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Sacco Sez: Chris Harris Jr., Aqib Talib arguably top cornerback duo in Broncos history

Posted Aug 22, 2017

Louis Wright and Steve Foley may be the pair's biggest challengers.

We watch the players and the games and enjoy what we see, but sometimes we do not put it into the historical perspective which it deserves.

In my opinion, the Denver Broncos’ starting cornerbacks, Aqib Talib and Chris Harris, Jr., rank as one of the two best tandems at the position in team history, with the real possibility that they could be called the top ever.

The Broncos have had a great history at cornerback. Willie Brown, who played four years in Denver and is considered a Bronco by the Hall of Fame’s system of induction, earned a gold jacket in 1984. Denver will eventually add a sure-fire Hall of Famer in Champ Bailey, who becomes eligible in 2019.

But through most of the 58 seasons of Broncos football, we have not seen two starters play at Talib and Harris’ level.

Brown was pretty much a one-man show for Denver in the mid-1960s. In 1966, he teamed with Nemiah Wilson, and they eventually started together at corner on one of the Oakland Raiders’ world championship teams.

Ring of Famer Billy Thompson played cornerback from 1969-72 before being switched to safety, where he excelled, and other players such as Tyrone Braxton and Mike Harden also had excellent seasons at cornerback before switching to safety.

Ray Crockett was an excellent cornerback and cornerstone of the defense that helped Denver win back-to-back world championships in Super Bowls XXXII and XXXIII, and his corner mate was Darrien Gordon, a fine player in his own right.

But they played together for just two years, and there is just one other combo that comes close to matching Talib and Harris.

In 1976, future Ring of Famer Louis Wright took over at cornerback for the Broncos. He is an extremely legitimate Hall-of-Fame candidate who I hope gets his due honor from the senior committee.

He was paired with former college quarterback Steve Foley at corner for four seasons, 1976-79, and they were a devastating tandem at cornerback for the Broncos.

Foley had never played defense at Tulane, but he took to it like he was born to backpedal.

In that four-year period, Wright made the Pro Bowl three times, was twice named a First-Team All-Pro and defined the era of the “big corner.” It was very common to watch games in which Wright was rarely challenged.

Foley was up to the task at the other side. A very legitimate Ring of Fame candidate himself, he had 19 interceptions in those four seasons paired with Wright, making the All-AFC team in 1978, at the height of the Broncos’ “Orange Crush” defensive years.

That four-year total of 19 interceptions represented fewer than half of his career total, as he played the rest of his 11-year Denver career at safety and finished as the Broncos’ all-time interception leader, establishing a total of 44 that may never be broken.

Wright had an electrifying 12-year career with the Broncos. He is one of nine players in team history to be named to at least five Pro Bowls, and he played a vital role in Denver earning six playoff berths.

That was by far the best “tandem” ever to play corner for the Broncos—until now.

Talib and Harris are the only cornerback twosome in team history to go to the Pro Bowl in the same year, and they have done it multiple times.

Harris and Talib have made the Pro Bowl three times each as Broncos, and they played together in Super Bowl 50. Harris missed the team’s Super Bowl XLVIII appearance with a torn ACL.

Talib has posted the most interceptions (33) in the NFL among cornerbacks since he entered the league in 2008, and he is one of just three players at his position to be selected to the Pro Bowl in each of his last four seasons.

He ranks first in the NFL with nine interceptions returned for touchdowns since becoming a regular starter in 2009 — tied for fourth most all-time — and five of those return touchdowns have come as a Bronco.

Harris has totaled 14 interceptions in his first six seasons as a Bronco, and he is one of just five undrafted cornerbacks in history to make three or more Pro Bowls with his original team.

He was chosen as a First-Team All-Pro when the Associated Press added a catch-all defensive back position in 2016. He was also named a second-team All-Pro choice as a cornerback in 2015.

With their careers at their peaks, it is impossible to say what honors might ultimately be accomplished by Talib and Harris, but being recognized as the unquestioned top cornerback duo in team history seems to be on the horizon.