The Toughest Players in the NFL
NFL players are tough.
To play a game where collisions are the norm, players sacrifice their bodies all in the name of entertainment. And the fans absolutely love it.
However, there are some players that are tougher than others. They are the players you think twice about crossing.
Here's a look at the 25 toughest players in the NFL.
25. Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, New York Giants
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Jason Pierre-Paul had his coming-out party in 2011 for the New York Giants thanks in large part to an injury to Osi Umenyiora.
Pierre-Paul is one of the toughest defensive ends in the league, ranking fourth in the NFL last year with 16.5 sacks.
The third-year pro also possesses speed and quickness that makes it tough for offensive linemen to stop him from making plays.
Since he came into the league, Pierre-Paul hasn't allowed big offensive linemen to push him around. Instead, he just pushes around them.
24. Troy Polamalu, S, Pittsburgh Steelers
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The worst thing any offensive player can do is take Polamalu head on. Just take a look at this video.
Any player who dares cross Polamalu's path feels the aftereffects for a long time. Just ask Terrell Owens and Stevie Johnson.
Polamalu has long been known as a big hitter. He’s been that way from his first day in the league, and he’ll remain that way until he retires.
23. Mark Barron, S, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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Mark Barron may only be a rookie for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but he is slowly becoming the next Troy Polamalu on defense.
Barron was known for delivering big hits while at Alabama, but many weren't sure how his play would translate in the NFL.
So far this year, Barron has left no question marks about his play, as he continually comes up with big hit after big hit.
He's another one of those players that receivers will start thinking twice about crossing him. He'll lay a big hit on them quickly, a la Polamalu.
22. Tony Gonzalez, TE, Atlanta Falcons
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Tony Gonzalez is simply the best tight end to ever play the game.
Gonzalez has been tough in every way imaginable as an NFL tight end. He presents a tough matchup for whoever covers him, as he can out-jump most anyone for the ball.
Across the middle, Gonzalez is one of the game's best, as he's made a living past the first-down marker.
He's currently seventh on the NFL's all-time receiving yards list, easily outdistancing every other tight end who has played the game.
For Gonzalez to have played the tight-end position the way he has over the course of his career makes him a shoe-in for this list.
No player has played the position better.
21. Logan Mankins, G, New England Patriots
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Logan Mankins is one of the toughest offensive linemen that you'll ever meet.
And, he has to be with Tom Brady to protect.
Mankins has made a living keeping Brady's pretty-boy face from getting messed up.
His ability to stave off opposing defenders from getting to his quarterback has been one of the reasons Brady has had so much success passing the ball.
Without defenders in his face, Brady is getting time to make the right read and to throw the ball. He wouldn't be able to do that without good protection.
And for the Patriots, Mankins has been that main guy of the course of his career.
20. Vince Wilfork, DT, New England Patriots
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A big defensive tackle that can clog up the middle is important in any defense.
Vince Wilfork is that guy for the Patriots, as they continually have a top-10 rush defense every year.
Wilfork is never going to rack up the tackle or sack numbers, but one thing he does do is open up holes for other defenders.
With two linemen usually taking on Wilfork, linebackers and defensive ends are able to make more plays. Whether it's taking on one more defender or simply pushing the pile in a certain direction, Wilfork doesn't get pushed around too often.
19. Richie Incognito, G, Miami Dolphins
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Richie Incognito is anything but what his last name means.
Incognito doesn't conceal his identity. He lets opposing defensive linemen know he's right there in front of him.
And most still can't do anything about it.
While Incognito keeps his game clean for the most part, he also seems to get personal-foul penalties in bunches.
A game against the Washington Redskins in 2008 was a prime example of that, when he was fined $35,000 for repeated verbal abuse of an official, a face mask penalty and an illegal chop block.
18. Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers
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Ben Roethlisberger has continually taken hits throughout the course of his career.
Although he's had his share of injuries, Roethlisberger is as tough as they come at quarterback.
When questioning his toughness, just look at this list of injuries he's had over the course of his career.
Head, shoulders, knees and toes, and everything in between, Roethlisberger has dealt with.
And he still continues to come back from it.
17. Jared Allen, DE, Minnesota Vikings
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When I think of Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen, I think of a quote from the movie Little Giants—"I'm going to rip your head off."
If any player can rip off a quarterback's head, it would be Allen.
He's tough as nails and is about to embark on his sixth straight double-digit sack season.
Allen gets to the quarterback and makes him pay for not getting rid of the football. Last year, he tied for second all-time for most sacks in a season (22.0), ranking only 0.5 sacks from the NFL record.
There's a reason why he's making $15.2 million this season.
16. Ed Reed, S, Baltimore Ravens
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One of the smartest hitters in the NFL, Ed Reed will put a lick on you quick.
While he's not the biggest hitter in the league, Reed lands on this list for his mental and physical toughness.
A student of the game, Reed knows what offenses are going to do. When it comes to the fourth quarter, that's a major problem for teams.
ESPN even went so far as to say Reed has the toughness to have played in any era in football.
Reed has shown that despite being 34, he can still bring it. Just like another Ravens teammate who will be on this list later.
15. Arian Foster, RB, Houston Texans
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Since emerging on the scene in 2010, Houston Texans running back Arian Foster has been one of the toughest runners in the league.
Last year was a prime example of how tough he is when he ran for 1,224 yards and 10 touchdowns despite a hamstring injury.
While it probably wasn't the smartest thing in the world to tweet a picture of the injury, it still shows how bad his hamstring was.
Foster is one of those guys who goes out there and does his job, and at an extremely high level.
14. Anquan Boldin, WR, Baltimore Ravens
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If anyone ever questions Anquan Boldin's toughness, all they have to do is show them a video of the shot he took in 2008.
Because of that, quarterback Kurt Warner was close to retiring because he put Boldin in that position. Boldin never questioned whether he was returning or not.
He came back with a vengeance, having his fifth 1,000-yard receiving season the year after the hit.
Anyone that can come back from that has guts.
Now, with the Baltimore Ravens, Boldin continues to show his toughness every game, absorbing hits like nothing from opposing defenders. And, he holds onto the ball in the process.
13. Alfred Morris, RB, Washington Redskins
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Tough runs and yards after contact are Alfred Morris’ forte this year.
He continually takes the hit and drives through opposing defenders.
Morris is the yards after contact back in the NFL, as it's a rarity to see him go down after the first hit.
The Washington Redskins running back is currently sitting at 1,106 yards, with 1,500 yards not out of the question.
And all of this from a sixth-round pick in the 2012 draft. Not bad for a rookie.
12. Clay Matthews, LB, Green Bay Packers
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Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews is known for his bone-crushing hits on offensive players.
He's also a pretty tough cookie, as evidenced by the stress fracture he played through during the 2010 season.
Even though he was in pain, Matthews still played a key role in helping the Packers win the Super Bowl that year.
Then again, when you look at his family tree, you understand his toughness. His father, Clay Jr., played in 278 NFL games, while his uncle Bruce is considered one of the best offensive linemen in NFL history.
Matthews is as tough as they come, and there's no doubt his bloodline is the reason for that.
11. Cortland Finnegan, CB, St. Louis Rams
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Cortland Finnegan started out his NFL career as a good cornerback who didn't get scrappy too much of the time.
Then 2010 came and everything changed.
From throwing Giants receiver Steve Smith to the ground to a fistfight with Texans receiver Andre Johnson, Finnegan hasn't been afraid to mix it up.
Finnegan jams receivers at the line, making timing plays very tough for an offense.
He helped the Rams win in Week 2, when he got Redskins receiver Josh Morgan to commit a 15-yard penalty. That penalty forced the Redskins to try and kick a game-tying field goal from 62 yards instead of 47. It missed, and the Rams got the win.
His toughness, not only physically, but mentally, is what has helped the Rams succeed this year.
10. Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos
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Anybody that can come back from neck surgery and risk possibly going paralyzed for the rest of his life is tough.
Some may say that Manning has had good protection most of his time in the NFL, but a neck injury is a neck injury.
According to a story by USA Today in March, Manning risked a lot coming back to the NFL.
Both say that doesn't preclude Manning having a disk problem in another level of his spine. "That has been known to occur. That is called adjacent segment degeneration," Hsu said.
You don't see too many guys with neck issues coming back to play in the league.
David Pollack didn't, and it looks like Scott Fujita might not as well.
A neck injury is a serious thing, and to come back and risk re-injuring it takes a lot of toughness.
9. Brian Urlacher, LB, Chicago Bears
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Injuries have been a common occurrence for Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher.
From a shattered wrist to back and neck issues to hamstring injuries, Urlacher has seen his fair share of pain throughout his career.
However, Urlacher can still level a big hit on opposing running backs or receivers coming across the middle.
And sometimes, that gets him into trouble, as is evidenced by his fine for the second consecutive week.
Brian Urlacher fined $21K for his horse collar. 2nd offense. League policy: "Discipline in each case will be evaluated on its own facts..."— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 6, 2012
His ability to react to the football is what makes him so good.
And if anyone gets in his way, he makes sure they know who Brian Urlacher is.
8. Tim Tebow, QB, New York Jets
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Regardless of what you think about of his ability to play the quarterback position, Tim Tebow is without a doubt one of the toughest players in the NFL.
Tebow brings a high level of energy and passion to the game, loving every minute he's on the field.
He loves it so much that he's even on special teams this year protecting the punter.
How many backup quarterbacks will do that?
Even makers of the video-game Madden think Tebow is tough.
In the 2011 version of the game, Tebow is listed as a 98 in toughness.
When he is quarterbacking, Tebow may not be the most accurate thrower, but he's a dynamic runner that can truck defensive players like nobody's business.
7. Steve Smith, WR, Carolina Panthers
Early in his career, Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith dealt with injuries.
From a broken leg in 2004 to a severe concussion in 2008 and broken arms in 2009 and 2010, Smith has come back from his fair share of injuries.
But, that's not all on Smith. He's also mixing it up with defensive backs game-in and game-out, letting other players know he's not one to mess with.
Smith has gotten scrappier and scrappier over the last few years. Every game you see him getting into it with someone from the other team.
It doesn't matter if it's a 300-lb. lineman or a 200-lb. defensive back, Smith will have no problem tussling with you. And yes, he'll even tussle with teammates.
Anthony Bright and Ken Lucas found out just how tough Smith is when (on separate occasions) both fought Smith and came out with broken noses.
Carolina Panthers receiver Steve Smith was sent home from training camp Friday after he punched teammate Ken Lucas at practice, leaving the starting cornerback holding an ice pack to his left eye before he was carted to the locker room.
He was carted to the locker room after the fight with Smith.
6. Adrian Wilson, S, Arizona Cardinals
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Adrian Wilson is the one defensive back nobody wants to cross in the NFL today.
The hardest hitter in the league, Wilson has a knack for making offensive players pay for coming into his area.
Just watch this video posted by NFL.com.
In 2011, he tore his biceps muscle in training camp. Instead of sitting out the year (like most do), Wilson ended up playing the most snaps for a defensive player in the NFL. And, he made the Pro Bowl.
For a player to do that at the safety position, that says something about his toughness.
Could you imagine had he not torn that biceps, how much better of a year he would have had?
5. Harvey Dahl, G, St. Louis Rams
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Once considered the dirtiest player in the game, Harvey Dahl is loved by any quarterback he protects.
Dahl is one of those guys who plays every play until the whistle (and sometimes after).
As Michael Turner put it during a 2009 interview, Dahl is one of the nastiest offensive linemen.
He's one of the nasty boys. He's tough, hard-nosed and plays hard. He came from the bottom, so he plays hard all the time. Don't make him mad. That elevates his game even more.
Dahl has earned his place in the league because of his play.
Without his mean and nasty approach, Dahl wouldn't be the kind of player he has become.
4. James Harrison, LB/DE, Pittsburgh Steelers
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James Harrison, or the human hit-stick of the NFL, is as tough as they come on defense.
There's the "double-digit concussions" Harrison has claimed to have received:
"The Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker told The Associated Press he's battled through "double digit" head injuries, but never missed a game because of it."
With helmet-popping hits, Harrison has continually found himself outside of the good graces of Roger Goodell simply because he is a big hitter.
Harrison has been fined on multiple occasions for his big hits, including a total of $125,000 for multiple big hits in 2010.
Big hits by Browns quarterback Colt McCoy and wide receiver Mohammad Massaquoi have been largely criticized, but Harrison refuses to change his play.
One thing is for sure, people will think twice about holding onto the ball when he's around.
3. Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings
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In late 2011, Adrian Peterson suffered an ACL and MCL tear.
It was thought it would take a long time for him to recover from that injury.
However, Peterson diligently rehabbed during the offseason, making it back to start in Week 1 of the 2012 season. To rehab that quickly and be prepared to play at such a high level is simply crazy.
Some are calling it the best recovery from an ACL tear ever.
Medical advances have helped running backs resume their careers more regularly since then, and it's worth noting that Baltimore Ravens running back Jamal Lewis rushed for a combined 3,393 yards in his first two seasons back from an ACL injury. But like (Terry) Allen, Lewis had a full 12 months to recover before resuming practice because the injury occurred during training camp in 2001.
Peterson didn't use a full 12 months, instead taking eight before being ready to play again.
Even more, his yards after contact are unfathomable. Every game, Peterson is gaining more yards after contact.
When watching him play, it's easy to see why he leads the league by more than 300 yards rushing.
2. Ndamakong Suh, DT, Detroit Lions
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Ndamakong Suh's reputation precedes itself, as he was voted by his peers as the dirtiest player in the NFL.
His exploits speak for themselves—the Thanksgiving stomp (2011) and the Thanksgiving nut shot (2012), among others.
Roger Goodell couldn't tell intent on the play, but most knowledgeable fans are smarter than that.
As Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk put it, Suh's reputation sometimes overshadows his play.
As is often the case, extracurricular activities are overshadowing Suh’s actual play on the field. And on Sunday, Suh’s play on the field was very good for most of the game: He sacked Andrew Luck on the Colts’ first offensive play, hit Luck as he was passing five times, twice tackled Colts running backs for losses and was a major disruptive force in the middle of the line throughout.
While Suh is a dirty player, he's also a very tough player and one that is troublesome for offensive linemen to stop.
There's a reason why he's getting these shots on the quarterback.
If teams didn't want to take the chance of him hurting their quarterback, they would invest in some better offensive linemen to protect the quarterback.
1. Ray Lewis, LB, Baltimore Ravens
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There is no player tougher in the NFL than Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis.
He is the epitome of toughness, as he plays through most injuries, only sitting when the injury could cause some serious damage if he continues.
When he's on the field, Lewis is as tough as they come. He always finds himself involved in the play, whether it's making a tackle or pressuring the quarterback.
Now, it seems Lewis is back for the end of the year, after most thought his season was done with a triceps injury.
The Ravens would welcome back Lewis, but coach John Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome have talked about not rushing him onto the field. Good luck with that.
If Lewis feels like he can play, he's going to play. Nobody can tell him any different.
His passion is evident on his face, as he's always looking for one more chance to make a big play.
Lewis currently sits at 2,050 tackles in his career, which should rank him near the top in NFL history. The NFL didn't start keeping tackle records until 2001, so the all-time leader will never be known.