The lifespan for a productive NFL career is considerably less than that of other sports. For some players, a productive career doesn't exist at all. This is why it's all the more impressive when we see an elite talent develop in the league, and maintain their output for a long time. Think of all the truly great players we've seen in the last decade or so, and consider just how long they've been performing at a high level. It's quite the feat, considering the NFL by nature isn't conducive to allowing players to have such careers.
Inevitably however, these players can't stay on an elite level forever. Age, coaching changes, personnel changes and general regression of skills are all deciding factors when determining how long a player can keep up their torrid pace. We see players break down every year, and over the next couple of seasons it will be no different. The NFL is in a transition period right now, where many of the stars that we've known for years are going to be taking a step back, or announce retirement in the near future. Let's take a look at exactly who this may apply to.
Ranked below are 15 NFL players who will fall off the map in the next 5 years.
15 Brandon Marshall
Marshall just signed a new deal with the Giants in the offseason, but it's fair to wonder just how much longer the former standout receiver can keep playing at a high level. After a down season last year, he'll be joining up with a talented Giants receiving corps, that already have a couple of playmakers who will be higher on the depth chart, in Odell Beckham and Sterling Shepard.
Well into his 30s, Marshall will need to do a lot to regain the level of production he's shown throughout most of his career. It won't get any easier with Beckham and company taking away targets from him. In all likelihood, Marshall ends up nothing more than a role player, and veteran receiver presence, before retiring in a year or two.
14 Latavius Murray
For the past couple of seasons, Murray has been able to deceive many people into believing that he's a decent running back. Playing on a team with as dynamic an offense as the Raiders have certainly helped in that equation. Now that he's signed with the Vikings, we're likely to see a drop-off relatively quickly from Murray in the coming seasons.
The Minnesota offensive line is in shambles, and their passing game, helmed by the consistently mediocre Sam Bradford, isn't good enough to make up for this deficiency and is not even close to the caliber of a thrower that Derek Carr is for the Raiders. Murray should struggle in his role as the featured running back, and eventually relinquish the job to someone else. If he's forced to be a game breaker on offense, he likely won't succeed.
13 Andy Dalton
Almost miraculously, Dalton has been able to save face during his NFL career based on his team's overall success. But with head coach Marvin Lewis on the hot seat, and the loss of numerous quality offensive players, Dalton's long-term outlook seems iffy at best. The Bengals struggled last season, falling well below the .500 mark, and Dalton's production will be next to take a hit.
If Cincinnati isn't in a position to make the playoffs for the next couple of seasons, it's very likely that we'll see the last days of Dalton as an NFL starter. He's proven that he can't elevate the team when they do get to the playoffs, and he's been a detriment in primetime games for his whole career. The regular season statistics can only remain good for so long, before the front office wants to make a change.
12 DeSean Jackson
For now, Jackson is still a certified deep threat-receiver who can take the top off of a defense. But players who live by their blazing speed, also die by their blazing speed. Once Jackson loses a step, there's really very little value to him in most offensive systems. So, while the Buccaneers did make a good signing this offseason to add Jackson to their increasingly dangerous offense, they do run the risk of him being suddenly ineffective.
Indeed, Jackson should be productive for a couple more years, but after that his future in the league doesn't seem quite as assured. He's also finally hit his 30s, usually signaling a downturn in production for wide receivers. Within a 5-year period though, his speed is likely to have passed him by, and he'll likely retire before then anyway.
11 Mark Ingram
While Ingram is coming off of his best season as an NFL running back, it's fair to question how long he'll be able to keep up the pace. The former 1st-round pick hasn't always lived up to expectations in the league, but it could just be a case of him being a late bloomer in terms of production.
However, Ingram will have to do it while he's hovering around the age of 30, which is usually the death knell for NFL running backs. It's one of the sport's most physical positions, and all the years of abuse don't indicate a career turnaround, or being able to keep playing for the long-term. Ingram will get another shot as the Saints' featured running back, but time seems to be working against him, at least if he wants to live up to his high draft selection.
10 Eli Manning
For a long time, Manning has skated by on the ability to rely on his defense, but that will eventually come to an end. While he has performed well in the postseason during the Giants' two Super Bowl runs in 2007 and 2011, most other years Manning has needed quite a bit of outside help to elevate his team to any success at all, and even then it only sporadically happens.
The New York offense really struggled last season, and Manning's regression was one of the reasons why. He still has a penchant for throwing bad interceptions when it matters most, despite the fact that he has had one of the most talented receiving lineups in the league for the past several years. In all, it looks like Manning's run of productivity is beginning to come to an end.
9 Eddie Lacy
Despite the fact that Lacy has been injured, unproductive and unreliable for the last season or two, he still has his supporters that believe he could make a turnaround in Seattle. After his first two seasons in the league where notched 1,000 yards rushing in each of them, the previous two have seen Lacy mired in mediocrity.
How much will he be able to turn it around with the Seahawks? Well, he may not even be the starting running back, considering the team has three or four others currently on the roster to begin with. A crowded backfield featuring the likes of C.J. Procise, Alex Collins and Thomas Rawls will make it difficult for Lacy to just win the job outright. All signs point to him being a situational runner, and his production really falling off beginning this season.
8 Julio Jones
There's no denying that Jones is one of the elite NFL receivers in the game right now, and that his efforts were one of the main reasons that Atlanta made the Super Bowl last season. It's also undeniable that he's been struggling with some nagging injuries recently, and that he may only have a couple more years of peak productivity left in him with the Falcons.
Jones is helped by the fact that the Falcons have a dynamic offense, and don't always need to rely on him to make plays. Often, he's used as a decoy to open up space for other players to make plays. But inevitably, Atlanta is going to have to pay these surrounding productive players, and Jones will have to take the lead role again in most games. By that time, he'll be over the age of 30, and not the same player he was in his prime.
7 J.J. Watt
Watt has been a generational defensive player during his time in the league, but after an injury sidelined him for most of the season in 2016, it's fair to wonder if he can just come back into the fold for the Texans and produce like he did a couple of years ago. Even a player with a skill set as good as Watt has is prone to struggling after dealing with such a serious injury.
There's also the fact that Watt has continuously stated that he's probably going to retire at a relatively early age, which would apply to him within the next 5 years. Given all the known risks that NFL players face today, it's hard to blame him for that decision, but he's also possibly miss out on the chance to break some records along the way. The smart money says that Watt will be out of the game in 5 years, one way or another.
6 Blake Bortles
After what seemed like a relatively promising start in Jacksonville, Bortles has shown his true colors recently, and it's unlikely that he ever makes it as a franchise quarterback in the NFL. He's shown poor accuracy, and makes some cringeworthy decisions out on the field. He'll have to put forth a great effort this year to prove to the Jaguars that he's worth keeping over the long-term.
More likely however, Bortles will bottom out, and be a free agent in several seasons, looking for a new place to start his career. But his numbers will only decrease, and in 5 years' time he won't be a significant quarterback in the league anymore. Consider him on the decline, and expect that he may not even be a starter at all in 5 years.
5 Drew Brees
After being an elite quarterback for so long, Brees is due for a decline in production. There's no doubt that he'll still be the starter in New Orleans for the next several seasons, but there comes a time when every quarterback at this level has to shown signs of wear. While he's put up good numbers in recent seasons, logic says that he's due for a dropoff.
Even if it doesn't happen this season, Brees is hovering around the age of 40, and it's extremely unlikely that he'll be able to play himself into another contract with the Saints. Whether or not Brees struggles in his final seasons, he'll definitely be retired within 5 years. He's one of the best quarterbacks of his era, but his legendary career is undoubtedly coming to an end soon.
4 Alex Smith
By now, it has to be pretty clear to the Chiefs that Smith is not a quarterback that is going to get them over the hump. It's also the reason for the rumors floating around that Kansas City will be taking a quarterback relatively early in the draft this year. Smith has been an accurate passer, but is little more than a game manager who can execute a simple gameplan without making too many mistakes.
Given the fact that he's not a game-breaking type of talent, it's unlikely that he stays in a starting role for much longer — perhaps two years tops with the Chiefs, before he changes teams in an effort to win another starting job. This isn't likely to happen, as Smith has proven that he can't elevate talent, which is what a good starting quarterback should be able to do, in theory. He'll be retired, or assuming bench duty in a few years.
3 Ben Roethlisberger
There was some speculation that Big Ben would be retiring during the offseason, but he has confirmed that he will be back with the Steelers, at least for the 2017 season. Beyond that, his future is in doubt. He's been hit with a couple of significant injuries over the past few seasons, and there's absolutely no guarantee that it won't happen again this season.
Even though Pittsburgh has a ton of offensive weapons that include Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown, if Roethlisberger isn't on the field, the offense takes a big hit. Will he come back to the Steelers for several more seasons beyond this year, in an effort to capture one more Super Bowl? The consensus guess right now would be "no" and more than likely he'll retire after the 2017 season. If not, things could get ugly with some ugly games, and more devastating injuries.
2 LeSean McCoy
For years, McCoy was one of the best running backs in football, and his ability to cut on a dime threw off defenses on a weekly basis. But now that he's getting to the problem age for the position, there's a good chance that both is usage and production dip starting in 2017. There's no doubt that he can still play at a high level, but when running backs fall, they fall fast.
This is particularly true when you consider the agility that McCoy uses to make his game elite. Sooner or later, he'll show signs of a breakdown, and it could come sooner than the Bills would expect. Unfortunately, the risk is very much real thing this season, and we could be seeing a former 1,000-yard-rusher spiral into mediocrity. McCoy will have to do a lot to prove that he still has it.
1 Tom Brady
Even ageless wonders have to come back down to Earth at some point. This may be heresy to some, after witnessing Brady lead the Patriots to a miraculous comeback victory in the Super Bowl, but he'll have to defy all the odds to do so. It's not something that Brady is unaccustomed to, as he's overcome plenty of obstacles in the past. This time, he'll have to do so with his age, which is hovering around 40 at the moment.
You could argue that he's in an ideal position to do it. On the other hand, we've said the same thing about other great quarterbacks in the past. One thing is for sure; Brady won't go down without a fight. But in the end, it's going to be too much to overcome. Starting in 2018 or so, Brady's numbers will start to drop off, and then New England will be left with a decision on what to do with him. One of the best, if not the best quarterbacks of all time will soon begin to shown signs of weakness, and maybe walk away from the game all together.