The most intimidating players in the NFL
Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

The most intimidating players in the NFL

At its core, football is a game where teams aim to strike fear in the opposition. Even in the modern-day NFL, teams can win a lot of games by imposing their will physically on the opponents.

However, intimidation comes in forms other than just physicality. Great players who cause matchup problems can strike just as much fear in opposing teams as the ones who can physically hurt them.

With that in mind, here are the NFL's most intimidating players:

Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Donald isn’t the most physically gifted NFL player, but his quickness and athleticism make him one of the best pass rushers in the league. He has only 3.0 sacks through six games this season, but he’s getting double and triple teamed after having won each of the last two Defensive Player of the Year Awards. Donald led the league with 20.5 sacks in 2018.

J.J. Watt, Houston Texans
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The 30-year-old has been intimidating the opposition for this entire decade, amassing 96 sacks in 110 games. He has five seasons with at least 10 sacks and two years with 20.5 sacks. Watt is one of only two players to win the Defensive Player of the Year Award three times.

Ndamukong Suh, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

The No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, Suh still is considered by some as one of the meanest and dirtiest players in the NFL. His mean streak has often gotten him in trouble with penalties, but very few players have struck more fear in offensive players than Suh this decade. He has 56.5 sacks in 148 career games and scored his first touchdown since his rookie season in Week 4 against the Rams.

Calais Campbell, Jacksonville Jaguars
Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

At 6-foot-8, Campbell is as physically imposing as it gets along the defensive line. He’s not quite as skillful as some of the other defensive linemen on this list, but Campbell can dominate a game, as evidenced with three sacks against the Titans in Week 3. The 33-year-old earned All-Pro honors in 2017 and has made four Pro Bowls in his 12-year career.

Myles Garrett, Cleveland Browns
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

While the Browns aren’t living up to their offseason hype, Garrett has been everything he was expected to be coming out of Texas A&M as the 2017 No. 1 overall pick. Garrett posted 13.5 sacks in his second season and leads the NFL with 9.0 sacks through Week 6. He is also earning the reputation in 2019 as a nasty, and maybe even a little bit dirty, player because he’s earned multiple penalties in the first two months of the season.

Jadeveon Clowney, Seattle Seahawks
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Ever since his massive hit against Michigan's running back in the Outback Bowl, Clowney has been striking fear in the opposition. He is still searching for his first 10-sack season, but his mix of size, speed and strength has rarely been duplicated, making him one of the most feared pass rushers in the NFL. 

Khalil Mack, Chicago Bears
Steven Flynn-USA TODAY Sports

Mack won the Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2016, but he became somewhat of an afterthought despite 10.5 sacks with a below-average Raiders team in 2017. But after his trade to Chicago, Mack rightfully earned the reputation once again as one of the biggest defensive difference makers in the league. Posting double-digit sacks in each of the last four years, he’s a matchup problem for anyone.

Von Miller, Denver Broncos
Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports

The 30-year-old became the fourth-fastest player to 100 sacks when he reached the milestone in his 124th game during Week 4. Miller has posted at least 10 sacks in every season in which he’s played at least 10 games since 2011. He can embarrass any opponent with a huge defensive play at any time — just ask Cam Newton.

Luke Kuechly, Carolina Panthers
Steve Flynn-USA TODAY Sports

This season, Kuechly became the fastest player to 1,000 tackles to start a career. He’s been an absolute tackling machine, posting an average of about 140 tackles per season. There hasn’t been anyone in the middle of a defense better than Kuechly this decade.

10 of 20

Jalen Ramsey, Los Angeles Rams

Jalen Ramsey, Los Angeles Rams
Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Like Richard Sherman before him, Ramsey has become the most boastful cornerback in the league. He backed it up in 2017 by making the All-Pro team. The Rams acquired him on Oct. 15 with the hope that he will return to that form. Even if he doesn’t, Ramsey isn’t going to back down to anyone, including his own coaches, making him one of the best talkers and most intimidating players in the league.

Quenton Nelson, Indianapolis Colts
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Nelson might be the most underrated nasty player in the league. He doesn’t get many highlight reels because he plays guard, but Nelson is the blue-collared, no-nonsense NFL player from yesteryear who has helped quickly transform the Colts offensive line from one of the weakest to one of the most physically imposing in the league.  Colts linebacker Anthony Walker told The Athletic in August, “I’m not gonna lie. If I was a linebacker from another team, I’d be scared of Quenton Nelson. I wouldn’t mess with that dude.” Enough said. He’s on the list.

Taylor Lewan, Tennessee Titans
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

There isn’t an offensive tackle in the NFL with a bigger mean streak. His nastiness has led to one ejection and a few different fines in his career. Of course, his 6-foot-7 and 309-pound frame helps make him pretty intimidating as well.

13 of 20

Richie Incognito, Oakland Raiders

Richie Incognito, Oakland Raiders
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Incognito bullied a teammate so badly that the Dolphins suspended him for misconduct detrimental to the team. While that’s certainly nothing to brag about, it alone lands him on this list. Incognito isn’t exactly friendly to the opposition on the field either.

14 of 20

Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville Jaguars

Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville Jaguars
Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports

Fournette is known more as a bruising running back, but he ran a 4.51 40-yard dash before the 2017 NFL Draft as well. His physicality and speed easily make him one of the most feared backs in the league. Fournette has 584 rushing yards in six games and is averaging 5.1 yards per carry.

Saquon Barkley, New York Giants
Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Barkley has missed the last couple of games due to injury but he is expected to return soon. As long as he’s healthy, he easily makes any list like this because of his unique mix of elusiveness and toughness. Barkley is averaging 6.4 yards per carry this year and 5.2 yards per rush through 19 career games.

Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Without Rob Gronkowski in the league, Kelce has claimed the title of best tight end in the NFL. Like Gronkowski, Kelce is a matchup problem because of his size and speed, but he can also run block with the best of them. Kelce posted 103 receptions last season, and he’s reached 1,000 receiving yards in three straight years.

George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers
Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Outside of fantasy football, Kittle probably isn’t well known, but many have argued he’s already better than Kelce. The 26-year-old is also a matchup problem because of his strength and athleticism, but he likes run blocking even better, and he excels at it like no other elite pass-catching tight end in the league. Kittle set a tight end record with 1,377 receiving yards while averaging 15.6 yards per catch last year.

18 of 20

Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons

Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Standing at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, Jones ran a 4.39 40-yard dash at the 2011 NFL Combine. Maybe he doesn’t still run that fast, but he’s a matchup issue for any cornerback. He can outrun defenders with speed or overpower them with his size. Jones has led the league in receiving twice and receptions once during his incredible nine-year career.

19 of 20

Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs

Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Quarterbacks don’t normally land on most intimidating lists, but players can scare the opposition in other ways besides physically. There isn’t a player who worries an opposing coaching staff more than Mahomes. Posting more than 5,000 passing yards and 50 touchdowns as a first-year starter will do that. Before suffering a knee injury that will keep him out of at least the next three games, Mahomes was on pace for even better numbers as he has 2,180 passing yards, 15 touchdowns and only one interception in seven games this season.

Tom Brady, New England Patriots
Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

Like Mahomes, Brady doesn’t scare anyone physically, but there’s a mystique around playing the Patriots, especially in Foxborough. The Patriots are 66-9 at home this decade during the regular season, and Brady is obviously a big reason why. Having so many Super Bowl rings that they don’t fit on one hand will intimidate anyone.

Dave Holcomb began working as a sports writer in 2013 after graduating from Syracuse University. Over the past six years, he has covered the NFL, NHL, MLB, fantasy sports, college football and basketball, and New Jersey high school sports for numerous print and online publications. Follow Holcomb on Twitter at @dmholcomb.

More must-reads:

Customize Your Newsletter


Get the latest news and rumors, customized to your favorite sports and teams. Emailed daily. Always free!

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.