Michigan Football has had some excellent cornerbacks over the years and the process of narrowing that down to the 10 best was very difficult. It is even more difficult considering Michigan’s extensive history which dates back to the era of two-way players.
The list starts off at No. 10 and works to an obvious No. 1 selection.
#10 – Mike Jolly: As a junior, Jolly started all 12 games for the 1978 Michigan Wolverines. He earned All-Big Ten honors that season and was a key player on a defense that held opponents to 8.75 points per game. Michigan finished that season ranked No. 5 in both polls. Jolly also started all 12 games in his senior season. He recorded a career-high 44 tackles that season and again earned All-Big Ten honors.
Jolly ranks 10th in school history with 10 career interceptions.
#9 – Wally Teninga: Teninga had an interesting career at Michigan. In his first season (1945) he played for Fritz Crisler and was a member of the team that was the first to employ the two-platoon system in a football game. Teninga was Michigan’s leading rusher in his freshman season. He then served in the US Army during World War II.
When he returned to Michigan, after the war, Teninga played on Bennie Oosterbaan’s “Mad Magicians” team and won two national championships (1947, 48). Teninga was a halfback on offense, defensive back and a punter.
Teninga is third in Michigan Football history with 13 career interceptions. He ranks 10th all-time at Michigan with 504 career punt return yards.
#8 – Brad Cochran: A quick, agile and durable player, Cochran started every game the final three years of his career (1983-85). He totaled 184 tackles, 12 interceptions and 17 pass break ups in his career. In his senior season, Cochran was an anchor on defense earning All-American honors. He helped Michigan to a 10-1-1 record and a final AP ranking of No. 2. The Wolverine’s defense gave up just 78 points in 11 games that year.
Cochran, who was a team captain his senior season, received the 1985 Toyota Leadership Award for outstanding performance in the areas of team contributions, academics and citizenship. Cochran started 36 consecutive games during his Michigan career.
#7 – Garland Rivers: Rivers was the only freshman on Michigan’s 1983 team to earn a varsity letter. In the 1984 Holiday Bowl, Rivers tallied a robust 18 tackles, including 17 solo tackles which is a school record. As a sophomore, Rivers notched 92 tackles, including 70 solo tackles. He finished his career with 172 solo tackles which is the most by a cornerback in Michigan Football history.
Rivers had a game-sealing interception in Michigan’s 27-23 Fiesta Bowl victory over Nebraska in 1986. He finished his career with six interceptions and returned one for a touchdown against Wisconsin. Rivers had a career-high three interceptions in his seniors season. He was a 1986 All-American selection.
#6 – Jourdan Lewis: Lewis became just the fifth defensive back in Michigan Football history to earn the distinction of being a two-time All-American, the others being Dave Brown (1973-74), Tripp Welborne (1989-90), Charles Woodson (1996-97) and Marlin Jackson (2002, ’04).
Lewis is Michigan’s career leader in pass break ups with 45 and he set a school record with 22 pass break ups during the 2015 season. In his senior season, Lewis allowed only 31.7% of passes into his coverage to be caught, which was second best in college football.
As a senior, Lewis was one of three finalists for the Jim Thorpe Award, going to the nation’s top defensive back, and the winner of the Tatum-Woodson Award as the Big Ten’s top defensive back.
#5 – Marlin Jackson: As a sophomore, Marlin Jackson earned All-American honors (2002). He switched to safety in his junior season. As a senior he was back at cornerback and turned in another All-American campaign. Jackson struck such fear into opposing offenses that in his senior year they threw away from him 86% of the time.
In Michigan’s thrilling 2002 victory against Washington, Jackson set a school record with six pass break ups in the game. He tied, a then school record that season with 18 pass break ups.
For his career Jackson tallied 184 tackles, 34 pass break ups, and nine interceptions. Jackson was selected in the first round of the 2005 NFL Draft by the Indianapolis Colts.
#4 – Leon Hall: As a freshmen, Hall played in all 13 games and started three. He started nine games as a sophomore and every game in his junior and senior seasons. In 2006, Hall led the Big Ten with 18 pass break ups and tied the, then, single season school record in the process. He ended his collegiate career as Michigan’s all-time leader in pass break ups with 43 in his career. Hall is tied for fourth in Michigan history with 12 career interceptions.
Hall is tied for seventh on the all-time list with five career fumble recoveries. He also set a school record when he returned a fumble 83 yards for a touchdown against Northwestern in 2005. In 2006 Hall was an All-Big Ten selection and contended for a number of national awards. He was a finalist for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, and a quarterfinalist for the Lott Trophy. Hall was a consensus All-American in 2006.
Hall was selected in the first round of the 2007 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals.
#3 – Ty Law: An outstanding cornerback at Michigan, Law was a 1994 All-American as a junior. He started 31 games at Michigan including 27 consecutive. Law, who jumped to the NFL after his junior season, totaled 161 tackles and eight interceptions in his three year career (1992-94). He was a two-time unanimous All-Big Ten selection.
Law had six interceptions in the 1993 season which is the seventh best single season total in school history. Law ranks 15th in Michigan Football history with 19 career pass break ups.
Law was selected in the first round of the 1995 NFL Draft by the New England Patriots and enjoyed an outstanding 10-year NFL career. He was selected to five Pro Bowls and is a three time Super Bowl Champion.
#2 – Dave Brown: Brown is one of the finest defensive backs to ever patrol the secondary for Michigan. During his career (1972-74) Brown was a three-time All-Big Ten selection, two time All-American (1973-’74) and a team captain in 1974.
Brown totaled 212 tackles, nine interceptions, and 18 pass break ups in his career. He also had a 68-yard interception return for a touchdown in 1972 against Minnesota. Brown’s nine career interceptions are good for 11th place on Michigan’s all-time list.
Brown was also an outstanding punt returner. He had 531 career punt return yards including three for touchdowns.
Brown was selected in the first round of the 1975 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers. In his 14 year NFL career, Brown intercepted 62 passes returning five for touchdowns.
#1 – Charles Woodson: The only defensive player to ever win the Heisman Trophy (1997), Woodson was the ringleader of Michigan’s 1997 National Championship team. He started the second game of his freshmen season and went on to start 34 straight games before going pro after his junior season.
Woodson had a flair for the dramatic. He snared a spectacular, leaping, one-handed interception against Michigan State. He returned a punt for a back-breaking touchdown against Ohio State. Woodson made a Rose Bowl and National Championship saving interception in the endzone against Washington State.
In his Heisman Trophy winning season he picked off eight passes and registered 44 tackles. He hauled in 12 passes for 238 yards and two touchdowns. He ran for a touchdown and had the punt return touchdown against Ohio State. He even threw one pass that was a 28 yard completion.
He ranks second in Michigan Football history with 18 career interceptions. Woodson had 30 career pass break ups which is the fifth best total in school history. He was twice awarded the Chevrolet Defensive Player of the Year Award (1996-97). Woodson was also a two-time consensus All-American selection (1996-97).
Woodson was selected in the first round (No. 4 overall) of the 1998 NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders. He played in the NFL for 17 seasons and is the only player in NFL history to record at least 60 interceptions (65) and 20 sacks (20) in their career.
Enjoy the rest of our Best of Michigan Football series