CJ2K Reveals 5 Toughest NFL Defenders He Played Against

The NFL is full of great defensive players, and I faced a lot of them when I played. I’m going to give you five of the toughest defenders that I played against during my career in no particular order.

CJ2K’s 5 Toughest Defenders

Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis

ILB Ray Lewis, Baltimore Ravens

It starts with Ray Lewis. He was the first player I faced where we’d call a play, go to the line of scrimmage, and he’s actually pointing out where the ball was going to go. He was so smart. You could tell he studied so much film, and he knew what was going on when we lined up in certain formations and did certain motions. He would call out the play, he knew where the ball was going.

It’s no wonder he made more than 2,000 career tackles, was a 10-time All-Pro and landed in the Hall of Fame in 2018, the first year he was eligible.

Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed

S Ed Reed, Baltimore Ravens (11 of 12 seasons)

Playing against Ed Reed was like playing against a center fielder. He’d sit back there in the Baltimore Ravens‘ secondary, roaming around. You’d never know where he was going to be at. You’d never know if he was going to be up on the line and rush out on the edge or rush through the middle.

He was the first guy I ever saw play Cover-1 up on the line of scrimmage, and when the ball was hiked, he ran all the way back and still got to his zone. He was still able to cover the entire field like a center fielder. That’s one reason why he made 64 interceptions and took seven back for touchdowns. He went into the Hall of Fame in 2019, one year after Lewis did.

Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu

S Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh Steelers

I’ve never seen a guy like Troy Polamalu. The closest to him was Ed Reed, but they still had kind of different techniques. Troy played everywhere on the field for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

When we did scouting reports on Troy, we didn’t have a position for him because he played everywhere. He played defensive line, he played linebacker, he played safety, he played cornerback. We’re talking about a guy who’s gonna line up at every single position on the field, and you didn’t know if he’s covering or if he’s blitzing. You didn’t know what to do against him.

I remember one play when I was with the Tennessee Titans, and we were at the goal line. Kerry Collins was our quarterback, and he was about to do a sneak. As soon as the ball was hiked and before Kerry can go forward, Troy had already jumped over the line of scrimmage and was on Kerry’s back. It was crazy. I’ve never seen anything like it.

He’s in the Hall of Fame, too.

Indianapolis Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney

DE Dwight Freeney, Indianapolis Colts (11 of 16 seasons)

We played against Dwight Freeney two times a year because the Indianapolis Colts were in the same division as the Titans. This was before stand-up rushers became popular in the league. Now there are all these edge rushers going near the top of the first round of the draft, but Dwight was one of the first guys to do it (11th overall in 2002). You’d play against their 3-4 defense, and even though he was the right defensive end, he stood up on the edge.

I don’t think I’ve seen another guy as fast as Dwight who played defensive end. He’d come around the edge and just wreck everything the offense was trying to do. He had 125 sacks and 128 more tackles for a loss.

Chicago Bears linebacker Lance Briggs

LB Lance Briggs, Chicago Bears

Lance Briggs was a banger — you didn’t want to pass-block him, and you didn’t want to run his way when you played the Chicago Bears. It seemed like every time he hit you, he was trying to hurt you and put you out of the game. But he wasn’t one of those guys just running around trying to thump and hit hard. He actually was smart. He actually knew what he was doing. You could tell he studied film and he knew where the play was going. He just wanted to pressure you all game.

Chris Johnson is a former All-Pro running-back who played 10 seasons in the NFL and is one of only eight players to rush for 2,000 yards in a single season. Follow him on Twitter at @ChrisJohnson28.

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