Finding a Ball Hawk In The Secondary



Every year it seems, when discussing the Defensive backfield in football, you hear the words, “Shutdown Corner, Playmaker and Ball Hawk.” By definition, a Shutdown Corner refers to a Cornerback who limits the opposing teams No. 1 Wide Receiver or threat. A guy who is revered enough to make the Quarterback look toward another target and avoid throwing at this Cornerback. The Broncos have one in Champ Bailey. Darrelle Revis is another guy who comes to mind when you hear the words “Shutdown Corner.”

A Playmaker would refer to a guy that makes an impact or difference during games. A timely hit or Turnover would define these terms. An Interception, Forced Fumble (or Recovery), a big hit or 3rd down stop, maybe even a Quarterback Sack that takes the opponent out of Field Goal range. That is what I would define a playmaker as (among DB’s). The Broncos have had a few of them in their Secondary during the past 25 years. Guys like Steve Atwater, Dennis Smith and John Lynch come to mind.

A Ball Hawk is something different though. Whereas a Cornerback can be a shutdown guy and a Playmaker is, more often than not, a name given to a Safety, the Ball hawk moniker could be assigned to either position. But how do we define this term?

On Offense it could be a skillful pass receiver or a player who handles the ball skilfully.

Defensively, a player who excels in gaining possession of the ball; intercepting passes and recovering fumbles, or otherwise skilled at stealing or catching the ball would be a Ball Hawk.

So what does that mean? Is a Ball hawk a player who makes 8 Interceptions in any one season? Is there an average that should be maintained throughout a career that defines a Ballhawk? Do the other 3 or 4 Defensive Backs have a factor in what defines a Ballhawk?

Let’s begin with a few guys that have been called a Ball Hawk. CB Deion Sanders, S Ed Reed, CB Rod Woodson, DB Mel Renfro, S Ronnie Lott, CB Antonio Cromartie, S Paul Krause and CB Asante Samuel come to mind.


  • Deion Sanders had 53 Interceptions in 188 games, or 1 every 3.55 games. For his career, he averaged 4.07 INTs per season.

  • Ed Reed had 61 INT’s in 160 games (5.54) 1 every 2.62 games.

  • Rod Woodson, 71 INT in 238 games (4.73) 1 every 3.35 games

  • Mel Renfro, 52 INTs in 174 games (3.71) 1 every 3.35 games

  • Paul Krause, 81 INTs in 226 games (5.06) 1 every 2.79 games

  • Ronnie Lott, 63 INT in 192 games (4.50) 1 every 3.05 games

  • Asante Samuel, 50 INTs in 146 games (5.00) 1 every 2.92 games

Neon Deion, Woodson, Renfro, Krause and Lott are in the Hall of Fame. Reed and Samuel are still playing. Paul Krause is the career leader in INTs with 81 and 50 seems to be the magic number for getting into the Hall.

Here are a few Bronco stats.

Dre’ Bly has been called a Ballhawk. He had 43 Interceptions in 167 games (3.90), or 1 every 3.88 games.

Steve Foley had 44 INTs in 150 games (4.00), or 1 every 3.41 games

How about Goose Gonsoulin? He had 46 INTs in an 8 year career (5.75) 108 games. 1 every 2. 35 games. That’s 5.75 INT’s each year, higher than any Hall of Famer. And he isn’t in the Hall?

Champ Bailey has 52 INTs in 210 games (3.71), or 1 every 4.03 games.

The only thing this tells me, is if a guy gets to the 50 Interception career mark, he has a good shot at the Hall of Fame. Five picks each season for a 10 year career. That sounds about right. The thing is, a Defensive back that grabs 5 picks may not lead the league. Anywhere from 7-10 has been the average among league leaders during the last 15 years. I would say that a 3 Interception campaign would be slightly better than average, even though that sounds low.

Depending on the rest of the Defense, a Defensive Back’s Interception total will vary quite a bit. Quarterback pressure and Sacks will affect the number of opportunities. Fumbles and the opposing QB’s Pass success rate will make a difference as well. Whether 3rd down plays are 5 yards or more (citing a tendency to pass), or less, where the opposing Offense can run the ball, will factor into the equation.

It would be easier to define that a Defensive Back had a “Ball Hawking” season than to label one as a Ball Hawk Safety or Cornerback. Especially since doing it on a consistent basis for an entire career would put them in the elite category and qualify for a Bust in Canton.

The only thing left is for John Elway to find one in the Draft.

Go Broncos!

– Kaptain Kirk

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