NFL Top 10 Hardest Hitting Safeties of All-Time
These are the hardest hitting safeties of all time based strictly on hitting ability. If you are interested in all players, you can check out my hardest hitters in NFL history list, but this current list will focus only on the safety position.
One of the common themes of this list is older players being listed. NFL rules today make it hard for hard-hitting specialists to reign free.
#10 – Jamal Adams
The NFL is a bizarre league, especially its fans. Somehow, Jamal Adams went from one of the most overrated players in the NFL to one of the most hated players in the league. I don’t get it.
When speaking strictly in terms of his hits, you can’t deny he isn’t one of the hardest hitters in the NFL. Not only that, one of the hardest hitters since entering the NFL in 2017.
In today’s pass heavy NFL, he is a liability when it comes to defending the pass in zone coverage. Here’s the thing. His ability to tackle in the open field as well as rushing the passer is dominant. He has many holes in his game, but he overcomes that with his outstanding hitting ability.
Looking at the 2023 season, I hope for a speedy recovery as I still believe he has the potential to regain his title as one of the top 10 best safeties in the NFL.
#9 – Ed Reed
When Tom Brady was asked who he thought was the most annoying defender to play against, he didn’t have to think hard. It was Ed Reed who is widely considered the best ball hawk safety ever. That’s a lot of praise from the GOAT.
While his ability to intercept passes is what makes him most known, it was his all-around game that made him so great. His hitting ability is one of the many reasons that makes him one of the best safeties of all-time.
At just over 200 pounds, Ed Reed was still never shy to torpedo down field. If he wasn’t in position to intercept the pass, he was never shy to put his shoulder down and plow through a would be pass catcher. That even extended into special teams.
#8 – Troy Polamalu
Speaking of ball hawk safeties, my ranking of Troy Polamalu is the biggest difference between the fan voting and actual SOG ranking. Let me explain myself.
Much like Ed Reed, Troy Polamalu is one of the top 3 best safeties of all-time in all logical rankings. He was your do-it-all safety with instincts and football IQ that would allow him to do things never seen before.
But we’re only talking about “hardest NFL hitters” with this list. Ranking him 8th overall is nothing to scoff at and he is still amongst the best of the best. I just don’t consider him top 5.
He doesn’t have the highlight hits like the later ranked players on this list and had a career that lasted just over a decade.
Honorable Mention – Sean Taylor
It’s always difficult ranking players like Sean Taylor. I believe if his life hadn’t been taken too soon, he could have become the hardest hitting safety ever and one of the hardest NFL hitters ever. But it was.
Rest in peace Sean Taylor. You made the pro-bowl interesting and had the potential to become one of the best ever.
While he has the highlight hits that could rank him on this list, my honorable mention ranking is because I wouldn’t know where to rank him. Does he deserve to be mentioned? Without a doubt the answer is yes.
#7 – Rodney Harrison
To be a leader on a Bill Belichick defense, you need to be three things. Number one is intelligent. Rodney Harrison was that. Number two was hard working. Rodney Harrison was that. Number three is ruthless. You’re damn right Rodney Harrison was that. The latter led to many call him one of the dirtiest players in NFL history.
Rodney Harrison played his first 9 seasons with the Chargers and had one season being ranked in the 1st team all-pro. In his first season with the Patriots he was fourth in the Defensive Player of the Year voting.
My favorite story from that season is Bill Belichick talking about Harrison starting fights in practice. He had a motor that didn’t stop, and anyone who’s played defense is intensity is vital in both practice and games. Rodney Harrison brought that energy.
That energy was apparent each time he had the chance to hit somebody.
#6 – John Lynch
Many of the players listed so far specialized at hitting wide receivers after catching the football. A dream scenario for safeties is being able to lower your shoulder into a would be pass catcher as he can’t even see you coming.
John Lynch was that guy too, but what made him special was his ability to aid in stopping the run. He had that ability in open field and in the box. Depending on the gameplan, you could see him line up like a linebacker. And boy did he get the job done.
Consider him one of the best players on one of the best defenses in NFL history that ended up winning the Super Bowl.
#5 – Kam Chancellor
Kam Chancellor was the boom in the Legion of Boom. Not only did he have the size of a linebacker, he also had the power. Give him the speed of a defensive back, and it’s a scary combination for wide receivers.
On the Seahawks, he knew Earl Thomas was the ball hawk, but he fully accepted the role as the intimidator. He roamed the field always looking for an opportunity to set the tempo of the game.
He would hit players so hard that they’d be thinking about him when catching the ball. A scary, scary thought.
Because of so many hard hits, it led to neck problems that would cut his career short. A man willing to risk his body for hard hits should earn the respect of any NFL fan.
#4 – Steve Atwater
If you haven’t seen Steve Atwater’s hit on Christian Okoye, you are missing out. While I didn’t see it live, I still consider it the biggest hit ever considering the context.
At the time, Chiefs running back Christian Okoye was regarded as the best power running back ever. He was over 250 pounds and frequently ran over defenders. Not Steve Atwater though. Christian Okoye found himself 1v1 against Atwater in open field. Steve Atwater put his entire being into this hit and became the only defender ever to send Okoye flying backwards.
This shattered the reputation of Okoye and propelled Atwater into legendary status. His hard hitting ability cannot be questioned.
#3 – Jack Tatum
I always feel weird glorifying Jack Tatum for this, but in context it’s necessary. Jack Tatum hit someone so hard that they became a permanent quadriplegic. Yes, he made someone paralyzed for the rest of their life. It’s a very sad story, but also embodies just how hard hitting Jack Tatum was.
“I like to believe that my best hits border on felonious assault.” Jack Tatum was not shy to express his intentions. This was a very different NFL that rewarded hard hits instead of penalizing them.
They called him the assassin, and it’s clear why. He was a killer.
#2 – Brian Dawkins
This may be childish of me, but I still like superhero movies. That’s part of the reason I believe Brian Dawkins has one of the best NFL nicknames ever, Weapon X.
Off the field, he was a devout Christian. He was caring and well-mannered. On the field, it was a different story. His alter ego took over and he became Weapon X aka the Wolverine.
You don’t expect these hard hitters to be so well-rounded, but Brian Dawkins became the first player to record 30 interceptions and 30 forced fumbles in his career. He did it all.
His highlight reel tells all the story you need to know. In some of the biggest, most important games of his career is when he had his biggest plays. No moment was too big for Brian Dawkins making him a fan favorite.
#1 – Ronnie Lott
Ronnie Lott retired the year I was born. He still became my favorite NFL player ever and let me tell you why. This man is the definition of a bad ass.
After one of his big hits, his finger got caught in the players’ facemask. His finger was so badly injured, the team doctor told him he only had two options. Option one was to go on injury reserve list for half the season and heal up. Option two was to amputate the finger to be able to keep playing. Call me crazy, but I’m keeping the finger. Ronnie Lott opted for the latter. He decided his finger wasn’t as important as winning.
His willingness to sacrifice his own body just exemplifies how little care he had for his opponents body. His ex-teammate Marcus Allen said it best. “To be recognized as one of the best ever, you need to have a little bit of crazy inside of you.” Ronnie Lott had a lot of it.
This man was a punisher. He played in the perfect era for his style of football.
His desire to win led to four Super Bowl victories with the 49ers. While Joe Montana and Steve Young get most of the praise for these Super Bowls, make no mistake. This 49ers defense was amongst one of the best NFL defenses ever.
It’s shocking to think that this was an all-pro cornerback converted all-pro safety. He could do it all and for that reason, he is the best safety in NFL history.
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