For the NFL, the Y2K era represented a massive shift in how the audience viewed football, and the product that the league was producing in general. Gambling, fantasy football, and media analysis all increased heavily, and the seeds were planted for the mega-entertainment corporation that the league has become today. The players during the era were just as intriguing--some of them less publicized than others. Though the first decade of the 2000s is squarely in the rear-view mirror, it's worth taking a look back and remembering some old NFL faces.
Everyone knows the elite players of the era: Peyton Manning, LaDainian Tomlinson, and other names of that caliber were constantly praised for their efforts and became media celebrities in the process. However, some of the league's prominent, but lesser known figures, are just as interesting. They all had varying levels of success, but there is something unique about each of their stories and the trajectories that their respective careers took while in the NFL. Ultimately, they could never be as publicly recognized as the best players in the sport, but they're definitely significant in their own right.
Ranked below are 15 players of the Y2K era who you probably don't remember.
15 Ricky Williams
Heralded as one of the best RB prospects out of Texas in the 1999 draft, Williams was drafted by the Saints before heading to the Dolphins. In the first few years of his career he was lighting up the stat sheet on the field, before he lit up off the field. He was subsequently suspended (in an era where marijuana use in the NFL was much more taboo), and never was the same player after several stop-start returns. He would come back to Miami, try his hand at Canadian Football, and make a final stop with the Ravens before retiring once and for all in 2011. Many wonder what could have been had it not been for the substance abuse. Williams had one of the all-time great seasons for a RB in 2002, but was never able to repeat it.
14 Jeremy Shockey
Loudmouthed, cocky and brash, Shockey was a kind of prototype for the modern TE, and took trash talking from the position to a whole new level. He was a target monster during his prime years with the Giants, and was one of the league's more entertaining figures throughout the first decade of the century. Shockey's style and swagger on the field went a long way to reaching the peak popularity of league viewership. He would later move on to the Saints, but the most distinctive moments came in New York, when he was throwing a fit after a play, or jawing up an opponent following a big gain. A Super Bowl winner, Shockey deserves to be remembered more often, though later players at his position such as Gronk would be prove to be far better from a talent perspective.
13 Byron Leftwich
There was a lot about Leftwich that was intriguing for a young QB. He had a big arm, monster size, and played with a kind of reckless abandon that brought to mind gunslingers of the past. Unfortunately, he often went a few steps too far with his reckless tendencies and was solidified as an interception machine early in his career with the Jaguars. He really did receive every opportunity to succeed in Jacksonville, and just when it seemed like he was getting over the hump, he would fall right back down to Earth, eventually causing him to move to teams like the Steelers and Buccaneers, just to ride the pine before retirement. While he was highly touted going into his rookie year, Leftwich was never able to put it all together, but watching his arm strength and size at the QB position is still entertaining.
12 Rod Smart
Smart was a veteran of Vince McMahon's well-documented XFL failure during 2001, which was too ahead of it's time to keep open doors. He gained notoriety in the press at the time for having "He Hate Me" on the back of his jersey (XFL players were allowed to display nicknames), and most people agreed that it was quite humorous. It's often forgotten however that he did play four years in the NFL, one year with the Eagles, and four with the Panthers after leaving McMahon's league. Smart definitely wasn't a standout, often being relegated to kickoff return or special teams duties, but his story is interesting, and he's one of the most infamous players from the lone XFL season.
11 Mike Alstott
It's rare in today's game that the fullback position gets any sort of recognition, especially for producing any kind of counting stats. However, Alstott was one of the last at the position to make that a factor, as he racked up a ton of yardage with a punishing, bruising running style that was key in the Buccaneers offense for years, including their 2002 Super Bowl victory. There were times over the year in which he was the best rusher for the Bucs, and definitely was one of the most distinctive players in the entire era. Not flashy, but always reliable, Alstott provided physical style that was a unique asset when his team needed it the most. All things considered, he remains incredibly underrated. He was the last bastion of hope for the fullback position to produce consistent rushing numbers.
10 Akili Smith
Smith was supposed to rejuvenate the Bengals' QB position for the 1999 season, but he did anything but accomplish that feat. Instead, he went down as one of the biggest busts in NFL draft history, completing less than 15 TD passes for his entire four-year career. So, it isn't an exaggeration to say that Smith was a huge bust in the NFL. As a matter of fact, he's probably one of the more overlooked first round QB busts in the history of the draft. He fulfills the tradition of sky-high expectations, and not being able to live up to them. He doesn't get the press that Ryan Leaf does, but his career was just as awful, and serves as a lesson to be wary of highly-touted college QBs.
9 Kyle Turley
Perhaps the most popular offensive lineman of his time, Turley is often remembered for his several incidents of throwing helmets on the field during a game while with the Saints. He had an explosive personality, and while it aided his play on the field, it also cost him plenty of unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. All things considered, he would go on to a successful career, but his actions on the field remind us the relatively benign nature of what players get flagged for today. It was a different era with different rules, and Turley embodied the wild side to the fullest. Even though his no holds barred mentality was more accepted back then, hopefully he's been able to mellow with age.
8 Matt Leinart
Leinart was a member of Pete Carroll's legendary USC team that dominated college football for several seasons in the mid-00s. Aided by elite offensive weapons in college, he came crashing down to earth in the NFL on the Cardinals, and never lived up to his pro potential. Though he remained in the league for six years with various teams, he never started a full season, and his numbers were never close to awe-inspiring when he was in the game. He wasn't quite up to the level of bust that other QB draft picks were from this era, but he still belongs firmly in that category. Leinart quickly found out that the USC game in warm-weather California was easier than tanking on the best in the NFL. He probably hasn't forgotten it yet, either.
7 Rex Grossman
Despite all the QB busts from this era, Grossman actually turned out to be a relative success. He wasn't the most skilled ever at his position, but he still led the Bears to a Super Bowl appearance in 2006 (thanks in large part to an astounding defense), and was fairly consistent whenever he was in the game as a backup. Still, he probably is one of the worst all-time QBs to ever appear in a Super Bowl, but he still deserves the recognition for getting them there in the first place. He made stops in Houston and Washington before retiring, but his highlight season was definitely 2006, despite coming up a little bit short when it mattered most. All in all, he fared better than the next QB from Florida to make a big splash in the league. Last name; Tebow.
6 Jamal Lewis
Lewis is likely one of the most underrated RBs in league history, and was a dominant force in rushing for the the better part of ten years in the NFL, which is absolutely amazing. He won a Super Bowl with the Ravens during his rookie season in 2000, and from there went on to compile numerous all-time great seasons. The Ravens defense got most of the press, but Lewis was a legitimate factor in their success, despite other players at his position getting more of the press. He ended up going to Cleveland to finish out his career, and is definitely the best RB of the era that nobody talks about anymore. A model for consistency, and a Super Bowl winner, Lewis was one of the league's all-time greatest players.
5 Kevin Curtis
The Eagles thought they struck gold in 2007, when Curtis inexplicably produced a 1,000 yard receiving season. He had been acquired after several middling seasons with the Rams, and no one expected him to make such a big impact. However, "White Lightning" as he was called, came back down to earth the following season, leaving Philly fans to continue pining for a return of Terrell Owens, or at least wishing that he didn't sabotage the team in the manner that he did. Regardless, Curtis was out of the league by 2011, and his one great season is an outlier in a field of mediocrity. It's hard to blame him too much, but he was the definition of a one-hit wonder in the NFL.
4 Tim Couch
After the Browns were absent for several years in the mid-90s, the new management was certain that Couch was going to be able to lead them into the future at the QB position, when he was selected in the 1999 NFL draft. Oh, how wrong they were. Couch was at best mediocre, and at worst, absolutely abysmal. He stuck around as the starter in Cleveland for a few years before tapping out of the league by the 2005 season. His failure would set in motion a revolving door of Browns QBs, which is still continuing to the present day. They've started a higher number of QBs than any other team in the league, and they mostly have Couch's failure to blame for it. He was drafted to be a ten-year plus caliber starter, and instead floundered almost as soon as his career got started.
3 John Lynch
There were plenty of great defensive backs during the Y2K era, but Lynch is definitely one of the more overlooked. A hard-hitting, no nonsense S, Lynch epitomized physicality in the secondary. He spent most of his years in Tampa Bay, before moving to Denver for the few final years of his career. He captured a Super Bowl with the Buccaneers, but always seemed to be forgotten behind Brian Dawkins and Ed Reed when it came to discussing the league's best safeties. Durable and effective, Lynch was just as good as anyone to ever play his position, and remains seen on highlight reels from his era to this very day. He's recently made the foray into in-game commentary, but just stick to watching him play football instead.
2 Tommy Maddox
Before the Steelers had Ben Roethlisberger, Maddox was the main man under center. Another veteran of the XFL, as well as other fringe leagues, Maddox was a well traveled journeyman who filled in as the stopgap for Big Ben rather effortlessly. He wasn't an All-Pro type talent, but he's the example of a veteran who knew what his role was, and executed it well enough to keep the team afloat. Of course, a few years later, all Steelers fans would be thinking of was their Super Bowl victories with his replacement, but there's something to be said for the service he provided. It just goes to show that more XFL veterans should have been given a chance on the biggest stage. Maddox would be out of the league several years later, but his greatest service to Pittsburgh, and probably football in general, has not been forgotten.
1 JaMarcus Russell
Without debate, Russell was the biggest QB draft bust in not only the Y2K era, but the history of the NFL as a whole. Purporting to possess a godly combination of size, speed and strength, when the Raiders drafted him as the first overall pick in 2007. It never worked out that way, and Russell was in the NFL for less than four years, posting horrific numbers along the way. He was an elite athlete no question, but his ability to read a defense was non-existent, and defenses quickly took advantage of his elementary approach to the position. Unfortunately, the Raiders had a track record of these kinds of draft mistakes, and it cost them in the wins department for a long time. Only now are they recovering, with players like Russell long gone.
Leave A Comment
Looking for an AD FREE EXPERIENCE on TheSportster?Get Your Free Access Now!