These players are the most feared in the league when it comes to putting their opponents into the turf.
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Justin James Watt is one of the most athletically gifted players in the NFL—the defensive end moves with cat-like agility and has the motor to chase down nearly any opponent. Watching Watt on the field it's only natural to think: There’s no way a 6'5”, 289-pound dude should move like he does. And yet the Wisconsin Badgers product has helped transform what it means to be a defensive end—he won three NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards over his first five seasons and led the league in sacks in 2015 despite playing the season through multiple injuries.
We’ve already told you about how Watt trains to stay in such good shape, doing astonishing box jumps and flipping 1000-pound tires, all of which helps him dish out punishment on opposing quarterbacks. The 2011 first-round draft pick is such a hard hitter he doesn’t even need a helmet to make a sack, as illustrated by this absurdly quick hit on Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith from 2015.
The Green Bay Packers linebacker has football in his blood—his father, uncle, brother, and cousins all have been involved in the sport at the professional or college level—and that makes Matthews a natural fit as one of the most feared hitters in the league. The 6’3”, 255-pound bruiser won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award in 2010 while helping the Packers win Super Bowl XLV. Matthews plays hard from whistle-to-whistle, and even sometimes a little extra, as with this tackle of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in Week 1 of the 2013 season that sparked an all-out brawl between the Packers and the Niners.
The 2008 Defensive Player of the Year is one of the most feared hitters in the NFL—and one of the most penalized. The longtime Pittsburgh Steelers star has butted heads with the league for years over his style of play, which has resulted in suspensions, fines, and injuries for other players. Harrison knows how to inflict some pain on his opponents—hits on Colt McCoy, Mohamed Massaquoi, Vince Young, and Joe Flacco illustrate that point—but he's also laid out a fan too: After a Browns supporter rushed onto the field during a game, Harrison played the role of security guard, slamming the fan to the turf. Harrison is an astonishingly athletic player for his position, too—the linebacker took an interception 100 yards for a touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals during Super Bowl XLIII.
The Super Bowl 50 MVP signed a monster contract ahead of the 2016 season for six years and $114 million, making him the highest-paid defensive player in league history. Miller is one of the most feared players in the NFL—that’s why he’s getting $70 million in guarantees—and he showed his value to the Denver Broncos by posting 60.0 sacks on the stat sheet in just five seasons. The Texas A&M product won the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award in 2011 and has been putting a major hurt on opposing players ever since. At 6’3” and 245 pounds, Miller is athletic enough to chase down anyone in the league, including Panthers star Cam Newton.
The Arizona State University product has made a name for himself as one of the hardest hitters in the NFL—and one of the most controversial. The Los Angeles native plays for the Cincinnati Bengals with a mean streak, and while that's helped him become a Pro Bowl player, it also has hurt his team (and other players) in the process. The 6’1”, 248-pound one-man demolition derby has been a gift and curse for the Bengals, including during the 2016 playoffs, when his head shot on Antonio Brown resulted in a penalty that set up the Pittsburgh Steelers for a game-winning field goal. The former college All-American was suspended for three games of the 2016 season stemming from his hit on Brown.
The Carolina Panthers linebacker is one of the most productive defensive players in the league—Kuechly has posted at least 150 tackles in three of his first four NFL seasons—and he also knows how to crush opponents. The 2013 NFL Defensive Player of the Year helped lead the Panthers to Super Bowl 50 against the Denver Broncos, where he recorded 10 tackles and a sack of Peyton Manning. Over the years Kuechly has had some impressive performances, perhaps none better than when he posted 24 tackles against the New Orleans Saints during the 2013 season, the most by any player since 2007.
With a nickname like “Bam Bam Kam,” there’s no doubt that Chancellor is a one-man wrecking machine. The Seattle Seahawks safety is the lynchpin of the “Legion of Boom,” along with Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas, and he's dished out some punishing hits over the years. At 6’3”, 232 pounds, Chancellor has the power and speed to knock opponents out, much like he did on this block against Arizona Cardinals tight end Todd Heap as Thomas ran back an interception.
The Miami Dolphins defensive tackle has earned himself a reputation as a dirty player in the NFL, but also as one of the most “terrifying”—at least according to Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The University of Nebraska alum won the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award in 2010 and he was rewarded by the Fins with what was then the biggest contract in NFL history at $114 million. The 6’4”, 320-pound leviathan has been fined numerous times by the league for his antics on the field, including when he stepped on Rodgers during a game against the Packers in 2011.
The Oakland Raiders linebacker has emerged as one of the best young players in the league—and one of the most pain-inducing. The 6’3”, 252-pound University of Buffalo alum has helped turn the Raiders defense into a feared unit, and his combination of speed, strength, and raw power helped him become an All-Pro player in 2015. Mack set a team record by hounding Denver Broncos quarterback Brock Osweiler for five sacks in a game in Week 14 of the 2015 season, adding a forced fumble for good measure.
Who says you need two healthy hands to dominate the NFL? Even after JPP suffered a gruesome hand injury heading into the 2015 season, the New York Giants defensive end still remained one of the top hitters in the league. The 6’5”, 292-pound demolition derby has the speed to chase down running backs, wideouts, and quarterbacks, but he also has the ups to block passes and kicks, like this one against the Dallas Cowboys during the 2011 season.
The 2011 first-round draft pick has turned out to be a stalwart for the New York Jets defensive line, missing just three games over his first five seasons. Wilkerson is a big man at 6’4”, 315 pounds, and he uses that large frame to stuff the run as well as anyone in the NFL. The Jets didn't want to lose Wilkerson’s fearsome talent in free agency, so they swooped in with a five-year deal worth over $80 million ahead of training camp during the 2016 offseason.
Don’t let the size fool you—even though he's 5'10" and 188 pounds, the San Diego Chargers cornerback is a nitroglycerin-powered defensive dynamo. Verrett made the Pro Bowl in just his second season in 2015 while shutting down wideouts like Golden Tate, Antonio Brown, and Demaryius Thomas, helping the Chargers defense emerge as one of the best young units in the NFL. The California native has been laying out hard hits for quite a long time—back when he playing college ball at Texas Christian, Verrett knocked out Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro with a perfectly placed shoulder hit. Want to hit like Verrett? Check out how the cornerback stays in shape with this in-depth workout video.