The 50 Most Intimidating Players Heading into the 2012 NFL Season
Intimidating NFL players don't just look the part and act nasty. They strike fear into their opponents with the threat of making them look foolish or inflicting a lot of pain. The players listed in this article feature the talents needed to make the opposition worrisome.
Possessing the ability to get into the head of their opponent was an important factor when I developed this list. I wanted to focus on players that make the other team's coaching staff stress, knowing their position on the field.
No. 39 to No. 50
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39. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars
Tough, quick and consistent.
40. Aldon Smith, San Francisco 49ers
Registered 14 sacks while still learning the ins and outs of the position.
41. DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia Eagles
Game-breaking speed strikes fear in to all defensive coordinators. Makes plays in both the passing game and on special teams.
42. Lamarr Woodley, Pittsburgh Steelers
Woodley's ready to replace James Harrison as the team's top sack master.
43. Osi Umenyiora, New York Giants
He'll have a very productive year with the contract issues behind him.
44. Patrick Willis, San Francisco 49ers
Makes plays from sideline to sideline.
45. Steve Smith, Carolina Panthers
Smith is talented, hard working and nasty.
46. Dwight Freeney, Indianapolis Colts
A career's worth of production means you can't overlook Freeney.
47. Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs
Charles' breakaway speed means he can score from anywhere on the field.
48. Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins
His quickness and arm-talent combination means defenses will be on their toes.
49. Richard Seymour, Oakland Raiders
Toughness, strength and production is the name of Seymour's game.
50. Torrey Smith, Baltimore Ravens
Smith's speed strikes fear into most opponents.
Just Missed the Cut: Cliff Avril, Brian Orakpo, Carl Nicks, Dwayne Bowe, Justin Smith, Steven Jackson, Chris Long, Charles Tillman, Jon Beason, Charles Johnson and Darren McFadden
No. 26 to No. 38
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26. Cameron Wake, Miami Dolphins
Quickly becoming one of the more feared pass-rushers in the league.
27. Matthews Stafford, Detroit Lions
His big arm means a ton of big plays.
28. Von Miller, Denver Broncos
Miller's explosiveness off the edge makes it tough to keep him out of the backfield.
29. Andre Johnson, Houston Texans
Good size and elite speed allow Johnson to attack all parts of the field.
30. Brandon Marshall, Chicago Bears
Marshall has excellent size and strength, which makes it tough to handle him in one-on-one situations.
31. Charles Woodson, Green Bay Packers
He's capable of beating you in any number of ways, makes plays versus the run, passes and creates turnovers.
32. Logan Mankins, New England Patriots
Mankins doesn't get to run block often, but when he does, he generates a great push.
33. LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles
McCoy is someone you have to always keep an eye on, as he can hurt you both the running and passing game.
34. Justin Tuck, New York Giants
Tuck has taken a back seat to Jason Pierre-Paul, but he still knows how to generate pressure. His value comes from his ability to also bump inside and play some defensive tackle.
35. A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals
The sky is the limit for this tall and athletic wide receiver. His leaping ability allows him to make plays on most balls in his area.
36. Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos
His knowledge of the game and tireless work ethic means Manning can outsmart you on most plays.
37. Jason Babin, Philadelphia Eagles
Babin was made for the wide-nine technique and it shows with his production.
38. Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers
The combination of Rivers and Norv Turner is deadly.
No. 25 Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans
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Thus far in his career, Chris Johnson has shown that he's much more than a speed back. He runs with excellent leverage and uses that burst to break off long runs. However, it's that speed that gives defensive coordinators sleepless nights.
The Tennessee Titans understand just how talented he is and make sure he touches the ball often. Opposing defense must account for him in both the running and passing game. Last year's disappointing season will quickly become a distant memory, as he's primed for a big performance this season.
The possibility that Jake Locker could win the quarterback job might open things up for Johnson. Defenses would have to respect Locker's strong arm by keeping defenders back in coverage. The fewer men in the box, the more opportunities Johnson will have to pick up big chunks of yardage.
No. 24 Arian Foster, Houston Texans
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Arian Foster's vision, quick burst and toughness makes him one of the top running backs in the game. He's so talented that he put the Houston Texans on his back late last season when both Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart went down with injuries.
While his tough running style is immediately apparent, most overlook his second gear. This ability to explode through the hole makes him a threat to score from anywhere on the field. Opposing defenses no longer focus on shutting down Andre Johnson, as Foster is easily the biggest threat on this team.
Look for the Texans to continue to make Foster the focal point of their offense. This team is built to play strong defense and let the running game control the clock. Foster's production will see an uptick if both Johnson and Schaub are able to remain healthy.
No. 23 Tamba Hali, Kansas City Chiefs
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Despite having little help in the pass-rushing department, Tamba Hali has remained a difference maker for the Kansas City Chiefs. He's hoping that Justin Houston can take some blockers away from his side of the field so that he can increase his production.
Hali doesn't only possess excellent quickness, he also has great snap awareness that helps him get a good jump off the line. His ability to locate the football and go for the strip gives him the potential to change the game on any possession.
Kansas City doesn't get the national attention other teams receive, but opposing coaches are well aware of Hali's game-breaking ability.
No. 22 Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants
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Coming out of college, Jason Pierre-Paul was an athlete whose lack of polish limited his ability to make an immediate impact. However, it didn't take long for Pierre-Paul to learn just techniques to strike fear into the opponent. Another full offseason means that he's learned even more about the game of football, which is a dangerous fact for NFL quarterbacks.
Increasing Pierre-Paul's effectiveness is the presence of Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora. These two are excellent pass-rushers in their own right, and it would be neglectful for opposing offenses to ignore their play-making ability. It's nearly impossible to stop all three from generating some type of pressure on the quarterback.
The fact is that there aren't many offensive tackles capable of beating Pierre-Paul to the edge. This is why he can expect to see a lot of tight ends on his side of the field and running backs chipping him out of the backfield.
No. 21 Clay Matthews, Green Bay Packers
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Dom Capers' ability to put Clay Matthews in the proper position to succeed is key to his success. However, a lot of that success can also be attributed to the quickness and tenacity of Matthews. He's a relentless pass-rusher who'll do anything to put the quarterback on the ground.
Last season was a disappointment for Matthews, but the Green Bay Packers are hoping that the addition of Nick Perry can fix any lingering problems. The issue plaguing Matthews was the fact that no other player on the defense could come close to his ability to generate pressure. This meant that opponents focused all their attention on keeping him out of the backfield.
Positioning, quickness and a non-stop motor is what makes Matthews such a game-changer. However, finding a pass-rush partner is key to his long-term success.
No. 20 Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings
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Even though he's expected to miss the first part of the season, Adrian Peterson is still one of the most intimidating players in the NFL. He pairs a rare combination of speed and toughness that allows him to gain yards in many ways. The fact that he's been so successful with the Minnesota Vikings and their up-and-down quarterback play is impressive.
Watching Peterson, you quickly notice that he doesn't just want to pick up yardage, he also wants to inflict pain on those attempting to bring him down. This ability to fight through tackles and deliver a blow makes defenders think twice about how they approach Peterson.
His knee injury will limit his overall explosiveness this season, but he possesses the toughness and desire to still be effective this year.
No. 19 Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh Steelers
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Injuries have forced Troy Polamalu out of the lineup a few times in the past few years, but that doesn't take away from his tendency to make a game-changing play. Polamalu is unique because he impacts both the passing and running game.
Opposing offenses always must be aware of where he's lined up because he could be coming on a blitz, setting up for an interception or exploding to the line to support the run. Dick Lebeau knows just what Polamalu is capable of and designs a game plan to put him in position to succeed.
The talk of the Pittsburgh Steelers' aging defense could quickly be silenced by a healthy Polamalu. His ability to create turnovers and make game-changing plays is something that helps those around him look better.
No. 18 Brian Urlacher, Chicago Bears
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Brian Urlacher is capable of intimidating just by his appearance. At 6'4" 258 pounds, he boasts a rare combination of size and speed. It's an odd sight to see someone so large move so quickly to the football the way Urlacher has done for years. The intimidation factor only increases after you see/feel the violence in his tackles.
His versatility is also something that makes him such a special player. He doesn't only attack the line in run support, he also does a great job gaining depth in coverage. Urlacher's success in Lovie Smith's Cover 2 defense is undeniable. Some could argue that he's the most effective middle linebacker to play in this type of system.
Despite losing a step to age and injuries, Urlacher is still capable of making impact plays. His experience in the league and instincts help him compensate for the loss of some of his explosiveness.
No. 17 James Harrison, Pittsburgh Steelers
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Despite a slight drop in production, James Harrison is still one of the most feared players in the NFL. He doesn't only intimidate with his ability to rush the passer, but he also strikes fear with his tendency to deliver punishing hits. His fines from illegal hits are numerous and something in the back of his opponent's minds.
After watching a highlight reel of Harrison's hits, anyone coming into his area on the field is thinking about avoiding a major hit. Still, his punishing hits aren't the only thing that makes him such a note-worthy player.
Harrison has tallied a total of 54 sacks in the past five seasons. His low center of gravity allows him to flatten out around the edge and get to the quarterback. This limits the amount of his body exposed to offensive linemen, making it tough to control his movements.
No. 16 Mario Williams, Buffalo Bills
The Buffalo Bills invested a lot of cash in Mario Williams because of his ability to generate pressure on the quarterback. He uses his size, strength and initial burst to work his way into the backfield and create pressure. Williams does a great job taking advantage of one-on-one situations and also fighting through double teams.
This season he'll have more one-on-one opportunities than he's used to because teammates like Mark Anderson, Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus will command attention. An improved secondary will also help Williams get after the quarterback. Adding Stephon Gilmore to a group that already has George Wilson, Terrence McGee and Jairus Byrd will give Williams more time to rush the passer.
Look for Williams to easily top the double-digit sack mark and even contend for the league lead in sacks this season.
No. 15 Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals
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Larry Fitzgerald remains one of the game's top playmakers despite having to deal with below-average quarterback play. Defensive backs have a hard time stopping Fitzgerald because of his size, strength and leaping ability. He has the ability to out muscle and out leap most defenders.
Fitzgerald's powerful hands also plays a major role in his play-making ability. He rarely drops a pass and catches everything away from his body at the highest point. Opposing defenses can't assign one defender to cover Fitzgerald; they must commit extra defenders to his side of the field.
Both Kevin Kolb and John Skelton are lucky to have Fitzgerald as a teammate. They have a chance to put up above-average numbers because of his presence. There aren't many players in the league that can make those around him better like Fitzgerald.
No. 14 Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles
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Despite being slowed by injuries, Michael Vick is still one of the most dangerous playmakers in the NFL. His ability to make plays with both his feet and arm makes it difficult for defenses to keep him in check. Most point to his development as a passer as the reason he's more dangerous now than at any point in his career.
The other weapons on the Philadelphia Eagles' roster enhance Vick's effectiveness. Opposing defenses can't just worry about Vick, as players like LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson also pose a threat. Jackson and Maclin's ability to stretch the field helps the Eagles take advantage of Vick's powerful arm.
As I mentioned, injuries have limited the amount Vick has been able to take the field. His aggressive playing style opens him up to a lot of big hits. However, it's that playing style that makes him such a dangerous playmaker.
No. 13 Haloti Ngata, Baltimore Ravens
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Haloti Ngata might not get as much attention as the other defensive stars on the Baltimore Ravens' roster, but he's equally as talented. He possesses a rare combination of size, strength and quickness that allows him to disrupt the timing of the offense. Ngata is nearly impossible to handle with only one blocker and is almost equally as effective against double teams.
The Ravens ask Ngata to do a number of different things, but his main job is to occupy blockers. Ray Lewis is effective in large part because of Ngata's ability to keep blockers off his body. Lewis can cleanly flow to the football with Ngata in the lineup.
However, he's more than someone that just occupies space. He also possesses the burst needed to penetrate the pocket and make plays behind the line. Overall, Ngata is just a disruptive player that is also willing to do the dirty work.
No. 12 Julius Peppers, Chicago Bears
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Julius Peppers is one of the better athletes in the entire NFL. He has excellent size and the quickness needed to generate a consistent pass rush. Peppers remains productive despite constantly having to fight through double teams. His ability to still impact the game while dealing with extra blockers is what makes him such a special player.
Most recognize Julius Peppers as a feared pass-rusher, but that's only one part of his game. He also does a great job holding at the line and supporting the run. This commitment to supporting the run makes Peppers an excellent all-around football player.
The Chicago Bears are hoping the addition of first-round pick Shea McClellin will help draw some attention away from Peppers' side of the field. Having another pass-rushing threat along the defensive line would do a lot to increase Peppers' sack total.
No. 11 Ed Reed, Baltimore Ravens
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There isn't a quarterback in the league that doesn't account for Ed Reed when facing the Baltimore Ravens. His ability to read the quarterback and put himself in position to create a turnover is matched by very few. Reed combines this skill with a knack for turning those turnovers into touchdowns.
I can't imagine what's going through the mind of a young quarterback when he has to face Reed for the first time. Does he enter the game comfortable with the idea that he'll throw at least one interception? Probably not, but looking out for Reed is something heavily discussed in the weekly meetings.
Age and injuries have taken a few steps away from Reed. However, his instincts are still sharp, which helps him overcome the loss of some of his speed.
No. 10 Terrell Suggs, Baltimore Raves
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Despite having to deal with an Achilles injury, Terrell Suggs remains one of the game's most dangerous playmakers. He's a force off the edge who consistently generates pressure on the quarterback. His pass-rushing ability is one of the catalysts for the success of the Baltimore Ravens' defense.
Suggs uses his speed, snap awareness and tenacity to generate most of his pressure. However, there's also some of a fear factor when facing Suggs. His reputation as a sack master and playmaker puts a lot of pressure on his opponents. This gets in their heads, resulting in penalties or failure to execute the assignment. Football is as much about the mental aspect of the game as it is the physical.
Suggs will miss several games because of his Achilles injury but should return for the later part of the season. Returning from this type of injury takes time, and it could take until next year until he's 100 percent. However, he's still talented enough to make an impact despite his injury.
No. 9 Darrelle Revis, New York Jets
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Revis Island isn't a real place, but it's very real to NFL wide receivers. Darrelle Revis is a prototype lockdown cornerback who is capable of neutralizing some of the game's top playmakers. The fact that he plays in Rex Ryan's aggressive defense only magnifies his talents.
Ryan loves to bring pressure from different areas on the field. This puts more pressure on his defensive backs to handle wide receivers in one-on-one situations. It's amazing how well Revis handles these assignments.
Revis does such a good job taking a team's top target out of the game that quarterbacks rarely even look to his side of the field. This is the NFL definition of an intimidating force.
No. 8 Jared Allen, Minnesota Vikings
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Jared Allen has complied a total of 77.5 sacks over the past five seasons. He's been an extremely consistent performer despite seeing increased attention each season. Last year's 22-sack performance put him a half a sack away from the NFL record.
Because of his presence on a terrible Minnesota Vikings' team, there's a good chance he'll be overlooked by the media this season. However, that doesn't mean he won't strike fear in to opposing offensive coordinators.
Allen will quickly make teams regret their decision if they decide to overlook him because of the questionable talent on Minnesota's roster.
No. 7 Ray Lewis, Baltimore Ravens
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A lot of people, especially non-football fans, recognize Ray Lewis because of his intense pregame speeches and entrance into the game. However, he's equally known for his elite level of play throughout the course of his career. This is a player that makes plays while delivering punishing hits.
Lewis' instincts and tenacity are the keys to his success. He always plays with 100 percent effort as he pursues the football. That effort is only effective because of the way he quickly deciphers post-snap information.
Leadership and inspiration are another major part of Lewis' game. He fuels the entire Baltimore Ravens' defense to perform at a higher level. You can be sure that opposing teams are always aware of Lewis' position on the field.
No. 6 Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
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There hasn't been a quarterback in NFL history that has the type of physical talents Cam Newton possesses. His combination of arm talent and running ability makes it tough for any defense to keep him in check. Newton's record-setting rookie season is more than enough to show the height of his ceiling.
The most impressive thing about Newton's rookie season was his ability to make plays with his arm. He was able to quickly learn the playbook and overcome the shortcomings presented by his college's offensive system.
I expect to see an even more efficient player this season, as Newton will have a full offseason under his belt. The fact that the Carolina Panthers were able to keep offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski in place is really important to Newton's development.
No. 5 Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions
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Calvin Johnson is an absolute beast who's emerging as one of the game's top overall players. The tandem of Johnson and Matthew Stafford is primed to give opposing defensive coordinators nightmares this season. There isn't a defensive back that can match Johnson's combination of size, speed and leaping ability.
His wide range of skills allows the Detroit Lions to utilize him in many route combinations. He can be seen attacking the deep part of the field, working over the middle and catching the ball with room to create in space.
Look for Johnson's production to slightly increase this season. The Lions have done a good job adding talent to the offensive side of the ball. Players like Titus Young, Jahvid Best, Ryan Broyles and Mikel Leshoure will all help draw attention away from Johnson.
No. 4 Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
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After signing a new contract, Drew Brees is ready to prove to people that he's the real engine behind the New Orleans Saints' high-powered offense. A motivated Brees could be major trouble for NFL defenses. He might not top his production from last season, but he's more than capable of compiling a high number of passing yards.
Brees is so effective because of his ability to complete a high percentage of his passes. Last season, Brees had a league-best 71.2 percent completion percentage. Defenses have a hard time finding success when a quarterback keeps the chains moving.
The Saints need Brees to be at the top of his game if they hope to overcome the loss of head coach Sean Peyton. However, if any quarterback in the league can overcome this problem, it's Brees.
No. 3 DeMarcus Ware, Dallas Cowboys
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DeMarcus Ware is averaging an amazing 14.5 sacks per season over the course of his career. His ability to generate pressure off the edge is what has kept the Dallas Cowboys' defense among the league's best. His explosiveness, length and snap awareness is what makes him such a dangerous pass-rusher.
I want to highlight how important Ware's long arms are to his ability to get after the quarterback. He uses this advantage to obtain inside hand placement, keep himself clean and employ a wide range of pass-rush moves. Keeping blockers off his frame is one of the main reasons he's so effective, as it allows him to have a clean rush at the quarterback.
It's possible that Ware could have the most productive season of his career. The Cowboys' ability to upgrade the secondary by adding Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr will provide Ware with more time to get after the quarterback.
No. 2 Tom Brady, New England Patriots
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The New England Patriots have reinvented their offensive attack several times throughout the past decade. This was only possible because of the presence and talent of Tom Brady. Having a quarterback that can adjust to a number of different attacks is very rare. It also means that defenses rarely know what to expect when facing the Patriots.
Sustained success isn't something that is easily achieved. Brady has helped New England remain in the Super Bowl hunt despite going through several stages of roster turnover. Opponents know that when they face Brady, he's capable of putting a team on his back and willing them to victory.
This year will be another excellent season for Brady. The Patriots added Brandon Lloyd to an already talented offense featuring Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Because of the lack of an established running back, look for the Patriots to continue their pass-heavy attack.
No. 1 Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
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Aaron Rodgers is both an efficient and big-play quarterback. He does a good job spreading the ball around and keeping defenses out of rhythm. The Green Bay Packers' offensive attack is so dangerous because of the many ways Rodgers is able to release the football.
Defenses can't expect to find Rodgers sitting back in the pocket scanning the field. He's more likely to extend the play and deliver the ball on the run. This unpredictability is what makes Rodgers the most intimidating player in the NFL .
Both defensive coordinators and players are fearful that Rodgers might make them his next target. He's a player that does such a good job recognizing a player's weakness that it's almost impossible to completely neutralize him.