NFL Nation: NFL Nation Confidential: Most feared

NFLN survey/feared player: Colts

January, 9, 2014
Jan 9
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The first in a series of survey questions leading to the Super Bowl, NFL Nation Confidential, started Thursday. Each team's beat reporter asked 10 players anonymous questions to ensure they gave an honest answer.

The first question in the series: Who is the most feared player in the NFL?

The Detroit Lions -- for two different reasons -- had the top two vote-getters. Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh received 61 votes to beat out teammate Calvin Johnson, who had 58 votes. No other player received more than 30 votes. Former Colts quarterback Peyton Manning received 6.6 percent of the votes.

You can look at Suh being the most feared player two ways. You can't knock Suh's talent. He has 27.5 sacks in a four-year career, and he's a three-time Pro Bowler. But I don't think he was the top vote-getter for his talent.

Suh has a reputation of being a dirty player.

Johnson, on the other hand, is feared simply based on his talent. He had 1,492 yards and 12 touchdowns despite dealing with a knee problem this season. Double-teaming Johnson rarely works because he has a combination of size and speed. Just ask the Dallas Cowboys, as Johnson had 14 catches for 329 yards against them.
A pair of Detroit Lions topped the list of the NFL's most feared players following a league-wide survey in which more than 320 players participated.

Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh received 61 votes to edge wide receiver Calvin Johnson (58), according to ESPN’s NFL Nation Confidential.

Suh received two votes among the players I surveyed in the Steelers locker room with former Pittsburgh outside linebacker James Harrison leading the way with three votes.

The choice of Suh for most feared player across the league is hardly surprising. It reflects the three-time Pro Bowler's reputation for blurring the line between aggressiveness and dirty play as it does the quality of his play.

That an offensive player would finish a close second to Suh is surprising, unless you consider what a nightmare matchup Johnson poses for opposing teams.

Johnson’s size and speed have allowed him to establish himself as the best receiver in the NFL, and one of the best players in the league regardless of position. He caught 84 passes for 1,492 yards and 12 touchdowns this season despite playing through a nagging knee injury.

Johnson caught six passes for 179 yards and two touchdowns against the Steelers, though they held the player known as Megatron without a catch in the second half of a 37-27 win.

Finishing behind Suh and Johnson in the confidential survey was Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt (24 votes).

No Steelers players finished in the top 10 of voting for most feared player.
On every snap, the New England Patriots had to know where he was. The Houston Texans moved defensive end J.J. Watt all over the defensive line when the teams played on Dec. 1, and the Patriots' center followed him every time.

That need for awareness was a common theme this season.

"That was one of the first things we talked about today at our install meeting was the fact that we have to be aware of where he’s at on the field at all times because he has the ability, and, if you let him, he will completely destroy an offensive game plan," Rams quarterback Sam Bradford said the week before the teams played. "There are some things that obviously we’re going to do to try and help ourselves, I guess neutralize him. But I think the biggest thing is we all have got to be aware of where he’s at."

"It’s hard to probably do him justice in a short interview," Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning said. "He has an unbelievable motor, a great talent and a disruptive player."

"He’s the kind of player that every team wishes they had because of all that he brings," Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "His leadership I’m sure is obvious based on the style of play that he brings that you can count on every snap. He plays so hard and he’s so aggressive, and he’s so playmaker-oriented."

That's why when NFL players were polled about the most feared player in the league, Watt got votes. ESPN.com's NFL Nation anonymously polled more than 320 players leaguewide on a variety of questions. We start revealing those results with the most feared player in the league.

The winner and the runner-up came from the same team and are feared for very different reasons. Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh finished with 19 percent of the vote, while Lions receiver Calvin Johnson finished with 18.1 percent of the vote.

Those two were overwhelming choices, but Watt sneaked into third place with 7.5 percent of the vote. Join us here at 1 p.m. ET for a chat debating the league's most feared player. I'll argue Watt's case as our Detroit Lions reporter Mike Rothstein and Kevin Seifert, NFC North reporter emeritus, will discuss the two Lions players.

NFLN survey/feared player: Giants

January, 9, 2014
Jan 9
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ESPN.com's NFL Nation surveyed 10 players from every team on a variety of questions, and the results will be released in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl. The first question addressed in our series was, "Who is the most feared player in the NFL?", and while the results don't include any New York Giants players, they do include a few players the Giants faced this season.

The top two players on the list were Detroit Lions -- defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who got 19 percent of the vote, and wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who got 18.1 percent of the vote. The vast difference in the roles those two players have for the Lions indicates the open-endedness of the question, which was a characteristic I found interesting in my own confidential polling of Giants players. There were defensive players named for their fearsome ability to dominate games physically, and there were offensive players named for their ability to demoralize defenses.

As for those two particular Lions, neither turned in any kind of eye-popping performance in the Week 16 game the Giants came back to win in overtime in Detroit. The Lions were toast by then, and were eliminated from postseason contention by that game's result.

Other players on the list who played on Giants 2013 opponents included Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, who took them apart in Week 2, and Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who didn't do much in that "Monday Night Football" game in Week 7 that produced the Giants' first victory of the season.

The survey was a fun and fascinating exercise, and I look forward to sharing more of the results with you as the weeks before the Super Bowl unfold.
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.
If players were asked 10 years ago to name the most feared player in the NFL, Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis would've won. If you asked that question a couple of years ago, I'm sure some would've said linebacker Terrell Suggs. Even last season, safety Bernard Pierce probably would've received some of the players' votes. (He got two as a member of the Tennessee Titans this year.)

As it stands now, the Ravens don't have players who strike fear in the opposition. At least, not according to ESPN's anonymous survey of 320 NFL players this year.

The most feared player honor goes to Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who received 61 votes. He edged out a teammate, wide receiver Calvin Johnson, by three votes. Houston Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt was third with 24 votes.
Don’t expect the Cleveland Browns to join the chorus about Ndamukong Suh being the NFL’s most feared player.

Several Browns shrugged at the thought of Suh being “feared.” Though he received three votes from the Browns, more than three said Suh’s extracurriculars -- penalties, plays that lead to fines -- actually take away from his play.

The Browns treated the word “feared” almost equal to respect.

That’s why guys like Patrick Willis of San Francisco received three votes, J.J. Watt of Houston two and Troy Polamalu and Calvin Johnson one each.

Many Browns, too, had to be prodded into answers.

When the word “feared” was mentioned to them, they bristled and said they didn’t fear anyone.

Upon further questioning, though, they were able to come up with names.
For the entire season, the Detroit Lions have talked about how much talent they have on their roster, how good of a team they could be if they could put everything together.

For them to have the most feared offensive and defensive players in the league in an anonymous poll taken of more than 320 NFL players fits right in with the narrative they would like to create.

Ndamukong Suh was voted the most feared player in the NFL. Calvin Johnson was right behind him. Asking Suh about the honor last month, he said he’d prefer to share the award with Johnson so they could be feared together.

And they are.

But it also shows at least part of the talent level for the Lions.

“From an individual standpoint, if you put us on a piece of paper, we’re pretty well talented,” Suh said. “We may not be the most talented team, but we have some highly rated players on this team. Have an opportunity, guys who are seasoned, have experience. Some young guys that haven’t been in the league that are seen as good, quality players and have talent and have ability to affect the games.”

They are led on offense by Johnson and on defense by Suh. And as Detroit searches for a coach to replace the fired Jim Schwartz, who coached this talented team with two of the most feared players in the league to a 7-9 record last season, it became about more than that.

It became about being able to take those two talents and meshing them with the other players. That was something that didn’t always happen last season for the Lions.

But it is part of the reason the Detroit job is attractive to potential candidates after Schwartz’s firing. The talent is clearly there, from Suh and Johnson to quarterback Matthew Stafford, running back Reggie Bush and linebacker DeAndre Levy. The pieces are in place.

The potential for other teams to “fear” the Lions is available, judging from how the other NFL players voted. Now it is about being able to meld that into a cohesive, winning team.

Then Suh and Johnson could share more than just being the most feared players together: They could share playoff appearances.

NFLN survey/feared player: Rams

January, 9, 2014
Jan 9
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A pair of Detroit Lions ran away with the top spots in the NFL Nation poll of 320 players conducted by our team of reporters in every city. Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (19 percent) and receiver Calvin Johnson (18.1 percent) were the players most named among the 48 receiving votes.

Both players were logical choices considering their relative dominance at their position. Personally, Johnson would have been the slam-dunk choice for me because my definition of "feared" in this sense is a player who causes opposing coordinators to lose sleep on a regular basis. Suh brings an intimidation factor and little regard for the rules, which likely earned him additional votes.

There were no Rams among the top seven on the list, but if this poll were to be conducted again next year, that might change. Rams defensive end Robert Quinn had a breakthrough season in 2013, posting 19 sacks and seven forced fumbles while also becoming a top-notch run-defender. His unique combination of elite athleticism and a nonstop motor make Quinn a nightmare for opposing left tackles and quarterbacks.

Quinn even got a few left tackles benched for their inability to block him this season. For an NFL player, fear of losing a job may be the biggest of all.

NFLN survey/feared player: Cowboys

January, 9, 2014
Jan 9
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Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamakong Suh took home the award as the NFL’s most feared player from an anonymous vote of his peers conducted by ESPN's NFL Nation. Dez Bryant is the Dallas Cowboys' most feared player.

Bryant
Bryant
In the recent past, DeMarcus Ware would have received this nod with his double-digit sack seasons, consecutive Pro Bowls and unearthly athleticism. But 2013 was not kind to Ware, who was limited to a career-low six sacks because of numerous injuries.

Bryant is coming off his second straight 90-catch season, earned his first Pro Bowl appearance and has even more unearthly athleticism than Ware.

Bryant had 93 catches for 1,233 yards and 13 touchdowns. The last time a Cowboy had 13 touchdown catches in a season was Terrell Owens in 2006. He became the first Cowboys receiver with back-to-back 90-catch seasons. Tight end Jason Witten had back-to-back 94-catch seasons in 2009-10.

Bryant can make plays that few receivers in the NFL can make. Think of his back-shoulder catch against the Lions in which he pinned the ball to his helmet. He can break tackles like few receivers based on his strength. He has improved as a route-runner and his understanding of his game.

All of it adds up to teams being most fearful of Bryant.
When ESPN's NFL Nation reporters surveyed more than 320 players for our NFL Nation Confidential survey during the 2013 season, the question of which player is the NFL's most feared elicited a variety of responses. There were two ways to take the question -- which player am I most worried about having to stop, and which player am I most worried about ending my career? -- and the answers we got reflected both trains of thought.

J.J. Watt, Patrick Willis and James Harrison were among the top seven vote-getters. So were Peyton Manning and the Vikings' own Adrian Peterson, who finished seventh with 16 votes. But the two teammates at the top of the list -- Detroit's Calvin Johnson and Ndamukong Suh -- best embodied the two sides of the question.

Johnson
Suh
Suh won the title with 61 votes, beating Johnson by three after gaining a reputation as one of the most aggressive players in the league. Of the 10 Vikings I surveyed, three voted for Johnson and two voted for Suh. Depending on which side of the ball you play on, there's an argument to be made for both.

The Vikings certainly have had plenty of experience with both Johnson and Suh. They've faced Johnson 12 times, allowing 62 catches for 873 yards and seven touchdowns. And actually, when you consider what he's done to the other two teams in the division (gaining 1,163 yards in 12 games against the Packers and 928 in 13 games against the Bears), along with Johnson's career average of 88 yards a game, the Vikings haven't done a bad job against him. In fact, Johnson's 72.8 yards-per-game average against them is his fourth-lowest against a NFC opponent, behind only Seattle, Washington and Chicago.

Suh has 3.5 sacks in seven career games against the Vikings and chased Christian Ponder out of the pocket in the Vikings' season-opening loss to the Lions, hitting Ponder's arm and forcing an interception. He also threw a low block at Vikings center John Sullivan in that game, nullifying a touchdown on a return of Ponder's first interception. Suh plays on the precipice of recklessness at times, and though the Vikings are far from the only team that's had run-ins with him, they get as much of a taste of the defensive lineman's fierceness as anyone.

With both players, as with Peterson, shutting them down once isn't enough to eradicate fear. It's always present in the worry of what they can do the next time, in one particular game or moment, if you're not being careful. Playing in the same division as the Lions, the Vikings have to deal with both of them twice a year, and that challenge is easily one of the most formidable in the NFL.
There are two words that most NFL people are usually highly averse to during a football conversation.

Folks don’t often like the word "surprised," as in, "Were you surprised by [insert whatever was an issue in the previous game here]?"

And folks don’t like the word "feared." So when a selection of the Broncos were asked about the league’s most feared player, virtually all of them -- nine of 10 to be exact -- took it to mean a playmaker who was difficult to deal with down to down, not somebody who intimidated them.

So while Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh got the nod as the league’s most feared player in the NFL Nation Confidential, Suh got just one of the votes from 10 Broncos who responded to the question.

The winners among the Broncos were 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis, with an emphasis on his playmaking and the ability to affect games, and Suh’s teammate in Detroit, wide receiver Calvin Johnson. A lot of people agreed with the Broncos leaguewide, given Johnson finished just behind Suh in the survey and Willis was fourth.

Two of the Broncos went with quarterbacks as their most feared players because, as one of the players put it, "They take everything from you," with Peyton Manning getting one vote and Tom Brady getting one vote.

NFLN survey/feared player: Bills

January, 9, 2014
Jan 9
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The Buffalo Bills' fears haven't been realized ... yet.

In an anonymous survey of 320 NFL players conducted by ESPN this season, a pair of Detroit Lions received the most votes as the "most feared player" in the NFL: defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and wide receiver Calvin Johnson.

The Bills haven't played the Lions in the regular season since 2010. In their last meeting, Johnson gave Buffalo plenty of reason to be scared, catching 10 passes for 128 yards and one touchdown. Suh, on the other hand, was held quiet with three tackles and no sacks.

Suh and the Lions will have a chance to avenge their 14-12 loss to the Bills four years ago when they host Buffalo next season.

The Bills are also scheduled to square off with other players high on the most feared list, including Denver’s Peyton Manning, Houston’s J.J. Watt and Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson.

NFLN survey/feared player: Patriots

January, 9, 2014
Jan 9
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When Patriots players were asked about the most feared player in the NFL, one common thread was that there was a significant pause before answering. There wasn't a decisive response, an obvious answer, like some of the other categories in the NFL Nation Confidential survey (more results to come throughout the month).

Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh came up in discussion a few times and is a solid choice, but Texans defensive tackle J.J. Watt actually had more momentum at the time. Part of that could have been the Patriots and Texans played on Dec. 1, so it was fresh on the minds of many. Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes, whose downhill hard-hitting style fires up teammates, also drew a mention.

When I think of feared players, it's those who walk the fine line between legal/illegal and seem to show a general disregard for player safety. That's why I thought Redskins safety Brandon Meriweather could have been a good choice. Bengals linebacker James Harrison also would have qualified.

As noted by follower @sportsmentalist on Twitter, anyone following the Patriots couldn’t go wrong with safety Bernard Pollard atop this list, as he’s been involved in some of the more significant injuries to Patriots players in recent years, including Tom Brady’s torn ACL in 2008.
Our NFL Nation poll asked players from every team to name the most feared player in the NFL. The winner was Detroit defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh with teammate Calvin Johnson finishing second.

But let’s narrow the scope and ponder who is the most feared member of the Buccaneers.

Some might point to safety Dashon Goldson, who has a reputation for being one of the league’s hardest hitters. I don’t think that’s a bad answer, but I think the word “feared’’ is open to interpretation. NFL players don’t like to admit to fear and, as I conducted my portion of the poll, I got the impression that most players took the question to mean which player they worried about most.

In that light, I think the choice for Tampa Bay is cornerback Darrelle Revis. He’s capable of shutting down half the field. That alone causes matchup problems for offenses and makes him the biggest concern when opponents start looking at the Bucs.

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