1st & 10: NFL's hardest hitters
An inside look at the guys you don't want bearing down on you, as compiled by The Sporting News
Eagles free safety Brian Dawkins is built like a boxer, has the same quickness and packs a similar punch. Dawkins trains during the offseason with "No Holds Barred" ultimate fighting champion Tim Catalfo. That training has enhanced Dawkins' fierce competitiveness and added to his speed and strength, allowing him to be the hardest hitter in the league.
But there's more to being a big hitter than the willingness and ability to hammer receivers. There's an art to it. The best hard hitters don't overextend themselves in their eagerness to deliver a big shot and then miss. Dawkins delivers monster hits without sacrificing anything.
"Pound for pound, he might be the most violent guy in the league," says Redskins pro scout Mike Kelly. "He can generate such great speed in a confined space. He closes so rapidly and is just so physically strong. His compact size plays right into playing with leverage. He knows how to come up and through a person, bringing his hips."
Dawkins (5-11, 205) covers like a cornerback and hits like a linebacker. One of the most vicious of Dawkins' many highlight-reel hits was delivered on Michael Vick in the playoffs two years ago. Vick spun like a top. Says Bills cornerback Troy Vincent, a former Eagle: "When Dawk hits you, you stay hit."
2. Roy Williams, FS, Cowboys. He is at his best near the line, where he serves as an extra linebacker. He also lurks in the middle, waiting for an unsuspecting receiver. He changes games with big hits. "Sometimes he throws his body in there like he's playing with somebody else's body," Kelly says.
3. Rodney Harrison, SS, Patriots. His quickness allows him to patrol the secondary and punish receivers who don't keep their heads on a swivel. Harrison hits so hard the NFL has made him the most fined player in history. He has had to work on staying within the confines of the evolving NFL rulebook.
4. John Lynch, FS, Broncos. He might have lost a step, but he still hits a ton and has not let offseason neck surgery affect him. His ability to read plays allows him to go after home run hits. In Week 13, he came flying up and drilled the Chargers' Jesse Chatman, who lost the ball, his helmet and his wits.
5. Ray Lewis, ILB, Ravens. If Lewis gets a run at you, you better duck. Some of his best shots are delivered on the perimeter. Running backs, searching for holes on "stretch" plays, often get blindsided by Lewis at full speed. His ability has slipped a little in the last year, but he still hits with ferocity.
6. Takeo Spikes, OLB, Bills. Spikes would like nothing better than to knock the taste out of your mouth. He has marvelous balance and technique and always attacks at full speed. Spikes welcomed Jaguars rookie wideout Reggie Williams
to the NFL with a helmet-dislodging shot in the opener.
7. Donovin Darius, SS, Jaguars. Because the Jaguars put him so close to the line for run support, Darius — who was fined $75,000 by the NFL for his Dec. 19 hit across the neck of Green Bay's Robert Ferguson — plays like an extra linebacker and fearlessly gives up his body. The problem comes in coverage; Darius sometimes gets caught out of position in his eagerness to make the big hit.
8. Keith Brooking, OLB, Falcons. He has exceptional timing and what coordinator Ed Donatell calls strong "hit-through" skills. Brooking's explosive hips drive his tackles and allow him to inflict maximum punishment. His best asset is a relentless attitude about nailing the ballcarrier on every play.
9. Adrian Wilson, SS, Cardinals. Wilson has excellent size (6-3, 223) for a safety and takes equal pride in crushing receivers and ballcarriers. After being punished by a Wilson shot last season, then-49ers tight end Jed Weaver landed on his head, and his helmet went rolling off.
10. Chris Hope, FS, Steelers. Scene 1: Hope (214 pounds) flattens Jerome Bettis (252) in a goal-line drill at camp. Bettis doesn't practice for a week because of a sore shoulder. Scene 2: Hope puts a big hit on Miami's Lamar Gordon, who is lost for the season with a shoulder injury.
11. Shaun Rogers, DT, Lions. With his quick first step, explosive burst and size (6-4, 345), Rogers can deliver a devastating blow to a quarterback or running back, even from a short distance. Because he's still establishing himself, he's always trying to leave a mark -- mostly on his opponents.