In a game as violent as football, the line between physical and dirty is often a fine one. The NFL has more rules and regulations now than ever, but plenty of players are still on the wrong side of that line.
So, who are the 10 dirtiest players in the NFL?
Punters usually don’t generate a lot of dirty plays, but Johnny Hekker has broken the mold.
Stick to kicking the ball, Mr. Hekker.
Dashon Goldson is one of the hardest hitters in the game. However, he’s produced his share of crushing hits on receivers that didn’t draw penalties.
But overall, the penalties he’s been flagged for tell an unpleasant story.
Since coming into the league in 2007, Goldson has committed 18 unnecessary roughness penalties, three unsportsmanlike conducts and one personal foul.
Okay, we all know the story on Vontaze Burfict by now. He was flagged 15 yards for this hit on Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Antonio Brown.
It was a bad penalty and was a key factor in costing the Cincinnati Bengals a playoff win, but it’s not the only reason why he’s facing a three-game suspension to start the 2016 season.
No, that hit — combined with all of the plays on this video that dates back to Burfuct’s high school — helps explain why he’s suspended and the biggest slam dunk on this list. And that’s saying something.
During his time in the NFL, James Harrison has committed 41 accepted penalties. That’s a big number, but in and of itself, not enough to call him a dirty player. The kinds of flags he’s drawn, however, do.
Ten are roughing the passer. Four others are unnecessary roughness fouls. Two more personal fouls and one unsportsmanlike conduct make his track record a little hard to argue with.
Harrison was also suspended for one game in 2011. In 2012, 67.5 percent of NFL players said that Harrison was the most “violent, dangerous” player in the league. With hits like this one, it’s hard to argue.
Also worth noting: Not many people have come to Burfict’s defense this week, but Harrison has.
While Richie Incognito was tied up in a rather ugly bullying scandal with the Miami Dolphins in 2013, his reputation as a dirty player predates that.
In 2012, Incognito had an interesting response to being named the second-dirtiest player in the game.
@TerezOwens I'm brainstorming with teammates now on how I can re-take the #1 spot. We will take the "ball stomp" into consideration
— Richie Incognito (@68INCOGNITO) November 8, 2012
A rather ugly exchange with Antonio Smith followed that and points perfectly to why Incognito has earned such high acclaim throughout his career.
Just in case your memories don’t go back to 2012, let’s have a look at what Incognito and Terez Owens were referencing.
The previous year on Thanksgiving, Suh stomped Evan Dietrich-Smith where the sun don’t shine.
We’ve also seen Suh tackle Jay Cutler by hitting him with a forearm to the head and conveniently step on Aaron Rodgers’ leg, which earned Suh an eventually overturned suspension for the following week’s playoff game.
During a 2013 Monday Night Football game, Aqib Talib and Steve Smith engaged in a fight that seemed to start when Talib held onto Smith ankle well after the play was over.
Talib’s inclusion on this list can best be explained due to his actions in a 2015 scuffle that didn’t even include him.
When that happened, Talib should have either apologized or said nothing. Instead, he doubled down.
“You think I play football to poke people in the eye?” Talib said to Mark Kiszla of the Denver Post. “It was an honest mistake.”
Given that Talib was the third man in on what seemed like a minor altercation, it’s hard to buy that this was “an honest mistake.”
We don’t know if you play football to poke people in the eye, Mr. Talib, but the fact that you did that while playing football (and costing your team in the process) makes you a dirty player.
Before the 2009 season began, Cortland Finnegan was voted as the sixth-dirtiest player in the league. During the following preseason, Finnegan had some interesting things to say about his ranking and the man who was No. 1, Hines Ward.
“It’s a compliment. That’s absolutely a compliment,” Finnegan said, per Terry McCormick of 247Sports. “He was voted the league’s dirtiest player, so you’ve got to give it up for him. For someone to say something as nice as that, I appreciate it. I’m number [six] right now, but I’m aspiring to one day hopefully be No. 1. So, I appreciate it.”
In 2011, Finnegan seemed to live up to those words in a confrontation with Andre Johnson.
You’re welcome, Mr. Finnegan. Your work is still appreciated, and you’re still one of the dirtiest around.
Brandon Browner has earned quite a reputation for himself. In December, ESPN’s Kevin Seifert wrote an article hilariously (and accurately) titled “No one commits penalties like Brandon Browner” and unleashed a few rather jaw-dropping stats.
“Browner has committed more penalties since he played his first game in 2011 than any other player — and it’s not even close. He has committed 69 penalties for 597 yards lost in 57 games, 24 penalties more than Dallas Cowboys offensive lineman Doug Free (45) and for 132 yards more than New York Jets cornerback Buster Skrine (465).”
Wow. To be fair, not all penalties are a sign of a dirty player, but we have more to look at.
In a 2012 Monday Night Football tilt most famous for how it ended, Browner and then-Packers receiver Greg Jennings had a fairly physical altercation that started with a completely unnecessary shot from Browner.
Most recently, Browner was caught taking a cheap shot at Washington’s Spencer Long instead of attempting to make a tackle.
Given all of that, it would be hard to label Browner as anything other than a dirty player.
Odell Beckham Jr.
Odell Beckham Jr. is a supremely talented receiver, but he’s ruffled quite a few feathers in two short seasons. Most recently, we’ve seen him go toe-to-toe with Josh Norman for a full game, leading to a hit that got Beckham suspended.
The problems didn’t start there, or even in that game.
A couple Buffalo Bills accused Beckham of throwing punches during the Week 4 matchup. In 2014, players from the St. Louis Rams called Beckham out for actions that eventually led to a brawl between the two teams.
Beckham has not been afraid of physicality, and though he’s been in the NFL a short time, has definitely earned a reputation as one of the league’s dirtiest players.