The scariest players in NFL history

Profile Picture: Robert Criscola

October 27th, 2020

There’s no doubting the toughness of any NFL player, but there have been some titans of the turf who appeared to be a different breed. With Halloween just around the corner, we decided to rank the five scariest players in NFL history.

5. James Harrison, Linebacker (2002 – 2017)

Though his career contained plenty of highlights – such as his 100-yard interception return in Super Bowl XLIII – longtime Steelers linebacker James Harrison often drew the ire of opposing players and commissioner Roger Goodell with his hard-nosed style of play. He also invoked plenty of fear.

Harrison garnered fines totaling $100,000 in 2010 alone. In 2011, Harrison laid a vicious hit on Browns quarterback Colt McCoy, giving him a concussion and subsequently becoming the first player to be suspended for an illegal hit.

4. Conrad Dobler, Guard (1972 – 1981)

Cardinals offensive lineman Conrad Dobler was labeled "Pro Football’s Dirtiest Player" by Sports Illustrated in 1977, and he was proud of his reputation. His willingness to resort to "anything I can get away with" made him one the most feared players in NFL history.

"He’s known throughout the league and despised by everyone who’s played against him," Washington defensive tackle Bill Brundige told The Washington Post. "It’s…frustrating because the officials let him get away with a lot of stuff. You can’t retaliate because you’re the one who always gets caught. If he swings at you and you swing back, the officials never see the first punch."

3. Dick Butkus, Linebacker (1965 – 1973)

Despite playing for just nine seasons, Bears linebacker Dick Butkus established himself as one of football’s all-time tough guys.

Hall of Fame defensive end Deacon Jones once said of Butkus, "every time he hit you, he tried to put you in the cemetery, not the hospital." Sports Illustrated named Butkus "The Most Feared Man in the Game" in 1970.

Butkus has also been accused of biting, gouging, and even targeting opposing players, the last of which he once dismissed comedically, saying, "I wouldn’t ever go out to hurt anybody deliberately. Unless it was, you know, important—like a league game or something."

2. Dick "Night Train" Lane, Cornerback (1952 – 1965)

Perhaps the most famous cornerback in NFL history, Dick "Night Train" Lane ranks fourth all-time in interceptions (68). But his ball-hawking ability was not the main reason he was so frightening on the field.

Lane’s tackling techniques – such as throwing opponents down by their facemask or clotheslining them by the neck – would eventually be outlawed by the NFL during his playing career, but not before he left a trail of carnage in his wake.

"My object is to stop the guy before he gains another inch," Lane once told The Sun-Telegram. "[I]f I hit them in the legs they may fall forward for a first down…I grab them around the neck so I can go back to the bench and sit down."

1. Lawrence Taylor, Linebacker (1981 – 1993)

The last defensive player to win the NFL MVP Award (1986), Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor is widely considered the greatest linebacker of all-time. He was also one of the scariest.

Legendary coaches marveled at Taylor. "Lawrence Taylor, defensively, has had as big an impact as any player I’ve ever seen," former Raiders coach John Madden once told ESPN. "He changed the way defense is played, the way pass-rushing is played, the way linebackers play and the way offenses block linebackers."

"What makes L.T. so great, what makes him so aggressive, is his total disregard for his body," Bill Belichick told reporters during his stint as the Giants’ defensive coordinator.

Taylor is also infamous for his career-ending hit on Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann.