After looking back on the careers of Todd Heap and Jamal Lewis, we’ll take a look at the other side of the ball. It’s no secret that defense has been the strength of the Ravens historically, so naturally, there are a plethora of past players worth remembering. From day one the team was blessed to have guys like Ed Reed and Ray Lewis, and to this day we preserve that defensive identity with contributors such as Terrell Suggs, CJ Mosley, and Jimmy Smith. But one under-appreciated name has been seemingly forgotten over time. Today, we’ll look back on one of the most underrated Ravens of all time: Chris McAlister.
Size, speed, athleticism, Chris McAlister had it all. A great frame, smooth hips and feet, solid tackling, and terrific ball skills defined him in his college career; leading him to a handful of accolades, including a unanimous All-American selection in his final year. His stand out college career earned him an early draft value, and the Ravens selected him 10th overall in the 1999 draft. His ability to play at a highly physical level combined with great technique made him a truly shut down cornerback, and helped ensure every defense he was a part of during his decade with the team was feared.
McAlister became a factor almost immediately upon beginning his career, he played in all 16 games his rookie year, receiving 12 starts. Playing in the same backfield as Duane Starks and Rod Woodson definitely makes standing out difficult, but McAlister found a way, and he did it as a rookie. His 5 interceptions tied him for 2nd on the team, and foreshadowed what he’d bring to the table with more experience down the road. It didn’t take long for him to cement his legacy in the league, as McAlister found himself on what was arguably the greatest defense of all time in his 2nd season.
The 2000-2001 Baltimore Ravens team is known for many things. Most notably, they won the Superbowl while fielding what I believe is the best defense to ever play. An underappreciated piece of the squad was 2nd year cornerback Chris McAlister. Chris began the season with a year of experience at the pro level, and a fresh new number on his jersey (he wore the number 28 in his rookie season, then switched to 21 for the rest of his Ravens career). He had already shown sparks of great play, but was ready to take the next step. In his 2nd year, McAlister led the league in interception return yards. He notched 4 total picks, running them back for a whopping 165 yards which included a memorable 98 yard pick six against the Vinny Testaverde-led Giants. His overall game improved in every facet, and he did more than hold his own on a legendary team. He played lights out, shut down football all the way to the Superbowl, where he recorded another interception against the Giants in our blow-out victory.
The next 2 years were a little more average and honestly forgettable. His tackle numbers increased (Including a career high of 71 in 2001), and he remained physical to the ball, but the flashy plays and overall spark weren’t quite there. Luckily, in 2003 he achieved a breakout season of sorts, and began his run of competing at an elite level. 2 of McAlister’s 3 longest plays occurred this year: an 83 yard pick-six, and a 107 yard missed field goal return. At the time, the return was the longest play in NFL history. He mixed elite level play and flashy highlights perfectly, and received a first team all-pro selection to go along with his first pro bowl visit. You could argue that this was his best season, but I’ll call it a close second behind a later season that’ll be broken down momentarily.
The 2004 season saw McAlister’s success continue. He added another pick-six and a long fumble recovery touchdown to his career highlight reel, but more importantly, he received his second all pro and pro bowl nominations in as many years, and signed a big 7 year 55 million dollar contract. Now known as a franchise player, he’d turn in another high-level season in 2005, but didn’t make any of the game-breaking plays he had become known for. He missed the pro bowl for the first time since 2002, but turned in another good season.
In 2006, Chris McAlister had the best season of his career. His 6 interceptions were a career high, and his 2 return touchdowns led the league. He was an absolute magnet for the ball, creating plays as often as he destroyed them. I look back on the 2006 Ravens team and see them as the best all around team we’ve had in franchise history, and I’m disappointed McAlister couldn’t pick up his 2nd ring this season, but that’s a story for a different day.
Following his best year, McAlister’s remaining time in Baltimore was decimated by injuries. In 2007 and 2008 he missed more games than he played, and he ultimately got cut by the team in February of 2009. He played one more year with the New Orleans Saints, but only appeared in 2 games. Aside from a forced fumble in an overtime game against the Redskins, his time in the city was entirely forgettable. He was released 2 months before their super bowl win and never saw the field again.
Stats That Matter
Defensive stats often aren’t as easily quantifiable as their offensive counterparts. There isn’t a single end-all stat for any position on the defensive side of the ball, and touchdowns are obviously significantly more rare. The cornerback position can be especially difficult, because there isn’t one number you can look at that tells you how good a player is against the pass. Sure interceptions are an easy indication, but a smaller amount doesn’t necessarily mean a player isn’t doing his job. Luckily, McAlister was a flashy player, and he has some numbers that pop out on paper. Some of his more impressive stats include:
- 5 interceptions as a rookie
- 165 interception return yards in 2000 (Led the league)
- 107 yard missed fg return in week 8 of 2003 (Then NFL record)
- 431 career tackles
- 32 career takeaways (26 interceptions, 6 fumble recoveries)
- 137 career passes defended
- 562 career return yards (486 interception return, 76 fumble return)
- 7 career touchdowns (5 interception return, 1 fumble return, 1 fg return)
McAlister had a strong career that saw him reach high levels of both team and personal success. While he was never considered the best player on the field, that’s to no fault of his own. Being on multiple legendary defenses kept McAlister from being given enough credit, and may have led to him receiving less attention than he truly deserved. That said, Chris McAlister has a solid list of accolades, some of which include:
- 1x Superbowl champion (SB XXXV)
- 3x Pro Bowl (2003, 2004, 2006)
- 2x All-Pro (2003, 2004)
- 1x Interception return yards leader (2003)
- 1x Interception return touchdown leader (2006)
- 1999 All-rookies team
Most Memorable Moment
Chris McAlister’s career highlights are fun to watch. If you want to see tipped passes, big hits, strong defenses, jump ball interceptions, long returns, and some showboating, his tape would be perfect for you. There are a lot of candidates for most memorable play, whether it be his pick-six against Dallas, his 98 yard return in 2000, or his big moment in the Superbowl, McAlister created a lot of great memories. The one that will always stand out the most however, is his 107 yard return off of Jason Elam’s missed field goal.
Where is he Now?
McAlister disappeared from the public eye entirely after being released by the Saints in 2009. He hasn’t been in the news in the least 7 years, but in 2011 there was a TMZ report out that he had already gone broke and was back living with his parents.
In the past few years, there have been rumblings that he would be the next member of the Ravens’ Ring of Honor, but no official announcement or discussion has been made by the team.
Though he’ll likely never be in discussion for the Hall of Fame, McAlister certainly resides in the Hall of Great, and remains a great example of the ideal NFL cornerback. Chris McAlister has a strong case for “Best Ravens cornerback of all time” and is certainly one of the greatest players in the team’s short history.