There are many ways a player can go from hero to zero. It could be a drop in production on the field or they could make a mistake in their personal life that ruins their career forever. In this day and age of social media and the 24-hour news cycle the modern athlete is under more scrutiny than ever before. This means that any slip up that could hurt the reputation of their team can result in that player being fined, suspended, or even released. The NFL has had a major problem with handling player suspensions in regards to domestic violence and the league's substance abuse policy in recent years. It seems like now more than ever NFL players are in the news for the wrong reasons like getting in trouble with the law or even going completely bankrupt.
The players on this list suffered all of those mistakes and then some. Several of the players on this list went from dominating college football and were high draft picks, but in the NFL they flamed out and could not produce at the next level. Other players on the list had major run ins with the law or they fell victim to substance abuse that lead them down the wrong path. Either way, it is very difficult for many to come back to reality once the fans turn on them. The pressure of the NFL can cause even the best of them to crumble and these are the 15 players in NFL history that went from heroes to zeros overnight.
15 Vince Young
When he was drafted third overall by the Tennessee Titans in 2008 many people thought Vince Young was the future of the NFL. To start his career those critics were right, he won the rookie of the year and lead the Titans to an 8-5 record in his starts including six in a row. After that season however defences caught up to him and he could not create the same magic he did in college. Then he lost his job as the Titans starter to Kerry Collins and bounced around as a backup for a couple of other teams. These days he is back working with his alma mater in the administrative offices. Young is a classic case of an athletic star quarterback in college who could not make it as a pocket passer at the next level.
14 Johnny Manziel
Johnny Football was expected to light the league on fire when he entered the NFL after winning the Heisman Trophy at Texas A.M. Instead he flamed out like so many other first round quarterbacks for the Cleveland Browns. He had so much hype that he even had a Snickers commercial entering his rookie season. All that hype only ended up contributing to his downfall. He ended up losing his starting job because he partied too much and the franchise could not handle his unmotivated attitude anymore. During his short stint as the starter for the Browns he did show flashes of brilliance, but he never came close to producing the high-powered offensive production that he did in college. If Manziel did not have off the field issues it is hard to tell how his career would have turned out.
13 JaMarcus Russell
JaMarcus Russell is easily one of the biggest draft busts of all-time. He is a big reason why the league changed the rookie contracts to be less of an investment than they were when he signed his massive deal with the Oakland Raiders. Russell was rumoured to be able to throw the ball over 60 yards while sitting down when he entered the draft. However he was better off sitting on the bench. He could not produce when given the chance as starter and he immediately fell out of the league. Most recently he was in the news for being arrested for possession of codeine syrup. He was always known for being overweight for a quarterback, but now he is on the verge of being overweight for a normal person. What a far cry from being the number one pick in the NFL draft.
12 Brian Bozworth
Brian Bozworth or the “Boz” as they called him in his hey day, was one of the greatest defensive college football players of all time. During his time at Oklahoma he made a name for himself for his wild antics, crazy haircuts, and his bone crushing tackles on the field. In his collegiate career he was a two time consensus all-American. However this legacy was somewhat tarnished because his collegiate career ended with him being suspended for performance enhancing drugs. This lead him to be drafted in the first round of the 1987 supplement draft by the Seattle Seahawks. His college success did not follow him to the pros and he had a very short and mediocre career. He is best known for being completely run over by Bo Jackson on Monday Night Football looking like a shell of what he was starting at Oklahoma.
11 Josh Gordon
No one expected Josh Gordon to step in and dominate from day one like he did early in his career. In 2013 he had a historic season for the Browns, even though he was suspended for he first two games he lead the NFL in receiving yards and was first team all pro. That first suspension was foreshadowing for the rest of his career. He would go on to violate the NFL’s substance abuse policy many more times after that until he fell out of the league altogether. Gordon missed almost 3 full seasons from 2014-2016 and it was not until this season in 2017 that he finally was reinstated back into the league. He played relatively well when he came back this year for a player that missed that much time, but time will tell if he can stay clean long enough to remain on the field.
10 Tim Tebow
The only person playing another sport on this list is Tim Tebow, he now plays minor league baseball for the Mets and even got invited to their spring training for the big league roster. This career shift is a far cry from being a first round draft pick in the NFL, which is what Tebow was only 8 years ago. After starring for the University of Florida and helping them win two national championships and one Heisman trophy there were people that thought Tebow could have success at the next level. When he got the chance to start Tebow actually lead his team to 8 straight wins and a playoff win. Yet after that success the Broncos chose to sign future hall of fame quarterback Peyton Manning for obvious reasons. He now plays baseball and he is not very good at that either.
9 Ricky Williams
In college Ricky Williams looked like a man playing amongst boys dominating while playing for the University of Texas. His brilliant play at running back allowed him to win the Heisman Trophy in 1998. In one of the worst moves of all-time the Saints traded almost all their draft picks to move up and select Williams with the fifth pick in the draft. Williams never lived up to his potential in New Orleans and was eventually traded when injuries got the best of him. He found success once again with the Miami Dolphins leading the NFL in rushing yards in 2002 with over 1,800 yards. This success however did not last long after Williams tested positive for a banned substance multiple times that ended up with him being suspended for four games to start the 2004 season. He was never the same player he was before that.
8 Colin Kaepernick
After he helped carry the 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2013, Kaepernick looked like one of the NFL's rising stars. He had all the tools to be a great quarterback, the size, the arm talent, and the mobility a player needs to be successful at the position. After the defence went downhill and the coach left for Michigan, Kaepernick had little success. One season later he was benched and replaced as starter, then the next preseason he made national headlines for another reason. He protested racial injustice in the country by taking a knee during the National Anthem before games. This was highly controversial and eventually lead to him not being signed by any team when his contract expired in San Francisco. To this day he is still looking for a team to take a chance on him.
7 Ray Rice
Ray Rice was a three time Pro Bowler and was a key member of the 2012 Ravens team that won the Super Bowl. All this success is not remembered at all now because of the video of him brutally hitting and knocking out his wife surfaced in September of 2014. Before the video came out, Roger Goodell and the NFL were only going to suspend Rice for 2 games. After the video came out there was major public backlash that lead to Rice being suspended from the league indefinitely. Rice’s wife stayed on his side throughout the whole ordeal, but he was still never given another chance with an NFL team. Rice was already on the backend of his career so there was no chance another team was going to take a risk signing him after his reputation was publicly destroyed.
6 Greg Hardy
Greg Hardy used to be known as one of the best defensive ends in football playing for the Carolina Panthers. His 15 sacks in 2013 still ranks as the highest sack total ever for a single season in Panther history. Today he is better known for getting suspended by the NFL for domestic violence in a case where he was rumoured to have thrown his girlfriend onto a couch filled with loaded firearms. His case was actually dropped after the victim failed to appear in court to testify. After this the Dallas Cowboys (who are known for having players with off the field issues) controversially signed Hardy and faced a lot of public heat. This resulted in him having a short stint with the team. Now a days Hardy is a mixed martial arts fighter, which does not make his domestic violence case any less believable.
5 Chad Johnson
Chad Johnson AKA Chad OchoCinco had a tremendous NFL career as one of the divas at wide receiver during 2000s. He was known for his wild and ridiculous touchdown celebrations, but he had to score to celebrate and he definitely found himself in the end zone a bunch of times throughout his career. He had so much success that he was named to six Pro Bowls and was a first team All-Pro three times as well. Towards the end of his career not only did his production on the field go downhill, but he had major off the field issues as well. He was arrested for domestic battery of his ex-wife while he was a member of the Dolphins and that lead to his immediate release. Before that it looked like he was destined for the Hall of Fame, but now he looks like an afterthought.
4 Ryan Leaf
At one point in his career analysts thought that Ryan Leaf had a better future at quarterback than Peyton Manning. Fortunately for Indianapolis they made the correct decision drafting Manning number one. Leaf went second to the San Diego Chargers and initially he had some success in his rookie season winning his first two games under centre. What most people remember Leaf for as a Charger was screaming at a reporter and teammates needing to be hold back Leaf from beating him up. In 2009 after falling out of football he was arrested for burglary and even spent some time in jail. At the time of the burglary he was in a rehabilitation program. Leaf hit rock bottom and eventually got clean and found himself while in jail. Today he is a public speaker helping people from going down the wrong path.
3 O.J. Simpson
O.J. Simpson was one of the most popular athletes in all of sports in the 1970s. He won the Heisman trophy for his terrific play at USC and that lead him to be drafted number one overall by the Buffalo Bills in 1969. He was the first person to rush for 2,000 yards in an NFL season. Simpson even accomplished that feat only before they extended the season to 16 games and is the only player to do it in a 14 game season. He parlayed this professional success into many endorsements and acting roles. He was beloved by all of America until he was accused of taking the lives of his ex wife and another man at her house in Brentwood, California. His case was one of the most shocking in American history because he was let off, even with an insurmountable amount of evidence against him.
2 Aaron Hernandez
During his short career with the New England Patriots, Aaron Hernandez looked like one of the most promising young players at any position. Paired with Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots were stacked at tight end. His promising young NFL career took a dramatic turn for the worse in 2013 when he was arrested for taking the life of Odin Lloyd who was dating the sister of Hernandez’s fiancé at the time. When the news first broke it sent shockwaves throughout the NFL and the Patriots immediately released him. He was eventually found guilty in 2015 and sentenced to serve life in prison without parole. His story unfortunately ended in tragedy as well because he took his own life in April of 2017 while serving his sentence.
1 Michael Vick
Michael Vick is perhaps the most electrifying player to ever play the quarterback position in the NFL. In his last season starting for the Falcons Vick threw for over 2,000 yards and ran for over 1,000 yards becoming the first player to ever accomplish that feat. In 2007 his life turned upside down when he was arrested for running a large dog-fighting ring at his home. He was then suspended indefinitely from the NFL and served two years in jail. His reputation never really recovered from this and he even ended up going bankrupt because of his conviction and other financial issues. He did return to the NFL and had success, but his story shows that no matter how big of a star the person is they can still go from hero to zero in an instant if they are caught doing something bad enough.