Every year there are some NFL players that analysts, coaches and fellow competitors alike, expect great things from, who simply don't get the job done. More often than not, successful players last a few years and slowly lose their effectiveness and retire in their early to mid thirties. Quarterbacks may last a bit longer, but many still leave the league early. JaMarcus Russell, one of the most notorious draft busts of all time was, in essence, an NFL non-contender after just a couple of years in Oakland.
Russell is just one example, and unfortunately, for every long NFL career, there are many short ones. In many cases, a player may have a decent year, be signed to a new contract and then, for whatever reason, stop performing. In other cases, these players may be signed as backups to different teams, but in essence, their career as an impact player in the NFL is over. If they are not signed, they may enter the ocean of free agency. So while we don't predict each of these young players being cut next season, we do predict that many of them will not see time as consistent starters again in the NFL, that 2014 is a negative turning point in their careers, and very possibly the start of the end of their professional careers.
This list contains ten young players that may not have a significant future in the NFL after the 2014 season. This does not mean that they will remain unsigned and float off into obscurity, but this list will be for those 2014 players who have earned a good chance of either unemployment or a permanent backup job. The reasons for these changes of duty may be chronic injury, poor play, penalties and suspensions, or some painful combination of the three. "Young" is somewhat of a subjective term but given that the average age of NFL retirees is 28 or 29 (depending on your source), we've focused on players 27 years old and under.
This list is very subjective and will likely offend some of you, so I send over some death threats and fury in the comments section. If not, a reasoned, well thought out counter-argument works too.
10 Colin Kaepernick
Colin Kaepernick has gotten worse and worse since 2012. He was in his second year in the league and took over after Alex Smith's concussion. He took the team to a 5-2 finish and then to the Super Bowl before a heartbreaking loss to the Ravens. In that year, he was the most dynamic quarterback in the league and was used as the starter for the 49ers based on his scrambling ability. He had a quarterback rating of 98.3, with ten touchdowns and just three picks. Finally, he rushed for 415 yards, over just seven games, with five touchdowns.
While his team played a great 12-4 season in 2013, Kaepernick was noticeably less effective, having a quarterback rating of 91.0, 21 touchdowns and eight picks. He started sixteen games that season but rushed for just 524 yards and four TDs. Despite playing over double the games from 2012, his numbers were significantly worse.
This season, he has thrown 16 touchdowns and ten interceptions in 13 games and has just over 300 yards rushing with zero rushing touchdowns. He looks as though he has lost his confidence throwing and is much less effective on his feet, whether rushing or throwing on the move. Finally, he no longer clicks with his receivers. Kaepernick needs to turn it around this year because his team should not be 7-6 after thirteen games. Most recently, his two interception, 18 of 33 performance in a loss to the Raiders was frighteningly poor.
9 Cordarrelle Patterson
As it's only his second year in the league, this is a tough argument to make, but his performance has seen a very notable drop from his rookie year and he deserves a spot in any conversation discussing players who may see the beginning of the end. The 2013 Pro Bowl kick returner has seen lower numbers in his return average, decreased rushing attempts and pass targets, while scoring just two total touchdowns (rushing, receiving and return), which is down from a total of nine last year.
The argument can be made that the Vikings need to learn to use him better, but Patterson himself needs to revitalize his own presence on the team. Unfortunately, he recently lost his starting receiving position, which makes the job of proving himself even tougher.
8 Shareece Wright
2013's "Easiest Cornerback to Throw on," according to Pro Football Focus, hasn't been quite as bad in 2014 as he was last year, but his improvement has been minuscule at best. Wright is in his fourth year but stands right now as the weakest player in a Chargers' defense that is actually looking fairly sharp this year. He has yet to cause a fumble or intercept a pass this year, and had just one pick last year. Wright is having a rough year, but shows little in the way of potential to improve in the near future. At 27 years old, it may be too late to expect any magical resurgence from him.
7 Justin Blackmon
This is a sad story. Justin Blackmon has made some mistakes and right now it looks like there is a chance they may have cost him his career. He looked like a great young talent back in 2012 and during his four starts in the 2013 season. However, after two DUIs and an indefinite suspension from football after his second violation of the league's policy, he was caught with marijuana back in July 2014. According to Rotoworld, he's still in rehab, and the Jacksonville Jaguars coaches believe he might be reinstated in 2015.
While we wish the troubled receiver the best, we can question two things regarding his possible return. He has missed almost two full seasons of football. At just 24 years old, those are two essential years of development, and the loss of those may be extremely detrimental to his career. Second, there are enough examples of athletes who go through rehab, and simply fall back into their old habits once reinstated into the league. We hope that isn't the case this time, but we can't be sure until we see him back. We'd love to see what Blake Bortles could do with a weapon like Blackmon, but he'll have to mind his behavior off the field as much as his actual skills, if he is reinstated.
6 Donald Brown
After five seasons as the on and off starter for the Indianapolis Colts, Brown was slated to be the number two back for the Chargers this season, but play heavily due to the frailty of Ryan Mathews. With the Colts, he rushed 551 times over his five years for a total of 2,377 yards, which comes out to 4.3 yards per carry. 2011 and 2013 were his best years, as he averaged 4.8 and 5.3 yards per carry with five and eight total touchdowns respectively.
Sadly, he has missed some time this year to injury, and when he did start it was not pretty. He has 154 yards on 66 attempts, which is 2.3 yards per carry. 23 catches for 161 isn't terrible but isn't enough to keep a running back in a starting position. Ryan Mathews is firmly the number one back and Branden Oliver has passed him on the depth chart. This may be the beginning of the end for Donald Brown.
5 Chris Conte
The Chicago Bears have had their share of problems this season and their defense has been about as sad as Jay Cutler. Jared Allen, once one of the most feared pass rushers in the league, has been pretty much ineffective and their defensive secondary has looked terrible, especially against teams with good deep pass accuracy.
Their coaches' defensive schemes are a major part of the problem, but so is safety Chris Conte. Conte and Ryan Mundy have been the epitome of pitiful this year and both are reasons that the Bears' defense is among the worst in the NFL. What is clear is that the Bears have serious problems in their pass defense, as they are 31st in the league (as of the end of week 14) and are 32nd in terms of points given up.
4 Robert Griffin III
RGIII was one of the most highly anticipated players to enter the league in 2012. The acclaim was well-earned, as he threw a perfect game (158.3 QB rating) and led the team to the playoffs, making him the Offensive Rookie of the Year. Since then, however, he has seen significantly less success. Unfortunately, at the end of 2012 and throughout 2013 he has been dealing with serious knee issues.
The team finished 3-10 with Griffin under center in 2013 and so far in 2014, the Redskins are currently 3-9 and 1-4 with Griffin starting. Whether with the Redskins or elsewhere, RGIII is a gamble to start at this point. His effectiveness is extremely varied and at this point, his durability is in question. Getting benched in favor of Colt McCoy has to be painful.
3 Matt Kalil
The Minnesota Vikings' 2012 Pro Bowl rookie offensive tackle has been less than poor in 2014 so far. He suffered from a knee injury in 2013, and while many argued that he was all healed up at the start of the season, his injury is flaring up again and his mobility is clearly affected. He has been beaten over a dozen times so far in 2014, which is far too many sacks for a tackle to be giving up, especially with a young quarterback like Teddy Bridgewater. Kalil knows what he is doing, but if he keeps playing with what is possibly a re-aggravated knee injury, things may get worse before they get better.
2 Doug Martin
Remember 2012? Doug Martin sure does. He was the explosive rookie running back that added a great spark to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He earned a total of 1,454 yards with 11 touchdown rushes. He added 472 yards and another touchdown receiving. He averaged 4.6 yards per carry in his rookie year and was selected to the Pro Bowl.
Sadly, after some less impressive games to start off 2013, he sustained a season ending shoulder injury in week six and missed the remainder of the season. 2014 has been another rough year for the former star. He has missed five games already in 2014 and in those games he has played, he's looked terrible. He looks "3.0 yards per carry" rough and "wow, look at Bobby Rainey go!" rough. Fine, he has two touchdowns, but his best performance so far this year was 18 rushes for 58 yards.
Injuries are his main problem, but his rushing looks completely different than in his rookie year. He looks like a different football player, and while Tampa Bay looks like a shabby crew this year to begin with, he is their greatest disappointment.
1 Geno Smith
This is pretty much a no-brainer. Geno Smith has looked negligibly better in 2014 than he looked a year ago. The New York Jets have had a pretty pitiful year so far, and have some serious problems overall, but Smith is just a sad excuse for a quarterback. He shows a dangerous lack of accuracy, atrocious decision making on the field, and notoriously got filmed uttering obscenities at fans after one of his more embarrassing performances.
His 2013 passing numbers went as follows: QB rating of 66.5, with 12 touchdown throws and 21 interceptions. He somewhat made up for these numbers by rushing for 366 yards and six rushing scores. In 2014, his QB rating has been better, at 68.0, with eight touchdown tosses and 12 interceptions but his rushing has been less effective, with just 195 yards and one touchdown.
Geno Smith is lucky that he got another starting opportunity, but with that said, anyone who thinks he is a potential leader for a consistent, winning team is delusional. It may be too soon to say his career is over, but given his inability to win, he has not proven himself by any means.