One of the most interesting things in the NFL year to year is just how quickly some of the players fall off of their game. It seems once some players hit the infamous age of 30 that they start losing some of their game. Once this happens, it is not uncommon to see former star players move to bench roles. They still make money, they just have to do much less in a more reserved role.
There are many great examples of this in recent years, such as players like Alfred Morris, who were in the Pro Bowl one year, and on the bench the next. It's for these reasons that players make it a priority to maximize their value. They don't know when their last snap on the gridiron will come, so they make the most of their playing time. After doing this article, it's easy to see that some of the most unstable jobs include running back, wide receiver, and corner back. Once something like speed eludes these players, they don't have much value to the teams that they have played for years and years. It is truly a cut-throat business, and that can be cruel sometimes.
In this article, I will be looking at 15 different players who were once stars in the league, who now are on bench or reserved roles. I tried to look at multiple different positions, to add some variations to the article. The NFL changes quickly, and players are subject to that change. Today I will look at the players who just aren't the same as they used to be, whether it be by age or injuries. Enjoy!
15 Julius Thomas
Julius Thomas is not the same tight end he was when he was receiving balls thrown by the sheriff. Julius used to be a red-zone MONSTER, catching 24 touchdowns in two years. He just knew how to get open in the end zone and Peyton Manning would find him, having his MVP season of all MVP seasons in Denver. After spending 4 years in Denver, Julius signed with the Jaguars during the off season. Injuries played an effect, but in two years, Julius was not the same player he was in the mile high city. This past off season, Julius was sent to Miami for an offensive lineman. Although nothing is confirmed, Julius will more than likely split reps with other tight ends on the depth chart. Can Julius Thomas reacquire his redzone magic under Ryan Tannehill and Adam Gase? We will find out this season.
14 Rob Ninkovich
Ninkovich may have started 11 games last year, but recent moves by the Patriots has clouded up his future as a starter in the NFL. Ninkovich has two Super Bowl rings, and he was a major factor for the Patriots defense throughout all the title contending seasons. For five consecutive seasons, Ninkovich started all 16 games for the New England Patriots. In 2016, the streak was ended when Ninkovich battled through a triceps injury that held him out 4 games and benched him for one. This off-season, the Patriots traded with the Carolina Panthers for defensive end Kony Ealy, who plays the same position as Rob. Unless Ninkovich wants to move to linebacker, his chances of starting are relatively low next season. Expect Rob to be in a situational defensive line/outside linebacker position this season for the Pats.
13 Johnathan Joseph
Two-time Pro Bowler Johnathan Joseph did not record a interception last season for the Houston Texans. The last time that happened was Joseph’s rookie season playing for the Cincinnati Bengals. Johnathan also recorded his least amount of starts since 2008, where he was hurt halfway through the season. Joseph went through some injuries last year, fracturing his forearm and cracking his ribs, it was definitely a painful year. Johnathen is going on 33 years of age, and without a size advantage, it can be hard for someone like Joseph to remain a starter in this league. With young players like Kevin Johnson starting to develop, and the team bringing in draft prospects such as Adoree’ Jackson out of USC, you can’t see Joseph starting for the Houston Texans next year.
12 Frank Gore
Frank Gore is easily one of the most established running backs in the NFL today, but will he be moved to a reserve role on the Indianapolis Colts to make room for a draftee such as Leonard Fournette? Frank Gore has had a hall of fame career with the San Francisco 49ers since 2005. In the 2014 off season, Gore shockingly left the 49ers for a shot at a championship with the Indianapolis Colts. After those aspirations diminished, Gore is just a 33 year old running back for a team that needs a injection of youth on the offensive side of the ball. With the Colts looking to the draft boards for their running back of the future, look for Gore to split carries with whomever is acquired by the Colts.
11 C.J. Spiller
In 2012, C.J. Spiller rushed for over 1200 yards and six touchdowns for the Buffalo Bills and he made his first Pro Bowl selection. C.J. Spiller could do it all, racking up thousands of receiving and rushing yards, while scoring 18 total touchdowns during his five years in Buffalo. After Spiller’s Pro Bowl year, injuries struck and he hasn’t been the same since. After closing out his career in Buffalo, C.J. signed with the New Orleans Saints where he was presumed to be the next Darren Sproles in Sean Payton’s offense. Spiller was a major bust, only rushing for 112 yards before being cut after one season. This last season, Spiller has played in reserve roles for the Jets and Seahawks, scoring one total touchdown on the season. Spiller has recently signed with the Chiefs, where he will fill in another reserve role under head coach Andy Reid, and he will try to recapture his magic at the age of 30.
10 Alfred Morris
Did you know that Alfred Morris was drafted in 2012 and he is just now 28 years of age? It is crazy how quickly running backs diminish in today’s NFL. Alfred was a tank for the Washington Redskins, making two Pro Bowls in twice as many seasons. Alfred rushed for 1000 yards in all of his first three seasons, including an incredible 1600+ yard, 13 touchdown rookie season, where he put the entire league on notice of his talents. In the 2015 off season, Alfred left the team that drafted him for the Dallas Cowboys, who were about to draft Ezekiel Elliott who would end up being their future starter. This season, Alfred is still on the Cowboys, and he will continue to back up and mentor Elliott for the near future.
9 Nick Foles
Nick Foles is one of the three quarterbacks to throw seven touchdowns in a game since 1970. The other two? Drew Brees and Peyton Manning, two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks for their respective franchises. Nick Foles appeared to be the future of the Eagles after the Mike Vick era was over in Philly. Foles made the Pro Bowl in 2013, tossing 27 touchdowns while only throwing two balls to the opposite team. Nick had one of the most efficient passing seasons of all time in 2013, leading the Eagles to a playoff berth. In 2015, Nick was traded to the St. Louis Rams, where he struggled to maintain his efficiency, throwing more interceptions than touchdowns. After backing up Alex Smith in Kansas City, Foles is back on the Eagles, and ready to hold a clipboard for up and coming star Carson Wentz.
8 Darren Sproles
Darren Sproles has made the Pro Bowl for punt returning the last three seasons with the Eagles, but he used to be so much more for the New Orleans Saints. Sproles was a dynamic player out of the back field, doing everything asked of him from Drew Brees and his offense. Sproles was the best at catching a ball in the backfield, and then making a play or two to flip it into a twenty yard gain. He was very quick at his size, and he used that to his advantage. Darren Sproles is almost 34, but he should be able to return punts for another season or two on the Philadelphia Eagles. Expect Sproles to not get many snaps on offense, but he will shine on special teams for a fourth consecutive season.
7 Junior Galette
Junior Galette’s story is a story of karma, and just plain stupidity. When Junior Galette played for the New Orleans Saints, he simply put his head down, and went to work for five straight seasons. Recording 31.5 sacks in his five seasons, Junior was a major threat rushing from the outside. This is when legal problems came into effect. During the offseason, Junior got into a domestic violence incident, and he was immediately cut by the Saints. This was of course, after Galette signed a multi-million dollar contract to continue playing for the Saints. After facing all the problems, Junior went to the Redskins where he tore his Achilles for two straight seasons, not playing a single snap for the team. Recently, Junior was arrested a second time, just when he was returning from injury. If he can even return to the field, expect him to have minimal impact on the defense.
6 DeAngelo Hall
DeAngelo Hall has enjoyed a very long and prosperous career in the National Football League. From 2004 to 2013, Hall racked up over 28 interceptions. As time goes on, so does Hall’s age and injuries have started to add up. DeAngelo has failed to play a full season since 2013, and in the games he has played in, his speed has seemed to elude him. A recent change to free safety should give Hall a couple more seasons of playing, similar to the move Charles Woodson made near the end of his career. Due to injuries and age, Hall is not the same player he used to be as the dominant corner back for the Redskins and Falcons. Expect Hall to play in a rotational safety role for the Washington Redskins this upcoming season.
5 Terence Newman
Terence Newman is the old man of today's NFL, considering he has been in the league since 2003 and he is currently 38 years of age. Newman was a shutdown corner back for years for the Dallas Cowboys, racking up two Pro Bowl selections and 32 total interceptions in nine years on America’s team. After the famed career in Dallas, Newman moved on to the Bengals where he used his football IQ to remain a relevant player in this league. When Newman was 37, he moved on to Minnesota where he used every single trick in the bag to remain a presence on the Vikings defense, where he started 25 games in two seasons. Newman should now be on the sidelines a lot more for the Vikings, considering he will turn 39 by the time the season starts.
4 Teddy Bridgewater
So far in his young NFL season, it has been sad to watch Teddy Bridgewater deal with all the injuries he has had. In the 2016 off season, Teddy completely tore up every muscle in his knee, effectively ending his season. That injury will evidently cost him the 2017 season as well, and the Vikings will have to move on with Sam Bradford as their quarterback. Before those terrible injuries struck, Teddy was a Pro Bowl quarterback, who was presumably the future of a young Viking roster. He had excellent vision on the field, and he can scramble out of the pocket when needed of him. Teddy will eventually start for a team again one day, and the whole NFL world wants to see him succeed.
3 Julius Peppers
Julius Peppers is a rare player, one who can rush the passer and also play good in zone coverage, making him a defensive threat for both the Carolina Panthers and the Green Bay Packers during his tenure with both teams. Peppers made nine Pro Bowls and three All-Pro teams, most of which coming in Carolina, but one Pro Bowl selection came for Green Bay in 2015. Peppers has figured out all the moves of a successful defensive end in the league, and players like Clay Matthews help teach him effective zone coverage techniques. This past off season, Peppers went back to the team that drafted him, the Carolina Panthers. Julius has a good chance to start for the Panthers, but with his age continuing to rise, he should be a great pickup for the Panthers as a mentor and for depth purposes.
2 Ted Ginn Jr.
Ted Ginn Jr. has been a great deep threat and return man for the Miami Dolphins, San Francisco 49ers, and Carolina Panthers. Ted is one of the fastest players in the league, and he uses that to his advantage in his lengthy NFL career. Ginn has had seven touchdowns off of a punt or kickoff, making him one of the scarier returners in the league today. After two productive seasons with Cam Newton in Carolina, Ginn signed with the New Orleans Saints in the off season to help replace Brandin Cooks. Ginn should do very well under Drew Brees and Sean Payton, as Brees is great at taking the top off a defense. Although Ted Ginn Jr. is behind Michael Thomas and Willie Snead on the depth chart, he should make a big impact in a successful New Orleans Saints offense.
1 Antoine Bethea
Antoine Bethea was a great NFL safety for the Indianapolis Colts and San Francisco 49ers. Bethea was selected for three Pro Bowls and has one Super Bowl championship to his name. Bethea could play sideline to sideline, stopping the run on either side of the field. In Indianapolis, Antoine Bethea was great in coverage, where he amassed over 14 interceptions in eight seasons. Once Bethea moved to San Francisco, he became a great tackler, especially against the run. In Bethea’s most recent season, he recorded 110 total tackles. 110 tackles is quite a lot of tackles for a free safety. This off season, Antoine Bethea signed with the Arizona Cardinals to become a free safety for their team. Arizona does not have any opening spots open in the secondary, so Bethea will probably be on the team for depth purposes. Expect Antoine to only play if there is a major injury to someone in the secondary.