant to sign a corner who is coming up on 30. Reports earlier in the week said that he was looking in Arizona, but most recently it has been reported that Cromartie may well be staying in New York.
9 Rashean Mathis - 30 INTs
Another free agent on this list; Mathis played ten respectable seasons for the Jaguars before he was signed by Detroit in August 2013. His future is up in the air right now, as he is a free agent, 33 years old and is known to be injury prone, suffering from a knee injury back in 2008, a season ending groin injury in 2009 and a torn ACL in 2011 which kept him off the field. He does, however, hold several Jaguars records, including most career interceptions, passes defended and defensive touchdowns.
8 Troy Polamalu - 33 INTs
About two weeks ago, Polamalu was signed to a three-year contract with the Steelers, which will keep him playing for the franchise until 2016. Heath Miller was signed to a similar contract, if you’re not up on Steelers news. One can argue without much difficulty that Troy is among the best safeties of all time. He can hit like few others his size can, he can stop the run and defend the pass. He also has an interesting strategy when it comes to blitzing, where rather than going through the line, he leaps over, making him an unbelievably exciting player to watch, except for when he mis-times the snap count. Hitting and blitzing aside, he is solid when it comes to defending the pass, racking up 33 picks in his career. For any Troy-haters out there, he’s also an eight-time Pro Bowl selection, a two-time Super Bowl winner and is the star of the only shampoo commercials in history that are borderline funny.
7 T6. Charles Tillman - 36 INTs
After eleven seasons with the Bears, Tillman was signed late last week to a one-year contract that could total around $3.25 million. His 2011 and 2012 were the best years of his career, with both seeing him sent to the Pro Bowl. His performance in 2013 was very solid until week 10 when he was determined to be out for the season, with arm and knee problems. His 36 career picks are impressive, but again, he is 33, so his years are somewhat numbered. He’s still a competitive corner, and if he can stay injury free, he could be good for the Bears for another year.
6 T6. Terence Newman - 36 INTs
Newman’s career totals are very respectable; having over 600 tackles, 36 picks, almost 150 passes defended and 3 defensive touchdowns. His first nine seasons were with the Cowboys, where he was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2007 and 2009. Since then, he has been with the Bengals and has continued to perform reliably. At 35, however, and considering the fact that he missed the last 4 games of the 2013 season with a knee injury make him somewhat of a concern. He has one year left on his contract in Cincinnati.
5 DeAngelo Hall - 43 INTs
About a month ago, Hall signed a new four-year contract with the Redskins to keep him with the team until he is 34 years old. He has built a great career for himself, being selected to the Pro Bowl three times and holding a shared record for most picks in a game, with four, against the Chicago Bears back in 2010. Widely thought to be one of the quickest players in the NFL, it will be interesting to see whether he continues to perform into his 30s. Though he has a way to go, seeing as he has a four-year contract with Washington, it's possible that he could end up higher on this list in the future, as he is currently averaging just over four picks per season over his NFL career. It should also be noted that between pick-6’s and recovered fumbles, DeAngelo Hall has nine defensive touchdowns in his career.
4 Asante Samuel - 51 INTs
Asante Samuel was once among the top cornerbacks in the league, but the same can no longer be said in 2013. He was subpar in the 2013 season for the Falcons and was released back in February. He was costing the team far too much and was not performing up to the standards required of him. That said, he is only 31 and there is always the case to be made for him having a bad season. He is a former multiple Pro Bowler and also has two Super Bowl wins with the Patriots and is a two-time NFL pick leader in 2006 and 2009. Unfortunately for Samuel, since being cut by the Falcons, his name hasn’t been in the news. He’s still a decent corner, but he needs another chance to prove last year was a fluke.
3 Champ Bailey - 52 INTs
2 Charles Woodson - 56 INTs
Another cornerback, like Bailey, who is considered to be among the best of all time; Woodson may not be in the league much longer. With his 56 picks, two times leading the NFL in interceptions, his 8 Pro Bowl appearances and finally his Super Bowl win with the Packers, the case for him to be one of the best of all-time can be made quite easily. He started his career with Oakland, playing eight years with Oakland, seven years with Green Bay and then returning to the Raiders in 2013. His performance in 2013 was still good, in his 16th year, but his speed is starting to go, as he is 37 years old. Woodson recently was re-signed to a one-year extension with the Raiders as they try to turn the corner. He proved in 2013 that despite his age, he is still a solid defensive back, but as he pointed out in an interview back in February, not just the Raiders, but also the entire league is scared to sign a man of his age.
1 Ed Reed - 64 INTs
Did someone just say “best safety of all time?” It’s a hard claim to make, given the history of the league and the way in which the game has changed and still continues to change, but in Ed Reed’s case, there is plenty of evidence to support such a claim. Alongside the many records he holds for the Ravens, Reed also holds several NFL records. Along with most interceptions in the playoffs and most blocked punts returned for touchdowns, he is also the only player in NFL history to return a fumble, interception, punt and blocked punt for a touchdown. He is also a nine-time Pro Bowler and won a Super Bowl with the Ravens. Although he has not retired, it is unclear whether or not he will receive another contract. He hasn’t been in the news much and last reports indicate that while he was a welcome addition to the Jets last year, they are not interested in signing him again.