The 40 Most Intimidating Players in NFL History
When you really think about it, the game of football is all about intimidation. Quarterbacks try to intimidate opposing defenses with arm strength and precision, while middle linebackers go the more conventional route of intimidation by delivering crushing blows to running backs and wide receivers.
Defensive players initially come to mind when we think of intimidation, but lightning-quick runners, stonewall offensive lineman, and deep-threat wideouts have just as easily struck fear into opponents throughout the years.
Because of the news-halting lockout, compiling lists has become commonplace this summer with the NFL Network's Top 100 players in the game today being the most discussed list.
Let's take a glance at the top 40 intimidating players in NFL history.
Certainly a list worth debating...
(Side note: After beginning, I realized it's nearly impossible to rank these players from 40-1, so this is simply a list of the top 40 most intimidating players in history. I will try to put the "more intimidating" players closer to 1)
40. Rodney Harrison
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Don't let his vivacious smile fool you, Rodney Harrison was one of the most ferocious players of his time.
He made a name for himself after being drafted out of Western Illinois by the San Diego Chargers in 1994, but he'll mostly be remembered for his leadership and big-play ability on the New England Patriots' Super Bowl-winning clubs of the 2000s.
Harrison never shied away from a huge collision and always kept his mouth going. He's not the best safety in history, but during his prime, it was hard to find a more scary secondary member than Mr. Harrison.
39. John Lynch
It terms of intimidation, John Lynch and Rodney Harrison are very comparable.
Ball-hawking safeties who were always in the right position to lay a huge blow right under any opponent's chin.
He was the staple of the some great Tampa Bay Buccaneers defenses from 1993-2003 and although he lined up the farthest away from the line of scrimmage, he was seemingly involved in every play and certainly wasn't afraid to throw his body around.
Ball-carriers were always scanning the field for Lynch because you did not want to be on the receiving end of one of his jolts to the midsection.
38. Conrad Dobler
One old-time offensive lineman you didn't want to mess with. After three consecutive Pro Bowl selections from 1975-1977, Conrad Dobler was named the "NFL's Dirtiest Player" by Sports Illustrated.
Now, whether you want to equate being a "dirty" player to being an intimidating one is your choice, but NFL'ers were undoubtedly afraid of Dobler during his 10-year stint as a professional.
37. Warren Sapp
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The second member of the 1990s and early 2000s Tampa Bay Buccaneers to make the list, when Warren Sapp was in the prime of his career, there wasn't much that could stop him.
A beefy nose tackle with world-class strength and defensive-end agility and speed, Sapp for the majority of his career was unblockable.
He made the nose-tackle position a highly touted commodity by all NFL teams and really paved the way for current players like Vince Wilfork, Haloti Ngata and Casey Hampton.
36. Steve Atwater
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Come on, Atwater is a no-brainer to make this list; his nickname was the "Smiling Assassin."
As a member of the Denver Broncos, there wasn't a strong safety who could lower the boom like Atwater. He led his team with 129 tackles as a rookie and essentially was an additional linebacker for Dan Reeves.
The eight-time Pro Bowler's highlight reel is filled with him destroying running backs and receivers much bigger in stature, but that's the physicality he brought to the gridiron.
35. Larry Csonka
A college tailback and fullback, Csonka's bruising running style made him one of the most intimidating runners of his time.
At 6'3'', 235, he was rarely taken to the ground with initial contact. Csonka often dragged defenders down the field as he picked up extra yardage for some historic Miami Dolphins teams in the 1970s.
No opposing linebacker or cornerback ever welcomed a collision with Larry Csonka.
34. John Randle
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John Randle went from an undersized, undrafted defensive tackle to a six-time All Pro selection and a member of the Hall of Fame.
He wreaked havoc on the Minnesota Vikings for the entirety of the 1990s and his face paint alone would send fear into the offensive linemen who were responsible for blocking him.
A ferocious competitor who put the pedal to the metal on every play, Randle totaled 556 tackles and 137.5 sacks in his illustrious career.
When he was at the apex of his career, there weren't many more intimidating than Randle.
33. John Riggins
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Nicknamed "The Diesel," during the 1970s and mid-1980s, there wasn't a more aggressive and successful runner than John Riggins.
At 6'2'', 230, he had no issues lowering his shoulder and running through linebackers and secondary members.
He battled injuries throughout his career, but was one of the more rugged running backs in history. After last playing for the Redskins in 1985, the bruising Riggins was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1992.
32. Jerome Bettis
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Jerome Bettis was one of the most menacing running backs in NFL history because of his size, but he had the uncanny ability to make defenders miss in the open field.
Try to line him up, and he'd run you over. Try to take the proper angle on him, and he'd shake to the inside to get more yardage.
"The Bus" was the fundamental piece to the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive gameplan for the majority of the 1990s and the 2000s and finally got his Super Bowl in 2006.
A true bulldozer at his position.
31. Brian Dawkins
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Yet another hard-hitting safety makes the list.
Brian Dawkins intimidates not only with his ability to lay the lumber, but the fiery, almost crazy way he plays the game of football can, at times, be frightening.
During the prime of his career on the Philadelphia Eagles, Dawkins was among the best leaders in the NFL, talked a lot of trash and backed it up.
Pass catchers often hesitated coming across the middle when he was roaming in center field.
30. Bill Romanowski
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Some would label Bill Romanowski more of dirty player than anything else, but he was certainly intimidating.
A two-time All-Pro, Romanowski's time as a professional never went without controversy.
He was fined for kicking an opponent and spitting in another player's face. Later, steroid allegations led to the end of his career.
Everything from his chiseled body, lack of care for his own body and nasty attitude made Romanowski a feared linebacker during the 1990s.
29. Mike Ditka
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Today, many remember Mike Ditka for the passion he displayed on the sidelines as the head coach for the Chicago Bears and New Orleans Saints, but many forget the nickname "Iron Mike" came during his time as an All-Pro tight end.
He nearly amassed 6,000 receiving yards and scored 43 touchdowns during his time with the Bears, Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles.
Ditka was feared as a coach when he couldn't step on the field, so imagine what he was like when he could throw his 6'3'' 230-pound body around during the 1960s and 1970s.
He revolutionized the tight end position.
28. Kevin Greene
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There's just something about those Pittsburgh Steelers.
Kevin Greene's reckless abandon on the field, football IQ and combination of size and speed made him one of the most intimidating linebackers during the 1990s.
Something about his long hair made him more freaky to me.
He started with the Los Angeles Rams were he emerged as a sack specialist, but he fit into the Steelers mold when he went to Pittsburgh in 1993.
27. LaDainian Tomlinson
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Sure, LT is far from a bruising runner, but his game-breaking capabilities are scary in their own right.
Even as a receiver, Tomlinson can break a game open.
During the 2000s with the San Diego Chargers, no one displayed better vision, quickness and explosiveness than LT.
A record-setter, Tomlinson unquestionably was an intimidating facet of the Chargers offense and isn't done quite yet.
26. Walter Payton
One of the all-time great players, the way Walter Payton could glide down a football field gets him on the list.
He possessed a knack to find an open running hole, but rarely shied away from contact even when much bigger linebackers stood in his way.
"Sweetness" was just that, sweet, but was one tough tailback.
25. Jack Youngblood
This 6'4'' defensive end was a five-time All-Pro, a member of the NFL's 1970's All-Decade Team and is the definition of gritty and intimidating play.
Youngblood played the entire 1979 playoffs, including the Super Bowl with a broken leg.
Is there anything more frightening than an opponent willing to play through a broken leg?
24. Brian Urlacher
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The current leader of the Chicago Bears defense, Brian Urlacher intimidates with his size alone.
Standing 6'4'', 268 pounds, he's a menacing individual for quarterbacks to find before every snap.
He has a genius football IQ, and when he's in position to make a big hit, he really brings it.
Right now, there aren't many defenders more feared than Urlacher.
23. Jack Tatum
This list is filled with nicknames, but none is more fitting than Jack Tatum's "The Assassin."
During his time on the Oakland Raiders, he was considered the hardest hitter in the football, and he's still among the most intimidating secondary members in the NFL history.
He paralyzed the New England Patriots' Darryl Stingley in a 1978 preseason game.
22. Alan Page
Another "old timer," because frankly, they don't make them like they used to.
Alan Paige was the centerpiece of the famed "Purple People Eaters" of the Minnesota Vikings, and was a sack artist from his defensive tackle position.
He was a nine-time Pro Bowler, and was as nasty as they came during his time.
21. Jack Ham
Steelers are sprinkled all across this list, and Jack Ham was one of Pittsburgh's pioneers.
The six-time All-Pro manned the outside linebacker spot on the notorious "Steel Curtain" defense of the 1970s and is often referred to as the greatest outside linebacker to ever play the game.
An intimidating player on one of the most intimidating defensive units in history.
20. Terrell Owens
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Terrell Owens will probably go down as the most controversial but productive wide receiver of all time, but he was always feared by opposing secondaries.
A rare combination of size and speed, Owens could stretch the field and wasn't tentative coming across the middle.
After all of his pre-game trash talk, No. 81 usually came through in a huge way.
19. Deacon Jones
Deacon Jones' nickname was the "Secretary of Defense" and was a sack master, unfortunately before it was an official stat.
He was a member of the NFL's 75th Anniversary team and is often referred to as one of the scariest players ever to play the game.
Jones' lightning speed and ultra-aggressive style of play led him to an "unofficial" sack total of 26 in 1967. (only 14 games)
18. Carl Eller
Another member of the "Purple People Eaters," Eller was a five-time All-Pro selection and wreaked havoc from the defensive end spot along that Minnesota Vikings defensive front.
He finished his career with a total of 133.5 sacks and obviously, was a very feared player during his time. At 6'6'', 250, he was an intimidating force during his prime.
The 1960s Minnesota Vikings were a team you didn't want to play if you were a quarterback.
17. Troy Polamalu
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The current leader of the Pittsburgh Steelers defense, Polamalu and his famous flowing locks are seemingly involved with every play on Sundays.
He not only has a knack for the big interception, but he is still one of the more vicious hitters in the NFL.
With no signs of slowing down, the best may be still to come for this All-Pro safety.
16. Mean Joe Greene
Yes, another Pittsburgh Steeler. (sorry, Browns fans)
Mean Joe Greene was exactly that, mean and an integral part of the Steelers' "Steel Curtain" defense.
In 181 career games, Greene accumulated 78.5 sacks and was a five-time All-Pro.
About as intimidating as they came in the 1970s.
15. Ed Reed
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Ed Reed makes the list due to the fact that he intimidates with his remarkable ball-hawking skills and his bone-crushing hits.
He is a five-time All-Pro selection and has led the NFL in interceptions on three occasions.
The former Miami Hurricane isn't purely a center fielder, however, but he does have 54 career interceptions.
The definition of an elite safety.
14. Emmitt Smith
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The NFL's all-time rushing leader certainly intimidated his opponents during the 1990s and 2000s.
Smith was a smaller, shiftier runner who used his vision and acceleration but was a thorn in the side of every defense during his prime and maintained his production for 15 years as a professional.
His stature doesn't instantly say "intimidating" but his play-making ability surely scared his opponents.
13. Randy Moss
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If you ask me, there has never been a more frightening deep threat in NFL history, and that is intimidating.
Moss burst onto the scene in 1998, (his rookie year) with 17 touchdowns, and scored an NFL-record 23 touchdowns in 2007 as a member of the Patriots.
During his prime, was there any coverage that could stop the gazelle-like Moss down the sideline?
12. Jim Taylor
Often a forgotten runner during the early 1960's because of Jim Brown, the Packers' Jim Taylor was one of the more intimidating and pesky tailbacks of his time.
He was a six-time All-Pro and led the league in 1962 and was known for his physical running style despite being only 6'0'', 215 pounds.
11. Sam Huff
A player who often had famous run-ins with Jim Taylor, Sam Huff of the New York Giants was one of the most feared players in the pre-merger NFL.
He was a four-time All-Pro selection and was the leader of many fine Giants' defenses.
Come on, look at the picture.
10. Jim Brown
Jim Brown absolutely dominated the 1960s.
He had the perfect mix of size, speed and brute strength that made him an unstoppable force during his time with the Cleveland Browns.
The three-time MVP set countless records during his short stint as a professional and rarely was he taken down by one defender.
9. Ray Nitschke
After winning only one game as a rookie with the Green Bay Packers in 1958, Ray Nitschke led his team to five championships, including the first two Super Bowls.
He made his name as a ferocious linebacker who often delivered crushing hits, but he also intercepted 25 passes during his illustrious career.
8. Barry Sanders
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There was never a more elusive and extremely strong runner than Barry Sanders.
He was a true home-run threat every time the ball touched his hand, but he had the leg strength to carry defenders down the field.
During the 1990's, Sanders was the most intimidating runner in the NFL, although by just looking at him, you would never know it.
7. Dick Butkus
When I think of the word intimidation and how it relates to football, I instantly think of Dick Butkus.
This linebacking legend finished his career with over 1,000 tackles and most of the them were of the bone-shattering variety.
Butkus was one of the most feared players in NFL history.
6. Mike Singletary
Another Chicago Bears great, Mike Singletary, his famous eyes and the bloodthirsty style in which he played the linebacker position made him one of the most intimidating players of all time.
He was known as the "Heart of the Defense" for the Chicago Bears' Super Bowl-winning team of 1985 and was a tackling machine his entire career.
5. Ray Lewis
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Having played for 15 years, Ray Lewis has seemingly gotten better with age.
One of the most emotional leaders of all time, Lewis' teammates feed off his passion and his opponents are certainly intimidated by everything he does on the field.
He is one of the bigger linebackers of his time, knows exactly where to be on every play and delivers the huge blow on seemingly every tackle.
4. Jerry Rice
The last of the offensive players, Jerry Rice is, hands down, the most intimidating receiver in history.
Known for his tireless work ethic, Rice never stopped getting better during his illustrious career.
He was the best route runner in history and always found the holes in the defense.
During his prime that lasted many years, no one else split out wide struck more fear into his opponents quite like Mr. Rice.
3. Bruce Smith
The all-time leader in sacks, Bruce Smith haunted the dreams of opposing quarterbacks during the 1990's with the Buffalo Bills.
He possessed the extremely rare combination of defensive tackle size and strength and outside linebacker speed. Smith also probably had better footwork than any other defensive lineman in history.
One mean defender who gave it his all on every play, and had no mercy.
2. Reggie White
Another monster defensive end, Reggie White was the most intimidating player in the NFL right before Bruce Smith.
He often tossed offensive linemen aside with one hand, including Pro Bowler Larry Allen, but he had the speed to turn the corner to get to the quarterback.
When White was at the apex of his career, no one was more feared.
1. Lawrence Taylor
The original "LT," Lawrence Taylor exploded onto the scene as a rookie with the New York Giants in 1981 and never looked back.
He revolutionized the outside linebacking position, with his out-of-this-world 20.5 sacks in 1986. There was never a more down-hill, aggressive linebacker in NFL history that brought the pain on every play.
Taylor was a nine-time consecutive All-Pro and is the most intimidating player of all time.
Obvious Omission: Ronnie Lott
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Yes, I deserve all the comments I've been receiving about totally forgetting to add Ronnie Lott to this list.
If Steve Atwater, Brian Dawkins and Rodney Harrison make the list then Mr. Lott certainly deserves a spot, as probably the most intimidating safety of all time.
He rarely cared for his body and sent opposing receivers to the ground faster than any defensive back in history, and had his pinky finger amputated after a tackle crushed the bone.
All safeties strive to be Ronnie Lott.
(my apologies to all 49ers and Lott fans across the states. I promise you, I had him on my initial outline, but somehow, missed his name upon completing this list.)