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NFL’s Hardest Hitters Ever Hierarchy

by Riley Baines
NFL's Hardest Hitters Ever Hierachy

NFL’s Hardest Hitters Ever Hierarchy

This list is compiled with the hardest hitters in NFL history. The rules today limit the hard hitting ability of defensive players, so many of those listed played before the 2000s. These are the NFL’s hardest hitters ever ranked according to tiers.

Here is the 2023 updated version of the hardest NFL hitters ever!


Tier 1:

From left to right: Ray Lewis & Ronnie Lott

The hardest hitting linebacker and hardest hitting safety.

Ray Lewis – Career Tackles: 2059
There won’t be a linebacker as physically imposing as Ray Lewis. The rules just won’t allow it. The 2x defensive player of the year has some of the hardest hits ever. My favorite was his hit on Dustin Keller. He is the best middle linebacker to ever play.

Ronnie Lott – Career Tackles: 1146
Recency bias crowns Troy Polamalu or Ed Reed as the best safety ever, but that title belongs to Ronnie Lott. An all-pro cornerback converted to all-pro safety, Lott was the heart and soul of a 49ers defense that won 4 Super Bowls.


Tier 2:

From left to right: Lawrence Taylor, Brian Dawkins & Dick Butkus

Lawrence Taylor – x1 MVP, 3x DPOY
Lawrence Taylor completely changed the way blocking schemes were made an offense. He was unstoppable as an edge rusher and is the NFL’s best linebacker ever.

Brian Dawkins – Career Tackles: 1147
He was a family man and devout Christian off the field, but transformed into Weapon X when on the field. Brian Dawkins does not get enough credit as one of the hardest hitters ever.

Dick Butkus – x2 DPOY
It was like Moby Dick in a fish bowl. Whenever you played against Dick Butkus, the training room would be more populated than ever.

Tier 3:

From left to right: Dick Lane, Jack Tatum, Sean Taylor, Steve Atwater & Kam Chancellor

Dick Lane – 7x All-Pro
There were a lot of rules put in place because of Dick Lane. From facemasking to clotheslines, he was always out for blood. Some call it dirty, but it completely legal at the time.

Jack Tatum – 3x Pro-Bowl
He hit someone so hard they became a permanent quadriplegic. Scary. That is the loss of ability in all four limbs. Nothing to glorify, but is a testament of his hitting ability.

Sean Taylor – Career Tackles: 305
If his life wouldn’t have been cut short, there is no doubt in my mind that Sean Taylor would be in the GOAT conversation.

Steve Atwater – Career Tackles: 1188
Christian Okoye was the Nigerian Nightmare. Everyone was scared to tackle him. His reputation was completely shattered after he met Steve Atwater. To me it is up there for the NFL’s hardest hit ever.

Kam Chancellor – Career Tackles: 607
Bam Bam Kam. The Boom in the Legion of Boom. Sadly his physically imposing nature led to a neck injury that cut his career short.

Tier 4:

From left to right: Jack Ham, Deacon Jones, James Harrison, Junior Seau & Jack Lambert

Jack Ham – 1x DPOY, 8x 1st Team All-Pro
The Steel Curtain defense was unstoppable with the combination of Jack Ham & Jack Lambert.

Deacon Jones – 2x DPOY, 5x 1st Team All-Pro
His specialty pass rush move was the head slap. The first of the freakishly athletic defensive tackle.

James Harrison – Career Tackles: 811
People called him dirty, but it wasn’t until late in his career headhunting wasn’t legal. James Harrison had many knockout blows.

Junior Seau – Career Tackles: 1847
20 seasons is a long time to be playing a position as physically demanding as linebacker. His all-in mentality was admirable, but a big cause of his tragic death.

Jack Lambert – 1x DPOY, 5x All-Pro
Known for his toothless cowl, Jack Lambert was the backbone for the dominant Steel Curtain defense.

Tier 5:

From left to right: Ray Nitschke, Mel Blount, Mike Singletary, Bruce Smith, Patrick Willis & Rodney Harrison

Ray Nitschke – 7x NFL Champion
Vince Lombardi gave Nitschke the chance as a full-time starter and in a defense first era won 5x NFL Champions and 2x Super Bowls.

Mel Blount – 4x SBs, 2x 1st Team All-Pro
The 5 yard limit for press coverage is called the Mel Blount rule. He would throw WRs out of the play with his physicality and also knew how to lay the boom.

Mike Singletary – x2 DPOY, 8x 1st Team All-Pro
The 2nd greatest Bears linebacker ever. Singletary was as smart as he was physical leading to a head coaching career.

Bruce Smith – Career Sacks: 200.0
The all-time leader in sacks. Bruce Smith was a defensive end who loved hitting the Quarterback.

Patrick Willis – Career Tackles: 950
Another career cut too short because of injuries. Patrick Willis was the best middle linebacker of his time.

Rodney Harrison – Career Tackles: 1206
His hard hitting nature translated perfectly from the Chargers to Bill Belichick’s Patriots.

All-Time Hierarchy Lists:
Speed – Fastest Players Ever
Safeties – Best Safeties Ever
RBs – Best Running Backs
QBs – Best Quarterbacks Ever
WRs – Best Wide Receivers Ever

2020 Hierarchy Lists:
WRs – Best Wide Receivers 2020

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