Connect with us

30 Most Vicious Players in NFL History

30 Most Vicious Players in NFL History

NFL

Brian Dawkins

The NFL has produced its fair share of bone-cracking, jaw-splintering tacklers throughout its history. But very few of those were able to develop nicknames for themselves that struck fear into the hearts of their opponents. Some of the better-known ones include “The Assassin,” “Night Train,” and others. Read our top-30 list — ranked by intensity — of the most vicious NFL players to ever play the game.

Richard Sherman

Intensity meter: 7/10

While Sherman’s career is certainly controversial and boisterous, you have to respect his commitment and tenacity to his team’s cause. Such was the case during his stint on Seattle’s “Legion of Boom,” which included Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas, and many others. That defensive front struck fear into the hearts of wide receivers.

Richard Sherman

Michael Zagaris, San Francisco 49ers via Getty Images

Either way, Sherman has made a career of combining vicious tackles on hapless quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers. But he’s also somewhat of a unique specimen for his position given his long reach and above-average height to provide that extra layer of passing coverage.

Troy Polamalu

Intensity meter: 7.1/10

It almost didn’t matter what position you played in the NFL when it came to wondering where Troy Polamalu was on the field. There were many times when opposing offenses lost track of him until it was too late — resulting in a body-slam hit to the ball carrier, whether it was the quarterback, receiver, or running back.

Troy Polamalu

Patrick Smith via Getty Images

Polamalu certainly struck fear into the hearts of his opponents, thanks to his flying tackles and rough hits. He’s quite a humble guy, too, as was the case when he was on The Jim Rome Show, where he remarked on his semifinalist status as a Hall of Famer, saying, “There are a handful of players more deserving of this award.” But we all know he was one of the most dominant players of his era regardless.

Darrelle Revis

Intensity meter: 7.3/10

Revis made a living as a cornerback brawler, but perhaps more importantly, he was tasked with shutting down wide receivers — and he did this with ease. Why is this the case, you might ask? Well, his record pretty much speaks for itself: seven-time Pro Bowl selection with four All-Pro appearances after 11 seasons.

Darrelle Revis

Jim McIsaac via Getty Images

He was also brutal for quarterbacks to deal with, let alone receivers, as evidenced by his staggering amount of career interceptions, which amounted to 29 and earned him the nickname “Revis Island” — displaying his impressive knack for shutting down receivers. And while he had many injuries throughout his tenure, this is pretty much expected when you’re plowing through NFL linemen — in some cases.

Dashon Goldson

Intensity meter: 7.3/10

Goldson was truly a man of surprise. He was always making bone-shattering hits when opposing offensive players weren’t expecting it. Honestly, who could forget that hit he laid on Jeremy Maclin during the season when the 49ers went 13-3? Well, Niners fans probably remember those days fondly.

Dashon Goldson

Thearon W. Henderson via Getty Images

What Goldson was perhaps known for was how he hit harder than most linebackers in the league. Of course, he was a safety, so that made him extra special. In addition to an impressive career, Goldson was selected to two Pro Bowls and one appearance on the first-team All-Pro squad.

Cortland Finnegan

Intensity meter: 7.5/10

If there was an NFL version of Hannibal Lecter, or a player who prided himself on playing with the minds of other players, it was Cortland Finnegan. He landed hard hits on receivers, backs, and also made them second-guess themselves throughout the whole game, much like Richard Sherman. 

Cortland Finnegan

Doug Pensinger via Getty Images

Perhaps the pinnacle of Finnegan’s career came when he made Andre Johnson psychologically crack after luring him into a fight in 2009. Either way, Finnegan was a Pro Bowler and a massive defensive threat we couldn’t omit from this list.

Steve Atwater

Intensity meter: 7.7/10

Atwater is seen as a hero in many respects because he basically was Denver’s savior during their awful start to the 1994 season. They lost their first four games of the season, making the rest of the year an almost foregone conclusion. Many fans allege he was the reason the Broncos went on a 7-2 run for the remainder of the year. 

Steve Atwater

Karl Gehring, The Denver Post via Getty Images

And this guy did it in jaw-breaking style. Who could forget his bone-cracking hit on Reggie Brooks after he was careening through the line, only to be met by Atwater’s impeccable tackling form? In addition to his punishing tackles, he was also an eight-time Pro Bowl selection, too.

Sean Taylor

Intensity meter: 7.9/10

Taylor was known as one of the league’s hardest tacklers and he wasn’t shy about getting into his fair share of fights, either. He was constantly slapped with fines by the league for things such as when he spat in the face of another player, Tampa Bay running back Michael Pittman, during a playoff game.

Sean Taylor

Joe Robbins via Getty Images

This guy was also a nightmare for offensive coaches, even in his rookie season — during which he tallied 76 tackles, four interceptions, two fumbles, and a sack. He was a two-time Pro Bowler; and in his limited time on that stage, he laid out punter Brian Moorman on a fake punt play gone awry.

Conrad Dobler

Intensity meter: 8/10

Dobler was an exceptional athlete who certainly utilized strategy to his advantage, and it showed in his performances. He would often induce the offense to sleep with the illusion he was going to play hands-free and clean for the entirety of the first quarter. He would eventually flip the tables on them.

Conrad Dobler

Focus on Sport via Getty Images

His nickname was also rather notorious in nature. In 1977, Dobler eventually earned the nickname “Pro Football’s Dirtiest Player.” And while he was an offensive player — at the guard position — we had to include him on this list.

Donnie Shell

Intensity meter: 8/10

Donnie Shell was your archetypal safety in that he was much smaller in stature in comparison to virtually every wide receiver in the NFL. But he didn’t let that stop him from landing some downright brutal tackles on them. However, his hits weren’t just limited to wide receivers. He would end up pummeling other positions, too.

Donnie Shell

George Gojkovich via Getty Images

Shell would often make tight ends question what year it was after tackling them. Indeed, Sports Illustrated once described players in the wake of his tackles this way: “He just leaves ’em Shell-shocked.” In addition, he was a five-time Pro Bowler with 51 career interceptions and plenty of other accolades.

Cliff Harris

Intensity meter: 8.2/10

Cliff Harris’ NFL story can only be characterized as an athlete with a Rudy-like narrative; and one who made quite a comeback for himself. He wasn’t drafted at first, and it’s probably safe to say those teams wholly regretted their decision. In the 1970s, he and Charlie Waters formed a dynamic safety duo in the NFL.

Cliff Harris

Focus on Sport via Getty Images

Harris would go on to make quite a career for himself. In addition to tallying six Pro Bowls, two Super Bowl rings, and four first-team All-Pro selections, a collegiate award would be made in his name. It was called the Cliff Harris Award, which is given to the top defensive player in the country on the Division II, III, and NAIA levels for college.

Bernard Pollard

Intensity meter: 8.3/10

Here’s a safety who truly didn’t care about his size in respect to the other players on the field. Pollard even got into one fight against a tight end, named Craig Stevens, who dwarfed him in stature. This is probably another player whom Sherman would have added to the list of players that shouldn’t be allowed to play in the NFL.

Bernard Pollard

Larry French via Getty Images

Pollard’s hits were so bad that he lost a substantial amount of money, even for an NFL athlete, over the years. But as long as he made the opposing side fear him, it seemed well worth it. He also has a Super Bowl ring to top it all off.

Rodney Harrison

Intensity meter: 8.3/10

It can easily be said that the New England Patriots are one of the most loathed franchises of the NFL in regards to the rest of the league’s fan base. But it’s pretty safe to assume Rodney Harrison’s a welcomed hero of sorts to Patriots fans thanks to their almost unparalleled success throughout the 2000s.

Rodney Harrison

Jim Rogash via Getty Images

So in that sense, many casual fans alone can get behind liking Harrison. But it would also be accurate to say this guy was just plain scary. In addition to playing an impressive 15 seasons and recording spellbinding and brutal tackles, Harrison is one of only two athletes in league history to record 30 sacks and 30 interceptions as of 2019.

Ed Reed

Intensity meter: 8.3/10

A five-time Pro Bowl selection and multiple interception leader in the league, Ed Reed easily makes this list when it comes to sheer talent and the intimidation factor. As of 2019, he’s only the third Baltimore Ravens player to reach the Hall of Fame, which certainly speaks to his domination.

Ed Reed

Rob Tringali, SportsChrome via Getty Images

Another factor that set Reed apart from the competition at his position was his high-level IQ, thereby making him a matchup nightmare for receivers and quarterbacks by extension. According to ESPN, he would allegedly be up into the late hours watching the “tendencies” of quarterbacks and offenses. In the end, he’s a surefire Hall of Famer and an elite safety.

Ronnie Lott

Intensity meter: 8.4/10

A legitimate first-round draft pick, Ronnie Lott was definitely a contender, but one who is going to give his all every game. In his debut season, he helped the 49ers land a Super Bowl title and became just the second-ever rookie to record three interceptions and turn them all into touchdowns.

Ronnie Lott

Focus on Sport via Getty Images

He was well-respected for his rough hits and was positioned at cornerback for both the left and right positions over the course of his 14-year career. What makes him even more impressive is he earned 10 Pro Bowl selections at three different positions, too.

John Lynch

Intensity meter: 8.5/10

Lynch was simply not a safety you would want to cross. He would often land hits that would make it seem like the entire stadium was shaking. He played 11 seasons for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and totaled a whopping sum of 740 tackles, 13 sacks, and 26 interceptions over his entire career.

John Lynch

PETER MUHLY, AFP via Getty Images

While with the Bucs, he made it to the Pro Bowl five times and greatly aided the Bucs to their first franchise Super Bowl title. He later would be selected to four more Pro Bowls while with the Broncos, too. But we would be doing Lynch a disservice if we neglected to mention he landed some amazing tackles — most notably on Deion Sanders. 

Joe Greene

Intensity meter: 8.5/10

Greene was simply a menace. In addition to being widely known as one of the best players of the ’70s era, he was selected to five All-Pro teams, had an incredible 10 Pro Bowl appearances, and received two NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards. There was also a reason why he earned the nickname “Mean” Joe Greene.

Joe Greene

Focus on Sport via Getty Images

How did he get it, you might ask? He simply was that intimidating. No matter what, Greene gets full marks for professionalism. He once said he would rather be remembered “as a good player and not really mean,” according to an interview with ProFootballHOF.com. 

Warren Sapp

Intensity meter: 8.8/10

Warren Sapp was one of the most impressive specimens the NFL has ever seen. While he was somewhat undersized in terms of height for a defensive tackle at 6’2″, he packed quite a punch with his approximately 312-pound frame. But what was truly remarkable about Sapp was his speed.

Warren Sapp

John Medina, NFL Photo Library via Getty Images

It is truly amazing to think a man weighing more than 300 pounds could run a sub-five-second 40-yard dash. Well, Sapp did just that — he ran a blistering 4.69-second dash, making him one of the fastest defensive tackles in the league. Needless to say, the seven-time Pro Bowl selection terrorized opposing offenses.

Bill Romanowski

Intensity meter: 8.9/10

Known for being one of the dirtiest players in NFL history, Bill Romanowski wasn’t someone to be trifled with. For 16 years, he played for four teams, amassed an astounding 962 tackles, and about 40 sacks. And while he is often remembered for his admittance to using performance-enhancing drugs throughout his career, there is no denying he had his fair share of tiffs. 

Bill Romanowski

STEPHEN JAFFE, AFP via Getty Images

In 1995, for example, he kicked fullback Larry Centers in the helmet while he was on the ground and was fined a measly $4,500 for it. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Two years later, he followed his dropkick up with an old-fashioned spit wad to the face of J.J. Stokes, for which he was also penalized.

Darren Woodson

Intensity meter: 9/10

Speaking of all-purpose players, lifelong Dallas Cowboy Darren Woodson is a perfect example of this. He was able to cover both running and passing routes with ease. And all the while, he was landing scathing hits on unsuspecting running backs, receivers, and quarterbacks. 

Darren Woodson

Ronald Martinez via Getty Images

You know you’re an intimidating player when Sports Illustrated describes you as “a masher who doubles as an outside linebacker in passing situations.” According to the article, he was also described as a player who had “a combination of strength, brute-force hitting and speed … ” He also ran a reported 4.3-second 40-yard dash, making him incredibly fast, too.

Chuck Cecil

Intensity meter: 9/10

While Cecil only had one lone Pro Bowl season (1992), he was mighty impressive in that year. He totaled a whopping 102 tackles and four interceptions. But he also made some back-breaking tackles. Throughout his career, it was reported he would influence receivers to run their routes outside of his purview.

Chuck Cecil

George Gojkovich via Getty Images

He was similar to Donnie Shell in that he was also quite undersized in comparison to basically every athlete on the field. The fact that he was able to take down the likes of tight end Ron Middleton is impressive. During a game, he hit Middleton so hard he knocked his helmet clean off while the chinstrap was still fastened.

Brian Dawkins

Intensity meter: 9/10

NFC fans rejoiced after Brian Dawkins went to the Denver Broncos in 2009 because he was a nightmare for most offenses. In his Hall of Fame induction ceremony, his former coach —Andy Reid — called him the “heartbeat of the defense.” That’s high praise coming from a high-caliber coach like Reid.

Brian Dawkins

Drew Hallowell, Philadelphia Eagles via Getty Images

Dawkins wasn’t a friendly newcomer to offensive players; and he was quick to rise to new challenges. For example, he landed jarring hits on the likes of Jerome “The Fridge” Bettis and another sizable opponent — Alge Crumpler. He was also a dual threat on defense in how he posed a turnover and sack threat.

Ray Lewis

Intensity meter: 9.1/10

Now here is a true warrior on the football field, one whom quarterbacks were always wary of at any given time during a play. We would certainly be remiss if we didn’t include him on this list, especially when you look at the sheer amount of accolades he’s earned over an impressive career.

Ray Lewis

Jamie Squire via Getty Images

He was instrumental in the Ravens’ Super Bowl win in 2013, after which he retired; he also received the Defensive Player of the Year award in 2000 — the team got a Super Bowl victory during that season, too. But most importantly, in addition to landing crazy hits on the opposing side, Lewis was an outstanding tackler.

Ndamukong Suh

Intensity meter: 9.1/10

While there is still more time left in Suh’s career, there is no question he’s a dirty player of sorts. In that sense, he’s definitely in stark contrast when put next to the likes of Greene, who was certainly an ambassador and hallmark example of what an athlete should be heralded as. 

Ndamukong Suh

Todd Kirkland via Getty Images

But every sport needs a villain, and Suh has certainly lived up to that. He’s been disqualified numerous times for landing vicious blows on opposing players well after the play had ended. Due to the severity of his actions, he’s even been fined and suspended as well.

Patrick Willis

Intensity meter: 9.1/10

During his career, Patrick Willis was feared throughout the league. He was a linebacker whom you had to to keep tabs on in practically every offensive play because he was all over the place. And while Willis was projected as a late first-round pick, he proved the doubters wrong in the NFL combine.

Patrick Willis

Thearon W. Henderson via Getty Images

At the combine, he ran a blurring 40-yard dash, notching a 4.56-second time with an astounding 39-inch vertical. When you have a linebacker posting receiver-like combine numbers, you’re going to need him on your team. To be sure, he landed his fair share of nasty hits, too.

Rod Woodson

Intensity meter: 9.2/10

It wouldn’t be fair to omit Rod Woodson from this list. In addition to having the distinction of a strong tackler, Woodson’s awards are off the charts. During his 17 years in the NFL, he was a jack-of-all-trades. He totaled almost 1,500 interception yards from 71 interceptions, 2,362 punting return yards, and was selected to the Pro Bowl 11 times. 

Rod Woodson

Allen Kee via Getty Images

As of 2019, his total of Pro Bowl selections stands as a record among defensive backs. He also amassed more than 1,000 tackles over the span of his career, too. Suffice it to say, he was a force to be reckoned with.

Lester Hayes

Intensity meter: 9.3/10

Hayes, a former Oakland defensive back, brought a whole new meaning to the word “intimidating.” And the only travesty of his career is the fact that he was never inducted into the Hall of Fame, because he truly had what can only be described as a stellar career. In fact, he was a part of what was probably one of the best cornerback duos in NFL history with Mike Haynes.

Focus on Sport via Getty Images

In addition to five Pro Bowl selections, Hayes came within close reach of getting the NFL interception record — coming up short by just one. He pretty much did everything that’s asked of a cornerback and much more.

Andre Waters

Intensity meter: 9.5/10

Waters was a notorious safety that was probably most known for his relentless hits on less-fortunate offensive players. What’s interesting about Waters is how he was originally an undrafted free agent during his first season in 1984. However, it was because of his intimidating defense that he earned the nickname “Dirty Waters.”

Andre Waters

George Gojkovich via Getty Images

And while he reportedly didn’t like that name, he certainly earned it after totaling 15 interceptions while often leading the team in total tackles after multiple seasons. He even landed a hit on an opponent that was so bad that he was suspended for the rest of the season.

Kam Chancellor

Intensity meter: 9.6/10

There was a point when everybody knew who the “Legion of Boom” was — a hard-hitting group that was going to give an opposing offense many impending headaches throughout any game. And while the likes of Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas were more known for their blanketed coverage, Chancellor was simply an animal.

Kam Chancellor

Adam Glanzman via Getty Images

He would absolutely level and destroy opposing backs and receivers, making them think twice about running into the open field. Indeed, the four-time Pro Bowl safety was a fierce and terrifying defensive back that coaches were well aware of during his career.

Jack “The Assassin” Tatum

Intensity meter: 9.8/10

Jack Tatum brought a whole new meaning to the definition of a “ferocious tackler.” According to Bleacher Report, he was featured in an NFL film called Top Ten Most-Feared Tacklers, notching the No. 6 spot on the list behind legendary tacklers like Ray Lewis and John Lynch.

James Flores via Getty Images

In fact, it’s been widely reported he was taken out of Hall of Fame contention because of a bruising hit he delivered on New England wide receiver Darryl Stingley, which left him paralyzed and ultimately ended his career. He was certainly one of the DBs you never wanted to cross on the field.

Dick “Night Train” Lane

Intensity meter: 9.9/10

By today’s NFL rule-book standards, Dick “Night Train” Lane would probably get ejected from multiple games and incur plenty of fines. Simply put, this guy was going to make you pay for the mere thought of wanting to score a touchdown. And watching him perform was probably a marvel, because he would often take players down by their face mask with no mercy.

Bettmann, Contributor via Getty Images

With his trademark face-mask takedown, his deadly clothesline tackles earned him a secondary nickname: “Night Train Necktie.” Lane certainly had a fiery passion for stopping the offense. According to Fox Sports, he said, “There’s nothing I hate worse than a first down.”