The 50 Biggest, Baddest Players in NFL History
Who are the 50 most fearsome, meanest, biggest and scariest hard-hitters in NFL history? Do any players immediately jump to mind when you read the opening line? If so, we trust you will likely find them on the following list.
We are going back in time in NFL history to look at players from every era in the history of professional football. Even though the league has gone out of its way to protect the safety of players, especially quarterbacks, there is still a number of current players that will qualify for our purposes here.
This list is going to be focusing on defensive players, since, let's face it, the offensive players have to play by a different set of rules than the defenders. As a result, there will only be a handful of offensive players here, but trust me when I tell you that the offensive players on the list were among the biggest and baddest players.
The bigger and meaner they are, the higher they will probably be ranked. If they evoked fear in their opponents, the greater the chances are that they will rank high on our list. Let's see if our choices match up with your selections.
In doing research for this, I easily came up with more than 50, so I know that there are some very good players that I had to omit from the list. If you feel strongly about a player we omitted, feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section.
Honorable Mention List
Buck Buchanan tries to take Bart Starr's head off. (Sports Illustrated)
I have to admit that I really wrestled with some of the names that I had to omit from the presentation. Maybe I have more of an appreciation for the NFL from the 1960s and 1970s than most fans, but I felt strongly that every name that appears on the presentation belongs on the list. With that being said, I felt badly that I had to omit so many deserving players from the original list of 50 players as well.
Further evidence of how hard this presentation was to make, here is a quick list of another 52 players that I will refer to as honorable mentions, but they could have easily made the top 50. Perhaps next time we will be asked to comprise a list of 100 players, so all we need is the feedback from our Bleacher Report readers. Who are we missing and who doesn't belong on this list?
Biggest and Baddest NFL Players Honorable Mention (No. 51-102)
Ed "Too Tall" Jones
Lee Roy Selmon
William "The Fridge" Perry
50. Gino Marchetti
Photo courtesy of Pro Football Hall of Fame
Gino Marchetti was a defensive end for the Baltimore Colts. Marchetti was 6'4" and weighed 244 pounds.
He was the No. 14 overall pick in the 1952 NFL draft by a franchise that kept changing their name and their location. In the span of the two years, the team went from being known as the New York Yanks to the Dallas Texans to the Baltimore Colts. Marchetti played his entire career for the franchise, but you would know him best as being a member of the Colts team (1953-1966).
Marchetti was named to 11 Pro Bowl teams and was first-team All-Pro seven times. He is a member of the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team, as well as the NFL All-Decade team of the 1950s due to his dominating style of play. He was arguably the best defensive end in his era, which is why he deserves a place on our list.
In addition to being named the Pro Bowl MVP in 1963, Marchetti was on two Colts teams that won NFL championships in 1958 and 1959. Marchetti was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1972.
49. Ted Washington
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Ted Washington was a massive defensive tackle in the NFL who was listed at 6'5" and weighed 365 pounds, give or take. When Washington hit you, you weren't going anywhere.
Washington played in the NFL from 1991-2007. He played for the San Francisco 49ers (1991-1993), Denver Broncos (1994), Buffalo Bills (1995-2000), Chicago Bears (2001-2002), New England Patriots (2003), Oakland Raiders (2004-2005) and the Cleveland Browns (2006-2007).
When Washington played for the Bills, he was teamed up with another huge defensive tackle, Pat Williams, who also could have easily made this list but didn't. If you ran between them, it was like the Bermuda triangle—you might never come out again.
Washington played in 236 games in the NFL, recording 603 tackles, 34.5 sacks, eight forced fumbles and had two interceptions. Can you imagine a quarterback trying to tackle Washington rumbling down the field after an interception?
Washington was named to four Pro Bowl teams and three All-Pro teams.
48. Art Donovan
Since this is a historical piece, we are going to dedicate a few slides to the NFL players of the 1950s and 1960s that were the biggest and the baddest players from that era of professional football.
Art Donovan was a talented defensive tackle that played for the Baltimore Colts (1950, and then again from 1953-1961). As we detailed with Gino Marchetti in the earlier slide, the franchise kept jumping around from Baltimore to the New York Yanks (1951) and the Dallas Texans (1952) before going back to Baltimore in 1953.
Donovan was a true character, raised in the Bronx as the product of a family involved in the sport of boxing. He portrayed a tough-guy image and backed it up with his style of play. Donovan was 6'2" and weighed 263 pounds, so he was able to use his stocky frame to full advantage as he went up against smaller players.
During his career, Donovan was named to five Pro Bowl teams and to the first-team All-Pro team four times. He was voted on to the NFL All-Decade team of the 1950s and was also voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1968.
47. Derrick Brooks
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
Next up, we turn to a linebacker that could be a devastating hitter and a talented all-around performer. Derrick Brooks was a linebacker for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1995-2008. Brooks was elected to 11 Pro Bowl games and to first-team All-Pro five times in his career.
At 6'0" and 235 pounds, Brooks might not have looked physically intimidating, but he was named as the first-team linebacker for the NFL All-Decade team of the 2000s. The Pro Football Hall of Fame (HOF) website detailed Brooks' skills and stats as such:
Brooks was the complete package at linebacker, equally adept at run coverage as well as dropping back and defending the pass. He was the unquestioned leader of the Bucs’ defense during his career. Always around the ball, he intercepted an incredible 25 passes during his career, an excellent number for a linebacker. He was tabbed for 11 career Pro Bowls, all but three occurring in the 2000s decade.
Brooks ended his career with 1,301 tackles, 414 assists, 25 interceptions, 13.5 sacks, 24 forced fumbles and seven defensive touchdowns.
46. Neil Smith
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Defensive end Neil Smith spent his entire career terrorizing AFC West quarterbacks, as Smith played his entire career for AFC West teams: Kansas City Chiefs (1988-1996), Denver Broncos (1997-1999) and the San Diego Chargers (2000). Smith was elected to six Pro Bowl teams and to one first-team All-Pro squad.
He had great size at defensive end, going 6'4" and weighing 270 pounds. He was able to use his size and long arms to keep offensive linemen off of him and put his arms up to get his hands on the pass.
Smith was voted in as the second-team defensive end of the NFL All-Decade team of the 1990s. As you can see from the photo, when he turned the corner, he was an intimidating presence on the field. Smith recorded double-digit sacks for four straight years (1992, 1993, 1994 and 1995). He helped Kansas City win two division titles and the Broncos win Super Bowls XXXII and XXXIII.
45. Vince Wilfork
Wilfork hauls down Ben Roethlisberger.
Jason Bridge-US PRESSWIRE
Vince Wilfork is a defensive tackle for the New England Patriots from 2004 to present. Wilfork goes 6'2" and weighs 325 pounds, so you can only imagine how hard it is to move him.
Now imagine what it is like to be hit by him.
In his career to date, Wilfork has been named to four Pro Bowl teams and to four All-Pro teams. He has recorded 13 sacks and 297 tackles so far in his NFL career, which is not that easy to do from the nose tackle position.
Wilfork has a nose for the ball, as evidenced by his eight fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles and 15 deflected passes.
44. Brian Urlacher
Mike DiNovo-US PRESSWIRE
Brian Urlacher is a solid 6'4" and weighs 258 pounds. He follows the rich tradition of outstanding linebackers in Chicago Bears history, such as Dick Butkus and Mike Singletary.
Urlacher has been playing for the Bears from 2000-present, and he has been elected to play in eight Pro Bowls so far in his career, in addition to being named first-team All-Pro four times. Urlacher was voted in as the first-team linebacker for the NFL All-Decade team of the 2000s. The HOF website detailed his career as such:
Urlacher, who was drafted in the first round of 2000 draft, played free safety in college. He successfully converted to linebacker and won Defensive Rookie of the Year honors with the Bears. In 2005 he added Defensive Player of the Year to his resume. He is a six-time Pro Bowl pick and was selected to four All-Pro teams.
The first tackle that Urlacher makes in the 2012 season will be No. 1,000 for his career. He also has been credited with 291 assists, 41.5 sacks, 21 interceptions, nine forced fumbles, 13 fumble recoveries and two touchdowns scored on returns. The full stat sheet shows what kind of an athlete he is.
43. Greg Lloyd
Mike Powell/Getty Images
Greg Lloyd is another example of a player that wasn't physically huge, but he played much bigger and badder on the field. Lloyd was 6'2" and weighed 228 pounds. Lloyd played linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1988-1997, and he also played for the Carolina Panthers in 1998.
Lloyd was named to five Pro Bowl teams in addition to being on three first-team All-Pro teams. Lloyd played the game with passion and was known as a fiery leader on the field. He was known as a playmaker from the linebacker position as evidenced by his 54.5 sacks, 11 interceptions, 16 fumble recoveries, 35 forced fumbles and 707 career tackles. Lloyd played in 147 NFL games in his career.
In 1994, Lloyd was voted as the UPI AFC Defensive Player of the Year.
42. Claude Humphrey
He was known during his career as an outstanding pass-rusher, as he racked up 126.5 sacks in 171 NFL career games. Humphrey was elected to six Pro Bowl teams and was first-team All-Pro two times.
When the Eagles won the NFC championship in 1980 and went on to appear in Super Bowl XV, it was Humphrey that led the team in sacks that season with 14.5 sacks.
Three different times, Humphrey has made it all the way to being a finalist for Hall of Fame induction, only to fall just short all three years (2003, 2005 and 2006). He hasn't been a finalist since the 2006 voting.
41. Ndamukong Suh
Ndamukong Suh stomps on Evan Dietrich-Smith
At 6'4" and 307 pounds, Ndamukong Suh is a menacing physical specimen. He is very strong, and you can tell that he is in tremendous shape.
Suh is a defensive tackle for the Detroit Lions, and it seems that he has a switch that he turns on when he steps onto the football field. When that switch is turned on, nobody knows what he will do, because so far, it doesn't appear that he has the ability to totally control his actions when he gets worked up.
We have the infamous foot-stomp on Evan Deitrich-Smith of the Green Bay Packers; there was also an elbow to the back of Jay Cutler's head, and ripping the helmet off of Andy Dalton. With each new flagrant foul that he gets hit with, Suh's reputation will be tarnished, and referees will be continually watching him closer and closer as the years roll on. You can also bet that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will be watching as well, waiting to see if a suspension is warranted.
Suh is a prime example of how the modern athletes that come into the league are getting bigger, faster and stronger. There is no doubt whatsoever that Suh has tremendous physical gifts and is a force to be reckoned with.
From a mental and emotional standpoint, not so much. You may recall that Suh has a nasty habit of driving his car into stationary items like parked cars, telephone poles, curbs and drinking fountains.
40. Alex Karras
Alex Karras (aka Mongo) decks a horse in Blazing Sadddles. (wn.com)
As for the biggest and baddest NFL defensive linemen, we go from a new Detroit Lion to an old one. Assuming all of you have seen the classic movie comedy "Blazing Saddles," you will recall the character "Mongo" that Alex Karras played in the movie. If you haven't ever seen the movie, then go rent it.
The photo is Mongo knocking out a horse with a single punch. You might recall Mongo's quote in the movie: "Mongo only pawn...in game of life."
On the field, Karras was big; he was mean and he could hit as hard as anybody the NFL had to offer. Karras was 6'2" and weighed 248 pounds. He played for the Detroit Lions from 1958-1962 and then again from 1964-1970. Karras was forced to sit out the 1963 season along with Paul Hornung as a suspension for admitting to betting on NFL games.
His size was sufficient to raise havoc in the NFL in the late 50s and 60s. He was strong, and the rules allowed defensive players to run around with reckless abandon. Karras was in his element.
Karras was drafted as the 10th overall pick in the 1958 draft by the Lions. He was selected to four Pro Bowl teams and was named to the NFL All-Decade team of the 1960s.
Here is a link to an old Sports Illustrated cover photo that shows Karras charging the quarterback at full speed.
39. John Riggins
George Rose/Getty Images
As you can tell from the photo on this slide, trying to tackle John "The Diesel" Riggins alone was almost impossible. You'd better bring in three or four of your teammates to get the job done, and even then, it would be a war.
At 6'2" and 230 pounds, Riggins was able to run low enough to the ground that he was easily able to generate enough power to run right through most arm tackles as if the defender wasn't even there.
Riggins was drafted with the sixth overall pick by the New York Jets in the 1971 NFL draft. Riggins played for the Jets from 1971-1975. He also played for the Washington Redskins from 1976-1979 and then played for the team again from 1981-1985.
Here is an entertaining link to an article that shares some of the wild hair styles that Riggins had during his NFL career. The mohawk look is a classic shot.
During his career, Riggins played in 175 NFL games. He ran the ball 2,916 times, gaining 11,352 yards and scoring 104 rushing touchdowns. He gained 3.9 yards per rush on average, and he also caught 12 touchdown receptions. Riggins led the NFL in rushing touchdowns in 1983 (had 24 touchdowns) and led the league again in 1984 (had 14 touchdowns).
Riggins was named to the NFL All-Decade team of the 1980s and was also elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1992.
38. Mike Singletary
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
When Mike Singletary lined up across the line of scrimmage from the quarterback, you would swear that his eyes were trying to pierce the helmet of the opposing QB.
Singletary wasn't very tall at 6'0" and weighing 230 pounds, but it was his intense nature on the field that made quarterbacks nervous.
Singletary was a warrior, and his nicknames over the years ranged from "Iron Mike" to "Samurai Mike" due to the his intensity, focus and ability to attack the ball-carrier.
Singletary was drafted by the Chicago Bears with the 38th overall pick in the 1981 draft. He played for the Bears from 1981-1992.
During his career, Singletary was named to 10 Pro Bowl teams and to eight All-Pro teams. He was named as the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1985 and 1988. Singletary was conducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1998.
Singletary was a member of the Bears team that won Super Bowl XX, where the Bears defense stymied the New England Patriots, holding them to seven rushing yards for the game.
In his 11 seasons in Chicago, Singletary either led the Bears in tackles or finished second on the team every year. He totaled 1,488 tackles, seven interceptions, 19 sacks and 12 fumble recoveries.
From Singletary's bio at the Pro Football Hall of Fame:
Bears’ second-round draft pick, 1981. . .Finished as team’s first or second leading tackler each of last 11 seasons. . . Career statistics: 1488 tackles (885 solo), 51 passes defensed, 12 fumble recoveries, 7 interceptions. . .All-Pro eight times, 1983-1989, 1991. . .All-NFC selection nine straight years, 1983-1991. . .Selected to ten consecutive Pro Bowls. . .Defensive Player of the Year, 1985, 1988.
37. Rickey Jackson
George Rose/Getty Images
New Orleans Saints linebacker Rickey Jackson is another hard-hitting linebacker that I thought deserved to be on this presentation. Jackson was a 6'2" linebacker that weighed 243 pounds. Jackson was drafted with the 51st overall pick in the 1981 NFL draft, and he played for the New Orleans Saints from 1981-1993 and for the San Francisco 49ers from 1994-1995.
Jackson is ranked at No. 6 in NFL history in forced fumbles with 40. That is a tribute to the kind of hard-hitting intensity that Jackson used to play the game. Jackson's career total of 128 sacks ranks him at 11th overall in the history of the NFL.
In the Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2010, Jackson was enshrined. From his bio at the Pro Football Hall of Fame:
Made immediate impact as rookie when led team with franchise rookie record eight sacks and was leading tackler … Six double-digit sack totals in career … Six Pro Bowls … All-Pro four times … Jackson finished NFL career as defensive end with 49ers … 128 career sacks does not include rookie total since sack did not become official statistic until 1982
36. Chuck Bednarik
Pro Football Hall of Fame
Another hard-hitting player that was known for being big and bad from an earlier NFL era is Chuck Bednarik. Bednarik is noteworthy because when the vast majority of NFL players had stopped playing both ways on offense and defense, Bednarik excelled at playing both ways, as he was a linebacker and a center. He was the first overall draft pick in the 1949 NFL draft for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Bednarik had the size, strength and endurance to play both ways, as he was 6'3" and weighed 233 pounds, considering the time period in question.
Bednarik played for the Eagles from 1949-1962. During his career, he played in eight Pro Bowl games and was voted to first-team All-Pro five times. Bednarik was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1967.
Some of Bednarik's accomplishments include being named to the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time team, member of the NFL All-Decade team of the 1950s and was the 1953 Pro Bowl MVP. Bednarik played in 169 NFL games and was credited with 20 career interceptions.
From his bio at the Pro Football Hall of Fame:
Two-time Pennsylvania All-America ... Eagles' bonus draft choice, 1949 ... NFL's last "iron man" star ... Rugged, durable, bulldozing blocker, bone-jarring tackler ... Missed only three games in 14 years ... Nine times All-NFL ... Played in eight Pro Bowls, MVP in 1954 game ... Named NFL's all-time center, 1969 ... Played 58 minutes, made game-saving tackle, 1960 NFL title game .
35. Bill Romanowski
Richard Mackson-US PRESSWIRE
Bill Romanowski was another linebacker that loved to hit people as hard as he could. He also had no problem hitting teammates as well. Basically, nobody was safe when Romanowski had a helmet on.
Romanowski was allegedly involved in the Balco scandal, and records seized determined that he was taking steroids during his career.
Romanowski was the 80th overall draft pick of the 1988 NFL draft by the San Francisco 49ers. Romanowksi played for the 49ers from 1988-1993, Philadelphia Eagles (1994-1995), Denver Broncos (1996-2001) and the Oakland Raiders (2002-2003).
Romanowski was physically imposing, as he stood 6'4" and weighed 245 pounds.
During his career, Romanowski played in two Pro Bowls and was named to one All-Pro team. He played on teams that wound up going to five Super Bowls and wound up winning a Super Bowl ring four times. Those four winning teams were from Super Bowl XXIII, XXIV, XXXII and XXXIII. From a stats perspective, Romanowski was credited with 1,116 tackles, 39.5 sacks and 18 interceptions.
Some of the crazy stuff he pulled in NFL games included kicking Larry Centers in the head and a hit on Kerry Collins in the head that broke Collins' jaw. He also spat at J.J. Stokes in a game. He threw a punch at Tony Gonzalez and received a number of fines for illegal hits.
Like I said in the beginning, nobody was safe when he was on the field.
34. Shawne Merriman
Rick Stewart/Getty Images
When Shawne "Lights Out" Merriman is healthy, there are few players that are as ferocious as him in the NFL. The problem has been keeping him healthy.
In 2012, the Buffalo Bills are moving him to defensive end, but Merriman has primarily been a linebacker during his career.
Merriman is 6'4" and a rock-solid 272 pounds. He was the 12th overall draft pick in the 2005 NFL draft by the San Diego Chargers. He played for the Chargers from 2005-2010 and then for the Buffalo Bills from 2010-present.
Before injuries started to slow down his career, Merriman registered double-digits in sacks for each of the first three years of his career. Merriman would celebrate his sacks with the "Lights Out" routine that is his trademark.
In his career, Merriman was named to three Pro Bowl teams and was named first-team All-Pro one time. He was named as the AP NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2005. Merriman led the NFL in sacks in 2006 with 17 sacks and was named to the Chargers' 50th Anniversary team.
To date, Merriman has been credited with 241 tackles, 44.5 sacks, eight forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, 17 passes deflected and one interception.
33. Jack Lambert
Jack Lambert, legendary linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers, was part of the Steel Curtain defense that allowed the Steelers to make their Super Bowl run.
Lambert was a scary individual on the football field to face. He looked mean, was missing teeth and had a physically intimidating presence. Lambert stood 6'4" and weighed 220 pounds. He was lean and strong and would throw his body around on the field, using his quickness and instincts to plug up any open lanes. Lambert carried himself on the field like he was a little bit crazy, and that helped to intimidate his opponents.
The Steelers drafted Lambert with the 46th overall draft pick in the 1974 NFL draft. He played for Pittsburgh from 1974-1984. During his career, Lambert was named to nine Pro Bowl teams and also made first-team All-Pro seven times. He was involved in winning four Super Bowls with the Steelers (IX, X, XII and XIV).
Some of Lambert's awards and honors include: member of NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team, member of the NFL All-Decade team of the 1970s and the 1980s. He was the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1974 and was the 1976 NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Lambert was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990. From his bio at the Pro Football Hall of Fame:
Second-round draft pick, 1974. . . Prototype middle linebacker - intense, intelligent, fast, quick, durable. . .Noted for vicious tackling, great range, superior pass defense. . .Two-time NFL Defensive Player of Year. . . All-Pro eight times. . .In nine straight Pro Bowls, 1976-1984. . .In six AFC title games, four Super Bowls. . .had 28 interceptions, 17 fumble recoveries. .
Lambert recorded 23 sacks in his career and also had 1,479 tackles.
32. Bronco Nagurski
Bronco Nagurski was as mean and tough as they came back in the 1930s. Nagurski was 6'2" and weighed 226 pounds. He was a fullback and played for the Chicago Bears from 1930-1937 and came out of retirement to play for them again in 1943.
As hard as our featured players on defense were known to hit, Nagurski was their equal, but from an offensive perspective. Nagurski had a career average of 4.4 yards per rush and gained 2,778 yards on the ground in his career. He scored 25 rushing touchdowns.
Just how good was Nagurski from a historical perspective? Well, he was good enough to be voted onto the NFL All-Decade team of the 1930s, but he was also voted onto the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team.
Nagurski was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963. From his bio page at the Hall of Fame:
Joined Bears after legendary college career at Minnesota. . .Became pro football's symbol of power, ruggedness. . . A bulldozing runner on offense, a bone-crushing linebacker on defense. . . Gained 4031 yards in 9 seasons . . .All-NFL, 1932, 1933, 1934, 1936, 1937. . .His two TD passes clinched Bears' 1933 title win. . .Helped 1943 Bears to NFL crown after five-year retirement.
31. Mike Curtis
Another player that would come at you with relentless pursuit was Baltimore Colts linebacker Mike Curtis.
Curtis seemed to play the game with a chip on his shoulder. He had a mean streak that lasted for all four quarters.
To give you a better idea, his teammates had nicknames for him like "Mad Dog" and "Animal." That pretty well sums up Mike Curtis.
Curtis played both linebacker and fullback during his NFL career. He was drafted by both the Baltimore Colts (14th overall) and the Kansas City Chiefs (21st overall) in the 1965 drafts by the NFL and AFL, but Curtis opted to play for Baltimore instead.
Curtis was 6'3" and weighed 232 pounds. He played for the Baltimore Colts from 1965-1975, for the Seattle Seahawks in 1976 and the Washington Redskins from 1977-1978.
He was credited with 22 sacks and 25 interceptions to go along with nine fumble recoveries. During his career, Curtis made four Pro Bowl teams and two first-team All-Pro teams.
In 1970, Curtis was voted as the AFC Defensive Player of the Year.
30. James Harrison
James Harrison knocks Colt McCoy out of the game.
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
James Harrison easily earns a place on our list as one of the hardest-hitting players in the league. For all of the penalties he draws for unnecessary roughness and fines that he receives on a fairly regular basis from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, Harrison seems to be in the middle of controversy over his aggressive style of play.
Harrison only stands 6'0" tall, but he seems to play much bigger than he is. He weighs around 242 pounds, but he delivers hits that suggest he weighs much more than that.
Harrison was an undrafted rookie free agent coming out of college in 2002. He played with the Steelers in 2002-2003 and then left the team, only to return again to play with Pittsburgh from 2004-present.
During his carer, Harrison has been named to five Pro Bowl teams and to four All-Pro teams. He has won two Super Bowl rings in Pittsburgh, as he was part of the teams that won Super Bowl XL and XLII. Harrison owns the record for the longest interception return for a touchdown in Super Bowl history (100 yards). Harrison was voted the AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2008.
One of the things you have to appreciate about Harrison is his aggressive nature in attacking the quarterback. He doesn't let up.
So far in his career, Harrison has played in 118 games and has filled up the stat sheet very well. He has recorded 58 sacks, 402 tackles, 140 assists, five interceptions, 20 passes defended, 27 forced fumbles and eight fumble recoveries.
29. Chuck Cecil
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Chuck Cecil was another example of a safety that loved to lay the lumber on anybody that dared to enter his territory with the ball.
Cecil wasn't exactly a huge player—he stood only 6'0" and weighed 185 pounds—but he would put everything he had into trying to separate the player from the ball.
Cecil was drafted with the 89th overall pick in the 1988 NFL draft by the Green Bay Packers. He played for the Packers from 1988-1992, for the Phoenix Cardinals in 1993 and for the Houston Oilers in 1995.
Cecil was the kind of player that would launch himself at the receiver or the running back, leading with his helmet. That style would result in big hits, but it also resulted in some big concussions for Cecil. He would eventually wear a special helmet with extra padding to try to curtail all the concussions.
In the end, the concussions got the best of him, and he had to cut his career short. He was fined often for the way he tackled with his helmet, but he did have some very memorable hits.
In terms of highlights, Cecil was named to the Pro Bowl game in 1992 and made the All-Madden team in 1991. He played in 95 games in the NFL and had 16 interceptions and 445 tackles. He returned one interception for a touchdown.
Cecil recorded over 100 tackles in both the 1991 and 1992 seasons.
28. Michael Strahan
Michael Strahan decks Tom Brady.
Donald Miralle/Getty Images
New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan was the 40th overall draft pick in the 1993 NFL draft by the New York Giants. Strahan is 6'5" and weighs 275 pounds. That size, strength and build made it very difficult for opposing tackles to contain him.
Strahan played for the New York Giants from 1993-2007. He was voted on to seven Pro Bowl teams and to four first-team All-Pro teams. Strahan earned the right to go out on top, something very few athletes have the chance to do, when the Giants won Super Bowl XLII. Strahan retired following that win.
In his career, Strahan was voted as the 2001 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He was voted as the NFC Defensive Player of the Year in 2001 and 2003.
One of his best skills was his ability to move over, around and through tackles to sack the quarterback. Strahan came up with 141.5 sacks in his career. Strahan holds the NFL record of 22.5 sacks in one season, which is still a record today (since stats were actually recorded).
Strahan was also voted in as a member of the NFL All-Decade team of the 2000s.
In regards to his stats, Strahan played in 216 NFL games. He came up with four interceptions, 16 passes deflected, 24 forced fumbles, 15 fumble recoveries, 667 tackles, 187 assists and scored three defensive touchdowns.
27. Chris Doleman
Chris Doleman fights through a double-team.
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
Fitting that we get to include a slide on Chris Doleman right after he is inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Doleman was a defensive end and linebacker that stood 6'5" and weighed 289 pounds. He was the fourth overall draft pick in the 1985 NFL draft of the Minnesota Vikings.
Doleman played for the Vikings from 1985-1993 and then played for the Atlanta Falcons from 1994-1995 and the San Francisco 49ers from 1996-1998 before rejoining the Vikings for one final year in 1999.
During his career, Doleman was named to eight Pro Bowl teams and to five All-Pro teams. According to this story by Kevin Seifert at ESPN.com, Doleman excelled at stripping the football. He is currently ranked as No. 2 in the NFL all time in that category with 44 forced fumbles, trailing only Jason Taylor, who had 46.
Doleman was elected to the NFL All-Decade team of the 1990s. He amassed 150.5 sacks to go along with his eight interceptions. In 232 NFL games, Doleman made 914 tackles and also chipped in with 24 fumble recoveries to go along with the other great stats. He was a playmaker and not only had a nose for the ball, but the ability to change momentum in the game with one play.
26. Randy White
Photo courtesy of Walter Iooss Jr./Sports Illustrated
Randy White was a standout player for the Dallas Cowboys. During his career, White played defensive end, defensive tackle and linebacker. Whatever the Cowboys needed him to do, he lined up and excelled at it. White is 6'4" and 257 pounds and strong as an ox.
In the 1975 NFL draft, White was the second overall draft pick, and the Dallas Cowboys never looked back. White played his entire career in Dallas (1975-1988). White was able to endure the pounding of the NFL and be accountable every Sunday, as he only missed one game in his 14-year career.
White was one of the best defensive linemen in his era, as he was named to nine-straight Pro Bowl teams and nine straight first-team All-Pro teams—the model of consistency. He was named the co-MVP of Super Bowl XII with Harvey Martin. He was also named to the NFL All-Decade team of the 1980s.
In his career, White played in 209 NFL games, totaling 111 sacks, one career interception, 10 fumble recoveries and 1,104 tackles.
White was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1994. From his bio page at the Pro Football Hall of Fame:
Outland Trophy, Lombardi Award winner at Maryland. . .No. 1 draft pick, 1975. . .Possessed quickness, balance, toughness, ability, desire, intelligence. . . Played in 209 games. . . Missed only one game in 14 years. . .Co-Most Valuable Player, Super Bowl XII. . .Played in three Super Bowls, six NFC title games. . .All-Pro nine years. . .Elected to nine Pro Bowls.
25. Conrad Dobler
Conrad Dobler will be known as one of the toughest, meanest and dirtiest offensive linemen in the history of the NFL. For our purposes here, he fits the presentation very well.
Dobler was a guard in the NFL that would do whatever he had to do to stop the defensive player he was assigned. Bite, kick, gauge, scratch, punch and claw were all moves that you expected to see him use, and that was just in the opening drive!
Dobler was 6'3" and weighed 254 pounds. He was the 110th overall draft pick in the 1972 NFL draft by the St. Louis Cardinals. Dobler played for the Cardinals from 1972-1977, the New Orleans Saints from 1978-1979 and for the Buffalo Bills from 1980-1981.
Dobler appeared in 129 games in his NFL career and was elected to three Pro Bowl teams. There might never be another offensive lineman quite like him to enter the NFL.
24. Fred "The Hammer" Williamson
Rod Hanna-US PRESSWIRE
Fred "The Hammer" Williamson was a ferocious hitter who earned his nickname by trying to deliver a forearm blow to the head of wide receivers. The hit he would put on wideouts was more like a karate chop, but "The Hammer" has to be part of our group of 50.
Williamson was a defensive back that was pretty tall at 6'3" and weighed 219 pounds. He played for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the NFL in 1960 before jumping over to the AFL, where he played the rest of his career for the Oakland Raiders (1961-1964) and the Kansas City Chiefs (1965-1967). He was voted to the Pro Bowl game three times and to the first-team All-Pro team two times.
Over his career, Williamson played in 104 games, had 36 interceptions and scored two touchdowns.
23. Richard Dent
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Richard Dent was an imposing figure on the football field. He is 6'5" and weighed 265 pounds. When Dent came around the end with a burst of speed, he was very difficult to contain or neutralize.
Dent was selected with the 203rd overall pick in the 1983 NFL draft by the Chicago Bears. Dent played for the Bears from 1983-1993, for the San Francisco 49ers in 1994, back again with the Bears in 1995, the Indianapolis Colts in 1996 and ended his career with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1997.
Even though he has been retired for years, Dent still ranks in the top 10 of NFL history at forcing fumbles. Dent was credited with 38 forced fumbles, which leaves him tied at No. 8 all time in the NFL. That category is very telling as to how hard a hitter Dent was.
Dent was just inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame last year in the 2011 class. He was elected to four Pro Bowl teams, five All-Pro teams and was a part of two winning Super Bowl teams, Super Bowl XX and XXIX. Dent was the MVP of Super Bowl XX.
In his career, Dent came up with 137.5 sacks and eight interceptions, which demonstrated how good of an athlete he was. He utilized speed and power to elude linemen and get to the quarterback.
22. Ronnie Lott
Ronnie Lott sacks Jim McMahon.
George Rose/Getty Images
Ronnie Lott, the hard-hitting safety and corner from the San Francisco 49ers, was 6'0" and weighed 203 pounds. Lott was the eighth overall draft pick in the 1981 NFL draft by the San Francisco 49ers. Lott played for San Francisco from 1981-1990, the Los Angeles Raiders from 1991-1992, New York Jets 1993-1994 and the Kansas City Chiefs in 1995.
Lott wasn't huge compared to other NFL players, but he played with a huge heart. The story that demonstrates the kind of character he had and his passion for the game can be best illustrated by this video from NFL.com that talks about Lott amputating the tip of his finger in a game so that he wouldn't miss any time. That is not the kind of thing a normal football player would do.
Some of his career highlights include: named to the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team and the NFL All-Decade team of both the 1980s and the 1990s teams. Lott played on four Super Bowl-winning teams: Super Bowls XVI, XIX, XXIII and XXIV.
In his career, Lott made 63 interceptions and returned five of them for touchdowns. Lott appeared in 10 Pro Bowls and was first-team All-Pro eight times.
Lott was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the class of 2000. From his bio page at the Hall of Fame:
First round draft pick, 1981. . .Started at left cornerback position as rookie. . .Switched to safety, 1985. . . Earned All-Pro honors at three different positions (cornerback, free safety, strong safety). . . Hard-hitting, versatile. . .Recorded 100-plus tackles five times. . .Led NFL in interceptions twice, 1986, 1991. . .Driving force on defense during 49ers’ four Super Bowl seasons. . .63 career interceptions for 730 yards, 5 TDs.
21. Derrick Thomas
Derrick Thomas sacking Steve Young
Mike Powell/Getty Images
Derrick Thomas, the Hall of Fame linebacker from the Kansas City Chiefs, was another hard-hitting linebacker in NFL history. Thomas was 6'3" and weighed 243 pounds. He was the fourth overall draft pick in the 1989 NFL draft by the Kansas City Chiefs. Thomas played for the Chiefs from 1989-1999.
Thomas went on to become the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, and his career continued to take off from there. Thomas was very athletic, combining speed, power, quickness and agility to get to the quarterback, which allowed him to come up with 126.5 sacks in his career. Thomas also excelled at forcing fumbles. His jarring hits were hard enough to strip the ball away, as he created 42 fumbles in his career, which leaves him currently tied for No. 4 all time in NFL history with Dwight Freeney.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame inducted Thomas in the Class of 2009. From his bio page at the Hall of Fame:
Fourth player overall, 1989 draft. . . Defensive Rookie of the Year. . . Led NFL with team record 20 sacks; including NFL record seven sacks in one game, 1990 . . .Named to nine Pro Bowls. . .Accumulated most sacks in NFL during 1990s. . .Recorded 126.5 career sacks. . .All-NFL three times. . .All-AFC seven times. . .Born January 1, 1967 in Miami, Florida. . .Died February 8, 2000, at age of 33.
Thomas was named to nine Pro Bowl teams and was on six All-Pro teams. He was voted onto the NFL All-Decade team of the 1990s. He set a NFL record by coming up with seven sacks in one game.
20. "Big Ben" Davidson
Ben Davidson was an imposing figure on the gridiron
Dick Raphael-US PRESSWIRE
"Big Ben" Davidson was a huge defensive end and defensive tackle for the Oakland Raiders. By huge, I mean 6'8" and 275 pounds. He was much bigger than the opposing linemen that he faced, so everybody was at the mercy of Davidson.
He was the 46th overall draft pick of the New York Giants in the 1961 NFL draft. Davidson played for the Green Bay Packers in 1961, followed by the Washington Redskins in 1962-1963, and then went to the Oakland Raiders, where he really gained his fame from 1964-1971.
Davidson played with reckless abandon on the field. He had no problem in trying to separate a quarterback from his head, or at least try to. He just didn't like quarterbacks very much. Davidson appeared in three Pro Bowls and was a first-team All-Pro one time in his career.
19. Mario Williams
Mario Williams decks Peyton Manning.
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
The Houston Texans knew what they were doing when they made Mario Williams the first overall draft pick in the 2006 NFL draft. "Super Mario" is a physically intimidating player, as he is 6'6" and weighs 288 pounds.
He is really put together, and when I went out to watch him last weekend at an evening practice for the Buffalo Bills, his mere presence on the field is commanding, as are the way he moves around the field like an agile cat.
It didn't take long for Williams to discover how to get to enemy quarterbacks. After his third year in the league, Williams already had 30.5 sacks amassed. Williams played for the Texans from 2006-2011, and then he left in free agency to sign a long-term deal with Buffalo (2012-present).
Williams has been named to two Pro Bowl teams and has been voted in for two first-team All-Pro teams as well. So far in his career, Williams has made 241 tackles and 53 sacks. He will be making the acquaintance of AFC East quarterbacks frequently in 2012.
18. Ernie "Big Daddy" Ladd
Whether it came to swarming quarterbacks for the San Diego Chargers or slamming Andre the Giant to the mats, Ernie "The Big Cat" Ladd was one of the biggest and baddest dudes around. Ladd was huge at 6'9" and weighed 290 pounds. He engulfed offensive linemen, running backs and quarterbacks from his defensive tackle position.
Ladd was drafted by the Chicago Bears with the 48th overall pick, while the San Diego Chargers drafted Ladd with the 119th overall pick in the 1961 draft. Ladd obviously chose the Chargers, where he went on to become a star. Ladd was named to the Pro Bowl four times and then was named to three first-team All-Pro teams.
He went on to play his entire career in the AFL, as he played for San Diego from 1961-1965. He played for the Houston Oilers from 1966-1967 and for the Kansas City Chiefs from 1967-1968.
I enjoyed reading this quote about Ladd on his Wikipedia page. The quote is attributed to Boston Patriots center Jon Morris. Morris said
Ladd was so big, he blocked out the sun: It was dark. I couldn’t see the linebackers. I couldn’t see the goalposts. It was like being locked in a closet.
Photo courtesy of http://www.worldclasswrestling.info/garygibson/
17. Jack "The Assassin" Tatum
Jack Tatum, otherwise known as "The Assassin," had a reputation as a big hitter. Tatum, of course, was a member of the Oakland Raiders secondary who specialized in headhunting wide receivers that tried to catch passes over the middle of the field.
If you want to know how hard a hitter Tatum was, ask Darryl Stingley, who became paralyzed due to a hit that Tatum put on him.
Tatum was only 5'10," but he weighed 200 pounds and he was strong. He would launch himself into the wide receiver and use great timing to try to separate the receiver from the ball.
Tatum was selected by the Raiders with the 19th overall pick in the 1971 NFL draft. He played for the Raiders from 1971-1979 and then finished off his career with the Houston Oilers in the 1980 season.
During his career, Tatum appeared in three Pro Bowl games. Tatum played in 136 NFL games and made 37 interceptions and had 10 fumble recoveries. He was part of the Raiders team that won Super Bowl VI.
16. L.C. Greenwood
L.C. Greenwood was a part of the Pittsburgh Steelers' famous Steel Curtain. Greenwood was huge at 6'6" and weighed 245 pounds. Greenwood was strong, quick and had the ability to use the combination of those two assets to overpower linemen, quarterbacks and running backs alike.
Greenwood was drafted with the 238th overall draft pick in the 1969 NFL draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Greenwood played his entire career with Pittsburgh from 1969-1981.
A big part of the front line to the Pittsburgh’s “Steel Curtain Defense,” Greenwood was named first-team All-Pro in each of the team’s first two Super Bowl seasons. A six-time Pro Bowl choice, he played in all six of the Steelers’ championship games and four Super Bowl victories.
15. Kevin Greene
Mike Powell/Getty Images
Kevin Greene played defensive end and linebacker during his NFL career. He was 6'3" and weighed 247 pounds. Whenever you watch old game footage of Greene playing in the NFL, he was a very excitable player and played with lots of emotion and enthusiasm. He just liked to hit people.
Greene was drafted with the 113th overall pick in the 1985 NFL draft by the Los Angeles Rams. Green played for the Rams from 1985-1992, Pittsburgh Steelers from 1993-1995, Carolina Panthers in 1996, San Francisco 49ers in 1997 and then back again with the Panthers from 1998-1999.
During his career, Greene went to five Pro Bowls and was first-team All-Pro two times. Greene is ranked as third overall in NFL history on the all-time sacks leader list with 160 sacks. He also is credited with intercepting five passes. Greene was tenacious when it came to blitzing the quarterback, and his motor ran high all the time, which allowed him to turn broken plays into sacks.
Greene was named to the NFL All-Decade team of the 1990s. He was voted as the UPI NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1996.
14. Jason Taylor
Jason Taylor celebrates after a sack.
Marc Serota/Getty Images
On the surface, some people will think that Jason Taylor is ranked too high on this list. It is hard to shake the image of a popular player that can do well on Dancing With the Stars and still be capable of being a terror on the football field at the same time.
But consider that Jason Taylor is the NFL all-time leader in forcing fumbles with 46 over his career. You have to be a devastating hard-hitter to cause that many fumbles, and that is exactly what Taylor is.
Not only that, but Taylor was also a tenacious pass-rusher, as his sack total of 139.5 sacks allowed him to retire after the 2011 season as No. 6 all-time in NFL history in that category.
Taylor played defensive end for the Miami Dolphins (1997-2007, 2009 and 2011), Washington Redskins (2008) and New York Jets (2010), was named to six Pro Bowl teams as well as first-team All-Pro three times during his career.
He was voted in as the second-team defensive end for the NFL All-Decade team of the 2000s. From Taylor's HOF bio:
Taylor, a third round pick by the Dolphins in 1997, has been the anchor of Miami’s defensive line for 12 seasons. A three-time All-Pro choice and a six-time Pro Bowl selection, Taylor holds the NFL record for most fumbles recovered for a TD (6).
Forget about the nice guy image. Taylor was a fierce competitor.
13. Ted "The Mad Stork" Hendricks
You can just see by the look on Ted Hendricks' face that he means to lay a nasty hit on Fran Tarkenton. Hendricks was one of the true characters in the NFL. He went by the nickname "The Mad Stork" because he was really tall and was pretty crazy or insane; take your pick. Hendricks was 6'7" and weighed 220 pounds.
It was very hard to miss him on the football field because he was so tall. When he blitzed the quarterback from his linebacker position, he towered over the running backs and quarterbacks, giving him a big advantage.
Hendricks was drafted by the Baltimore Colts with the 33rd overall pick in the 1969 NFL draft. Hendricks played for the Colts from 1969-1973. He played one year for the Green Bay Packers (1974), and then joined the Oakland Raiders and Los Angeles Raiders (1975-1983), which is where he gained most of his notoriety.
During his career, Hendricks played in eight Pro Bowls and was named to four first-team All-Pro teams. Hendricks was named to the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team as well as to the NFL All-Decade team of the 1970s. Hendricks was part of four Super Bowl-winning teams.
Hendricks racked up 60.5 sacks in his career and also had 26 interceptions, proving how valuable a player he was on defense. Hendricks was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990.
12. John Randle
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
If you have ever watched any extended footage on NFL Films of defensive end John Randle, then you already know that he is slightly crazy.
Randle wasn't very tall at 6'1", but he weighed 290 pounds, and that type of body can be very difficult to block or contain. He was strong; he was quick and he was agile. Put it all together and add in a little bit of crazy, and you get a Hall of Fame defensive lineman that loved to hit.
Randall played both defensive end and defensive tackle in his NFL career. Randle managed to slip through the cracks of the NFL draft in 1990 and wound up playing for the Minnesota Vikings after Tampa Bay signed him as an undrafted rookie free agent and released him because he was too small.
In his career, Randle was named to seven Pro Bowl teams and was a first-team All-Pro six times. Randle played for the Vikings from 1990-2000 and for the Seattle Seahawks from 2001-2003. Randle was named to the NFL All-Decade team of the 1990s. He retired with 137.5 sacks and 556 tackles.
He was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010.
11. "Mean Joe" Greene
Pro Football Hall of Fame
"Mean Joe" Greene, the stud defensive lineman from the Pittsburgh Steelers, evolved into the biggest star out of the famed Steel Curtain defense. Greene was overpowering as a defensive tackle, as he was 6'4" and weighed 275 pounds.
Not only did he produce stats as a defensive tackle, but he also required the other team to block him with either two or three linemen, which freed up the rest of the defense to take advantage of the mismatches. Greene was the driving force of the defense.
Pittsburgh made Greene the fourth overall draft pick in the 1969 NFL draft. Greene played his entire NFL career with the Steelers (1969-1981). He was elected to 10 Pro Bowl teams, eight All-Pro teams and was a member of four Super Bowl championship teams; Super Bowls IX, X, XIII and XIV.
Greene was elected to the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team in addition to the NFL All-Decade team of the 1970s.
In 1969, Greene was named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award winner. He was also named the AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year award winner twice (1972 and 1974).
In his career, Greene totaled 78.5 sacks in 181 NFL games.
Greene was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987. This is from Greene's bio page at the Hall of Fame:
Charles Edward Greene ... Consensus All-America, 1968 ... No. 1 draft pick, 1969 ... Became "cornerstone of franchise" that dominated the NFL in 1970s ... Exceptional team leader, possessed size, speed, quickness, strength, determination ... NFL Defensive Player of Year, 1972, 1974 ... All-Pro or All-AFC nine years ... Played in four Super Bowls, six AFC title games, 10 Pro Bowls .
10. Junior Seau
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Junior Seau was the heart, soul and spirit of the San Diego Chargers defense. Seau wore his emotions on his sleeve and played a very passionate game. Seau was a dominating linebacker that stood 6'3" and weighed 250 pounds.
Seau was drafted with the fifth overall draft pick in the 1990 NFL draft by the San Diego Chargers. Seau was right at home, since he attended college at USC. Seau played for the San Diego Chargers (1990-2002), Miami Dolphins (2003-2005) and New England Patriots (2006-2009).
He was elected to play in 12 Pro Bowl games and was named first-team All-Pro six times.
In 1992, Seau was voted as the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award. Seau was named as the first-team linebacker for the NFL All-Decade team of the 1990s. From Seau's HOF bio:
Seau was named to a Pro Bowl nine straight times during the 1990s. He helped lead the Chargers to an AFC championship and an appearance in Super Bowl XXIX. He also was named first-team All-Pro eight times in his career including seven seasons in the ‘90s.
Seau passed away earlier this year when he sadly decided to take his own life. Seau wanted his brain to be studied as a way to help the NFL and the medical profession understand how numerous concussions had been wearing on him over the years, causing great discomfort. Even at the end of his life, Seau was still giving everything he had to give to the game of football.
9. Warren Sapp
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Warren Sapp is one more example of a fiery, big and bad competitor that played defensive tackle in the NFL. Sapp was only 6'2", but weighed 303 pounds, making him very difficult to block or keep him from advancing up the field.
Sapp was drafted with the 12th overall draft pick in the 1995 NFL draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Sapp played for the Bucs from 1995-2003, and then he joined the Oakland Raiders from 2004-2007.
Sapp made seven Pro Bowl teams and was first-team All-Pro four times in his career. He is a member of both the 1990s and 2000s NFL All-Decade team, which is further testimony as to how great a player he was. Sapp was part of the Bucs teams that won Super Bowl XXXVII.
Sapp was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1999.
In his career, Sapp played in 198 games and recorded 96.5 sacks, 569 tackles, 19 forced fumbles and four interceptions. The type of numbers he produced is very difficult to do from the defensive tackle position, which shows how good of an athlete he was in his prime.
Not only did Sapp hit hard, but he had lots of fun playing at the same time. One of the more unique characters of NFL history.
8. Bruce Smith
Dennis Hopper on Bruce Smith: Bad things man, bad things !!
The commercial isn't long enough for me, as there is so much more footage they could have shot of Buffalo Bills defensive end Bruce Smith flying around the tackle and making quick work of the opposing quarterback.
Smith, of course, was the first overall draft pick by the Bills in the 1985 NFL draft and went on to become the NFL all-time sacks leader with 200 career sacks.
He played for Buffalo from 1985-1999 and then finished his career with the Washington Redskins from 2000-2003. Smith was voted to 11 Pro Bowl teams and was first-team All-Pro nine times in his career. He was part of the Bills team that won four-straight AFC championships and then lost -straight Super Bowls (XXV, XXVI, XXVII and XXVIII).
Smith was named to the NFL All-Decade team of the 1980s and the 1990s, which is another great accomplishment.
Smith used his quickness, strength, agility, speed and balance to terrorize NFL quarterbacks. Despite teams creating special game plans to try to neutralize him, Smith still found ways to get to the quarterback. Smith stood 6'4" and weighed 262 pounds.
One play from Smith's career that I witnessed live was his sack of New York Giants quarterback Jeff Hostetler in Super Bowl XXV. Smith closed in on the blind side, and his hand engulfed Hostetler by the wrist and the ball, but somehow, Hostetler held on to the ball. The play wound up as a safety for Buffalo.
Smith, by the way, is still ranked third in NFL all-time history with 43 forced fumbles.
Smith was the AP Defensive Player of the Year in 1990 and 1996. He was the Pro Bowl MVP in 1987 and was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the class of 2009.
7. Tommy Nobis
Tommy Nobis, middle linebacker for the Atlanta Falcons, is another example of a hard-hitting linebacker that excelled at laying out anybody that had the ball. Nobis was 6'2" and weighed 240 pounds. He was a hard-nosed player that loved to run and hit people.
Nobis came into pro football in 1966, when both the NFL and AFL were drafting against each other. Nobis was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons with the first overall pick in the NFL draft, while the Houston Oilers gambled on Nobis with the fifth overall pick in the AFL draft.
Nobis picked the Falcons, and the rest is history. Nobis played his entire career with the Falcons from 1966-1976.
During his career, Nobis was named to five Pro Bowl teams and to one first-team All-Pro team. He was named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1966 and was also named to the NFL All-Decade team of the 1960s.
This was an appropriate picture to use for Nobis, who would wind up many games with a muddy and bloodied uniform. He was a true warrior and gave everything that he had to give each week.
6. Ray Nitschke
Ray Nitschke, the great linebacker for the Green Bay Packers, was a legend in the game. The role he played in the movie The Longest Yard depicted a mean and nasty player, and Nitschke didn't seem like he had to stretch very far to play that part.
Nitschke was 6'3" and weighed 235 pounds. He was drafted by Green Bay in the 1958 NFL draft with the 36th overall pick.
It is hard to describe the transformation that occurred when Nitschke stepped on the field, but he became almost possessed. He ran around the field like a mad man and was truly an imposing figure. Nitschke played his entire career for Green Bay (1958-1972).
He was voted to one Pro Bowl team and to three consecutive first-team All-Pro teams. Nitschke played a key role in the Packers winning Super Bowls I and II. He was named the MVP of the 1962 NFL Championship Game and is a member of the NFL 50th and 75th Anniversary All-Time Teams. He was also elected to the NFL All-Decade team of the 1960s and was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1978.
Proving that he was a superior athlete, Nitschke also came up with 25 interceptions in his career, returning two of them for touchdowns.
5. Reggie White
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Reggie White, the "Minister of Defense," was a special player that worked at both defensive tackle and defensive end in his NFL career.
White was a very strong man, listed at 6'5" and 291 pounds. He was the fourth overall draft pick of the Philadelphia Eagles, taken in the 1984 NFL supplemental draft.
White played for the Eagles from 1985-1992, the Green Bay Packers from 1993-1998 and for the Carolina Panthers in 2000. During his career, White was named to 13 Pro Bowls and to eight first-team All-Pro teams. White found a way to utilize his superior size and strength to throw offensive linemen around like they weren't even there.
White was an incredible athlete. In 232 career games in the NFL, White came up with 198 sacks, three interceptions, 33 forced fumbles and 20 fumble recoveries. Not only did he have a knack for finding the ball, but he was a playmaker as well.
White was a member of the Super Bowl championship team that won Super Bowl XXXI. He was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year twice (1987 and 1998). UPI named him MVP for defense three times (1987, 1991 and 1995). He was the 1986 Pro Bowl MVP.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrined White with the class of 2006. White was voted onto the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team, as well the 1980s and 1990s NFL All-Decade teams.
4. Lawrence Taylor
Lawrence Taylor breaks Joe Theismann's leg.
Lawrence Taylor revolutionized the outside linebacker position in the NFL. Head coaches had to figure out a game plan to try to slow Taylor down and take him out of his game. Taylor's game was to terrorize offensive players, especially quarterbacks, and intimidate anybody within shouting distance.
Taylor was 6'3" and weighed 237 pounds. He was a gifted athlete that was powerful, fast, agile and quick. He was drafted with the second overall pick of the 1981 NFL draft by the New York Giants, and he played his entire career with the team (1981-1993).
Taylor appeared in 10 Pro Bowl games and was first-team All-Pro eight times. He was on two Super Bowl-winning teams in New York; winning Super Bowls XXI and XXV. He was the AP NFL MVP winner in 1986.
Taylor was named the AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year three different times, in 1981, 1982 and 1986. He was named the UPI Defensive Player of the Year in 1983 and was the AP NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1981.
Not surprisingly, Taylor is also another member of the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team, as well as a member of the NFL All-Decade team of the 1980s. Taylor registered 142 sacks and nine interceptions in his career, in addition to adding 1,088 tackles.
He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame with the class of 1999.
3. Ray Lewis
Ray Lewis sacking Tom Brady
Al Bello/Getty Images
Ray Lewis reminds me of a modern-day Lawrence Taylor in terms of his ability to make plays on the field and lead a defense from the linebacker position, but without getting in trouble anywhere near the amount of time that Taylor was in.
Sure, Lewis isn't an angel, but he comes across as a very sincere athlete and tries to help young athletes wherever he can.
Lewis plays with fire and brimstone. You can tell it when he is introduced before the kickoff and he starts going through his gyrations. It only escalates from there until he is boiling over.
Lewis is only 6'1", but he weighs a solid 245 pounds that allows him to lay a nasty lick on a player when he has a full head of steam going. He attempts to drive right through the player with the ball, making sure they aren't getting up or aren't breaking the tackle.
Lewis was drafted with the 26th overall pick of the 1996 NFL draft by the Baltimore Ravens. He has played his entire career with the team (1996-present). During his career, Lewis has been named to 13 Pro Bowls and to seven first-team All-Pro teams.
Lewis is one of the most dominant defenders in the history of the NFL. He started the 2000s off in style when he led the Baltimore Ravens to a victory in Super Bowl XXXV. For his efforts he was awarded the first of two Defensive MVP awards in his career and was also named the Super Bowl MVP. Five of his eight career All-Pro honors and six of his 10 Pro Bowl nominations have occurred in the decade.
To date, Lewis has recorded 1,529 tackles, 487 assists, 40.5 sacks, 31 interceptions, (three of which he returned for a touchdown), 80 passes deflected, 18 forced fumbles and 19 fumble recoveries. The full stat line shows what kind of an overall athlete that Lewis is and how much of a key part he is for the Ravens franchise.
2. David "Deacon" Jones
David "Deacon" Jones
David "Deacon" Jones, was a defensive end for the Los Angeles Rams. It was due to how ferocious Jones played the game that the Rams defensive line earned the nickname "The Fearsome Foursome."
Jones played for the Rams from 1961-1971, the San Diego Chargers from 1972-1973 and for the Washington Redskins in 1974.
Maybe Jones played with a chip on his shoulder because he felt dissed by the NFL, who let him slide down to the 186th overall pick 1961 NFL draft. He was selected in the 14th round.
Jones was named to eight Pro Bowl teams, five first-team All-Pro teams and three second-team All-Pro teams. He was named to the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team, as well as to the NFL All-Decade team of the 1960s. Deacon was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1967 and 1968.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame inducted Jones with the class of 1980. Following is part of his bio at the Pro Football Hall of Fame:
David D. Jones. . .Obscure 14th-round draft pick, 1961. . . Among first of fast, tough, mobile defensive linemen. . . Noted for clean, but hard-hitting play. . .Specialized in quarterback "sacks", a term he invented. . .Innovative, quick-thinking, flamboyant. . .Unanimous all-league six straight years, 1965-1970. . .Played in eight Pro Bowls. . . NFL Defensive Player of Year, 1967-1968.
According to the stats kept at NFL.com, Jones played in 190 games in his career and recorded 173.5 sacks, 15 fumble recoveries and had two career interceptions. He also took the head off of a number of NFL quarterbacks.
1. Dick Butkus
SI Cover: The Most Feared Man in the Game (sportsillustrated.cnn.com)
Chicago Bears linebacker Dick Butkus comes in as our overall No. 1 selection for the biggest, baddest and meanest hard-hitter in NFL history. I believe the Sports Illustrated magazine cover that called Butkus "The Most Feared Man in the Game" was an accurate description of the man.
Butkus helped to create the persona of the Bears defense being tough and unwielding. If you think about "Monsters of the Midway," you think about Butkus.
Butkus played middle linebacker for the Chicago Bears from 1965-1973. He was named to the Pro Bowl for the first eight years of his career. He was voted first-team All-Pro six times and was second-team All-Pro two other times. He was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1969 and 1970. He was elected to the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team. Butkus was also elected to the the NFL All-Decade team for both the 1960s and the 1970s.
Butkus racked up 1,020 tackles, 22 interceptions and 27 fumble recoveries during his career. We don't know how many concussions or broken bones his crushing hits resulted in, but we suspect there were quite a few.
Thanks for checking out our presentation. If you have a player you would like to nominate that didn't make the list, leave them in the comment section. Even better still, which player would you have substituted them for that is on the list?