When NFL players make headlines, it’s typically either because they just did something stupid off-the-field or he just did something incredible on-the-field. Because of that, you likely tend to think of your average NFL player as kind of a jerk. That’s certainly the narrative that’s easy to sell. To be fair, there are times when that story is the one that needs to be told. Some of the biggest jerks that you’ll ever meet in the wide world of sports can be found spending their Sundays on a football field. Actually, some football players are just the biggest jerks you’ll ever meet anywhere.
The very good news is that the vast majority of NFL players are either decent or outright good people. There are even a few that stand out as some of the nicest people you will ever meet in sports or elsewhere. While some of their good deeds may seem especially notable in comparison to the bad deeds of other players, the truth of the matter is that it is these players who deserve the attention that their negative counterparts get. This is our second look at the 10 NFL players who are jerks and 10 who are sweethearts.
20 Jerk - Jay Cutler
The NFL is filled with a variety of jerks, but few seem to take as much pleasure in being a jerk as Jay Cutler. Jay Cutler has been criticized by former teammates, current teammates, coaches, and owners for his seeming inability to really care. While his indifference has been turned into a meme over the years - smoking Jay Cutler - it occasionally reveals itself in less amusing ways. Cutler has been known to phone in plays on the field and care more about his late night activities than practices. Champ Bailey once said the he rubbed nearly everyone he met the wrong way while he was just a backup in Denver. What’s worse is that Cutler’s play over the years hasn’t exactly justified his superstar attitude.
19 Sweetheart - Matt Ryan
Matt Ryan is something of an anomaly in terms of recent NFL players. He entered the league as a highly-touted quarterback prospect - the Falcons spent a third overall pick on him in 2008 - and he has, thus far, lived up to the hype from an on-the-field perspective. It’s what Ryan does off-the-field, though, that makes him so impressive. Ryan isn’t the kind of player who never makes headlines due to negative attention. He is so well-liked that even Patriots players and fans had nothing but nice things to say about him around the time of last year’s Super Bowl. It’s been said that part of the reason he doesn’t have a reputation for being a nice guy is because he’s not really a very outspoken person.
18 Jerk - Adrian Peterson
Adrian Peterson was one of the few “can’t miss” NFL prospects that lived up to the hype. In college, he terrorized poor school kids with a hard-nosed style of running that was impossible to defend against. For years, he did the same in the NFL. Through it all, though, Peterson has remained a pretty big jerk. Now, some will tell you that his attitude can be traced back to a hard young life and a series of tragedies. That might all be true, but Peterson has had plenty of chances to turn his life around. Instead, he directs his anger towards his children, his fans, and his teammates. Most recently, Peterson blasted the Saints for only handing him the ball nine times in a blowout. Mind you, they were the only team that even considered signing him.
17 Sweetheart - Von Miller
Von Miller is kind of a strange dude. He’s got a unique sense of fashion and sometimes curious tastes in personal habits. He’s also a guy that’s been known to love a good party and a few bottles of champagne. He’s not known as a guy with much of an attitude problem. Actually, Miller seems to genuinely enjoy spending time with fans. He’s been known to hang out after games and sign autographs or shake hands like he’s running for public office.
Even when Miller arguably crosses the line, such as he did with a recent unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, he is quick to send out a genuine apology and isn’t likely to repeat the same mistake twice. Miller’s intensity sometimes gets the better of him, but he seems to be a pretty genuine person.
16 Jerk - Odell Beckham Jr.
Odell Beckham Jr. may very well prove to be a once in a generation kind of talent. He’s a physical specimen to be sure, but what really separates him from a crop of great receivers is his intensity and ability to make the big play. Unfortunately, much like some other top-tier receivers before him, that has made Beckham a bit impatient and prone to dramatic outbursts. Unlike a guy like Dez Bryant whose intensity comes from a strong desire to win, Beckham’s impermanence manifests itself in the form of objectionable post-game comments and questionable celebrations. There has already been much talk about whether or not the Giants’ front office believes that he can mature enough over the years to justify the big money his skills will demand.
15 Sweetheart - Julio Jones
There was a time when Julio Jones might have made the other side of this list. He had a tendency to fly off the handle early in his career. Some had him labeled as a diva early on. However, Jones has said that Roddy White was a big help in teaching him how to act like a true professional. Ever since then, Jones has calmed his temper and endeavored to become something of a role model. He’s even won the Falcons' “Good Guy” award. Some have said that Julio can come across as kind of “cold” around game time, but that seems to be attributed to his intense competitive drive and work ethic. Outside of the game, Jones is most certainly a guy that will sign a few autographs.
14 Jerk - Ezekiel Elliott
Recent events may have forever tarnished whatever remained of Ezekiel Elliott's good name. While there is plenty of room for doubt regarding Elliott’s infamous domestic assault case, the label will surely follow him for quite some time. Even if that incident and the fallout it resulted in never happened, though, you’d still be left with the impression that Elliott is a guy that is in desperate need of a wake-up call. Elliott has been known as a somewhat immature person since his days in college, and it seems his encounter with NFL fame and money hasn’t exactly made him any more modest. The hope is that Elliott’s recent suspension will help him change his attitude. Otherwise, he may be another in a long line of Cowboy divas.
13 Sweetheart - Joe Thomas
In 2007, the Cleveland Browns drafted offensive lineman Joe Thomas with the third overall pick. Thomas spent the rest of the day fishing with friends and family. Since then, Thomas has remained about as low key as he was on the day he became a multimillionaire. Despite spending his entire year playing for a franchise that is never even close to being a contender, Thomas has never uttered a word of discontent or seemingly even contemplated requesting a trade. He goes in, he plays like one of the best offensive linemen in NFL history, and he goes home. You’ll never find an opponent or a teammate that has a bad word to say about Joe Thomas. He’s the gold standard for professionalism in the NFL.
12 Jerk - Eli Manning
Sometimes, it’s a little hard to tell what to think of Eli Manning. Generally speaking, Eli is not put on the same pedestal as his brother Peyton in terms of on-the-field talent. However, Eli also hasn’t generated the controversy that Peyton has with some of his college antics.
That might be a good thing, but Eli has also garnered a reputation for being a bit of a “whiner.” To be sure, pouting is an odd way for a player to express his competitive nature. Eli is also the guy who was caught participating in the sale of fake memorabilia and the guy who memorably looked like someone had taken away his favorite toy when he discovered that he had been drafted by the Chargers.
11 Sweetheart - David Johnson
David Johnson has had a rough year. Actually, his season was pretty much lost when it was announced that he would require wrist surgery. While that certainly helped derail the Cardinals’ playoff ambitions, that news is made all the more tragic once you realize that Johnson is quietly one of the nicest guys in the NFL. Johnson comes across as a superstar player - or potential superstar player - who probably never really expected to be in the position he is at. As such, he’s constantly humbled by the mere experience of being an NFL player. He’s even been known to smile after losses when trying to consul an angered teammate. Johnson may play hard on the field, but he’s a bonafide Mr. Rogers everywhere else.
10 Jerk - DeAngelo Hall
DeAngelo Hall has had a “jerk” reputation for quite some time now. While there are fan stories about the man that are as outlandish as they are unconfirmed, even the official reports of Hall’s behavior paint him as kind of a jerk. The really troubling part is that Hall’s attitude used to be balanced by his incredible play. Even though Hall’s skills have diminished somewhat over the years, his attitude hasn’t really changed whatsoever. He’s even earned the nickname “MeAngelo” from his teammates who were tired of his selfish attitude. Some say that Hall has calmed down a bit in recent years, but he still attracts a fair bit of negative attention for his brutal play and seeming disregard for everyone that isn’t him.
9 Sweetheart - Alex Smith
Alex Smith spend years battling his reputation as an average game manager. Nobody really thought he was a bad quarterback, but there was many a whisper regarding whether Smith will ever really be an “elite” guy. The jury is still out on that, but there are few people who will ever tell you that Smith is anything less than one of the NFL’s genuine good guys. When Smith left San Francisco, a number of players stepped forward and talked about what a genuinely good guy he really is. Smith has also been known to sign autographs for fans of opposing teams and always seems to be wearing a smile on his face. He’s an excellent leader and the guy you want on your team if you value a hard worker.
8 Jerk - Vontaze Burfict
Recently, Vontaze Burfict made headlines when he committed a serious offense by placing his hands on a referee. Some will say that the penalty wasn’t nearly as flagrant as it sounds, and they might be right. However, you have to understand that it was far from the first time that Burfict has gotten into trouble over on-the-field actions. He has been suspended and fined on multiple occasions over his dirty play. He’s even gone so far as to spit in the faces of opposing players. Some have argued that Burfict might just be a clinically insane individual who has no business being on the field. At the very least, he’s certainly one of the NFL’s biggest jerks and one of the dirtiest players of the modern era.
7 Sweetheart - Eric Berry
It’s sometimes hard to find great defensive players who are generally considered to be nice guys. That’s because being a top-tier defensive player in the NFL usually requires a touch of ruthless aggression. To be certain, Berry has never been accused of being anything less than aggressive, but you tend to hear more about Berry’s acts of kindness and goodwill. Recently, Berry was “caught” buying meals for homeless people. As it turned out, he had been doing this for years and years without ever seeking attention for his actions. Berry has also participated in many official acts of community service before and since joining the NFL. He’s a family man, a team player, and a guy that seemingly doesn’t have a selfish bone in his body.
6 Jerk - Cam Newton
Cam Newton is hard to figure out. To be certain, the guy has devoted time and money to charities and other worthwhile causes over the years. However, his good deeds have almost always been accompanied by a series of petty actions that really make you question what kind of person he is. Newton seems to be a team player on the field, but he has made some sexist and generally questionable off the field comments that have left his biggest supporters scratching their heads. Newton also supposedly acted like a real jerk at a recent Pro Bowl by acting like he was better than his considerably talented colleagues. Perhaps it’s just his personality, but at a certain point, Newton’s infractions began to paint a picture.
5 Sweetheart - Leonard Fournette
The Jacksonville Jaguars are enjoying a turnaround that the franchise hasn’t really seen in well over a decade. While their dominant defense tends to attract most of the attention, young running back Leonard Fournette is already proving himself to be an irreplaceable offensive talent. Fournette is also quickly becoming one of the most likable players in the NFL. Recently, he made some headlines when sideline cameras caught him signing and donating his cleats to a wheelchair-bound fan. Those who know Fournette suggest that this is far from a one-off incident. He’s long had a reputation for being a good guy and an all-around mature person. In fact, it’s hard to really find anyone who’s ever shared a bad word about the young running back.
4 Jerk - Josh Norman
It’s been said that the best cornerbacks actually possess skillsets relatively close to those of wide receivers. They need to be quick, smart, and have incredible hands. Perhaps it shouldn’t be too much surprise, then, to learn that a cornerback can be just as much of a diva as a star wide receiver. However, Josh Norman has gone above and beyond to ensure that he is seen as the NFL’s ultimate villain. Whether it’s an act or not, there’s no way to justify Norman’s arguments with teammates, his fondness for talking more than he makes plays, or his fondness for complaining. His bad attitude has dragged down what should otherwise have been a sterling NFL career. As it stands, he’s a talented and troublesome defender.
3 Sweetheart - Luke Kuechly
It’s quite amazing that more people don’t know the name Luke Kuechly considering that he may very well be the best linebacker in the NFL. Of course, that might have something to do with the fact that Kuechly never really talks about himself much or talks much at all for that matter. He prefers to let his play do the talking. He’s also a guy that loves to let the locker room and the Panthers’ fanbase know that he’s behind them 100%. He’s been called the nicest man in the world by everyone that isn’t on the receiving end of one of his tackles. Kuechly even goes so far as to personally call and welcome every new Carolina Panthers player. The guy is inhumanely decent.
2 Jerk - Brett Favre
Brett Favre might be retired, but his legacy lives on. Of course, when we talk about Favre’s legacy, we’re really talking about two things. His legacy on-the-field as one of the best and toughest quarterbacks to ever play the game, and his legacy off-the-field as a real jerk. Some go so far as to say that Favre is the biggest jerk in NFL history. From his seeming desire to attract as much attention as possible when he’s contemplating retirement to his fondness for sending unsolicited nude pictures of himself, Favre lacks the ability to leave it all out on the field. Some say that Favre’s attitude only got worse as his career wore on and his fame grew larger. Others will tell you that he’s honestly always been this way.
1 Sweetheart - Dak Prescott
Dak Prescott is one of a few recent star quarterbacks who arguably shouldn’t be in the league in the first place. Prescott enjoyed a good, but not great, college career at a smaller school. That led many scouts to ask whether he could transition to the NFL. The one thing that was never in doubt about Prescott, though, is his maturity and ability to lead his fellow players. Prescott not only spends much of his game time being the kind of leader you expect an NFL quarterback to be, but he’s also been known to spend a good chunk of his free time volunteering or just hanging out with fans. Prescott wants to be a great example to NFL players and people in general. He’s well on his way.