Las Vegas Raiders: 15 best defensive backs of all-time

Las Vegas Raiders cornerback Trayvon Mullen (27) Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Las Vegas Raiders cornerback Trayvon Mullen (27) Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports /
8 of 15

SS/KR/PR. (1968-77). George Atkinson. 8. player. 28.

  • Super Bowl Champion (XI)
  • 2x AFL All-Star (1968-69)
  • Second-Team All-AFL (1969)
  • 30 career interceptions for 448 yards in 138 games w/Raiders

It was only a matter of time before safety/return man George Atkinson would be appearing on this all-time defensive backs list for the Raiders. Though other Raiders might have been more dynamic in the secondary than Atkinson, his spot on this list at No. 8 is certainly justified.

Atkinson joined the Raiders as a seventh-round draft pick out of Morris Brown College in the 1968 AFL Draft. While he would eventually carve out a meaningful role in the Oakland secondary, in the return game is where Atkinson first starred for the Silver and Black.

He led the AFL in punt returns (36), punt return yardage (490), and punt return touchdowns (2) as a rookie in 1968. Atkinson was also excellent in the kick return game that year, as he led the league in yards per return with 25.1. He made his first of two straight AFL All-Star Games as a rookie in 1968.

While he was starring in the return game for the Raiders, Atkinson was quietly learning how to be a solid defensive back. He had four interceptions for 66 yards and a touchdown, as well as three fumble recoveries as a rookie.

Atkinson would get back to the AFL All-Star Game in 1969. He made Second-Team All-AFL that year, as he had 25 punt returns for 153 yards and two interceptions for 38 yards, and a touchdown on the defensive side of the ball. Simply put, Atkinson made plays anytime he was on the field in his early days as a professional.

As the Raiders joined the NFL in the wake of the merger, Atkinson would continue to do more of the same for the Silver and Black: return kicks and make plays in the Oakland secondary. Though he never made it to a Pro Bowl post-merger, Atkinson had a very successful 10-year career with the Raiders otherwise.

He was part of the first Super Bowl championship team in 1976, as the Raiders knocked off the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl XI. Interestingly enough, that was the first year in his professional football career that Atkinson did not return kicks. He would stick with the Raiders through the 1977 before spending the 1979 campaign with the rival Denver Broncos before retiring.

Atkinson amassed 1,247 punt return yards on 126 punt returns for three touchdowns in his pro career. He also had 1,893 kick return yards on 76 kicks. As a defensive back, Atkinson more than held his own in Oakland.

He finished with 30 career interceptions for 448 yards in 10 years with the team. His son George Atkinson III is still attempting to play in the NFL after sticking with the Raiders the last few years.