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Thursday, January 9, 2014
NFLN survey/feared player: Bengals

By Coley Harvey

CINCINNATI -- Maybe it's the dark visor that completely shields his eyes.

Or maybe it's his knack for punishing running backs with the types of hard tackles that make them slowly pull themselves up off the turf.

Whatever it is, something about Cincinnati Bengals linebacker James Harrison has his peers believing he is one of the NFL's most feared players.

In an anonymous survey conducted in locker rooms across the league by ESPN.com's 32 NFL reporters earlier this season, 5.6 percent of respondents said Harrison was the most feared player they went up against. A few of them were Bengals who have to deal with seeing the outside linebacker on a daily basis. Although he's a locker room favorite, many of them are glad he's finally playing with them and not against them.

As high as Harrison's vote percentage was, though, it wasn't that close to the survey's top vote-getters, Ndamukong Suh and Calvin Johnson. The intimidating Suh has gained a reputation for being one of if not the dirtiest player in the league for the after-whistle extracurricular activity that has become the hallmark of his play. A good pass-rusher and run-stopper, he has earned a reputation for being one of the most difficult defensive linemen to defend, too.

Johnson is arguably the game's best active receiver and expected to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and his intimidation appears to be the result of the wow factor that he possesses. The Bengals who selected him as the game's most feared player were amazed at how he had a knack for making the impossible look easy. During a Week 7 game between the Bengals and Lions, Johnson outleaped three Bengals defenders at the goal line to haul in a 50-yard touchdown pass. He was well covered but still had the athleticism to come down with the reception.

Plays like that make him difficult to solve.

Back quickly to Harrison. He likely developed his intimidating persona in Pittsburgh while playing for the Steelers. In his time in Cincinnati, he hasn't yet had the same on-the-field impact, but he has maintained his imposing off-the-field stature. His sometimes derisive and jokingly contentious behavior with media was captured by a film crew representing HBO's "Hard Knocks" last summer. By turning his back to the cameras and preventing them from gaining entry into certain meeting rooms, the legend of his fearful personality likely grew.