Nearly every player in the NFL is already an elite athlete, but these 25 players are a notch above the rest. These are the guys that you’ll find in the gym seven days a week, year-round. These are the guys that don’t take a break from their diets to pig out on hot dog-stuffed crust pizza. And these are the guys that have, undoubtedly, made some of the most significant differences in the games you’ve seen this past season.
Super Bowl XLVIII is coming, and while the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos have proven to be the two best teams of the season, we decided to round up the best bodies of the NFL.
Nearly every player in the NFL is already an elite athlete, but these 25 players are a notch above the rest. These are the guys that you’ll find in the gym seven days a week, year-round. These are the guys that don’t take a break from their diets to pig out on hot dog-stuffed-crust pizza.
Who’d we miss? Tell us on Twitter @MensFitness. Use #SuperbowlBodies
Russell Wilson – Quarterback – Seattle Seahawks
Wilson entered the NFL as a third-round draft pick, a player most assumed would land a backup spot for his rookie season. However, through two years, Wilson has yet to miss a start, and is likely to be the face of the Seahawks for years to come. There are plenty of factors involved—his skill and execution, his confident leadership, the team’s success, and of course, his dedication to getting stronger and better. He ran an impressive 4.53 40-yard dash at the 2012 combine and has a sturdy 5’11”, 206-pound build—with such mobility and strength, he’s one of the most elusive quarterbacks in the NFL, while becoming one of the better passers in the league (Wilson had the seventh-best passer rating in the NFL this season). At just 25 years of age, expect him to continue to elevate his play.
At 6′ and 203 pounds, Reggie Bush has overcome several major knee and leg injuries to remain one of the NFL’s most dynamic and well-rounded players. The Detroit Lions running back uses his quickness, power, and agility to maintain his position as one of the league’s top gainers in yards from scrimmage nearly every year. Not satisfied in just being a fantastic rusher and pass receiver, Bush is easily one of the fittest players currently in uniform.
Men’s Fitnessprofiled Bush’s super-intense off-season workouts and found the explosive back practicing an exhaustive acrobatic regimen, developed by Kappel LeRoy Clarke, called Fre Flo Do that takes place entirely on a treadmill-like machine (that also rotates) called the Launchpad. All this has Bush diving over huge balls, backpedaling up the machine, and catching medicine balls from above his head. “He’s probably the most powerful and quickest athlete I’ve ever had on the Launchpad,” said Clarke in the same piece. Moral of the story? Reggie Bush is a fitness machine and one of the most-jacked NFL players you’ll find on the gridiron today.
Adrian Peterson – Running Back – Minnesota Vikings
Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson has been torching the competition since he first stepped foot on an NFL field. He’s not only been the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, a Pro Bowl MVP, and the fifth-fastest player in NFL history to rush for 5,000 yards, but Peterson has run for more than 1,000 yards in every year he’s been in the league in all but one season. (In 2011 an ACL tear shortened his season to only 12 games—and even then he only came up 30 yards shy of the mark.)
The 6’1″, 217-pound back is a beast both on and off the field. “All Day” spends just about that much time in the gym (when he’s not on the field, that is) working on his calves, quads, and hammies to maintain the game-breaking speed that helped him run a 4.4 second 40-yard dash. Men’s Fitnesscaught up with Peterson during his rookie season and got the scoop on how his NFL diet also helps the explosive running back stay lean. “I try to eat a lot of baked foods, fish, chicken, potatoes, stuff like that. Grab me a Muscle Milk. That helps,” said Peterson. Whatever it is, it’s clearly working.
Larry Fitzgerald – Wide Receiver – Arizona Cardinals
If you’re surprised the 6’3″, 218-pound Arizona Cardinals wide receiver is on this list, you shouldn’t be. The third overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft made our 2009 MF 25 list where we talked about how Fitzgerald uses his off-season to strengthen his speed and leaping ability by concentrating on “box jumps and track drills.” Not only that, but this genetic freak and EAS Sports Nutrition athlete is one of the very best receivers in the league, having led the Cardinals all the way to Super Bowl XLIII and grabbing the 2009 Pro Bowl MVP. We even profiled the All-Pro’s entire workout, which includes hurdle drills, chute drills, medicine ball situps, and power snatches to go along with those explosive box jumps.
Clay Matthews III – Linebacker – Green Bay Packers
Clay Matthews has ridden his 6’3″, 255-pound frame and his long, flowing blond locks to fame as one of the most recognizable faces in the NFL today. Matthews may have been a walk-on at USC, but he quickly bulked up and started terrorizing opposing quarterbacks on his way to becoming a top prospect for the 2009 NFL Draft (eventually going 26th overall to the Green Bay Packers). At the combine, he impressed scouts with a 4.67 40-yard dash time, by benching 225 pounds a total of 23 times, and logging a 35.5-inch vertical leap. Matthews stays in peak physical condition by following the Jay Glazer- and Randy Couture-founded MMAthletics regimen. It’s a high-intensity workout (detailed in a FoxSports.com article by Glazer himself) that keeps players like Matthews and Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen ready for anything on the field and helps them become absolute warriors, let alone fantastic football players.
Vernon Davis – Tight End – San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis also made our previous list of fittest NFL players, and for good reason. The 6’3″, 250-pound bruiser is arguably the fittest tight end in the league today. Not only has his ever-increasing production at the position helped the 49ers remain of the NFL’s elite teams, but the guy is also just an absolute genetic freak. He posts a blazing 4.38 seconds time in the 40, has a vertical leap of 42 inches, bench presses more than 450 pounds, power cleans 365, and can squat nearly 700 pounds. Yes, you heard that right—700 pounds. Davis’ unstoppable exercise routine and superlean diet helps him maintain his freak-of-nature size and strength, but it’s the tight end’s dedication and heart that makes him a standout on the field of play.
Patrick Willis – Linebacker – San Francisco 49ers
The 6’1″ 240-pound San Francisco 49ers linebacker 49ers strikes fear into the hearts of opposing offenses not just with the tattoos covering nearly his entire torso, but also with his extreme speed (it should be illegal for a man Patrick Willis’ size to run a 4.51 40), his massive strength (22 reps of a 225-pound bench press), and off-the charts-agility (including a 39-inch vertical leap and a 119-inch broad jump). If that wasn’t enough to impress you, think about the fact that Willis reportedly squats 500 pounds. And how does he get (and stay) this jacked? In a 2010 Stack.com video interview, the 2007 AP NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year detailed his unique homegrown workout, which consists of basically whatever feels right to him. Growing up, Willis didn’t have free weights or a gym to use, so he used whatever he could find to keep his body in shape, including pushups, situps, and other plyometric exercises. It sure seems to have worked for one of the fittest defensive players in the NFL.
Maurice Jones-Drew – Running Back – Jacksonville Jaguars
Another guy that’s short in stature, but packs a whole lot of power is Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew. Jones-Drew has been able to realize the full potential of his 4.39-second 40-yard dash speed and his 36-inch vertical leap. Talk about strong legs! That’s one insanely quick running back. Not to mention the fact that he posted 18 reps of the 225-pound bench press and routinely runs right through defensive backs trying to take him down.
Arguably the fastest man in football, Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson has the ability to change an entire game in a split second. And we actually mean one second. Cj2K runs an astonishing 4.24 40, has a 35-inch vertical leap, and a 130-inch broad jump. The 2009 season became Johnson’s breakout year, rushing for more than 2,000 yards and was named NFL Offensive Player of the Year. Men’s Fitness doesn’t just profile anyone’s workout regimen. No, they need to have a reason. And if CJ’s explosiveness and lightning-quick speed isn’t a good reason, then we don’t know what is. He maintains the speed that helped him to break the NFL single-season record for total yards from scrimmage (2,509) with a mixture of single-leg squats, reps on the Vertimax, and a variety of other explosive exercises. You, on the other hand, might want to work on strengthening your eyes for the 2014 season. Otherwise, you’re likely to miss Johnson streaking across your television screen as he shreds another defense.
Robert Griffin III – Quarterback – Washington Redskin
The 6′ 2″ 220-pound quarterback impressed NFL scouts with a near-flawless throwing performance during the workout and showed why he won the 2011 Heisman Trophy and deserved to be the second-overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. The former record-breaking track star has turned his speed, dedication, and raw football talent into a goldmine. When healthy, he’s gives Redskins fans some hope, and that alone is a mighty feat.
Antonio Cromartie – Cornerback – New York Jets
Cromartie’s speed, explosiveness, and agility makes the 6’2″, 210-pound veteran one of the best cover cornerbacks in the entire NFL. Cromartie was kind enough to sit down with Men’s Fitness for a quick chat about how he continues to maintain his fitness level.
“I’m big on nutrition,” Cromartie said. “Once I got to New York in 2010, I got with a nutritionist, and now my diet consists of mostly vegetables, brown rice, fish, and chicken. I don’t really eat red meat. I try to stick to low-portion, high-protein meals.”
Cromartie, however, wasn’t always so careful about what he put in his body. “I used to eat Oreos and McDonald’s,” he said, laughing. “I used to just eat anything.”
But it’s not just diet that keeps Cromartie in good shape. He’s also very dedicated to the workout regimen that helps him maintain his fitness year-round.
“I think what sets me apart from other players is dedication,” Cromartie told us. “I always take pride in what I do eating wise, football wise, and workout wise. I always to compete with myself to make sure I improve on everything I do.”
C.J. Spiller – Running Back – Buffalo Bills
One of the most exciting young running backs in the league, Buffalo Bills tailback C.J. Spiller is also one of the fittest players in the NFL. The 5’11”, 197-pound running back runs a blazing-fast 4.37 40 and his broad jump of 10’6″ at Clemson’s Pro Day helped make him the ninth overall draft pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. He’s as explosive and fun to watch as anyone in the league and, the scary thing is, this 24-year-old running back is only going to get better and better. Spiller, who rushed for 933 yards this past season, agreed to chat with Men’s Fitness a while back to give us a little insight into what he does to stay in peak physical condition.
“I do a lot of exercising,” the former Clemson All-America told us. “I take great pride in running and having my endurance at the highest peak. I also watch what I eat very closely. I’m a picky and healthy eater. I’ve always been told ‘You’ve only got one heart, so take good care of it.’”
In the off-season, Spiller even practices a form of mixed martial arts training to help keep his body running smoothly.
“I go out to California,” he said, “where we do the MMA training. It’s just a different aspect of trying to get that conditioning right and pushing yourself when you don’t think you can go anymore. That’s something I just started doing when I came into the NFL, so I was glad to be a part of that.”
Spiller also said he pulls sleds and runs hills to maintain his incredible speed. “When I’m in California training, they have the sand dunes and we do a lot of workouts there as well. Even when I do take a little mini-vacation, I’ll wake up early and go run on the beach.”
Take a break when you’re on those vacations, C.J. You have a long and bright NFL career ahead of you.
Andre Johnson – Wide Receiver – Houston Texans
Drafted third overall in the 2003 NFL Draft by the Houston Texans, a lot was expected of the Andre Johnson. And boy has he delivered. The 6’3″, 226-pound wide receiver has racked up nearly every franchise receiving record, and is second all-time in receiving yards per game. He’s now a crafty veteran who relies on his 4.35 40 speed and his 41-inch vertical leap to soar past the competition. Johnson also boasts an insanely fit body (he made the 2010 MF 25) that benefits from a rigorous off-season workout regimen (detailed in this Men’s Fitness profile) as well as exercises specifically to help the receiver maintain his pinpoint balance. He’s a gym rat that’s not afraid to mix it up when he has to and, because of that, he’s one of the NFL’s fittest players.
Ray Rice – Running Back – Baltimore Ravens
Good things come in small packages, right? That’s certainly the case for former Rutgers standout Ray Rice. One of the shortest players on our list, the Baltimore Ravens running back may only stand 5’8″ and weigh 212 pounds, but his presence looms large in every single game. Due to a unique combination of speed and power (he’s been known to bench more than 400 pounds and squat more than 500), Rice has quickly become one of the league’s best running backs.
So how does he stay so fit? In addition to the conventional power exercises, Rice has even called upon his former New Jersey high school coaches to provide a change of pace. Stack.com detailed in a 2011 article some of Rice’s more interesting workouts which include beach sprints, resistance band sprints, and shuttle runs. Wait, you mean the beach is good for things other than laying out and drinking beer? Hmm…
Julius Peppers – Defensive End – Chicago Bears
The biggest man on our list, Chicago Bears defensive end Julius Peppers is not only one of the best defensive linemen in the game, he’s also one of the fastest. Peppers moves his 6’7″, 287-pound body around like he’s a lightweight, clocking in on the 40-yard dash in 4.68 seconds. After a few lackluster seasons in Carolina, Peppers has revitalized his career as a member of the bruising Chicago Bears defense by using his rare mixture of strength, speed, size, and raw ability to overpower and outrun his opponents. Imagine trying to block a man his size. Now imagine trying to block a man his size at the speed that Peppers moves. Exactly. Good luck with that.
Cam Newton – Quarterback – Carolina Panthers
Some athletes are just genetically gifted. Take, for instance, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. Quarterbacks are not supposed to be 6’5″, 248 pounds and move with the nimble feet of a feline. For someone that size to be able to run a 4.59 40, have a vertical leap of 35 inches, and a broad jump of 126 inches is almost unfair to the rest of the league. Unfortunately for the rest of the league, crazy genes aren’t on the list of prohibited substances. And so Cam Newton is free to run around in the backfield and throw passes to his receivers with laser-like precision. He’s so gifted and unique that Sport Science even took the time to try to figure out just what makes Cam so different from all the other NFL quarterbacks. We’re inclined to think it has something to do with Wheaties. Lots and lots of Wheaties.
Justin Tuck – Defensive End – New York Giants
Quarterbacks love to hate New York Giants defensive end Justin Tuck. That’s because his enormous 6’5″, 268-pound frame is right in their face on just about every play. His uncanny speed for a man his size has made Tuck one of the league’s most dangerous pass-rushing threats and a fan favorite in New York. Consistency, he once stated, is the key for the big man. He stays within himself, is dedicated to his workout regimen, and doesn’t overextend himself by doing too much. Whatever it is, it’s working. Just ask Tom Brady.
Dez Bryant – Wide Receiver – Dallas Cowboys
NFL scouts might have been a bit unsure about Dez Bryant’s physical abilities when he missed both the scouting combine and Oklahoma’s Pro Day prior to the 2010 NFL Draft. The questions in their minds, however, were quickly answered during Bryant’s private workout where the talented wide receiver impressed with both his football knowledge and his incredible fitness. And while he may have experienced some controversial moments on and off the field over the past four seasons, Bryant has developed into one of the game’s elite receivers, catching more than 90 passes for more than 1,200 yards in each of the past two seasons.
Steven Jackson – Running Back – Atlanta Falcons
The long-time St. Louis Rams running back, Steven Jackson made the move to Atlanta for the 2013 season and did everything he could to handle his hamstring issues. Despite a slow start and the Falcons’ unexpectedly weak season, Jackson still found the end zone six times in the team’s final six games, proving that his work ethic and dedication to the weight room have allowed him to be one of few NFL running backs to remain effective and ready for more after crossing into his 30s. With a 6’2”, 240-pound frame, Jackson backs up his output with some solid numbers, running the 40 in 4.45 and benching 355 pounds. If he continues his longevity at one of football’s most taxing positions, know that his obsessive gym habits are a major factor.