We can go all over Ronde Barber's accolades. They're impressive enough: Pro Bowls, All-Pro selections, interceptions, touchdowns, sacks, franchise and NFL records. You can make a good argument that Barber belongs in the Hall of Fame looking solely at his statistics. And yet, people will find reasons not to see him as a Hall of Famer. Was he ever the best at his position? Yes, from 2001 to 2003.
One Hall of Fame argument always sticks in my mind, though: can you write the history of the NFL without this player? That is why I think Ronde Barber should be a Hall of Fame player.
Ronde Barber defined his own position. Warren Sapp was the quintessential three-technique defensive tackle. Derrick Brooks defined the weakside linebacker position. Ronde Barber defined the slot cornerback position, and yet rarely gets credit for it. Instead, we hear some complaints that he's a "system cornerback".
Over the past years, the importance of the slot cornerback has come farther and farther to the fore. It requires a new skillset: physicality, tackling ability, blitzing prowess and short-area quickness are the attributes that allow a cornerback to excel at the position. And Ronde Barber was the original. Charles Woodson has earned endless praise for his work in the slot, with (misplaced) talk of him playing linebacker and even a Defensive Player of the Year award in 2009 (that should have gone to Darrelle Revis). In 2011, Sports Illustrated even ran a full article focused just on his transition to that position.
Back in the 1990s, the slot cornerback position wasn't overly important. It was relevant, but with few teams spreading out the opposition fully and with even fewer quality receiving tight ends, a slot cornerback was on the field far less often than he is today. Nowadays it's impossible to trot out a subpar third cornerback, as teams will find him and exploit him. Teams frequently move their top cornerbacks inside to guard the slot. That trend was something the Buccaneers have done with Ronde Barber for a decade-and-a-half.
Ronde Barber was a perfect fit as both a Cover 2 cornerback on the outside, and a slot cornerback on the inside. He excelled in that role for sixteen years and effecitvely defined a new position. That is why he is a Hall of Famer.