One of the best aspects about being a fan of a team in the National Football League is the chance to watch players come out of their proverbial shell and make a name for themselves. With 53 active players per team available for each game of the season, NFL players have a wealth of opportunities to make a play that will etch their name in the league’s history books forever.
Similar to the music industry, there are former NFL players that became known for either one singular moment or a solid body of work throughout their career. The same narrative continues through each year of the league’s existence. As former headlining players drop out of the NFL, their voids continue to be filled by players capable of making the same or even more, noteworthy headlines.
As the opening of the league’s 2016 season becomes even closer, we will take a look at some former players who used their opportunities to help the NFL become what it is today. This group of players features everyone from former first round draft selections to Super Bowl champions to even a former NFL Offensive Player of the Year.
The countdown begins with a player who’s abilities in the the return game ended up with him receiving one of the NFL’s most unique nicknames in the league’s history.
15 Dante Hall
Given the nickname “The Human Joystick,” Hall made a name for himself in the NFL as an elite special teamer during his nine year career. A majority of his playmaking was done while playing for the Kansas City Chiefs, but Hall also played the last two years of his career with the St. Louis Rams.
Although small in stature, (5’8”, 187 lbs.) Hall still found a way to score a total of 12 touchdowns on both kick and punt returns during his career. His six career touchdowns on kick returns still ranks third all-time in NFL history.
One of Hall’s most memorable games came when the Chiefs visited the Denver Broncos on Sunday, December 15th, 2002. Hall finished with five catches for 143 yards, two touchdowns and one ankle-breaking play that is still looped on YouTube to this day.
The play featured Hall receiving a pass after running a short, five yard route and then he proceeded to make the entire Broncos defense look like a bunch of rookie pee-wee football players. 49 yards later, Hall was in the endzone celebrating his second touchdown of the game.
14 Shawn Springs
Before the Legion of Boom came to fruition in Seattle, Shawn Springs held down the spot as the best defensive back for the Seahawks. His 20 interceptions in 93 games with Seattle still ranks as the eighth best career total in the history of the franchise.
Selected third overall by the Seahawks in the 1997 NFL Draft, Springs was picked ahead of future top players including Tony Gonzalez, Warrick Dunn, Ronde Barber, and Jason Taylor among others. After seven seasons in Seattle, Springs decided to take his talents to Washington, D.C. in 2004 where he ended up spending a total of five seasons playing for the Redskins. His final year in the league came in 2009 where Springs found himself playing for the New England Patriots.
After recording 13 interceptions and receiving one Pro Bowl nod in his first three seasons with the Seahawks, it seemed as though Springs was going to live up to the expectations he was given when Seattle selected him so high in the draft. But he cooled down a bit during his next four seasons, totaling only seven interceptions while also missing a total of 13 games.
13 Trevor Pryce
Like Springs, Pryce made his way into the league via the first round of the 1997 NFL Draft after the Denver Broncos selected the defensive lineman with the 28th overall pick. Coming into a team already filled with experienced veterans on their defense, Pryce only appeared in three regular season games for the Broncos during his rookie year. Denver was not necessarily in need of much production from Pryce in 1997, as the team still ended up as that season’s Super Bowl champion.
His second year in the league is where Pryce began to establish himself as a legitimate threat on Denver’s defensive line. He started 15 of the Broncos 16 regular season games in 1998 and helped propel Denver to their second straight Super Bowl victory. Two years into his NFL career and Pryce had already won two Super Bowl rings. It is hard to imagine a better start to a player’s career than that.
The former Michigan Wolverine would go on to play a total of 14 seasons in the league including stints with the Baltimore Ravens and New York Jets after spending his first nine years with the Broncos. His 64 sacks in 121 games with Denver still ranks as the third best total in the history of the franchise (current Bronco Von Miller only needs more 5 sacks in 2016 to pass Pryce on the all-time list).
12 Elvis Grbac
The first quarterback on this list is also the second straight Michigan Wolverine to be featured, as Grbac also played his college ball at Michigan like the previously mentioned Trevor Pryce. However, Attending the same University is not the only thing that Grbac and Pryce share in common, since Grbac was also a member of a Super Bowl winning team during his first NFL season (1994 San Francisco 49ers).
However, that is where the relativity between these two former Wolverines seems to end as Grbac was not able to achieve the same success during his playing career as Pryce did. Grbac’s stint in the NFL lasted eight seasons and saw him play for three different teams (49ers, Kansas City Chiefs, Baltimore Ravens).
With the Chiefs in 2000, he was named to the Pro Bowl after throwing for 4,169 yards and 28 touchdowns. His yardage and touchdown totals during that season were second in the AFC only to Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning.
A year after the franchise won their first Super Bowl in team history, the Ravens brought in Grbac in hopes of having an established quarterback lead their team back to the top for the 2001 season. Baltimore did not repeat and in Grbac’s last game ever, he threw three interceptions and only 153 yards in the Ravens 27-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers during the Divisional Round of the AFC Playoffs.
11 Kyle Turley
Everything was looking good for Turley, entering his fourth season in the NFL and coming off a year where he was named a First Team All-Pro. Then Sunday, November 4th, 2001 came and nothing was ever the same for Turley and his pro career.
During a play on ESPN Sunday Night Football in a game where Turley’s New Orleans Saints were hosting the New York Jets, Turley saw a Jets player trying to overtly hurt Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks and the New Orleans offensive tackle did not take kindly to it. After Jets defensive back Damien Robinson violently grabbed Brooks by the face mask, Turley quickly ran to his quarterback’s aid and wrestled with Robinson until he eventually ripped the Jets player’s helmet off and threw it down the field.
The league fined Turley $25,000 after the incident, but the Saints offensive linemen has said in recent interviews that he was right in standing up for his quarterback and that he would most likely do it again if he found himself in the same situation. He probably will not find himself in a situation like that anytime soon given that his eight-year NFL career is over and he currently resides in Nashville, TN where he runs a country music record label.
10 Mike Sims-Walker
After back to back seasons in which Sims-Walker caught seven touchdowns, it seemed like the young wide receiver had established himself as a formidable weapon on offense for the Jacksonville Jaguars. However, his 14 total touchdowns in three seasons was not enough for the Jaguars to re-sign him after the 2010 season.
The product of Central Florida did not manage to get signed by another team during the 2011 offseason until the St. Louis Rams picked him up in late July. He only lasted four games with the Rams before the team released him and he again signed with Jacksonville where he spent the final two games of his NFL career.
Before getting drafted by the Jaguars in the third round of the 2007 NFL Draft, Sims-Walker was busy setting school records as a wide receiver at the University of Central Florida. To this day, he still holds the school’s all-time receiving records for career receptions and career receiving yards.
A series of injuries may have halted Sims-Walker from fully blossoming into the player that many had hoped he could be when he was drafted into the league. The last time he was seen on a professional football field was with the CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 2013.
9 Larry Centers
Before he established himself as one of the best fullbacks in the history of the NFL, Centers first two seasons in the league were spent as a kick returner for the then, Phoenix Cardinals. Technically Centers was listed on the roster as a fullback, but the offenses he played in featured him more as a pass-catching running back.
Before Matt Forte or LaDainian Tomlinson, Centers was one of the first to catch over 95 passes per season while lining up in the offensive backfield. His 101 receptions in 1995 are still the second most passes caught in a single season by a running back or a fullback (Forte caught 102 passes in 2014).
His 827 career receptions rank higher on the league’s all-time receptions list than the likes of Shannon Sharpe, Marshall Faulk, Michael Irvin, and Steve Largent. Despite making the playoffs in only three of his 14 NFL seasons, Centers was able to end his career on top as a member of the 2003 Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.
8 Quincy Carter
It is hard enough to replace a Super Bowl winning quarterback in Troy Aikman, but it is even harder to replace a Super Bowl winning quarterback who played for the Dallas Cowboys. Welcome to the task that was put in front of Quincy Carter for his very first season in the NFL.
The expectations may have been set a little too high for Carter who passed for only 34 yards and threw two interceptions during his very first regular season game with the Cowboys in Week 1 of the 2001 season. He did not get the opportunity to start again in his rookie season until Week 12 and by then, Dallas was 2-8 and well out of contention for the playoffs.
Carter would go on to be named the Cowboys opening day starting quarterback for the 2002 and 2003 seasons. He was able to lead Dallas to the playoffs in 2003 but Carter and the Cowboys lost their opening round game to the Carolina Panthers. His last season in the league came in 2004 when he played in three games for the New York Jets.
7 Mike Vanderjagt
After nine seasons in the NFL, Vanderjagt retired as the most accurate kicker in history of the league. He last played in the NFL ten years ago and his kicking accuracy has since been passed by four kickers who are currently playing in the league.
In eight seasons with the Indianapolis Colts and one with the Dallas Cowboys, the Canadian kicker established himself as one of the NFL’s most reliable kickers (in the regular season at least). He did the unthinkable in 2003 and had the rare perfect year as a kicker making all 40 field goal attempts and all 58 extra point attempts in both the regular season and the playoffs.
He may be sadly more remembered for his disparaging comments about then Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning during a radio interview after the 2002 season. Instead of being known as the “Pefect Kicker”, Vanderjagt may be forever known as the “Idiot Kicker” thanks to the mouth of Manning.
6 Natrone Means
If there was a ‘Beast Mode’ in the league before Marshawn Lynch began his career, Natrone Means would likely be the player best suited for that nickname. Listed at 5’10” and 245 pounds, Means was a powerful running back who loved to pummel over opposing players that attempted to bring the big bruiser down.
He entered the league in 1993 with the San Diego Chargers, and after two seasons he had already found the end zone 20 times. In 1994, Means carried the ball 343 times for 1,350 yards and 12 touchdowns and led the Chargers all the way to the Super Bowl. San Diego would end up losing the Super Bowl to the San Fransisco 49ers that season, but it seemed as though Means was well on his way to a promising career.
However, the Chargers may have overworked the young running back right into the ground. After his stellar 1994 season in which he was named to the Pro Bowl, Means was hampered by injuries for the remainder of his career and missed at least two games during his final six years in the NFL.
5 Pat Williams
He may not have the statistics to blow people away, but Williams made his presence known during his 14-year NFL career. Undrafted out of Texas A&M, Williams began his career with the Buffalo Bills in snowy, western New York.
While in Buffalo, Williams established himself as one league’s most underrated defensive linemen. During his eight seasons with the Bills, Williams finished with 375 tackles 13 sacks.
After the 2004 season, he hit the free-agent market and signed with the Minnesota Vikings. The final six years of Williams’ career would be spent with the Vikings. While in Minnesota, Williams was an integral part of the Vikings defense that ranked first in rushing yards allowed for three straight seasons (2006-2008).
Despite his efforts, Williams only appeared in the playoffs in three of his 14 NFL seasons. It should be noted that he was a part of both the Bills team that lost to the Titans in the “Music City Miracle” game and the Vikings team that lost to the New Orleans Saints in the 2009 NFC Championship after a late game Brett Favre interception.
4 Jason Sehorn
Would people actually have even known who Jason Sehorn was if he was not married to actress Angie Harmon during his playing career? Most likely that answer would be yes, since Sehorn was actually a more than decent NFL player.
The defensive back entered the league in 1994 after the New York Giants selected him in the second round out of USC. After two seasons of seeing little playing time, the Giants inserted Sehorn into the starting lineup and he became an automatic staple in the New York defense for the next few years.
Sehorn would go on to spend a total of eight seasons with the Giants, including a helping New York earn a trip to the Super Bowl in 2000. His production with the Giants included 19 interceptions and 417 total tackles. Sehorn’s career came to an end in 2003 after a one year stint with the St. Louis Rams.
Oh and that marriage to Harmon, the couple split up in 2014 after 13 years of marriage
3 Eric Moulds
It is a hard act to follow the career of Buffalo Bills legendary wide receiver Andre Reed, but that is just what Moulds did after Reed retired in 1999. Not only did Moulds fill the void left by the Bills Hall of Fame receiver, he did it exceptionally well.
In the season after Reed retired, Moulds stepped into Buffalo’s number one receiver role in the offense and caught 94 passes for 1,326 yards and five touchdowns. He would go on to lead the Bills in receptions during seven of his 10 years spent with Buffalo.
Moulds appeared in a total of four playoff games, three of which occurred during the first four years of his career in the league. The Bills decided to trade Moulds to the Houston Texans during the 2006 NFL Draft. He would go on to spend a season with the Texans and a season with the Tennessee Titans before calling it a career in 2007.
2 Tommy Maddox
No professional football player may have had a stranger journey throughout his career than the one that Tommy Maddox took. He went from being drafted by the Denver Broncos in the first round of the 1992 NFL Draft, to leaving the league in 1997 and selling insurance, to getting back into football and playing in both the Arena Football League and the XFL, to making it back to the NFL with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2001.
Maddox not only made it back to the league that he was originally drafted into, he started 11 games in 2002 and led the Steelers to the Playoffs. During that season, Maddox threw for 2,836 yards and 20 touchdowns and was eventually named as NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year.
After his success in 2002, Maddox would go on to only win eight of his last 21 starts with Pittsburgh. His last two seasons with the Steelers were spent as being the backup and passing along his knowledge to a young quarterback named Ben Roethlisberger.
1 Priest Holmes
After spending a majority of his first four seasons in the NFL as a backup running back for the Baltimore Ravens, Holmes signed with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2001 to become the team’s starting running back. Neither the league or even the Chiefs knew what Holmes was about to make of the opportunity that Kansas City had given him.
From 2001 to 2003, Holmes touched the ball 1,166 times, amassing 6,566 total yards and 61 total touchdowns. He was named to the Pro Bowl in each of these three seasons and in 2002 he was name the NFL Offensive Player of the Year. His 27 rushing touchdowns in 2003 still ranks as the second best single-season total in the history of the league.
Unfortunately, Holmes’ body could not keep up with the heavy workload for a fourth straight season as knee injury in 2004 would only allow the running back to play in eight games. Injuries would only allow Holmes to play in a total of 11 games over the next two years and he eventually retired after the 2007 season.