Michigan Football: All Time 10 Best Defensive Backs

There should be little doubt about who ranks first on Michigan’s All Time Defensive Back list. Again I have ranked the Top 11 in honor of the Big Ten having 11 teams. Also keep in mind this will not be the last installment of this series. So check back for the next Top 10 list which we focus on Kickers and Punters. After that we will take a look at the Top Kick/Punt returners and the All Time “What If” team.

Michigan Football defensive backs#11 – Brad Cochran: A quick, agile and durable player, Cochran started every game the final 3 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 #2. The Wolverine defense gave up just 78 points in 11 games that year.
Cochran was drafted by the Raiders in 1986.



Don Dufek Michigan#10 – Don Dufek Jr: Twice an All-Big Ten strong safety, Dufek completed his career (1973-75) with 249 tackles, nine fumble recoveries and four interceptions. He was a two time All Big Ten selection and he earned All American honors in 1975.
Upon the completion of football season Dufek suited up for the Michigan hockey team and earned 4 varsity letters in hockey.
Dufek was selected in the 5th round of the 1976 NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks. He played for Seattle for nine years before retiring from the NFL


Leon Hall Michigan Football#9 – Leon Hall: As a freshmen, Hall played in all 13 games and started 3. He started 9 games as a sophomore and every game in his junior and senior seasons. In 2006 Hall led the Big Ten with 18 pass breaks and tied the single season school record in the process. He is Michigan’s All Time leader in pass break ups with 43 in his career (2003-06). Hall ranks tied for 4th in school history with 12 interceptions. Hall is tied for 7th on the All Time list with 5 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 selected in the first round of the 2007 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals.

Marlin Jackson Michigan#8 – Marlin Jackson: As a sophomore cornerback Jackson earned All American honors (2002). He selflessly 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 6 pass break ups in the game. He tied the school record that season with 18 PBUs.
For his career Jackson tallied 184 tackles, 34 PBUs, and 9 interceptions. Jackson was selected in the first round of the 2005 NFL Draft by the Indianapolis Colts.

Tom Curtis Michigan#7 – Tom Curtis:Michigan’s All Time interception leader with 25, Curtis was a 1969 All American selection. Curtis’ 25 picks ranks second All Time in Big Ten history. Curtis picked off 7 passes as a sophomore (tied for a Big Ten sophomore record). He followed that up with 10 interceptions as a junior and 8 in his senior season.
Curtis played two seasons for the Baltimore Colts including their Super Bowl V winning team.
Curtis was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2005.


michigan football defensive backs#6 – 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 went to the NFL after his junior season totaled 164 tackles, 8 interceptions and 19 pass break ups in his 3 year career (1992-94). Law’s departure was not met with enthusiasm from then defensive coordinator Lloyd Carr and that has strained Law’s relationship with Michigan over the years.
He was selected in the first round of the 1995 NFL Draft by the New England Patriots and enjoyed an outstanding NFL career. He was selected to 5 Pro Bowls and is a 3 time Super Bowl Champion.

Rick Volk Michigan#5 – Rick Volk: A tremendous athlete, Volk went from playing Quarterback and Halfback to becoming an All-American defensive back at Michigan. He was an outstanding tackler and a fierce hitter. Volk is considered one of the best defensive players of his era.
Volk was selected in the second round of the 1967 NFL Draft by the Baltimore Colts. He played in the league for 12 years. Volk played in 3 Pro Bowls and 2 Super Bowls.
Volk is the nephew of Bob Chappius.


Dave Brown Michigan#4 – 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 two time All American (1973-74) and a team captain in 1974.
Brown totaled 212 tackles, 9 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 was also an outstanding punt returner. He had 531 career punt return yards including 3 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 5 for TDs and was selected to the Pro Bowl in 1984.

tripp welborne michigan#3 – Tripp Welborne: He came to Michigan as a wide receiver and moved to defensive back after his freshmen season. The move proved to be a brilliant decision as Welborne would become a two time consensus All American Safety (1989-90). As a safety he was a hard hitting ball hawk. He tallied 238 tackles and 9 interceptions in his career.
Welborne was also an outstanding punt returner. He set the single season punt return yardage record in 1990 with 455 and that record stood until Steve Breaston broke it in 2003. In Michigan’s 1990 thrashing of Indiana Welborne totaled 117 punt return yards (third best single game total in school history). He also recorded two tackles and a pass break up in the game.
Unfortunately Welborne suffered a terrible knee injury against Minnesota in his senior season and that derailed his football career.

Thom Darden Michigan#2 – Thom Darden: Played all the defensive back positions during his career. Darden was a 1971 All American selection. In his career he snagged 11 interceptions which ties him for sixth place in school history. Darden’s 92 yard interception return for a touchdown against UCLA in 1971 is tied for the longest return in school history. He returned another interception 60 yards for a TD against Indiana in 1971.
ESPN chose Darden’s November 21, 1971 interception against Ohio State as one of the 100 Plays, performances and moments that define college football.The play was a very controversial call late in the 10–7 game and Ohio State coach Woody Hayes stormed the field to rant at the referee Jerry Markbreit about the referee’s call that Hayes thought should have been ruled pass interference. By the end of Hayes’ tirade, he had broken a yard marker, shredded a first-down indicator and earned two 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalties. The scene was replayed over and over on national television broadcasts. That was Darden’s second interception in that game. ESPN also chose Darden as a member of the All-Time University of Michigan Football team.
Darden was selected in the first round of the 1972 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns. He is the Browns career interceptions leader with

Charles Woodson Michigan#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 8 passes and registered 44 tackles. He hauled in 12 passes for 238 yards and 2 TDs. 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 intercepted 18 passes in his career which is second on the All Time list. Woodson had 30 career pass break ups which is the 4th 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 (4th overall) of the 1998 NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders. He has been to 5 Pro Bowls in his NFL career.

As usual some outstanding defensive backs were left off this list. Among them were; Garland Rivers, Dwight Hicks, Randy Logan, Corwin Brown, Tommy Hendricks, and Vada Murray.

Best of Michigan Football

Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends
Offensive Linemen
Defensive Linemen
Kick/Punt Returners
“What if” team

  • Massguy

    What about Lance Dottin big corner from Ma.

  • kazmo

    By the way – I would have put Ty Law in the top 3 – Woodson is the best ever – Deion could cover – but if you run several sweeps his way with a big RB – he starts pushing people out of bounds instead of tackling, so you can push him off the line.

  • kazmo

    I appreciate your remembering Tripp Wellbourne. He was very good – he would have re-written NFL history. I always wondered if he would come back. Every time I saw him on campus – he had a book-bag over his shoulder. Had a feeling that he only played football so he could pay for college.
    Glad you remembered him though..