Ronde Barber was more than an accomplished cornerback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He was an exceptional one.
In fact, he was so outstanding during his 13-year NFL career that he’s been a semifinalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame four consecutive years – including the latest cutdown for the Hall’s Class of 2021. And it’s easy to see why.
He was a five-time All-Pro, a five-time Pro Bowler, a Super Bowl champion, an all-decade choice, and the only defensive back to produce 45 or more interceptions (he had 47) and 25 or more sacks (he had 28). He also set the NFL record for most consecutive starts (224, including the playoffs) for a defensive back and the most consecutive starts (209, including the playoffs) for a cornerback.
So consider him an expert at evaluating cornerbacks.
We do. And when he stopped by the latest “Eye Test for Two” podcast, we asked Barber to do just that: Evaluate today’s cornerbacks and tell us which one he considers the best.
He didn’t waver with his answer.
“Last year,” he said, “I would’ve easily said (Stephon) Gilmore in New England. He just makes so many plays on the football.”
Barber isn’t alone there. Gilmore was voted the league’s Defensive Player of the Year. But we’re not talking last year. We’re talking now, which meant Barber had to reconsider his decision.
And he did.
“There are too many options, really,” he said. “When I watch film – and it’s ironic that you ask me this question because I was watching Miami play (last) weekend against Kansas City. Xavien Howard is a stud, man. He makes more plays on a football than I’ve seen guys who are in position or who are out of position to make plays.”
The Dolphins’ star cornerback not only leads the league with nine interceptions; he’s had one the last five games, including last week vs. Patrick Mahomes. He’s also on track to produce the first double-digit interception season since Antonio Cromartie in 2007 (10).
In short, he’s making a bid to gain Defensive-Player-of-the-Year recognition, and Barber understands why.
“The dude is always in position,” said Barber, “and he always catches the ball. He made one Sunday where he was one-handed, he was a little out of position, and I was like: There’s no way he should’ve made that play.
“I knew he was a good player, but I didn’t realize that he had those kinds of ball skills. So, for me, he’s No. 1.
“I know a lot of people won’t agree with me. There’s a guy in Baltimore (Marlon Humphrey). The Rams got their guy (Jalen Ramsey). But Xavien Howard’s a stud, man. I think he’s a little underappreciated because of the team that he plays on.”