DeMarcus Ware played in the NFL for a dozen seasons between 2005 and 2016, spending his career first and foremost with the Dallas Cowboys, and finishing up with the Denver Broncos. He released a detailed little memoir about his time the league and went on to list the five toughest players he ever faced down in the NFL and what made them so formidable.
Michael Vick (QB) - It all comes down to one thing with Vick, his speed. He was tough to play against precisely because he was almost impossible to catch. According to Ware, trying to tackle Vick usually went something like this:
"He was right in front of me, and I stretched my arms out wide to go in for the tackle and wrap him up. I was waiting for that oomph — you know, that pad-to-pad sound when you hit a guy, knock a little wind out of him and he goes down. But when I closed my arms, I got nothing but air. I completely whiffed. I was lying there on the turf, looking around like, Where did he go? Is he still running?"
Adrian Peterson (RB) - The running back who plays like a linebacker didn't dodge or weave, he just ran through you. Even a guy like Ware ended up learning this the hard way in a 2015 game against the Vikings. Peterson took the ball, found a gap right as Ware got free of a tight end and set himself up for a play-ending tackle:
"The next thing I remember is being flat on my back, thinking to myself, Oh my God … everybody’s gonna see that on tape...My teammates went crazy. They were like, “No, coach, you gotta rewind it! We never seen D-Ware get run over before!”
Walter Jones (OT) - The way Ware describes Jones, even in hindsight, is telling. There's something akin to fear in his descriptions of the Pro Bowl tackle. Ware leaves little doubt that this was a guy you didn't want to play against:
"As a pass rusher, I have to put an offensive tackle on this list. And I’ve never played against another offensive lineman like Walter Jones... Usually, at the snap, an offensive tackle will kick back and cut off the pass rusher’s lane to the quarterback. But Walter Jones would turn and run with you. He could do that because he was athletic enough to do it. He was like 6-foot-5, 325 pounds, and he could run with just about anybody off the edge. I saw one report that saidin the 40-yard dash at a predraft workout. When an O-lineman runs a sub-5.00 40, people say he’s fast. If that’s the case, Walter Jones was lightning."
Tom Brady (QB) - It seems like all top 5 lists have Brady on them, and as begrudging as it may be, his inclusion here is a testament to the the quarterbacks grit. Ware never took it easy on the future Hall-of-Famer, but it never seemed to matter:
"The keys to Tom’s game are recognizing the blitz and getting the ball out of his hands quickly. You rarely see him hold onto the ball. The way to beat Tom Brady is to hit him. As many times as you can, hit him. And even then, it might not be enough. In the AFC Championship Game a couple of years ago, we sacked Tom four times and we hit him 20 times. Twenty times. The thing was, every time we hit him, he got back up. We hit Tom more times than any quarterback had been hit in any game that season, and he still had his team a two-point conversion away from tying the game late in the fourth quarter. The dude is relentless."
Peyton Manning (QB) - Speaking of future Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks, any recap of the modern era wouldn't be complete without Peyton Manning. It wasn't an ability to take hits, or the speed to outrun his opponents that made Manning tough to play. It was all of his BS:
"That was his deal. He wanted to trick you... Peyton was in Denver and I was still with the Cowboys. The Broncos had a third-and-goal on the one-inch line. And if there was one thing I was certain about at that moment, it was that Peyton Manning was not going to run the ball. At least I knew he wouldn’t be running to the outside. They only needed one inch. If anything, he’d run a QB sneak. So when Peyton hiked the ball and dropped back to hand it off to Knowshon Moreno, I was certain it was a dive play up the gut. There was literally nobody blocking me. So I came clean down the line, and I was thinking, I’m gonna smash this guy and get the stop. But when I got to the running back, I noticed that … he didn’t have the ball. Then I turned around and I saw Peyton running out to his left, going about two miles an hour, shuffling into the end zone.
"That was the thing about Peyton: He was always the smartest player on the field, but he was also the most competitive. He was a master of the chess game... That’s why he’s one of the all-time greats."
You can find Ware's full article for the Players Tribune here.
Source: DeMarcus Ware - The Players Tribune · Photo Credit: KEYSTONE PRESS