1971-1978 Denver, 1979-1981 Cleveland, 1982-1985 Los Angeles Raiders <br><br>You could argue Alzado doesn't belong on this list because he was an admitted steroid user, but his ferocity on the field was undeniable. Alzado brought attitude, quickness and strength and was one of the most feared hitters of his time. <br><br>Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
2 of 25V.J. Lovero/SI
Steve Atwater, Safety
1989-1998 Denver, 1999 N.Y. Jets <br><br>Atwater, an eight-time Pro Bowler, often played more like a linebacker than a safety, delivering punishing hits and leading one of the best defenses in the NFL.
3 of 25John G. Zimmerman/SI
Chuck Bednarik, Center, Linebacker
1949-1962 Philadelphia <br><br>One of the last great two-way players, Bednarick transformed the Eagles' defense into one of the NFL's best with his bone-crunching hits. The eight-time Pro Bowler's infamous tackle of the New York Giants' Frank Gifford in 1960 -- which film showed to be clean -- put Gifford out of action for more than a year.
4 of 25Vic Stein/WireImage.com
Hardy Brown, Linebacker
1948 Brooklyn AAFC, 1949 Chicago AAFC, 1950 Baltimore, 1950 Washington, 1951-56 San Francisco, 1957 Chicago Cardinals, 1960 Denver AFL <br><br>"Thumper" wasn't fast and wasn't the best at covering receivers, but when he hit people, he did it as hard as anyone. He frequently launched himself at the oncoming player, smashing his shoulder into him and knocking him to the ground.
5 of 25Vernon Biever/WireImage.com
Dick Butkus, Linebacker
1965-1973, Chicago <br><br>Butkus didn't always look fast, but he got to the ballcarrier in a hurry and usually delivered a hit the offensive player remembered. Butkus was the most disruptive player in the game when he played.
6 of 25John W. McDonough/SI
Chuck Cecil, Safety
1988-1992 Green Bay, 1993 Phoenix Cardinals, 1995 Houston Oilers <br><br>In October 1992, the cover of Sports Illustrated asked "Is Chuck Cecil Too Vicious for the NFL?" Cecil's hits were so hard he often inflicted damage on himself. He sometimes wore a special helmet with thick padding to reduce his risk of concussion from helmet-first hits, which Cecil delivered frequently, often drawing fines.
7 of 25NFL/WireImage.com
Mike Curtis, Linebacker
1965-1975 Baltimore, 1976 Seattle <br><br>"I play football because it's the only place you can hit people and get away with it," Curtis once said. He got a reputation as a vicious player for unleashing brutal hits on the opposition, but took issue with the classification, saying he was aggressive, not vicious.
8 of 25Walter Iooss Jr./SI
Joe Greene, Defensive Tackle
1969-1981 Pittsburgh <br><br>The cornerstone of Pittsburgh's Steel Curtain defense, Greene was blessed with size, speed, strength, quickness and determination. In 1974, he developed the tactic of lining up at a sharp angle between the guard and center to disrupt their blocking assignments and leave him free to punish the offense.
9 of 25Herbert Weitman/WireImage.com
Cliff Harris, Safety
1970-1979 Dallas <br><br>He was nicknamed "Captain Crash" by his teammates for his hard hitting. Harris and Hall of Fame safety Larry Wilson struck fear into the opposition because of their hitting.
10 of 25Walter Iooss Jr./SI
Ernie "Fats" Holmes, Defensive Tackle
1972-1977 Pittsburgh, 1978 New England <br><br>Holmes was sometimes overshadowed by his fellow Steel Curtain defenders, but he hit as hard as the rest of them -- and dwarfed most of them in size. "I don't mind knocking somebody out," Holmes said in 1975. "If I hear a moan and a groan coming from a player I've hit, the adrenaline flows within me. I get more energy and play harder."
11 of 25Nate Fine/WireImage.com
Ken Houston, Safety
1967-1972 Houston, 1973-1980 Washington <br><br>His speed made him an excellent pass defender, but his strength and 6-3, 197-pound frame made him a punishing tackler. Together, his skills made him the premier strong safety of his era.
12 of 25Nate Fine/WireImage.com
Sam Huff, Linebacker
1956-1963 N.Y. Giants, 1964-1967, 1969 Washington <br><br>He didn't have great speed or strength, but he had desire and instinct. At 24 he became the first NFL player to appear on the cover of Time magazine. In the article he said, "We try to hurt everybody. We hit each other as hard as we can. This is a man's game."
13 of 25Lou Witt/WireImage.com
Richie (Tombstone) Jackson, Defensive End
1966 Oakland, 1967-1971 Denver, 1972 Cleveland, 1972 Denver <br><br>Before his career was cut short by a knee injury, Jackson was a dominating defensive force. His signature was a devastating head slap, since outlawed. SI.com's Dr. Z once wrote this about Jackson: "He'd slap offensive lineman to their knees, splitting their helmets and ruining their careers."
14 of 25NFL/WireImage.com
David (Deacon) Jones, Defensive End
1961-1971 Los Angeles Rams, 1972-1973 San Diego, 1974 Washington <br><br>Jones saw football as a game of "civilized violence." He coined the term sack, saying, "you sack a city -- you devastate it." His other creation, which has been outlawed, was the head slap, where the pass rusher sharply slapped the blocker's helmet as the ball was snapped. He employed it as an effort to gain an extra step and break free.
15 of 25Walter Iooss Jr./SI
Jack Lambert, Linebacker
1974-1984 Pittsburgh <br><br>"Yes, I get satisfaction out of hitting a guy and seeing him lie there a while," the middle linebacker once said. Lambert believed football was designed to "reward the ones who hit the hardest," and used that attitude to help shape and reinforce Pittsburgh's Steel Curtain defense.
16 of 25NFL/WireImage.com
Dick Lane(Night Train) Lane, Cornerback
1952-1953 Los Angeles Rams, 1954-1959 Chicago Cardinals, 1960-1965 Detroit <br><br>In addition to being a constant threat to intercept passes, he was also seen as a devastating tackler. Lane was known for tackling by the head and neck. This type of tackle, outlawed today, was sometimes called a "Night Train Necktie."
17 of 25Rod Hanna/WireImage.com
Willie Lanier, Linebacker
1967-1977 Kansas City <br><br>Lanier was known and respected for his ability to track opposing ball carriers and devastate them with the force of his tackles. His teammates called him "Contact" because of his powerful hits.
18 of 25Damian Strohmeyer/SI
Ray Lewis, Linebacker
1996-present Baltimore <br><br>His combination of toughness, strength and great athleticism has made him a sideline-to-sideline force. He can stop the opposition up the middle or blindside runners on the perimeter with his ferocious hits.
19 of 25Walter Iooss Jr./SI
Ronnie Lott, Cornerback-Safety
1981-1990 San Francisco, 1991-1992 Los Angeles Raiders, 1993-1994 N.Y. Jets <br><br>When Lott published his autobiography in 1991, he titled it Total Impact, a fitting choice considering Lott was one of the hardest hitting defensive backs in league history. Cowboys coach Tom Landry (a hard hitter himself as a player) said Lott was like a middle linebacker playing safety and called him "devastating."
20 of 25Simon Bruty/SI
John Lynch, Safety
1993-2003 Tampa Bay, 2004-present Denver <br><br>He quickly earned a reputation as one of the hardest hitters in the league. He has been fined numerous times for his hits, but hasn't stopped delivering them, reasoning that his hits help fire-up the team and stick in the mind of the opposition.
21 of 25NFL/WireImage.com
Ray Nitschke, Linebacker
1958-1972 Green Bay <br><br>Nitschke, who at times seemed to truly enjoy hitting people, treasured the reputation he earned as one of the hardest hitters in the game. "You want them to respect you when they run a play," he said. "You want them to remember you are there."
22 of 25Andy Hayt/SI
Donnie Shell, Safety
1974-1987 Pittsburgh <br><br>At 5-11 and 190 pounds, Shell was often much smaller than opposing receivers, but he was such a fierce tackler he won battles against many of the best and biggest tight ends and wide receivers. Shell hit people so hard a writer once punned, ''He just leaves 'em Shell-shocked.''
23 of 25AP
Jack Tatum, Safety
1971-1979 Oakland, 1980 Houston Oilers <br><br>For better or worse, Tatum has a fair-share of famous hits to his name. He is most often associated with his devastating hit against New England Patriots wide receiver Darryl Stingley in 1978, which damaged Stingley's spinal cord and left him paralyzed from the chest down.
24 of 25Mark D. Phillips/AFP/Getty Images
Lawrence Taylor, Linebacker
1981-1993 N.Y. Giants <br><br>Taylor transformed the position of outside linebacker from read-and-react to attack mode. His aggressiveness, intensity, speed and strength made him a dominant defensive player and one of the most feared players in football.
25 of 25Allen Kee/WireImage.com
Andre Waters, Safety
1984-1993 Philadelphia, 1994 Arizona <br><br>Waters was a tough player and ferocious hitter, although many questioned the fairness of his tackles. He even earned the nickname "Dirty Waters." "He scared everybody - receivers, running backs, quarterbacks," said former Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski. "He was a tough guy. He believed in the theory of reduction: If you keep hitting people, they don't want to get up." <br><br>Send comments to email@example.com.
You May Like
Sign Up for our Newsletter
Don't get stuck on the sidelines! Sign up to get exclusives, daily highlights, analysis and more—delivered right to your inbox!