Larry Allen / YouTube
Strength and football have long gone together. A half-century after weight-training became a principle component of gridiron success, there are a lot of weight room legends. So, trying to determine the 10 strongest NFL players of all time is fraught with problems, from the changing of eras to the way numbers grow over time to the fact that high squats and assisted bench presses are often counted as good. Then there’s the whole question of pound-for-pound strong or just strong. We sorted through it all. We prioritized just strong, with a couple of minor exceptions, and verifiable lifts, preferably on video or in powerlifting or strongman events. Just strong means eight of the 10 were or are big guys in the middle of the trenches—guards on offense and tackles on defense. What follows is our top 10 in alphabetical order.
6’3”, 325, guard, 1994-07
It’s appropriate Allen is #1 alphabetically, because, with the possible exception of Terry Long, he is the strongest NFL player of all-time. He was benching 500+ by the time he left college in 1994. And by 1998, dominating his offensive line position for the Dallas Cowboys, he could bench press more than 600 and squat 800. There’s a video of him in the Cowboys’ weight room, benching 635 then 675 then 705. The spotter behind him has his hands on the bar the whole time and is clearly helping him get through the mid-range on the last two lifts. On the other hand, he’s only wearing a cut-off T-shirt and shorts. So, we can’t give him the 675 or 705, but what could he have done under the best of conditions if he trained exclusively for powerlifting? (For context, only six men in history have officially bench pressed 700 or more raw—without a bench shirt—and when Allen retired from the NFL the record was 715.)
Witnesses also say he squatted 900, probably in shorts and a T; and, though we don’t know how deep he sank, with Allen any number seems possible. At the 2006 Pro Bowl Skills Challenge, at 35, he easily won the bench press by cranking out 43 reps with 225, earning the title “Strongest Man in the NFL,” as if there was any doubt. A 7-time first team All Pro and 11-time Pro Bowler, Allen was elected to the Football Hall of Fame.
6’1”, 330, defensive tackle, 2016-current
A defensive tackle with the Cincinnati Bengals and, currently, the Cleveland Browns, Billings set the Texas high school powerlifting record, breaking a standard made by strength legend Mark Henry 22 years prior. Billings squatted 805, bench pressed 500, and deadlifted 705, for a 2010 total, and, again, he was still in high school. He cleaned 350 for five reps when only 18. Coming into the draft, he was ranked by NFL.com as the strongest player in college football. Recently, the Browns D-line coach went even further, saying: “He’s the strongest guy I’ve ever seen.”
6’3”, 254, tight end, 2006-2019
Davis, who played for the 49ers, Broncos, and Redskins over 14 years, and collected a Super Bowl ring along the way, wasn’t just pound-for-pound strong. He was also all-around strong. In college at Maryland, he put up a 460 bench press and 685 squat. He power cleaned 355 for three reps. At the NFL Combine, not only did he run a 4.38 40, but he also bench pressed 225 33 times. That’s the speed of a top wide receiver and the high-rep strength of a top defensive lineman (by comparison, JJ Watt got 34 reps, Aaron Donald got 35), but Davis was a 254-lb. tight end. And, on top of his speed, strength, and athleticism, he had the ripped physique of a bodybuilder.
6’, 240, outside linebacker, 2002-17
Deemed too small, Harrison, who played all but one of his 13 full seasons with the Steelers, was released three times his rookie year and cut by the Ravens his second year. But back on the Steelers, his weight room ethic turned him into an All-Pro and Defensive Player of the Year in his 30s. A workout video in 2017, when he was the football-ancient age of 39, chronicled some of his amazing weight room feats: including 675-lb. hip thrusts, 315-lb. hang cleans, 315-lb. reverse lunges, 405-lb. decline presses, and 225-lb. overhead triceps extensions, all for three or more reps. He did 1800-lb. sled pushes on field turf, which is like pushing six o-linemen.
Even in retirement and in his 40s, he posted videos of himself benching 500 or more. “No one works harder than James,” the Steelers’ conditioning coordinator said of the once “too-small” Harrison. “He is one of the most powerful players in the NFL, and much of the credit can be attributed to his legendary workout regimen.”
6’2, 260, guard/tackle, 1969-81
Offensive lineman Kolb played all 13 of his NFL seasons for the Pittsburgh Steelers, including on four Super Bowl-winning teams. Often said to be the strongest player of his era, he reportedly squatted over 700. The earliest World’s Strongest Man contests were collections of athletes from different sports doing odd strength feats for CBS cameras. In NFL offseasons, Kolb finished fourth in the WSM in both 1978 and 1979. Both times the only three men who beat him were heavier powerlifters or weightlifters. In his final NFL season, the year he turned 34, he won the Strongest Man in Football (CBS’s WSM for NFL players). He was later a strength and conditioning coach for the Steelers.
5’11”, 275, guard, 1984-91
Undersized at 160 lbs., Long played only a half-season of high school football. Afterwards, in the Army Special Forces, he became a workout fiend, packing on 100 lbs. and shoving up 405-lb. bench presses. Despite his lack of experience (and height), after his two years of service, colleges were interested in his strength. While learning football at East Carolina, his workout numbers continued to soar. In order to prove his strength to NFL teams, in 1983, at 23 and a lean 300 lbs., he competed in his first and only powerlifting meet. The numbers seem mythical: 837.7 squat, 501.5 bench press, and, a near world record, 865.3 deadlift. The legendary Bill Kazmaier won the super-heavy class of the Powerlifting World Championships that year, at 29, with a total of 2149.5. Long, a 23-year-old novice, totaled 2204.5, 55 lbs. more than Kaz! Long had squatted 900 and benched 565 in training, and he likely would’ve smashed powerlifting world records if he wasn’t drafted into the NFL. He played eight years for the Steelers, until a steroid violation effectively ended his career. He tragically took his own life in 2005 at age 45. The strongest college football player of all time, he may have also been, despite weighing 50lbs. less than Larry Allen, the all-time strongest NFL player.
6’1”, 300, defensive tackle, 2011-17
Tongan Paea, who played for the Bears, Redskins, Browns, and Cowboys, is on this list for one reason: He holds the NFL Combine record by bench pressing 225lbs. 49 times in 2011. No one who went on to play in the NFL has done more than 45 before or since. (Justin Ernest cranked out 51 in 1999, but he went undrafted and never played in an NFL game.) The 225 bench for guys who can do over 25 reps is not an ideal test of upper body strength. It’s like measuring speed with an 800 meter run. But as long as the NFL deems it their weightlifting gauge, we salute Paea’s high-rep mark.
6’3”, 310, guard, 2004-13
Snee played all 10 of his seasons for the New York Giants, including on two Super Bowl-winning teams, and he made the Pro Bowl four times. But he only made one magazine cover. In May 2010, he adorned Powerlifting USA magazine with the title “The NFL’s Strongest Man.” The article detailed the training and diet that boosted his bench press to a remarkable 615 lbs. Other lifts included a 425-lb. seated barbell front press, 515-lb. incline presses for reps, and squats of over 600 lbs. for 3-5 reps. In retirement, Snee has shed nearly 100 lbs.
6’2”, 330, defensive tackle, 2004-13
Growing up in Samoa, Sopoaga worked out by lifting tree logs and bags of coconuts and by hurling rocks at coconuts high up in palm trees. At the University of Hawaii, he bench pressed 500 and squatted over 700. And at the NFL Combine, he benched 42 reps with 225, only quitting because he thought it was the record (it was, for years, counting only players who played in the NFL). His college coach said he got 48 reps in training. He played 10 years in the NFL, nine with the 49ers, and teammate Vernon Davis stated he was one of two strongest football players he ever saw (the other was Trent Williams). Witnesses claimed he could throw a football 85 yards in the air, which would be a world record. His strength was so legendary some feats seem preposterous, but what we know for sure is all that log-lifting and rock-throwing helped make Sopoaga one of the strongest NFL players ever.
6’1, 280, guard, 1966-81
Young, who played 16 seasons for 5 NFL teams, had his best years with the Cardinals in the late ’70s, including two Pro Bowls and an All-Pro season. An avid weightlifter when that wasn’t the football norm, he was the older brother of powerlifting legend Doug Young. Bob was said to deadlift over 800 and squat 550 for 22 reps, both of which are incredible now, let alone then. (This was football’s Steroid Era, and Young was an admitted user.) In the NFL offseason in 1977, he competed in the inaugural World’s Strongest Man and finished second behind weightlifter Bruce Wilhelm, who outweighed him by more than 50 lbs. He won the squat event (with girls in cages as the weights!). In the 1979 World’s Strongest Man, he finished fifth (just behind Jon Kolb). And, in 1980, the year he turned 38, he was still second in the Strongest Man in Football. Young died of a heart attack at 52 in 1995.
5 HONORABLE MENTIONS
• Two pound-for-pound crazy-strong running backs: Hall of Fame Chicago Bear WALTER PAYTON, who reportedly deadlifted 625, triple his 208 bodyweight; and JERICK MCKINNON, current Kansas City Chief, who benched 225 for 32 reps at the 2014 NFL Combine while weighing only 209.
• Two more Pittsburgh Steeler offensive linemen from the ’70s and ’80s: guard STEVE COURSON, who reportedly bench pressed 605, and Hall of Fame center MIKE WEBSTER, who bench pressed 350 for 15 reps on his way to winning the 1980 Strongest Man in Football.
• Current New York Jets center CONNOR MCGOVERN, who reportedly squatted 690 for 5 reps in college, and who displayed his Olympic weightlifting prowess at a fitness festival in 2018, snatching 310 and clean-and-jerking 375.