The NFL’s 10 most unstoppable forces

Watt's swim move, Brown's route-running ability, and more: Mike Renner identifies of the NFL's top signature moves and abilities.

| 6 months ago
(AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)

(AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)

The NFL’s 10 most unstoppable forces


Almost every great player has a “signature” move or ability that they become known for over time. Reggie White had the hump move, Randy Moss had the deep ball, and Barry Sanders had freakish balance. So, with that in mind, let’s count down the signature abilities of today’s elite.

1. J.J. Watt’s swim

JJWatt

It’s been the most devastating force in the NFL for a few years now, and it doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. Watt has the unique ability to pull off the swim so well because of his height (6-foot-6) and elite lateral agility, making it easy for him to get his arm over the top of opposing linemen while crossing their face. The reason it sits at No. 1 on this list is because he deploys it with equal efficiency in both the run game and as a pass-rusher. Offensive linemen know it’s coming, but they still can’t stop it.

2. Antonio Brown’s routes

AntonioBrown

He’s not the biggest, he’s not the fastest, and he can’t jump the highest, but no one gets open more than the Steelers’ Antonio Brown. That’s the reason why the Steelers’ wideout has led the NFL in receptions each of the past two seasons, while also catching over 70 percent of his targets each year. It’s also why he made one of the top corners in the league, Chris Harris, Jr., look absolutely silly in their Week 15 matchup.

3. Luke Kuechly reading keys

LukeKuechly

Last week, I highlighted what exactly makes the Panthers’ linebackers so special. It bears repeating, though, that Kuechly is playing at a level we’ve never seen in our nine years of grading. While he’s an athletic freak in his own right, the Panthers’ LB separates from the competition in his processing speed. He simply doesn’t make mistakes in his reads. The former Defensive Player of the Year’s +33.0 cumulative season grade last season is the highest we’ve ever given to an off-ball linebacker.

4. Rob Gronkowski’s catch radius

RobGronkowski

It’s no secret that the Patriots’ offense isn’t the Patriots’ offense without Gronkowski on the field. The main reason being that, when things go south, Brady knows he can heave it to Gronk and he’ll have a chance. Gronkowski has graded out as a top-five tight end every season of his career.

5. Von Miller’s spin move

VonMiller

When you have the upfield burst that Miller does, you better have a good counter, and the Bronco may well have the best one in the NFL. The inside spin move is deadly if executed correctly, but it takes a rare blend of speed, power, and balance to pull off—a rare blend that Miller has in spades. In fact, 16 of Miller’s pressures a year ago came via the spin move.

6. Richard Sherman’s press

RichardSherman

You know you’re signature move is impressive when it triggers a revolution of sorts throughout the entire NFL. Ever since Sherman took the league by storm back in 2011, the Seahawks’ version of the cover-3 has spread throughout the league, while length at the cornerback position has been put at a premium. Even with all the added emphasis around the NFL, no one has come along who can press quite like Sherman.

7. Tyron Smith’s cut blocking

TyronSmith

Smith is an absolute freak of nature for an offensive tackle. His athleticism suggests he should be lining up on the opposite side of the ball, and the Cowboys use that to their advantage. They frequently run outside zone away from Smith, giving him the task of chasing down backside linebackers and defensive tackles, which he does with ease. Smith’s +26.5 cumulative run-blocking grade was the highest among all tackles last season.

8. Le’Veon Bell’s plant leg

LeVeonBell

After Bell shed 20 pounds in his first NFL offseason, he came back in year two looking like a completely different player. One of those changes was the ability to stop and start on a dime. Even at 220 pounds, Bell still routinely makes defenders looks silly in the open field when he sticks his foot in the ground. It’s a shame he got hurt when he did, as his 69.6 elusive rating last season was on pace to be the highest of his career.

9. Tom Brady’s quick decisions

TomBrady

When the Patriots’ offense was fully healthy last season, no quarterback was playing at a higher level than Brady. He’s aged like a fine wine, with his decision-making only speeding up with time. Through the first five weeks of last season, Brady only took 2.06 seconds to throw on average (the league average is 2.5) and had a quarterback rating of 121.5. Those numbers are nothing short of incredible.

10. Linval Joseph’s power

LinvalJoseph

It took awhile for Joseph to realize his raw potential, but now that he has, no nose tackle can match his proficiency against both the run and pass. Joseph had a ridiculous 39 reps at the combine back in 2010, despite having long, 34.5-inch arms. He now uses that strength to bench press centers and guards. No game of his (or any other nose tackle last season, for that matter) was more impressive than Week 9 against St. Louis, where he collected seven stops and an +11.4 overall grade.

| Senior Analyst

Mike is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has also been featured on The Washington Post, ESPN Insider, and 120 Sports.

  • Jaguars28

    Allen Robinson’s jumping

  • crosseyedlemon

    Ndamukong Suh would have topped this list had illegal signature moves been allowed.

  • McGeorge

    That’s nice footage of Tyron Smith.
    I wasn’t aware that he was so good at cut blocking.

    A nice set of film clips.

  • enai D

    Ok that Linval Joseph one is pretty funny- Joseph shoves the guy with one arm and he just goes flying, as if he wasn’t a ~300-lb offensive lineman.

    • [email protected]

      There’s a play where Kam Chancellor demolishes an offensive tackle and makes the tackle on the runner.

      • enai D

        Ok, and?

        • theycallmewanger

          haha perfect response.

        • Sean Curtis

          Give you multiple likes for that one

    • [email protected]

      Did you notice the pulling guard got his leg taken out? I don’t care how big or small you are, if your leg is gone, you’re going down. Now is Joseph tough? Yeah, but don’t make more out of the clip than is there! In fact, thinking the clip is pretty funny without realizing his feet were taken out is, well, pretty funny!

      • Kenny Wilson

        His leg only goes flying after Joseph pushes his shoulder. His leg wasnt taken out prior to Joseph pushing him. Don’t know what you’re looking at… He wasnt off balance or anything. Joseph just pushes him high which knocks his center of gravity off balance and he goes flying.

  • flyfly456

    aaron rodgers’ hard count is better than all of these, too bad it’s not a force

    • Jordan

      Or his hail mary ability haha

    • Will Hoffman

      Sharon has nothing on Linval

  • srdan

    I don’t think AB has great route running like some of the receivers that were really recognized for it. I think AB is at full speed in one step, and that is the unique part of his game that makes him who he is. When he does the stutter step CBs freeze to see which way he goes, but his first step is more explosive than theirs. And BB feeds him the rock in those situations.

    He is also above avearge at almost every other category for receivers.

  • James Kupihea

    What about Kaep’s ability to dominate the bench?

    • HTTRer

      LOL

    • crosseyedlemon

      They 49ers must have incredible Gatorade if they’re willing to pay him $114 million to guard it.

  • gobroncos

    How is Rob Gronkowski’s catch radius a technique. If being able to catch the ball is a technique, then ok, but the radius with which he as to catch the ball is a physical asset. There are other people out there with Rob Gronk’s physical attributes. This just seems like lazy reporting.

    • KWS13

      There’s a reason that rookie/young TEs struggle often. Guys are getting drafted on physical traits rather than ability as a true TE, a position phased out of spread offenses. Against inferior athletes for their size in college, guys might be able to high point some balls and be an imposing threat, but against NFL players that are bigger and faster, technique, EXCELLENT hands and body control are essential because no TE is gonna consistently outrun or juke out CB or S, but it’s also extremely difficult to actually use those traits. It’s the reason Graham and Gates have been able to transistion and why they have potential to be some of the best in the league. That catch by Gronk is scary to me as someone who’s played football, and there’s not many people in the game that can truly be a “throw it up and they’ll catch it,” guy; AJ Green, DeAndre Hopkins, and Calvin Johnson for examples. There’s obviously a certain degree of expectation in Gronks (and other elite TEs) size- Brown, Beckham, Baldwin (B theme???) and other small WRs don’t make a ton of contested catches because they don’t have to. Guys like Gronk don’t always get wide open because they don’t have to, but what Gronk is able to do consistently is, once again, scary.

  • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

    von just takes the chip block and uses it to his advantage, so cool

  • HTTRer

    Huh. Weird. Isn’t cut blocking illegal now. Finally, his biggest strength negated!

    • Darryn Frost

      Still legal at the line for the linemen.

      • Jeffery A. Roy

        The Hi-Lo is now illegal anywhere on the field. An individual blocker can still cut an individual defender so long as the blocker makes the cut while moving in the direction of the play, such as a stretch zone run.

        • Darryn Frost

          Yes.

    • Jeffery A. Roy

      What used to be called a Hi-Lo block (where the defender is engaged above the waist by one blocker and “cut” below the waist by a second one) has been banned.

  • crosseyedlemon

    Antonio Brown’s signature move on special teams is much better….although guys interested in having children aren’t encouraged to try it.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SUxlmgKUJhY

  • ian allen

    You left out the Raider’s ability to rack the most penalties

  • J C

    Odell’s hands/routes

  • Jeffery Roy

    I know the cut/chop block is legal and the league now has ruled against the Hi-Lo cut block, but celebrating this potentially damaging technique is questionable at best. Throwing a roll block below mid-thigh will involve contact with the knee in most cases, and that ain’t cool.

    The vast majority of rule changes over the last 20-plus years have benefited the offense. Let’s give one to the defense by totally banning the cut block.

    • Jeffery A. Roy

      Clarification: Should have stated all forms of Hi-Lo have been banned. The worst of them (cutting a stationary defender) was banned some time ago, but I can’t confirm when.

  • UncleTuna

    And Drew Brees, the No. 1 passer in the league the past five (5) years is no where to be found…wow, just, wow…

    • Felton51

      That’s because the Saints have been in decline since 2011. They have declined in offensive points produced each year since 2011 (519 offensive points in 2011, 426 in 2012, 414 in 2013, 401 in 2014 and 385 in 2015). How does a “league force” lose to Tampa and Tennessee at home or beat Houston on the road when the defense gives up only 24 points? Then, the team got pasted by the Eagles and Redskins. Oh, but they beat the Falcons twice!

  • Rolo Tomassi

    Aron Rogets throwing coach anna teemates under bus