The 10 best cornerbacks in the history of the San Francisco 49ers

The No. 1 cornerback in Niners history is pretty easy to determine, but what about the other nine who comprise the greatest to don the red and gold?

Here is our list of the 10 best corners in San Francisco history.

San Francisco 49ers cornerback Deion Sanders (21)
San Francisco 49ers cornerback Deion Sanders (21) / Manny Rubio-USA TODAY Sports

The 49ers haven't always been known for having great cornerbacks, but there are nevertheless plenty of household names in franchise history.

The San Francisco 49ers are primarily known for their offensive standouts, particularly at wide receiver or quarterback.

When thinking about the defensive side of the ball, elite defensive linemen and linebackers come to mind.

That said, there are plenty of top cornerbacks who've made their way to the Niners by one means or another, and a few of those standouts won't require anyone to look up their stats and accolades to recall just how great they truly were.

Sure, some of the cornerbacks on our list of the top 10 were made famous long before joining San Francisco's ranks, yet even these players did enough in the Bay Area to cement themselves as all-time greats.

For this list, we take into account each player's statistics with the 49ers, as well as team tenure, individual accolades and other X-factors that make them stand out.

Here are the 10 best corners who called themselves Niners.

49ers' 10 best cornerbacks in franchise history

No. 10: Ahmed Plummer (2000-2005)

Some may argue Ahmed Plummer never quite materialized into a cornerstone piece of San Francisco's defense when he was drafted in Round 1 in 2000 out of Ohio State, but those first four years were pretty notable nonetheless.

In 2001, Plummer recorded a whopping seven interceptions while breaking up 18 passes. And that suggested he would be an integral part of the 49ers for many years to come. Indeed, the 2002 and 2003 seasons indicated more of the same as Plummer regularly broke up passes and recorded five more picks during that span.

Sadly for Plummer's legacy, injuries hit him hard beginning in 2004, and he played in only nine games over his final two years in the NFL before retiring in 2006.

No. 9: Charvarius Ward (2022-present)

A more recent addition to the list of all-time Niners cornerbacking greats, Charvarius Ward was a high-profile free-agent acquisition intended to help solve one of the team's glaring needs after 2021.

Ward didn't disappoint, locking down his side of the field while recording 87 tackles and solidifying San Francisco secondary.

In 2022, though, Ward emerged as a true star, earning his first-ever Pro Bowl honor while being named a second-team All-Pro after recording five interceptions and an NFL-leading 23 pass breakups.

No. 8: Don Griffin (1986-1993)

While Ward has been impressive during his 49ers tenure, he hasn't been with the team anywhere near as long as Don Griffin was, a lengthy span that began when he was selected in Round 6 of the 1986 NFL Draft and became a full-time starter in year one, notching three interceptions his rookie year while also doubling on special teams as a returner.

Griffin would mostly stay in that role through 1993, enjoying two Super Bowl wins and being part of some legendary defenses, including the 1989 squad that many feel was the greatest Niners team of all time.

1987, though, might have been Griffin's best year. Despite missing four games, he set a career-best mark of five interceptions on a defense that ranked No. 1 in fewest pass yards allowed (2,484).

In 1994, San Francisco opted to go with an upgrade at the position, Deion Sanders, which forced Griffin to depart to the Cleveland Browns to close out his pro career after recording 22 picks with the red and gold.

No. 7: Richard Sherman (2018-2020)

For years, Richard Sherman tormented the 49ers as a member of their hated rivals, the Seattle Seahawks.

Already a superstar by the time he opted to jump ship within the NFC West in 2018, many fans were cautious about Sherman's transition, especially after coming off an Achilles tear that essentially ended his Seattle tenure.

But Sherman played an integral role in helping transform the Niners defense into a powerhouse a year later, one that propelled San Francisco to the Super Bowl.

Sherman earned his fifth Pro Bowl in 2019 while also being named a second-team All-Pro, and "Uncle Sherm's" mentorship of many of the younger members of San Francisco's defense carried over for years.

No. 6: Eric Davis (1990-1995)

In 1990, Eric Wright was getting ready to head out, and a rookie by the name of Eric Davis was entering the fray.

The 49ers weren't losing too much there.

Despite having to wait until 1992 to truly make his mark, Davis nevertheless became a vital component of those perennial playoff-bound Niners teams of the early 1990s, setting an NFL record for most consecutive postseason games with at least one interception (five).

In the 1995 NFC Championship game, Davis returned one interception for a touchdown that helped set the tone against the Dallas Cowboys and ended what had previously been a yearly source of frustration in the penultimate game of the year for San Francisco.

Davis had 12 interceptions and six forced fumbles during his 49ers career before departing for the Carolina Panthers in free agency in 1996.

No. 5: Deion Sanders (1994)

If we were measuring the best single season by a cornerback ever in 49ers history, Sanders would easily be the No. 1 choice. The fact he appears on this list at No. 5 is almost entirely based upon the fact he spent just one season with the Niners, coming over from the Atlanta Falcons as a free agent after already cementing himself as an eventual Hall of Famer.

Sanders, who wanted to win a Super Bowl, put together one of the best all-time performances with San Francisco during that magical 1994 season, picking off six passes and recording three defensive touchdowns and a whopping 303 interception yards, both NFL highs that year.

An easy Pro Bowler and first-team All-Pro, Sanders was named the Defensive Player of the Year in 1994 and played a crucial role in helping the 49ers achieve their fifth Super Bowl victory in franchise history.

He was even third in league MVP voting that year.

Unfortunately, Sanders opted to sign with the Cowboys the following offseason and continued his legacy there instead of remaining in the Bay Area, much to the displeasure of Niners fans everywhere.

No. 4: Bruce Taylor (1970-1977)

If one had to choose between Sanders and Bruce Taylor for a single season, the former would get the nod 10 times out of 10.

But Taylor edges out Sanders on this list strictly based on longevity with San Francisco, and Taylor was a great cornerback in his own right.

Taken in Round 1 of the 1970 NFL Draft out of Boston University, Taylor primarily became known for his prowess on special teams as a returner but served equally well on defense, earning a Defensive Rookie of the Year award in year one after recording three interceptions and leading the league with 516 punt return yards.

A year later, Taylor would make it to his first and only Pro Bowl.

Starting 101 out of 109 total games during his pro career, all with the 49ers, Taylor would largely be overshadowed by another player on this list but still managed to be one of the best corners in Niners history.

No. 3: Kermit Alexander (1963-1969)

Prior to Taylor, San Francisco enjoyed one of the best defensive backfields in the NFL, largely due to the excellent play from Kermit Alexander, whom it grabbed in Round 1 of the 1963 draft out of UCLA.

Alexander would record at least five interceptions in five of his seven years with the 49ers, including nine in 1968 that'd help him secure his first and only Pro Bowl accolade. On top of that, in 1964 and 1965, Alexander would lead the NFL in fumble recoveries with five and eight, respectively.

Also doubling on special teams, Alexander would lead the league in kick return yards in 1965 with 741, adding to his prowess.

Putting his entire career into perspective, Alexander's 36 interceptions currently rank third most in franchise history.

No. 2: Eric Wright (1981-1990)

Wright might not have been the interception-generating machine that Alexander and Sanders were, but the 1981 second-round draftee of the Niners nevertheless goes down as one of their best defenders of all time, and not just at cornerback.

Wright was a full-time starter his rookie season, and he later made a game-saving tackle against the Dallas Cowboys merely minutes after "The Catch" put San Francisco ahead in the storied 1982 NFC Championship game.

In 1983, he set a career best with seven interceptions and also brought two of them back for touchdowns. But he had to wait until 1984 and 1985 to be named to the Pro Bowl, getting All-Pro nods in each of those seasons, too.

Many feel as if that 1984 defense was the best in 49ers history, and Wright played an integral role in making that discussion happen.

He ended his 10-year career with 18 interceptions, 15th most in franchise history.

No. 1: Jimmy Johnson (1961-1976)

Sherman will eventually be a Hall of Famer, but the only current Niners cornerbacks who claim that accolade are Sanders and the No. 1 player on this list, Jimmy Johnson.

Hands down, Johnson isn't just the best corner in Niners history, but he should also be viewed as one of the greatest of all time at his position.

Getting into the NFL as the No. 6 overall draft pick in 1961, Johnson got off to a hot start with five interceptions and 116 return yards. In 1965 and 1966, he was a second-team All-Pro, too.

But Johnson's career truly took off in 1969 when he became a perennial Pro Bowler and a three-time first-team All-Pro.

Few other cornerbacks were as good in man-to-man coverage as Johnson, and quarterbacks were unwise to challenge him during games.

Enshrined in Canton in 1994, Johnson ranks second in San Francisco history with 47 interceptions over his storied career, trailing only Hall of Fame safety Ronnie Lott (51).

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