Many rookie NFL players come in league each year and try and prove themselves worthy of the professional football league. Some transform into iconic football stars and some fizzle into a distant memory. Although, it’s not all the time that a player’s talent is held back by being too injury prone. There is another dilemma that plagues great athletes careers during their time in the league.
Since the inception of the NFL, there has been various star players whose careers were cut short due to substance abuse. Most recently, the Heisman trophy winner and former Cleveland Brown’s quarterback, Johnny Manziel. He certainly had a successful college football career with Texas A&M University, but has severely struggled to make the transition from college athlete to professional. Many athletes struggle to make the change to become a better player, while others suffer do to poor choices.
The NFL, like many other professional sports leagues, has a strict substance abuse policy set in place and punishes those who violate it. The outcome of exposing a player with a substance abuse problem varies on the seriousness of the problem and if it’s his first offence or not.
Here is a list of 15 NFL players who have struggled during their careers because of substance abuse problems.
15 Aldon Smith
Smith, who plays linebacker, had a stellar college football career with the University of Missouri. He was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the first round in 2011. He was a promising pick for the 49ers, he had 14.5 sacks, 58 interception return yards and 52 solo tackles while playing for Missouri.
During San Francisco’s 2012 season, he got 19.5 sacks, 50 total tackles and 6 intercepted return yards. However, when he entered the 2013 season with San Francisco, he let the team down. Smith was arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence and possession of marijuana.
After the arrest, Smith admitted himself into a rehab facility and missed the majority of the 2013 season. For the 2014 season, Roger Goodell, the NFL commissioner, suspended Smith for nine games after he failed their mandatory substance abuse test. Soon after, the 49ers released him from their team. Smith now plays on the Oakland Raiders. After failing another substance abuse test, Smith is banned for the entire 2016 season.
14 Todd Marinovich
He was regarded as a top prospect quarterback, that played for the University of Southern California and Heisman trophy candidate. In 1989, when he played for USC Trojans, he had 2,578 passing yards and 16 passing touchdowns. However, he struggled to stay sober during college games. He allegedly took LSD before college games and smoked marijuana. Marinovich truly had potential, but succumbed to substance abuse. Marinovich had numerous encounters with law enforcement due to substance abuse, even in 2016 he is still making headlines.
Despite struggling with substance abuse in college, he was drafted by the Oakland Raiders in 1990. He played for them for two years before he was released due to violating three substance abuse tests. After two years in the NFL, he had 8 touchdowns, 1,345 passing yards and quarterback rating of 66.4.
13 Ricky Williams
He was amazing running-back for the Texas Longhorns. His last year playing for them in 1998, he got 2,386 rushing yards and 28 touchdowns. His stats were so incredible and impressive, an NFL team couldn’t resist to pick him. Williams was a first round draft pick by the New Orleans Saints in 1999.
William’s retired prematurely from the Miami Dolphins in 2004, due to his second failed drug test. However, he decided to try and make a comeback attempt and rejoin the league. After rejoining the NFL for one season, it wasn’t long until he slipped up. He was suspended the entire 2006 season, after violating the NFL’s substance abuse terms.
William’s was a remarkable running-back with talent. However, he let substance abuse get in the way of his future and image in the NFL. Over the course of his 11 seasons playing for the league, he had 10,009 rushing yards and 66 touchdowns.
12 David Boston
A promising wide-receiver that attended Ohio State. During Boston’s college career, he obtained 2,855 receiving yards and 34 touchdowns. He was picked number eight overall by the Arizona Cardinals in the 1999 draft. After four seasons playing for the Cardinals, he went to the San Diego Chargers for one season.
During the 2003 season with the Chargers, Boston allegedly got in altercation with the strength and conditioning coach for the team. While in the offseason, the Chargers traded Boston to the Miami Dolphins for their sixth-round draft pick.
Boston violated the NFL’s substance abuse policy by being caught taking steroids. He was suspended four games from the league for the failed test. Boston’s acquired 4,699 receiving yards and 25 touchdowns, after playing in the NFL for six seasons.
11 Tony Mandarich
An offensive tackle that played college football for Michigan State University. He was chosen number two overall by the Green Bay Packers in the 1989 draft and played for them for three seasons.
He was in the same draft class as Troy Aikman, Barry Sanders and Deion Sanders. Although, he was picked quickly in the draft, he never played like a high-caliber offensive tackle that he was portrayed out to be. He even appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated as “the best offensive line prospect ever.”
Mandarich’s NFL career ended after playing for the Indianapolis Colts for three seasons, from 1996 to 1998. In 2008, he admitted that he started taking steroids in 1984 and was able to bypass the substance abuse tests that were in place in college at the time. Although, he claims he stopped taking steroids before the NFL combine, he soon got hooked on painkillers. Mandarich’s football career was just one big façade.
10 Shawne Merriman
Merriman played defensive-end for the University of Maryland until 2004. He got 53 solo tackles and eight sacks, during his time playing for Maryland. In 2005 NFL draft, Merriman was picked up in the first round by the San Diego Chargers.
He won the NFL Defensive Rookie of The Year for his performance. He obtained 43 total tackles, 10.0 sacks and two force fumbles.
The following year, Merriman violated the NFL’s substance abuse policy by testing positive for steroids. He was suspended for four games for not following the league’s rules. Merriman only played well while he was on the Chargers. He went on to play for the Buffalo Bills for their 2011 and 2012 season. The next season Merriman announced his retirement. Merriman played in the NFL for eight seasons. Over the course of his NFL career, he got 197 total tackles, 45.5 sacks and eight force fumbles.
9 Daryl Washington
He was a linebacker for the Texas Christian University’s Horned Frogs. Washington was selected by the Arizona Cardinals in the second round of the 2010 NFL draft and quickly made an impact on the field.
He played in the NFL for four seasons with Arizona and valuable asset to their team. Unfortunately, he violated the NFL’s substance abuse policy twice and had endured multiple suspensions during his career. However, in 2014 Washington was banned from the NFL for life. There were no signs he was cleaning up his act and failed numerous substance abuse tests.
Washington accumulated 394 assisted tackles, 18.0 sacks and 111 intercepted return yards, over the course of his career.
8 Josh Gordon
An excellent wide-receiver that played for the University of Utah’s Utes. He was picked up by the Cleveland Browns in the 2012 season. He played for the Browns for three seasons, but couldn’t stay clean.
Gordon’s 2013 season, he racked up 1,646 receiving yards, nine receiving touchdowns and 18.9 receiving yards per reception. He hasn’t played in the NFL since 2014. Gordon started slipping on being a positive role model when he failed a couple substance abuse tests in 2013 and was suspended. Soon after, Gordon was suspended at least one calendar year without pay for testing positive for alcohol.
He hasn’t turned his life around, as he was suppose to come back for the 2016 season. Gordon was going to be suspended the first four games of the season. However, he messed up that opportunity by checking himself into a rehab facility for an alcohol problem. Gordon was the best wide-receiver in the NFL in 2013, now he is banned from the league indefinitely.
7 Fred Davis
He was a tight-end for the University of Southern California for four years, before he joined the NFL. During his 2007 season with the USC Trojans, he gained 881 yards, 14.2 receiving yards per game and eight touchdowns. Davis was picked up by the Washington Redskins in the second-round of the 2008 NFL draft.
After three years in the NFL, Davis was suspended the final four games of his 2011 season with the Redskins for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy for using marijuana. He returned to play for the Redskins for two more years, until he was forbidden to play in the league indefinitely.
Davis allegedly took a supplement that had a banned league substance in it, while others think he failed another substance abuse test for marijuana. While playing for the Redskins for six seasons, he obtained 2,043 yards, 12.6 yards per reception and 13 touchdowns.
6 Jerome Simpson
Simpson played college football for Coastal Carolina University’s Chanticleers and was a skilled wide-receiver. He accumulated 1,077 yards, 17.7 receiving yards per game and 16 touchdowns during his 2006 season playing for the CCU Chanticleers.
He was chosen in the second-round of the 2008 NFL draft by the Cincinnati Bengals. He played for the Bengals for three seasons, before going to the Minnesota Vikings for two seasons. In 2014 while signed to the Vikings, Simpson violated the NFL’s substance abuse policy and was suspended three games.
However, he was in a traffic stop over the 2014 summer that got him a drug possession charge. That was the last straw for the Vikings, as they released him right after they caught wind of his run-in with the law. More recently, Simpson now plays for the San Francisco 49ers and was suspended six games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. He hasn’t played well since the Vikings got rid of him.
5 Will Hill
He played safety for the Florida University Gators during his college career. He only played in college for three years and wasn’t picked up in the NFL draft fresh out of college. His last season playing for the Gators in 2010, he got 34 unassisted tackles, two interceptions thrown and 102 intercepted return yards.
Hill played arena football for one year, to keep his football skills sharp. It payed off, because he was picked up by the New York Giants in 2012 and played for them for two seasons. As soon as he made it into the NFL, he went downhill. He was suspended eight games in 2012 and 2013 for substance abuse that altered his performance. Additionally, he was banned the following year from six contests for not following the league’s substance abuse policy.
Hill was an average safety that went on to play for the Baltimore Ravens after being released from the Giants. In March 2016, Hill violated the NFL’s substance abuse policy and was suspended for 10 of the Raven’s games. The Raven’s tolerated him after he had been suspended four times on the team since his arrival. However, this time it was the deal-breaker. Hill was released from the Ravens and now is a free agent.
4 Matt Prater
Prater is a placekicker that played for the University of Central Florida Knights. He was picked up by the Atlanta Falcons in 2007 and played for them for one season. He was put in the NFL’s substance abuse policy program after a DUI arrest in 2011.
Prater went on to play for the Denver Broncos for seven seasons. He was a versatile placekicker while on their team, by obtaining defensive and passing stats. Although, he was suspended the first four games of the Broncos 2014 season for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy for drinking alcohol.
He almost faced a year-long suspension for the substance abuse violation, but his attorney convinced the NFL to reduce the punishment. Prater now plays for the Detroit Lions and has been on their team since 2014. His career hasn't improved since he was on the Denver Broncos.
3 LaVon Brazill
He was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts straight out of college. He went to Ohio State University and was a talented wide-receiver for their football team. Brazill was chosen in the sixth-round of the 2012 NFL draft by the Colts.
His first season playing for them, he got 186 yards, one touchdown and averaged 16.9 yards per reception. Brazill ended up failing multiple substance abuse tests for marijuana while playing in the NFL for two years. He was supposed to start a four game suspension for the Colt’s 2014 season, but was released by them for violating the league’s policy too many times.
Brazill accumulated 23 receptions, 347 yards and three touchdowns before he became a free agent. He now plays for the Canadian Football League’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
2 Eric Herman
After playing for the Ohio University Bobcats for two years. Herman was a decent enough offensive-guard to get chosen be the New York Giants in the seventh-round of the 2013 NFL draft. He was assigned to the Giants practice squad for his whole rookie season with them.
The following season, he was suspended the first four games of the 2014 season because he violated the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Herman claims it was because he took a certain medication for an undisclosed “condition”.
Herman never played well enough to secure a spot on the New York Giants starting lineup. He was dropped as free agent and picked up by the Baltimore Ravens practice squad for the 2015 season. However, he didn’t seem to impress the Ravens either, because he was once again a free agent. He now is on the Indianapolis Colts and hasn’t seen any playing time in the NFL yet.
1 Silas Redd
Redd got experience as a running-back by playing for the University of Southern California and Penn State. He was a undrafted free agent, until the Washington Redskins picked up him up in 2014.
He missed their entire 2015 season after tearing his right ACL and MCL during practice. Things took a turn for the worst, Redd was suspended indefinitely without pay for not following the NFL’s substance abuse policy. He was on injured reserve when he got his first suspension for four games. This was his second suspension in less than five months.
He secured a three-year contract with the Redskins and $1.5 million, before getting banned for life. His one season playing for the Redskins, he got 107 receiving yards, 75 rushing yards and one rushing touchdown.
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