The NFL is a league that is known for two things: incredible offensive performances and big hitting. These two components to the game work against one another, with hard-hitting defenses trying to neutralize explosive offenses. On the occasions that a defense can put a big hit on an offensive player, the results are often game-changing. These top five big hits in NFL history weren’t all game-changers, but they were all memorable bone crunchers.
5. Sean Taylor vs. Brian Moorman
It's not often that you see one of the biggest hits in NFL history come during a Pro Bowl. Normally, this collection of NFL all-stars playing one another is criticized for a lack of effort from the players. But the 2006 Pro Bowl was one that featured an incredibly memorable hit from one of the biggest hitters the league has ever seen. And with the hit coming at the expense of one of the least likely victims possible, it was even more incredible.
For some strange reason, the AFC decided to run a fake punt in the Pro Bowl. This wasn't too crazy, given that teams often open up their playbooks in this fun yet ultimately meaningless contest. But the response from NFC safety Sean Taylor was to absolutely pulverize AFC punter Brian Moorman, laying a huge hit on him to prevent him from gaining enough yardage for a first down. The play was just another example of why you don't try to sneak past a defense with Sean Taylor on it, with that poor punter learning that lesson the hard way.
4. Dunta Robinson vs. DeSean Jackson
There are times where big hits are simply the result of two really fast and really talented players colliding at high speeds. That is exactly what happened when Dunta Robinson of the Atlanta Falcons and DeSean Jackson of the Philadelphia Eagles clashed in an unforgettable hit that left both players on the ground. Robinson lowered his helmet to initiate the contact, which he was later fined for, but the result of the play was both players being de-cleated, in a moment of mutually assured destruction.
One of the many things that made this hit resonate was the fact that Jackson is such a tough player in his own right. Despite his small frame, he was never one to back down, making him a nightmare for opposing defenders. To see him down on the ground after a hit was as good a sign as any that the hit came from a tough player in their own right, and that the contact was just brutal.
3. William Moore vs. Mike McNeil
Professional football and professional wrestling don't often get mentioned together in the same breath, unless Lawrence Taylor's appearance in the main event of WrestleMania is the topic of conversation. But something that is much more worth discussing than Taylor's ability in the squared circle is when a player is able to perform something resembling a pro wrestling move on the football field. Atlanta Falcons defender William Moore was able to do just that, when he picked up and dropped Rams tight end Mike McNeil.
At first, it looks like McNeil was going to try and hurdle over Moore to continue to advance down the sideline. But he was caught in the air by Moore, at which point a brief stalemate occurs. It wasn't certain which way the confrontation would go for a moment, until Moore begins to swing McNeil down to the ground with all of the force that he can. The tackle resembled a pro wrestling spinebuster maneuver, and got the Falcons and their fans understandably excited. While picking up and throwing down opponents is typically illegal, the fact that the leap was initiated by the ball carrier kept Moore in the clear.
2. Sheldon Brown vs. Reggie Bush
Reggie Bush was one of the most hyped prospects in the history of the NFL, thanks to his ability to shake defenders with his otherworldly agility. Unfortunately for Bush, all of the agility in the world couldn't stop him from falling victim to one of the most brutal hits in league history from Eagles defender Sheldon Brown. Bush couldn't escape the backfield on the play, as he was only able to muster a few steps before being leveled.
Philly had put a defensive back on Bush on the play, a play where the electrifying back was asked to catch a swing pass out of the backfield. That decision paid off, as Brown was able to keep close to Bush in a way that a linebacker wouldn't have been able to. From there, it was all about the power of Brown, who crushed Bush before the Saints star could get his eyes back up the field. Given that this hit took place in the postseason, an additional layer of intensity came with it, as if Brown needed any additional benefit from laying down such a ferocious hit.
1. Lawrence Taylor vs. Joe Theismann
** Warning this one is especially not for the faint hearted **
The Lawrence Taylor hit on Joe Theismann wasn't the biggest hit on this list in terms of the initial contact between the players. But it was the most impactful hit in the history of the league. Taylor of the New York Giants extinguished a flea-flicker pass attempt by Washington's Theismann by getting a hold of Theismann from the quarterback's blind side, further cementing Taylor's legacy as one of the most fearsome pass rushers of all-time. In doing so, Theismann's leg was broken as he went to the ground, which led to some major changes in the way NFL teams approached pass protection.
After that play, more of an emphasis was put on protecting the blind side of quarterbacks. In the case of right-handed quarterbacks, this meant teams being more willing to send money or use high draft picks on left tackles. And while this didn't completely eliminate quarterbacks from being hit from behind, it has helped reduce the number of hits like this that players have suffered since Theismann went down at the hands of Taylor.