The month of October is always accompanied by the most frightening things one can imagine. Skeletons and spiders, ghosts and goblins, and everything in between tend to show up, and each tends to heighten everyone’s senses as Halloween inches closer.
While some find all of those items scary, players in the NFL have had a whole other category of terror to deal with on the field since the league’s inception.
Whether it’s a hard-hitting linebacker in the middle of a defense, or a steamrolling safety bursting across the field towards a receiver or a ball in the air, many players have given opponents chills over the last century.
To bring back those bone-chilling (or bone-crushing) memories, it’s time to take a look at some of the scariest players the NFL has ever seen.
6. Ed Reed
Edgar Allan Poe made ravens scary in 1845, but the Baltimore Ravens have kept the fear alive with some of the defenses the franchise has crafted over the last few decades.
One of the main pieces of that defensive success in the 2000s? All-time great safety Ed Reed.
Reed was one of six safeties selected to the NFL 100 All-Time Team, and for good reason. He could cover the entire width of the field on one play, and his speed allowed him to turn any play into a close call for the opposing offense.
He could terrorize quarterbacks while in coverage, act like a kick returner when he had the ball on interceptions en route to the end zone, and could absolutely deck wide receivers and running backs that dared to catch a ball in front of him.
Tom Brady is on record during the 2009 season talking about the immense impact Reed could have on a game, and Brady’s former coach Bill Belichick has also showered Reed in praise on numerous occasions.
If two of the best to ever compete in the sport believe that you’re a force to be reckoned with, everyone else should probably avoid you at all costs.
5. Ronnie Lott
Having a finger amputated sounds like something you would see in a horror movie that you’d watch on Halloween.
For Ronnie Lott, it was just a part of the game.
The San Francisco 49ers legend was just as scary as Ed Reed was in the secondary, but may have the hardest-hitting safety the NFL has ever seen.
He had the power of someone like Eagles legend Brian Dawkins or Chargers/Patriots legend Rodney Harrison, and an unmatched level of toughness that the league may never bare witness to again.
When he literally had his finger crushed, he was given two options as it related to a solution: surgery and a long recovery, or amputation.
Not caring about the long-term effects just like he didn’t care about the risk of his hits on the field, Lott chose to have the finger amputated to be able to get back out there to help his team.
He was scary outside of that fact, but it definitely helps his case when talking about the scariest players in NFL history.
4. Ray Lewis
Whether he was dancing and screaming during his introduction before Ravens games, lighting up a running back or wide receiver while covering the middle of the field, or sprinting to sack a quarterback, Ray Lewis was intimidating in every facet of the game.
His intensity was unwavering, and it became a calling card for the Pro Football Hall of Famer. Whether he was yelling at you watching Gatorade commercials at home, the opening sequence of a Madden game, or at his teammates on the field, the action never stopped for the Ravens linebacker.
While he definitely had a lot of bark throughout his time in the league, he packed a hell of a bite to go with it. With 1568 solo tackles, 41 sacks and 19 forced fumbles throughout his career, Lewis backed it up whenever he was on the field.
Add in two Super Bowl wins and a multitude of Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors, and Lewis was frightening for opposing teams when they saw the Ravens as their upcoming opponent on the schedule.
3. Bruce Smith
While the first three players on this list were scary for skill positions, Buffalo Bills legend Bruce Smith was a nightmare for quarterbacks and offensive linemen during his tenure in the NFL.
The all-time leader in sacks and the only player to ever reach the 200 mark in that category, Smith posed a problem in each and every one of the 279 games he suited up for. Many teams simply couldn’t stop him, and only hoped that they could contain him throughout the entirety of a game.
That even proved to be a challenge for the 31 other teams in the league, considering the fact that Smith was able to tally 1,075 tackles and 43 forced fumbles throughout his career.
Combine all of that with his sheer size and the crazy combination of power and speed that he possessed at the position, and Smith was the equivalent of the Grim Reaper on the Bills’ defensive line.
2. Dick Butkus
Dick Butkus was literally named the NFL’s “most feared man in the game” by Sports Illustrated in 1970, and he surely lived up to that reputation throughout his tenure in the league.
The Chicago Bears linebacker had a legendary nine-year career, and made each of those years count in the biggest way possible. In 119 games, he recorded 22 interceptions and recovered 27 fumbles. He was a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, was nominated for eight Pro Bowls, and landed First Team All-Pro honors five times.
Throughout it all, he built up quite the reputation among both his teammates and his Hall of Fame-worthy opponents.
“I called him a maniac,” Los Angeles Rams legend Deacon Jones once said. “A stone maniac. He was a well-conditioned animal, and every time he hit you, he tried to put you in the cemetery, not the hospital.”
Jones’ comments make a lot of sense, especially given the nicknames Butkus earned throughout his career, like “The Animal” and “The Enforcer.” Add in the “kill or be killed” instinct that the Bears defensive star played with, and the Pro Football Hall of Famer easily goes down as one of the scariest players to ever suit up in the NFL.
1. Lawrence Taylor
In the 1990s, basketball players were scared to go up against Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. Hockey players didn’t want to deal with Wayne Gretzky during his time with the Los Angeles Kings.
The football equivalent was easy to figure out in the 1990s, especially for teams in the NFC East. If you were looking for a player that brought fear into a player’s mind, you could stop your search once you saw New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor.
Throughout 12 years in the league, Taylor became arguably the best linebacker the league has ever seen, and deserves even more praise if you were to ask one of his former coaches.
“I think I had the honor of coaching the greatest defensive football player in the history of the game. He helped make me a great coach,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said after Taylor was announced as part of the NFL 100 All-Time Team. “This guy could do it all. Offense, defense, special teams. Wherever you wanted him to play, he could have been a great two-way player.”
He was named Defensive Player of the Year three times throughout his career, even winning Defensive Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year in his first professional season. He had 132.5 sacks in 184 games, along with nine interceptions, 11 fumble recoveries and two defensive touchdowns.
He won two Super Bowls, was named MVP once, and made 10 Pro Bowls and eight All-Pro teams, as well.
If it seems like he was everywhere from an awards standpoint, just ask the opponents who had to deal with him on the field. Whether he was powering through an offensive lineman with absolute strength en route to the quarterback, or utilizing his speed and finesse to bring down running backs, Taylor was all over the place during games.
He simply wouldn’t be denied, and his ferocity on the field made him into one of the sport’s all-time greats.
He may not have chopped off a finger like Ronnie Lott, or been called a “maniac” by a fellow Hall of Famer, but Taylor was a completely different beast that was simply untouchable from a talent perspective.
He struck fear in whoever had the pleasure of lining up against him, and goes down as the scariest player the league has ever had to deal with.