It's hard enough watching an older player break down and having his career come to an end, but it's even more difficult to watch a young player suffer devastating injuries that force them to hang up the cleats before hitting 30.
That's the harsh reality of today's NFL. Tomorrow is never promised today and it doesn't matter how young a player is, the chances of his career ending early are practically the same as those of a veteran pushing 30 or older. The NFL is no country for young or old men, equally.
We can't just point out guys dealing with injuries as a source of early retirement. Quarterback Sam Bradford is a prime example of a guy who is playing his way out of the league, while flash-in-the-pan Knile Davis has also seen his stock go from sky high to rock bottom in the span of a few seasons.
Once you see a player bouncing around and not performing up to snuff, you know it's just a matter of time before no team wants them, effectively forcing said player into retirement. That demise has been seen far too often over the course of the league's history.
There's also been a recent trend of players simply choosing to walk away early. Calvin Johnson retired this past offseason despite still being in good health with plenty of great football left in him. Whether it was him being tired of a losing culture in Detroit, or simply wanting to retire with his health, he walked away before the age of 30.
Whether it's a result of injuries, poor play or a matter of choice, there are a slew of players primed to retire before hitting 30 years old.
15 Robert Griffin III
The former Washington Redskins turned Cleveland Browns quarterback has been dealing with major injuries since his time in college with Baylor. RG3 tore his ACL there and then suffered the same injury during his rookie season after initially suffering a less serious knee injury earlier in the same season. Since then, Griffin III has not looked the same and his 26-year-old body has clearly seen injuries take a toll.
A new season with a new team was supposed to be a fresh start and revival of his career, however, Griffin III again suffered a serious injury - this time to his shoulder - that will likely sideline him the entire 2016 season. Call it bad luck or just a brittle body, but regardless, Griffin III can't stay on the field. Even if he can land another job in the NFL with a team that can even remotely trust him, Griffin III won't be there long before he lands on the trainer's table. It's only a matter of time before the career-ending injury occurs that knocks a once-promising player out for good.
14 Martavis Bryant
Multiple violations of the league's substance abuse policy has landed Bryant on the suspension list for the entirety of the 2016 season, just one year after he served a four-game ban for a similar violation. With all the talent in the world, Bryant is wasting everything simply because he likes to party and act recklessly.
Bryant has drawn the anger of his Steelers' teammates who are frustrated with him as he wastes his immense abilities as a receiver. Hopefully Bryant's extended absence from the league will be enough to straighten him out, however, nobody would place a bet on that happening given his history. One thing's for certain: Bryant's actions will lead to his exit from the league in the not so distant future.
13 Josh Gordon
Gordon showed superstar potential during a sophomore campaign in which he racked up over 1,600 yards receiving and nine touchdowns. It was all downhill from there for Gordon, as the 25-year-old broke the league's substance abuse policy multiple times and hasn't stepped on the field for a regular season game since 2014, another season in which he missed games due to suspension.
After Gordon was reinstated by the league in 2016 and served yet another ban, it looked like he was ready to line up for the Browns again. However, that hope was dashed when Gordon announced he'd be entering rehab, effectively ending his comeback bid. Gordon has since finished rehab, but he's still suspended indefinitely and there's no telling when or if he'll even be back. And if he does come back, Gordon can't be trusted to sustain sobriety in order to avoid more suspensions and an early retirement.
12 Sammy Watkins
Where do the injuries end for Watkins? The Buffalo Bills receiver is a special talent and his first two seasons with 2,000 total receiving yards proves that. The only problem for Watkins is that he's a walking injury report after having surgeries to both his hip and foot, as well as other nagging injuries to his calf and ankle.
We saw trouble coming from the get-go in 2016 with Watkins not playing up to par and looking a step slow following offseason foot surgery. As was predicted by many, Watkins returned sooner than he should have and wasn't ready for primetime. After just two games into the season, Watkins was shut down and sent to injured reserve to have another surgery on his foot. While he should return healthy this season, multiple leg injuries are a bad sign for such a young player and the 23-year-old's problems will worsen with age, ultimately forcing him out of the game sooner than most.
11 Cody Kessler
You'd hate to try and call it for a guy so early in his career, however, we can't help but worry about Kessler at this point. In his rookie season, Kessler has been banged around with more injuries than we can count. In just five games, Kessler has suffered a concussion that forced him to miss multiple games and a rib injury, both of which forced him from games early.
The reason things are so bad for Kessler is that he's playing with fire by not knowing when to just hit the deck in order to avoid big hits. That sure sounds like another Browns signal-caller we have on this list (RG3) and that didn't exactly work out well for him. Kessler needs to smarten up if he has any plans of a future in the NFL.
10 Jordan Reed
Dating back to college, Jordan Reed has suffered five concussions, with the latest coming in 2016. Reed was sidelined for two games with the head injury and eventually made his return in Week 8. It's a shame for such a gifted player who has become an elite tight end in the league over the past few seasons.
Reed is playing a dangerous game with his life. Multiple concussions are always a concern, but five and counting leaves Reed in a major predicament moving forward. He can choose to battle through more concussions should they happen or Reed can take the safer road and call it quits after the next one occurs. Either way, another concussion for Reed is sadly inevitable in such a violent sport and his next could always be his last before choosing to retire.
9 Jordan Cameron
Another tight end named Jordan with a concussion problem is Cameron, who has lost a big chunk of the season so far due to the injury. The 28-year-old has missed more than half the Miami Dolphins' season already and there is no word on when he'll return to the field. Understandably, Cameron himself is concerned about his long-term health with multiple concussions to his name and is currently mulling over his future in the NFL.
Cases like Cameron's are made even more depressing because of how good he can be. Repeated concussions can have devastating lifelong effects and can lead to a former NFL player ending up on the front page for all the wrong reasons. Let's hope Cameron doesn't take any more chances and chooses his health over the game.
8 Eddie Lacy
Whether he's overweight or dealing with a nagging injury, something is always wrong with Lacy. This season was no different as Lacy was sent to injured reserve due to an ankle injury that required surgery after playing in just five games. A guy with leg problems is bad enough; a guy with a weight problem and leg problems is even worse.
Lacy was said to be in better shape this year, but he failed the eye test miserably. Lacy looked bigger than ever while chugging down the field for the Green Bay Packers and in fact, it's quite impressive to see him do what he does at his size. Putting that aside, the recipe of overweight and being a running back doesn't bode well for his longevity playing a position that demands great care for one's body. Lacy will be lucky to remain in the league if he doesn't mature.
7 Sam Bradford
Despite suffering two ACL injuries as a member of the St. Louis (now Los Angeles) Rams, Bradford is probably the healthiest guy on this list. It looked like his career was in shambles before being traded to the Minnesota Vikings after failing miserably with the Philadelphia Eagles. Bradford's ineptitude was well hidden by a great team start and an elite defense run by head coach Mike Zimmer that made it unnecessary to score a ton of points
Once the Vikings defense began to slip and Bradford actually had to show up, he's been miserable and has Vikings fans counting the days until Teddy Bridgewater returns. Considering Bradford didn't take kindly to possibly being a backup in Philly, it's doubtful he'll all of a sudden be OK with it once the Vikings drop him like a bad habit next season when their franchise QB returns. Bradford is no better than a backup at this stage and it will lead to him bringing his maddeningly disappointing career to a merciful end.
6 Dion Lewis
The only reason we're talking about Lewis is because of what he did in a short period of time for the New England Patriots. In 2015, Lewis averaged 4.8 yards per carry and totaled 622 yards from scrimmage in just seven games. Lewis was a beast for the Pats and Tom Brady had the ideal pass-catching back that was also explosive enough to break big runs.
At the time, Lewis was fresh off two full seasons out of the league because of injury and his inability to stick with a team. Sadly for Lewis, he tore his ACL last season and hasn't taken the field since. Lewis should make his return to the field at some point this season, but an injury history consisting of a broken leg and torn ACL leaves doubt as to how effective the 26-year-old will be and how long he'll be able to last.
5 David Johnson
Johnson is arguably the best running back in the NFL this season and he's healthy as an ox, so why exactly is he on this list? Well, for starters he's a running back and those who play the position generally don't last very long. We all know about the dreaded 30, when running backs normally drop off a cliff in production and/or health.
The Arizona Cardinals star is on a fast track to that ending. Johnson is logging an insane amount of snaps in 2016 and is nearly averaging an astounding 24 touches per game. Head coach Bruce Arians doesn't strike anyone as the kind of guy to go easy on any of his players when it comes to winning, but he might want to consider it with Johnson. The 24-year-old is on an unsustainable pace and it will only lead to a quicker breakdown of his body. You might want to shave a couple of years off that expected running back lifespan with the way Johnson is going.
4 Ezekiel Elliott
Another star running back in the NFL, Elliott is wasting no time becoming an absolute stud at his position. Barring an injury, Elliott will undoubtedly be among the league leaders in rushing yards and attempts, which is pretty rare for a rookie tailback. The Dallas Cowboys are riding Elliott because of a great offensive line and continued production; although drafting him no. 4 overall also has a lot to do with that.
After all, he was drafted to be an offensive player to build around and Elliott has proven to be just that. How long he can keep it up remains to be seen, with Elliott getting so much work at such a young age. He's only 21, so that leaves him nine more years before he hits that magic number. Guys with half his normal workload don't last that long and Elliott's name isn't Clark Kent the last time we checked.
3 Josh Huff
Things have gone from great for Huff as a former 2014 third-round pick, to very bad after getting arrested during the 2016 season. The Philadelphia Eagles receiver and return man was pulled over and arrested for speeding while also being in possession of marijuana and a gun. Not only could he face criminal charges, but Huff will also face discipline from the league for his infraction.
Huff has been a major disappointment since coming into the league and never lived up to his draft position. The 25-year-old has just 48 catches for 482 yards and four touchdowns in three seasons and has only shown value as a returner until this point. Huff will be lucky to stay out of jail, let alone ever get back into the league with a team that wants to deal with his antics for little return.
2 Knile Davis
Remember when Knile Davis was a thing? If not, it happened in 2014 during a three-week span that saw Davis compile 356 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns, leading many to believe the Kansas City Chiefs were sitting on a gold mine of an asset in their backup running back. Davis was never able to duplicate that kind of production again, proving he was merely a fluke.
Davis even saw his backup role diminish in KC and was eventually passed over by Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West. Davis was traded to a Packers team that was devastated by injuries to their running backs this season. Even that wasn't enough to save Davis, as he was cut by the team after just two weeks. The New York Jets went on to claim the 25-year-old, only to drop him hours later, ending his time with a second team in the span of 36 hours. When you see a player bounce around like this, it isn't long before he's out of the league entirely. Davis will have no choice but to retire early once his window officially has closed.
1 Keenan Allen
If not for two devastating injuries in the past two seasons, Allen would have likely risen to the top of the list of elite receivers in the NFL. The San Diego Chargers receiver is now hoping he'll simply be able to make it onto a football field again. Allen has now suffered two major knee injuries since college after suffering a torn ACL in 2016, and he was forced to miss eight games with a lacerated kidney in 2015.
Allen's future in the league is in serious doubt, and while players can come back from multiple major knee surgeries, the chances of Allen ever being the same are slim. The 24-year-old will be lucky to make it another half decade and his hopes of having a long career are all but over.
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