Breaking Down the NFL's Most Unstoppable Players

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Breaking Down the NFL's Most Unstoppable Players
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NFL fans and media love to talk about the players—their talent, their stats, their will to win and how they match up against each other.

Most of the time, that's good air wasted. Football is a coaches' game, and winning and losing is more about the work put in on Wednesday and Thursday than the work done on Sunday.

For a few players in the NFL, though, there's little any coach can do to slow them down. Once these players get rolling, there's no scheme or adjustment that can take them out of a game.

The small handful of unstoppable NFL players change the dynamic of every game they play. They demand constant attention from the other team and still manage to dominate most games.

Who are these players, and how can they transcend the NFL's chalkboard world of X's and O's?

 

Adrian Peterson

Anyone who watched Adrian Peterson run during his incredible comeback season saw the same Adrian Peterson who tore up the Big 12 at Oklahoma: a big, fast, powerful back with vision and moves to spare.

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The only thing that's changed? His drive to run the ball. Somehow, the hardest-running tailback in the NFL tore his ACL and came back running harder.

Peterson, with a chiseled 217 pounds on his 6'2" frame, has prototypical size for an old-school every-down back. In a way, he's almost too big for the typical modern tailback: a speedy, shifty "satellite player" who does his best work in space.

Peterson, though, is anything but a plodder. He hits the hole with power, makes space and then turns on the deep speed that took him 40 yards in 4.40 seconds at the NFL combine (per NFLCombineResults.com).

Watch how Peterson dismantled the NFL's No. 1 scoring defense last season:

He stiff-armed three guys to the ground while beating the defense to the sideline, tightroped down the sideline until he was between two defenders, jump cut back inside so perfectly that his two pursuers crashed into each other, then hit the afterburners and blew past the rest of the defense.

Lots of backs are big, lots of backs are fast and lots of backs run hard. Peterson is as big as all but the biggest, is as fast as all but the fastest and wants it more than anyone else on the field.

Even if he were half a foot shorter and 30 pounds lighter, Peterson would be one of the best backs in the NFL. His speed, drive and desire make him almost impossible to stop. With those gifts tacked onto his throwback big-back frame, he's unstoppable.

 

Calvin Johnson

Anyone can see what makes Calvin Johnson stand head and shoulders above his peers: He literally stands head and shoulders above his peers.

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Listed at 6'5", 239 pounds, Johnson has incredible size. As Bleacher Report's Cian Fahey found in his every-snap breakdown of Johnson's 2012 season, when Johnson's covered, he's open. If a cornerback is in perfect position, a quarterback can still easily place the ball where only Johnson can get to it. 

Johnson's astonishing height, long arms and 45" vertical leap (per SportsScience, via ESPN), give him the biggest "catch radius" in the history of the NFL. The last elite Lions receiver with skyscraping height and hops, Herman Moore, lacked something Johnson possesses: game-breaking speed.

Johnson's 4.35 40-yard dash time is only 2.5 percent slower than lightning-fast Tennessee Titans tailback Chris Johnson, despite Calvin outweighing Chris by over 40 pounds.

What really makes Johnson unstoppable, though, is not his once-in-a-generation combination of height, weight and speed. It's that he can use them all effectively with sharp and clever route-running. Here's an example:

On 2nd-and-2, Johnson (at bottom) runs a slant route at less than full speed, drawing cornerback Asante Samuel up:

Once Samuel steps up and inside, Johnson cuts upfield and explodes, flying past Samuel and getting into the clear. Johnson then cuts back to the outside, where Matthew Stafford locates his pass just inside that huge catch radius for the first down. Samuel started the play in perfect position, but he got burned by Johnson's cleverly run route.

This combination of unsurpassed natural talent and refined skill makes Calvin Johnson unstoppable.

 

Von Miller

When it comes to game-changing impact, 4-3 outside linebackers move the needle less than almost any other position group in the NFL. So how is Denver Broncos strong-sider Von Miller on this list of unstoppables?

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Von Miller isn't freakishly big, but he plays like he is.

Miller doesn't, like Johnson or Peterson, have freakish size. At 6'3", 246 pounds, he's very big but still fits the outside linebacker mold.

Miller is blessed with great speed. His 4.42 40-yard dash time, obtained via NFLCombineResults.com, was the third fastest among outside linebackers between 1999 and 2013 (the Seattle Seahawks' Bruce Irvin and the Cincinnati Bengals' Dontay Moch are the only ones who've run faster).

Yet, good size and great speed alone can't explain why Miller is so much better than every other 4-3 outside linebacker in the NFL, or why NFL offenses haven't been able to stop him since the moment he stepped foot on the field in 2011.

Miller has incredible versatility. Miller often lines up in a sprinter's stance next to the strong-side defensive end, like so:

Whether Miller is going to rush the passer or run-blitz, this stance puts minimal distance between himself and the quarterback. Lining up like this allows Miller to show blitz but drop back into coverage.

Miller also has the size and strength to put a hand down and play a traditional 4-3 end role, as he does here:

While Miller isn't a natural in zone coverage or in man coverage against tight ends (the Broncos frequently take him off the field for soft nickel and dime sets), he isn't a liability when guarding receivers. On this play, Miller is playing man-to-man coverage in the slot against Wes Welker:

Sharp-eyed readers will note these stills are all from the same game—further evidence of Miller's versatility.

What makes Miller so dangerous, though, is how he converts his speed into power. By bursting off the line, getting low and punching from his back up through his powerful arms, he can drive back offensive tackles who outweigh him by 60-80 pounds.

Miller's also blessed with great upper-body strength and technique. With long, 33 1/2" arms (per NFL.com), he can grab, push, rip and swim offensive tackles, guards and tight ends alike. Not only does his length help him disengage from blockers and split double-teams when blitzing, it helps him get off blocks in the running game.

Even given all these gifts, the two-time Pro Bowler and 2012 first-team All-Pro wouldn't be unstoppable if he didn't refuse to stop. As long as the quarterback hasn't gotten rid of the ball, Miller hasn't yet been blocked:

While many pass-rushers with Miller's size and speed (see: Irvin, mentioned above) only rev up for one or two huge plays a game, Miller's just as motivated to hunt down and catch tailbacks running plays to the other side of the field.

Again, when otherworldly talent meets never-say-die determination, you can't hope to stop it.

 

J.J. Watt

Last, but certainly not least, is the man who single-handedly redefined his position in 2012.

Traditionally, the role of the 3-4 defensive end is invisible. They're there to take on blocks and eat space. In a way, 3-4 defensive ends are "negative" players: they're not there to make plays, they're there to neutralize other players (offensive linemen) so that other players (linebackers) can make plays.

So how did J.J. Watt make more plays than any other defender in 2012—20.5 sacks, 16 passes defensed, four forced fumbles and 69 solo tackles, to be exact? How did a 3-4 defensive lineman not only make an impact, but become the consensus Defensive Player of the Year?

It starts from the bottom up: incredible lower-body strength and explosion.

Recently, Bleacher Report's Dan Carson wrote about a J.J. Watt workout video making the rounds: One where he launches his 6'5", 290-pound frame onto a 59.5-inch pile of foam boxes.

It's the monstrous power Watt's lower body can generate that separates him from the block-eaters. Watt doesn't just root his feet to the ground and absorb double-teams, he pushes forward and drives them back. Like Miller, Watt is just as adept at using his power to hunt down running backs for negative yardage as he is sacking quarterbacks.

Watch this play against the Cincinnati Bengals for an idea of how that lower-body power translates to the field:

Watt is lined up between the right guard and right tackle, and at the snap blasts across the face of both the right guard and center in just a handful of steps:

At the moment of contact, Watt buries his outside shoulder into the far side of the center:

Watt uses his lower-body drive, lower pad level and powerful arms to blow up the center's block and get a free shot at Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton:

Of course, Watt also uses his leg drive and ripped arms to get vertical at the line of scrimmage and bat down passes. His 16 passes defensed tied him for 10th best in the NFL with three defensive backs (including Chicago Bears standout Charles Tillman).

When you can't run to or away from him, can't keep him from killing your quarterback and can't even throw it through a passing lane he's near, he's unstoppable.

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