Born in New York City, Paul Lankford was drafted by the Miami Dolphins in the third round (80th overall) in the 1982 NFL Draft out of Penn State University.
As a rookie, Lankford appeared in seven games (out of nine) as a defensive back off the bench. The Dolphins would advance through an expanded playoff field to Super Bowl XVII, losing to the Washington Redskins, 27-17.
1983 would see Lankford appear in all 16 games, including one start. He collected his first interception in a 21-7 victory over the Baltimore Colts in week eight in helping the Dolphins to an eventual 12-4 record and an AFC East title.
In Miami's second AFC Championship season in three years, Lankford again appeared in all 16 games, starting six. He intercepted three passes, all in November. The Dolphins again breezed through the regular season and the playoffs, going 14-2 before handily dispatching first the Seattle Seahawks then the Pittsburgh Steelers. Miami eventually fell to the Joe Montana led San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XIX, 38-16.
Lankford was Miami's starting left cornerback for 15 games in 1985, intercepting a career high four passes. The Phins went 12-4, handing the Chicago Bears their only loss of an otherwise perfect season in week 13 at the Orange Bowl, 38-24.
In 1986, Lankford was moved to the right cornerback position, starting 12 games. He moved back to the left side to retain his starting position through the 1989 season.
Starting in 1990, Lankford was used primarily off the bench as a nickel and dime package defensive back. He retired following the 1991 season, having spent his entire 10 season NFL career with the Miami Dolphins. He played in 130 games, starting 72. He intercepted 13 passes, recovered three fumbles, and recorded three sacks.