As the 2014 season in the National Football League begins with organized team activities and minicamps, the NFL remains the most popular sport in the United States. NFL games dominate the fall television season, and the sport tops the charts on social media and news sites alike.
What makes the NFL such an exciting entertainment product for so many people? There are lots of reasons. Many fans have their favorite teams. The growing popularity of fantasy football also drives football obsession, as fans track their players’ performances much like actual football team owners.
Arguably the most exciting aspect of NFL football, though, are the spectacular plays that show up after every game on highlight shows and Web videos. Tackles broken for touchdowns, ankle-breaking jukes to get by a defender, and blink-of-the-eye cutbacks are just some of the plays that make most of us love football to almost an irrational level.
So who are the skill players who are the hardest to tackle in the NFL? Opinions may vary, but pretty much everyone can agree that the following players are among the most difficult to bring down on the field.
10. Giovani Bernard, RB, Cincinnati Bengals
This speedy second-year player out of the University of North Carolina is also deceptively strong. According to the statisticians at Football Outsiders, Bernard broke 28 tackles last year in his rookie season with the Cincinnati Bengals. Of course, Bernard’s real selling point is his speed, as he is able to blow by most defenders without the need to even break a tackle. This combination of strength and speed makes Bernard one of the hardest running backs to tackle in the NFL. Bernard notched an excellent 1,209 yards from scrimmage in 2013 even while in a backfield-by-committee, and he looks to be the unquestioned featured back in Cincinnati this season.
9. Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
Jamaal Charles needs no introduction here, as his appearance on the first team of the NFL All-Pro list speaks for itself. Charles was second in yards from scrimmage in the entire league last season, finishing with 1,980 and trailed only LeSean McCoy in that crucial category. What’s more, Charles was the author of dozens of highlight-reel plays on his way to a career-high 19 touchdowns in 2013, including a spectacular 71-yard catch-and-run to
the end zone against the Oakland Raiders.
8. Golden Tate, WR, Detroit Lions
Golden Tate might not be the most famous name on this list, but he was an integral part of the Seattle Seahawks’ championship season in 2013. Tate notched a career high 64 receptions in 2013, and led all wide receivers in broken tackles, with 23. Tate has an excellent blend of speed and strength, combining a possession-receiver’s mindset to move the chains with a game-breaking ability that defenses must respect. Tate caught five touchdowns in 2013, including an 80-yarder, and is a player on the rise.
7. Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Minnesota Vikings
Patterson is a second-year wide receiver out of Tennessee with excellent size, speed, acceleration, and strength. In his rookie season with the Vikings, Patterson made both the 2013 Pro Bowl and first team All-Pro. His electrifying kick and punt returns were must-see plays in Minnesota, and he finished second in the league in return yards with 1,393. Patterson also broke the second-most tackles among wide receivers, with 18.
6. LeSean McCoy, RB, Philadelphia Eagles
McCoy had a career season in 2013, leading the NFL in rushing yards with 1,607. It goes without saying that he made the Pro Bowl and first team All-Pro, as well. McCoy benefited from first-year coach Chip Kelly’s run-focused offense, as defenses had no answer for McCoy’s speed and running instincts in Kelly’s system. In the rare instances when defenses did get to McCoy, the back showed off his strength, notching 51 broken tackles, which was good for second in the league behind Marshawn Lynch.
5. Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay Packers
Lacy, a second-year running back out of Alabama, had a fantastic rookie season last year with the Packers. Lacy notched 1,178 rushing yards and 1,435 yards from scrimmage, earning him a Pro Bowl spot and the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year award. Green Bay, in recent years, had not been known as a running team, but Lacy changed all that in 2013 with his punishing running style and deceptive speed. Lacy was the victim of a viral photograph last summer purportedly showing him overweight at training camp, but he put any doubts about his conditioning to rest very quickly as he dominated the rookie ranks of NFL backs. Lacy broke 29 tackles in 2013, tops among rookies.
4. Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers
Quarterbacks are not usually known for their tackle-breaking abilities, but then again, Cam Newton really isn’t the average quarterback. At 6-5 and 245 lbs., Newton is a freakishly good athlete who could play almost any position on the field. Newton, the top overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft, has enjoyed consistent success with Carolina in his first three seasons. Newton’s size and speed allowed him to break an astounding 25 tackles last season, which was 10 more than the next-best QB, Russell Wilson.
3. Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions
NFL fans might not agree on much, but pretty much everyone who watched football in the past few years can agree that Calvin Johnson is far and away the best receiver in the NFL. Johnson’s size, speed, strength, and overall athleticism make for a nearly unstoppable force on the field. Johnson notched 84 receptions for 1,492 yards and 12 touchdowns, which hilariously constitutes a “down” season for him, off his career-high 122 receptions and 1,964 yards in 2012. Johnson’s yards per catch, however, was a career-high 17.8 yards in 2013, demonstrating how difficult he is to tackle, even after seven seasons in the league.
2. Andre Ellington, RB, Arizona Cardinals
Ellington is coming off his rookie year where his role with the Arizona Cardinals grew in stature as the season progressed. Ellington has a prototypical blend of blazing straight-line speed, fast acceleration, and brute strength, and many consider him the most talented young running back in the league. Ellington led all running backs in broken tackle rate in 2013, breaking 28 tackles on 157 touches, which is a broken tackle 17.8 percent of the time he touched the ball.
1. Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle Seahawks
If you follow the NFL at all, you probably guessed who would be #1 on this list as soon as you read the headline. There really can’t be any debate on who is the hardest NFL player to tackle, as long as Marshawn Lynch is in his prime. Nicknamed “Beast Mode” for his monstrously brutal runs, Lynch’s broken tackles are legendary across the league. Lynch literally caused an earthquake with one of his runs, as the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network registered a small tremor near Qwest Field after Lynch broke several tackles during a 67-yard touchdown run against the New Orleans Saints in 2011. The play is considered to be one of the best runs in NFL history. Lynch did not slow down at all in 2013, leading the league in broken tackles, with 59.