Every player fortunate enough to make it to the National Football League has an opportunity to earn, at the very worst, a good living, and those who excel at their positions become millionaires and instant celebrities recognized almost everywhere they go. For some who came from money long before they ever signed for an NFL team, completing the journey all the way through a college program to pro football is destiny and almost an expected outcome. Others, however, see becoming an NFL star as a way to escape poverty and rough upbringings that involved serious setbacks many fans cannot even imagine. While playing football is undeniably dangerous for individuals of all ages, some choose to embrace those risks because they yearn to put darker days and growing up poor behind them.
Multiple NFL superstars who became rich all on their own and who may, one day, be enshrined in the Hall of Fame came from money, and some are the sons of former football players who cemented their own legacies in the league. At the opposite end of the spectrum is a long list of current recognized players who dealt with serious poverty and other issues during their youths. The money one can obtain playing in the NFL combined with our love for the sport all contribute to the fact that football will continue to exist as our true national game for the foreseeable future regardless of the risks one faces every time he plays a competitive game at any level. For better or for worse, the NFL is still the king of all of North American sports.
15 Johnny Manziel: From Money
It was widely reported during the summer of 2017 that Cleveland Browns flop Johnny Manziel is attempting to make a return to the NFL, so we start with the former phenom who used to be known as “Johnny Football.” Manziel’s family already had money well before Johnny ever took a snap at quarterback, as his great-grandfather struck it rich as an oil baron. His unquestionable wealth aside, Manziel became a star all on his own because of legendary performances in high school and, later, at Texas A&M. While Manziel struggled both on and off the field after being drafted by the Browns in 2014, he is still only 24 years old. There is a chance Manziel could, eventually, get another chance to play in the NFL.
14 Pacman Jones: From Poverty
Adam “Pacman” Jones has made headlines away from football fields for multiple reasons during his NFL career. You may remember when the cornerback for the Cincinnati Bengals repeatedly referred to then-Cleveland wide receiver Terrelle Pryor as “garbage” following a game that occurred in 2016. Long before Jones was an outspoken player and a proven defensive back, he grew up in poverty in the Atlanta area. His father was shot and murdered during a robbery when Jones was only eight years old, and he was raised by his mother and his grandmother. Later in his life, Jones reportedly flunked out of a pair of junior high schools, but his football talent allowed him to ultimately find a college home at West Virginia. He was drafted by the Tennessee Titans in 2005.
13 Christian McCaffrey: From Money
Christian McCaffrey is the first individual spotlighted in this list who came from money largely because his father played in the NFL. Ed McCaffrey spent over a decade playing in the league, and he earned three Super Bowl rings during his impressive career. Christian will now look to follow in his father’s footsteps, and he has some high expectations hovering over him for reasons that have nothing to do with his famous last name. The 21-year-old running back dazzled during his time at Stanford, and he was drafted by the Carolina Panthers via the eighth overall pick of the 2017 NFL Draft. McCaffrey has impressed during performances in training camp, and he could end up being a Rookie of the Year candidate for the upcoming campaign.
12 Tamba Hali: From Poverty
The story of Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Tamba Hail is remarkable and unique. Hali was born in Liberia in 1983, and he was only nine years old when his mother gathered her three children and fled their hometown because of a civil war. As a child, Hali witnessed unspeakable horrors, including dead bodies. He was able to escape to the United States because his father, Henry, had emigrated to the country and became a professor in New Jersey. After learning the game of football, Hali earned an opportunity to feature for Penn State, and he won multiple personal awards as a star for the Nittany Lions. He has been named to five Pro Bowl squads since being selected by the Chiefs in the first round of the 2006 NFL Draft.
11 Maxx Williams: From Money
Baltimore Ravens tight end Maxx Williams may not be the most famous player in the NFL or even on his own team, but all indications are that he was bred for football success from a very early age. Williams grandfather, Robert, excelled at quarterback at the University of Notre Dame, and he was drafted by the Chicago Bears. His father, Brian, spent a decade with the New York Giants. Maxx encountered a physical setback during his second season with the Ravens when a knee injury prematurely ended his campaign in October 2016. Williams is back on the field as of early August 2017, and he could be a fantasy football sleeper if he is able to stand out among a group of tight ends currently signed by the Ravens.
10 Jimmy Graham: From Poverty
Jimmy Graham is widely respected as one of the greatest tight ends of his generation and one of the best to ever feature at that position in the NFL. Life wasn’t always so bright for the current starter for the Seattle Seahawks who has done well to earn millions of dollars during a successful pro career. Per his own words, Graham never knew his biological father while growing up, and his mother ultimately abandoned him. As a teenager, Graham was failing in school and feeling hopeless when he was embraced and adopted by a woman he met at a church meeting. That woman proved to be a savior for Graham, and he found stability in school and on basketball courts. His athleticism allowed him to make the transition from basketball to football, and he’s now one of the best tight ends in history.
9 Chris Long: From Money
Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Chris Long is one of several men in his family to make it in the NFL. His brother, Kyle, plays for the Chicago Bears, and their father is a Super Bowl champion who is enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Howie Long was one of the best defensive players of his era while featuring for the Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders, and he has since found much success as a football analyst. He has even earned some acting gigs. Both Chris and Kyle have a ways to go before they even flirt with achieving all their famous father did both on and off of football fields, but the two certainly have the genes for it. Chris also has a Super Bowl championship he earned as a member of the New England Patriots on his resume.
8 Devonta Freeman: From Poverty
Current Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman has been open about the challenges he faced earlier in his life. Freeman grew up in what is known as the “Pork 'n' Beans” portion of the projects of the Miami area, and he dreamed of playing pro football as a youth so he could escape the dangers of living in Liberty City. Along with being the “man” of the house at a young age, Freeman worked multiple jobs, including one at a funeral home, to help his mom pay bills, and he managed to avoid shootouts and other perils en route to becoming a great high school and college running back. The two-time Pro Bowl back who helped the Falcons make it to the Super Bowl in February 2017 has come a long way.
7 Clay Matthews III: From Money
Take one look at current Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews III, and it’s easy to see how the larger-than-life athlete who appears to have been cut out of granite made it in the NFL. Odds are you are probably aware his family has a deep association with football and the NFL. Clay’s grandfather, Clay Sr., was the patriarch of the family who played pro football in the 1950s. His father, Clay Jr., played 19 seasons in the NFL. His uncle, Bruce, was a Hall-of-Fame offensive lineman during his time. Casey, Clay’s brother, also made it to the NFL, as have several of his cousins. It’s actually difficult to imagine a time when the NFL will be without at least one member of the league’s first family.
6 Thomas Davis: From Poverty
Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis is widely regarded as one of the true good guys in the NFL, which is somewhat astounding considering the path he followed to make it all the way to the league. Davis once wrote that it was a “miracle” he managed to escape poverty and Shellman, Georgia, as he often lacked routine school supplies and even shoes during his younger days. His mother and sister moved to Alabama when he was only 16 years old, but Davis remained put and lived with cousins as he worked to improve as a football player. Davis did just that, and he received an opportunity to attend the University of Georgia. He was selected by the Panthers in the first round of the 2005 NFL Draft.
5 Andrew Luck: From Money
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck is not the first member of his family to play in the NFL. Oliver Luck, Andrew’s father, was a QB in college and the NFL, and he remained in sports working as the president and general manager of Major League Soccer club the Houston Dynamo and, currently, as an NCAA executive vice president of regulatory affairs. Andrew played even better than Oliver in college, so much so that some compared him to the likes of John Elway and Peyton Manning before he was drafted by the Colts in 2012. Unfortunately for Luck, the Colts have not done well enough to surround him with championship-caliber talent, and one has to wonder if the franchise has actually wasted the player’s talents and the promise he had several years ago.
4 Dez Bryant: From Poverty
Dez Bryant’s story has been publicized by multiple media outlets over the years. The superstar wide receiver for the Dallas Cowboys was a troubled youth who had a rough upbringing, as his mother had him at the age of 15 years old and then was arrested for selling drugs when Bryant was only eight. Per Bryant, he lived in seven different residences while attending Lufkin High School in Texas, but he found more of a permanent home at Oklahoma State thanks to football. Bryant has had his fair share of controversial moments since being acquired by the Dallas Cowboys in the 2010 NFL Draft, but nobody can deny he has also been one of the top receivers in the NFL during the current decade. He isn’t even 30 years old yet, so his best could be to come.
3 Nick Foles: From Money
Quarterback Nick Foles has had plenty of ups and downs since entering the NFL, but you may not know all that much about the Philadelphia Eagles player because he is somewhat of a quiet individual away from the sport. Foles’ father, Larry, is reportedly a “self-made multimillionaire” responsible for opening successful restaurants in Texas. In October 2011, Larry and his partner sold Eddie V’s Restaurants Inc. in a deal that was worth $59 million. According to Spotrac, that is roughly $43 million more than Nick has earned playing football since he entered the NFL in 2012. Foles is currently a backup for the Eagles, and it seems likely he will struggle to get to the $59-million mark from NFL contracts. Perhaps he, too, could enter the restaurant business one day.
2 Michael Oher: From Poverty
Even those who never bothered watching The Blind Side probably know at least a little bit about offensive tackle Michael Oher. Oher’s mother struggled with drug addiction, and he has claimed that he never really knew his father. He reportedly attended 11 different schools over a period of nine years, he spent time in foster homes and at friends’, and he was homeless. His life changed forever when Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy took him in at the age of 16 and later adopted him, and Oher increased his GPA and earned a scholarship from the University of Mississippi. Oher went on to win a Super Bowl as a member of the Baltimore Ravens, but his career is currently in limbo due to the fact he was released by the Carolina Panthers in July 2017 after he reportedly failed a physical.
1 Eli Manning: From Money
Former NFL quarterback Archie Manning never won a title during his career, but two of his sons created long-lasting legacies in the league. Peyton Manning won a pair of championships, and he is probably the greatest regular season QB in league history. Meanwhile, Eli Manning took over as the starting QB for the New York Giants during his rookie year in 2004, and he has not missed a start since being awarded the gig. Like his older brother, Eli also owns a pair of Super Bowl rings, and many respected observers view the Giants as championship contenders as of early August. At some point before 2030, both Manning brothers will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame. They’ll likely thank their famous father for all he provided to them during their speeches.