Top 5 Cornerbacks
Let’s continue our look at the five best Notre Dame players I’ve seen at each position with a look at the cornerbacks.
In the early years (1988-94) it seemed Notre Dame had an All-American cornerback every season … because they did. Notre Dame had a player that would earn All-American honors starting at cornerback in every season, although the 1991 team “only” had an eventual third-team All-American.
There were some dry spells at cornerback, but the guys who shined were outstanding. Here’s the list of the five best cornerbacks I’ve seen during my time following Notre Dame, which begins with the 1988 season.
1. TODD LYGHT (1987-90)
Career Stats: 161 tackles, 11 INTs, 21 break ups
Lyght was a brilliant cornerback for Notre Dame and is clearly the most decorated of the cornerbacks on this list. Lyght was a standout starter for Notre Dame’s 1988 national championship squad, and he earned unanimous All-American honors in 1989 and consensus All-American honors is 1990. The Flint, Mich. native was a team captain in 1990.
He played a big role in helping shut down West Virginia’s potent offense in the Fiesta Bowl victory that secured the 1988 national title. The Moutaineers came into the game averaging 42.9 points per game, but Notre Dame shut the offense down in the 34-21 Irish victory. Lyght led the defense in tackles in the win, and quarterback Major Harris went just 14-30 passing for 174 yards.
Notre Dame went 33-4 in his three seasons as a starter, winning a title in 1988 and finishing ranked No. 3 and No. 6 in his final two campaigns. Lyght had very good length and playmaking ability on the outside, racking up 32 passes defensed during his career. Lyght currently ranks in the top-10 all-time at Notre Dame in both interceptions and pass break ups. He’s one of just five players to be in the top-10 in both categories (Luther Bradley, Clarence Ellis, Ralph Stepaniak, Shane Walton).
The Los Angeles Rams picked him with the No. 5 overall pick of the 1991 NFL Draft.
2. BOBBY TAYLOR (1992-94)
Career Stats: 134 tackles, 5 INTs, 23 break ups
Taylor started at safety as a true freshman before moving to cornerback for the 1993 and 1994 seasons. He earned first-team All-American honors from the Sporting News and Walter Camp Football Foundation after both the 1993 and 1994 seasons. Taylor was a consensus All-America following the 1994 campaign.
At a shade over 6-3, Taylor had incredibly length for the cornerback position. In fact, he was built more like a safety, but he ran and moved well enough to excel at cornerback. He did a tremendous job using his length to make plays, ranking second behind only Julian Love on this list in break ups despite playing just three seasons, and two at cornerback.
Taylor tied for the team lead in break ups as a freshman safety and led the defense in both interceptions and break ups as a sophomore. By the time he was a junior opponents tended to avoid him far more often.
The Philadelphia Eagles drafted him in the second round with the No. 50 overall pick of the 1995 NFL Draft.
3. JULIAN LOVE (2016-18)
Career Stats: 176 tackles, 5 INTs, 39 beak ups
Love made his presence felt right away, earning a starting role early in his freshman season. As a sophomore, Love shattered the Notre Dame record for pass break ups (20) and passes defensed (23) in a single season. A case could be made that Love was even better as a sophomore in 2017 than he was in 2018, the year he earned Consensus All-American honors.
The Illinois native made his three-star prep ranking look silly, and he finished his career as Notre Dame’s all-time leader in pass break ups (39) and passes defensed (44). He played both the field and boundary corner spots during his career, and he was a quality run defender, especially later in his tenure.
Love had a knack for making big plays in key moments. He returned two of his three 2017 interceptions for touchdowns, and the third was returned into the opponent 5-yard line. He had another touchdown in 2018, returning a fumble for a touchdown in a road win over Virginia Tech.
The New York Giants picked him the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft with the No. 108 overall pick.
4. SHANE WALTON (1999-2002)
Career Stats: 151 tackles, 11 INTs, 16 break ups, 14 tackles for loss
Walton has arguably the coolest back story of anyone in this list. He came to Notre Dame to play soccer, earning second-team All-Big East and first-team Big East All-Rookie honors as a true freshman soccer player. By his second season playing football he had earned a starting job on the Notre Dame football team.
He registered 83 tackles and picked off four passes (nine break ups) in his first two seasons as a starter. Walton did rack up seven tackles for loss in 2001, an impressive number for a cornerback.
Walton broke out as a true difference maker in 2002, picking off seven passes and making 68 tackles en route to unanimous All-American honors. Walton tied Lyght for ninth all-time in interceptions and he finished his Irish career ranked seventh all-time in interception return yards. He took back three of his interceptions to the house for scores, including two in his final season.
The St. Louis Rams selected him in the fifth round of the 2003 NFL Draft with the No. 170 overall pick.
5. TOM CARTER (1990-92)
Career Stats: 89 tackles, 10 INTs, 10 break ups
Carter seems to be a bit overshadowed by the fact he played in between Lyght and Taylor, and the fact the defenses he played on weren’t quite as good as the previous seasons and the 1993 season. But that didn’t keep him from having an impactful career in a Notre Dame uniform.
More of a cover corner, Carter was an outstanding athlete that picked off 10 passes in just two seasons in the starting lineup. Carter earned third-team All-American honors from the Associated Press and Football News following the 1992 season.
The Washington Redskins picked Carter with the No. 17 overall pick of the 1993 NFL Draft.
Past top rankings:
Be sure to stay locked into Irish Breakdown all the time!
Follow me on twitter: @CoachD178