The 5 Toughest Players I’ve Ever Faced

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I was in New York City for Fashion Week in February this year — which is pretty funny to me. I actually don’t think I have much of a personal style yet. Not like Cam Jordan or somebody, you know? But there I was … walking the runway and modeling clothes at the Grungy Gentleman show. It was fun. I mean, it’s just walking, right? And I feel like I can do that anytime.

The truth is, I’ve been so focused on getting better — I was a wide receiver in high school, and I’ve only been playing safety since I got to Utah in 2014 — that I just haven’t had much time to worry about what I wear or how I look. Shoot, my rookie year I just wore all sweats for every game. My second year I wore one suit, and then this year I probably wore five different outfits. I’m getting better, but I’ve still got a ways to go to measure up to someone like Cam, who looks good all the time.

The fits will come, but what I’m most concerned with is getting better as a player.

A lot of receivers become DBs because they can’t catch. But with me, that wasn’t the case. I already have 11 picks right now in my career, including one in the playoffs. And I had 11 at Utah. I love when the ball is in the air — it’s basically mine, whether I’m on offense or defense. I like to go get it, attack it.

But once you go from receiver to DB … your angles, they have to change. I had to learn different footwork. I had to learn how to backpedal. At receiver, you’ve just got to go forward and make one cut. At DB, you’ve got to go backwards and forwards. It’s two different things. It’s like going from crawling to walking. And I’m working on that stuff all the time.

Now throw in the fact that as a free safety I’m basically the last line of defense. I don’t really cover one guy up close. I cover a lot of area. You’ve got to take it one play at a time, and you have to have that short-term memory. The play that just happened? It’s out of here. You can’t just keep thinking about it or you won’t be able to make the next play.

And that next play? It could be your play.

Still, even though I’m not going one-on-one against somebody the whole game, there are players I know I’m going to have to deal with at some point — probably at many points. They’re the toughest offensive players I’ve faced. Everyone on our defense has to account for them on every play. And even when we do … well, that’s where a good short-term memory is key.

And so, here are my five toughest offensive players.

  1. Stefon Diggs, WR, Bills, and 2. Adam Thielen, WR, Vikings

It had to be these two, right? We’ve played the Vikings four times in my three years in New Orleans — twice in the playoffs — and we’ve only beaten them once. And even in that game they both went for over 100 yards. I know Diggs is in Buffalo now, but I still think of these guys as a pair.

Both Thielen and Diggs are explosive, and they can also get open. They each have a wide catch radius. If the ball’s coming their way they’re going to get their hands on it … and then probably pull it in.

And, just in general, they like to scramble. When they get out in those scramble rules — when things are breaking down and they come out of their routes — they attack the ball. They go back to get it. They’re tough no matter what they’re doing.

Thielen is really good at catching the ball in any situation. He’ll reel it in, he’ll go get it, he’ll make an
acrobatic catch. He’s great at those types of things — at making catches that are pretty spectacular look routine.

That was quite a game, really. It came down to the wire.

  1. Alvin Kamara, RB, Saints

Look, we play the Panthers twice a year. Christian McCaffrey is great. Don’t get me wrong. But I face Alvin in practice all the time. I’d put Christian here, but Alvin is at the same level — and he’s on my team. I gotta go with Alvin.

He’s just so ferocious. And he could play anywhere — he could play slot receiver, he could play running back, he returns kicks. He’s just a phenomenal all-around athlete. And he’s quick. You’ve just got to be ready to go attack him and don’t let him get into the open field. If he does, you have to cut it down as fast as you can.

Probably my favorite play of his wasn’t in open space, though. It was against the Redskins my rookie year, when Drew threw him the ball down near the goal line and it just popped up off his hands — and then he still caught it and ran it in for a touchdown. He turned a slip-up into six points, and he did it almost casual, like it wasn’t that hard … when it was actually incredibly hard. Alvin does stuff like that all the time.

It was a crazy play. He’s just an amazing athlete. But he’s a running back, too, if you know what I mean.
He is definitely not afraid of a little contact. There was one play against Carolina that season when he was running wide right toward the end zone on fourth-and-goal. Four dudes were all around him, and Shaq Thompson hit him hard — and he just never stopped going forward and went right in for a touchdown. It was pretty incredible.

4. Julio Jones, WR, Falcons

Yeah, what can you say, right? Marshon does a great job of locking him up when he’s going against him. It takes a little bit of pressure off of me on the back end. Julio’s an explosive guy. And he’s big and athletic, and he just catches everything. There’s only so much you can do.

He doesn’t get away from Marshon that often, if at all, to be honest. But if he does, I’ll be there. That’s pretty much my job: Once he catches it, go track him down and bring him to the ground any way possible.

5. Russell Wilson, QB, Seahawks

It’s not easy to play against quarterbacks like Russell Wilson. He’s mobile, and he can throw the ball when he’s on the run. That’s the most important thing. That’s what he does. That’s why he is who he is, and that’s why his team gets to the playoffs all the time.

I enjoyed playing against him this year. He really showed me a different style of quarterbacking, as well as how smart he actually is. That was a good thing for me. It wasn’t exactly fun, to be honest. But it was good for me.

I mean, are you kidding? When Russell gets out of contain, you just find yourself going, How did he make that throw? He’s rolling out, and he’s throwing back across his body, or he’s rolling out and making linemen miss.

I think mobile quarterbacks are a bit tougher than pocket passers. I like quarterbacks who like to throw because I want to go get an interception. But somebody like Russell? You just don’t know where the ball is going — or coming from, sometimes, honestly. I’d rather have a pocket passer. I like my chances better against him.