It's almost too obvious to state, but few offensive players are more valuable than those who just cannot be stopped.
We've all seen it happen: A running back plows over a half dozen defenders to manufacture a game-breaking touchdown, or a receiver grabs a screen pass, jukes a handful of would-be tacklers and rockets 30 yards into the end zone.
The Seattle Seahawks famously rely on one such powerhouse to drive their offense in veteran running back Marshawn Lynch. Thanks to his decision to show up for minicamp -- rather than, as reports indicated he might, hold out or even retire -- the defending Super Bowl champs won't have to explore what life might be like without their human bulldozer. Pondering how significant Lynch's impact is on the field, I thought I'd compile a list of 11 of the NFL's toughest players to tackle.
Below you'll find five running backs (with a focus on broken/missed tackles) and six receivers (with a focus on yards after the catch) who are nearly impossible to bring down. Of course, this is by no means meant to be an exclusive list; it's merely a collection of some of the most imposing and elusive offensive players in the league.
McCoy has great feet and quickness and is very shifty and elusive, as evidenced by his ability to induce 53 missed tackles -- the most among running backs -- last season. He has excellent vision, and Chip Kelly's system is the perfect fit for his talents. Based on his 2013 campaign, in which he gained 2,146 total yards (1,607 rushing, 539 receiving) and scored 11 total touchdowns, McCoy belongs firmly in the discussion about the most unstoppable backs in the NFL.
Here's a tip: If you ever have a chance to meet Peterson, don't let him shake your hand, as he has the strongest, most vise-like grip you'll ever encounter. Stuck on a team with quarterback problems, he faced a lot of stacked boxes last season and still ran for 1,266 yards and 10 scores, collecting 43 missed tackles and breaking another 16 along the way. Just look at how many defenders were embarrassed on Peterson's first play from scrimmage in the 2013 season -- a 78-yard scoring run.
Lynch burst out of the gate last season, rumbling for 871 of his 1,257 yards in the first 10 weeks, but he seemed to slow down as the year wore on. His yards per carry also took a dip, dropping from 5.0 in 2012 to 4.2 in 2013. Still, Lynch tied for the league lead in broken tackles with 18 -- in addition to making tacklers miss 38 times -- proving he remains one of the toughest running backs to stop. In other words, Beast Modemost definitely lives.
Murray, whose career got off to an injury-interrupted start, had a breakout 2013 campaign, topping 1,000 yards for the first time and adding 10 total touchdowns. He even slightly edged McCoy in yards per carry (5.2 to 5.1). I like his receiving ability and the fact that he can make people whiff in the open field (28 missed tackles in 2013). His offensive line is much better than it was when he first arrived. If Dallas gives him the ball more in 2014, I think he'll surprise some people.
Spiller has moves (23 missed tackles in 2013). Given his exceptional vision and explosiveness -- the latter of which is reminiscent of Marshall Faulk in his prime -- he's a special talent as a runner and a receiver. Though he only logged 15-plus carries in six games last season, Spiller still managed to get within 67 yards of the 1,000-yard mark, bolstered by four runs of 40 yards or more. Significant lateral quickness makes him *very* difficult to bring down.
Thomas has very strong hands and great body control to go with long arms; at 6-foot-3 and 229 pounds, he's simply a big, strong player. He boasts really powerful legs, which he uses to make the first guy miss and then pull away from the second guy. It's little wonder that Thomas led receivers in yards after the catch last season with 718 -- which made up a whopping 50.2 percent of his total yardage (1,430).
This guy is something else, his disappointing off-field issues aside. Despite being stuck with average-at-best quarterbacks in his first two NFL seasons, Gordon has averaged 17.9 yards per catch. His combination of height, weight, speed and strength make him a mismatch for opposing defenders. Like Jerry Rice, Gordon seems to run faster than his timed speed once the pads are on and he hits the field -- which contributed to his 641 yards after the catch last season, an average of 7.4 per grab. I'd love to see Gordon and Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman in a one-on-one passing drill; as good as Sherman is, I suspect Gordon would prevail. Unfortunately, Gordon might be stopped in 2014 by a suspension after a positive drug test -- maybe up to a full year, depending on how the disciplinary process plays out. That could really hamper his continued development, as it can be tough for players to stay in peak form when they spend an extended amount of time away from the action.
Johnson is, of course, a monster, but he doesn't do as well in yards after the catch (499 in 2013) as one might think. The reason for that is simple: He's often double- and triple-teamed. And while that tactic doesn't stop him from getting his hands on the ball -- as it would almost any other receiver -- it does tend to keep him from picking up extra yardage. Still, he has the makeup of a YAC terror; if offseason additions Golden Tate and Eric Ebron are able to take some defensive attention away in 2014, we could see Megatron do quite a bit more post-catch damage.
Bryant is another very strong-legged guy who does not often go down on first contact. He just pulls away from defenders; if you don't get him solidly as a tackler, say goodbye. Bryant is also a true competitor. Unlike those receivers who are content to slip out of bounds after making the catch, he'll always try to turn upfield and fight for additional yardage.
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The way he's built, the 6-2, 211-pound Allen almost looks more like a running back than a receiver. He has soft hands, long arms and exceptional strength. In his stellar rookie season, Allen averaged 14.7 yards per reception, with 438 of his 1,046 yards coming after the catch.
The second-year pro has great acceleration and outstanding quickness -- just a tough, athletic presence. He had just 45 receptions last season for 469 yards -- but a stunning 62.1 percent of those yards came after the catch (291). He's also a dynamic kick returner who averaged 32.4 yards a pop. Patterson, who played some running back at the junior college level, has a chance to be very special. I'll be interested to see what new Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner can do with this raw talent.