Given the established fact that the NFL is the most popular sport in the world, beating every other televised professional sport in weekly and annual ratings, it isn’t surprising that the sport would house some of the most despicable figures in the public eye. It creates a necessary conflict that advances the entertainment aspect of the league. Not only is it expected at this point, but it helps drive revenue, and it is an integral part of what makes the NFL increasingly popular.
The NFL’s villains come in the form of not only players, but coaches and league officials as well. All three have an opportunity to effect a viewer’s experience and perception on a weekly basis. Some of them have only recently developed into a renowned heel, and others have long been playing such a role in the league. Ultimately, it all helps the NFL wheel of dominance keep spinning, ensuring that many of the games will have an intriguing sub-plot, because of the villainous actions. It adds another layer to a typical game, and makes the sport more accessible to someone who may not understand the X’s and O’s of football.
The names on this list range from annoying and ridiculous, to disgusting and reprehensible. Though they are disliked by many, there is no denying that the presence of many of these figures drive revenue, and increase excitement for the product. Without them, the league would be one-sided, and devoid of the conflict that makes each season so compelling. Outside of the couple obvious names that have no business being on an NFL field, most of the others are good for the sport, providing a clear dichotomy to the fan-favorites of the league.
Ranked below are the top 15 biggest villains in the NFL today.
15. Kirk Cousins
Although he has only recently achieved this kind of status, the growing perception of Cousins as a thief who had a one-off season and will benefit heavily from it, is fully pronounced. No, he hasn’t done anything outrageous and terrible, but it’s mainly the constant feeling that he’s getting away with something. The now infamous “You like that!” comment only adds fuel to this fire, and it just never seems like Cousins is as good a QB as his advocates would have you believe. As of right now, he doesn’t reach the level of some of the game’s more notable offenders, but he’s a villain in the making to watch for next season.
14. Vontaze Burfict
Burfict was integral part of the Bengals’ collapse against Pittsburgh last postseason, when he speared WR Antonio Brown in the head, which warranted a costly 15 yard penalty. Burfict has had issues controlling his anger on the field in the past, and since the incident against the Steelers, he has become one of the poster-boys for a Cincinnati defense that has exhibited questionable antics on the field at times. Given that Brown was and is one of the most beloved WRs in the NFL, public opinion landed on his side, and criticized Burfict for the dirty play. Expect the distaste for Burfict to continue as next season approaches.
13. Chip Kelly
Arrogance goes a long way in the case of Kelly, who took a once-exciting Eagles offense and in essentially one offseason decimated it with poor contracts, ill-advised signings and lower quality talents. Add on to that his near-complete neglect for the offensive line, and refusal to help the defense by slowing the offensive tempo down when it is not necessary, and he created a host of problems in Philly. His self-affirming, chest-beating attitude towards his decisions didn’t make him any friends in the local or national media, with many of those pundits hoping that Kelly fails in San Francisco in 2016, which wouldn’t be a stretch.
12. Sam Bradford
With one offseason decision, Bradford gave (or attempted to give) hope to mediocre QBs everywhere who wanted a better contract. His decision to briefly hold out from the Eagles’ offseason workouts, despite the fact he’s being paid over $40 million for two years already, and has only produced marginally. Needless to say, he received a bevy of criticism from just about every football media outlet nationwide. He did decide to return recently, but the damage may have already been done, and it’s hard to see Bradford’s career recovering from this, unless he produces career-high numbers in every statistical category this upcoming season.
11. Ndamukong Suh
Suh has held the “dirtiest player in the game” banner as part of reputation for several years now. There’s no question that a lot of his antics get pushed aside because of how talented a DT he is, but it’s still no excuse for some of the stunts he’s pulled on the field. Stomping players when they’re down, and cheap shots in general on the field, has been one of his biggest transgressions. On top of that, he’s always had a poor attitude, and half-hearted work ethic to boot. He just doesn’t reflect the kind of values most teams want, and as a result has faced criticism from all angles. It’s never a fair fight when Suh is involved, and most teams have taken steps to prepare themselves when they play him.
10. Jerry Jones
No other owner in the league reeks as much of “evil billionaire” than the Cowboy’s own, Jerry Jones. If you want to see off the wall decisions and comments, look no further than his most recent head-scratcher, where he questioned the link between CTE and football. Factor in the signing of Greg Hardy last season, and his general silver spoon persona, and Jones is one of the most distasteful people in the league. His appetite for flash and the big lights has hurt the Cowboys over the years, and he know time is running out on Tony Romo’s clock, which would all but eliminate Dallas from any kind of Super Bowl contention.
9. Richard Sherman
Sherman has established himself as the prototypical trash talking CB, a la Deion Sanders. Perhaps Sherman has a bit more calculated, intellectual presence in the smack he talks than “Primetime”, but there’s no question that opposing receivers probably view the two as one in the same. Hardly a game goes by where the Seahawk corner isn’t seen engaging in some kind of verbal tirade, either in-game or at the press conference following it. Whether or not he is a “villain” depends a lot on personal tolerance for this kind of trash talking, but it’s safe to say that most probably view it as distasteful, given the uproar that has occurred from some of his comments.
8. Odell Beckham Jr.
Beckham is a mega-talented WR for the Giants, but one game against the Panthers late last season, spelled a change in the perception of him. During the game, CB Josh Norman got into a tussle with Beckham for a sizeable portion of the game, much of the time continuing after the play was whistled dead. In a defining moment, Beckham launched his body as a projectile as Norman’s head, setting off post-game fireworks, and costing Beckham a one game suspension the following week. Before the incident, Beckham was seen as moderate trash talking WR, but now has a new target on his back, due to his intentional actions against Norman.
7. Johnny Manziel
Manziel is seen with much distaste because of the talent that he consciously threw away, in exchange to continue his hard-partying ways. To many, his inability to successfully abide by his coaches directions, and his failure to get help for his substance abuse issues, outlines poor character in someone who was granted an opportunity all aspiring NFL players dream about. The fact that his background is rife with Texas oil money, coming from very wealthy parents, doesn’t do Manziel any favors, and actually makes him look exponentially worse than if it was a typical middle-class one. Though he’s currently a free agent, it’s hard to see much support for Manziel if he ever does land an NFL job again. Slim chance of that though.
6. Cam Newton
For as much premeditated celebrating that Newton partook in during the 2016 campaign, his petulant pouting after his Super Bowl defeat definitely wasn’t a good look. There’s no denying Newton’s talent, but his loud on-field persona should probably be taken down a notch, after the trouncing he experienced at the hands of the Broncos defense. This is another “which side are you on?” dilemma, but it’s fair to say that opposing defenses are going to be gunning for Newton next season, much more enthusiastically than in years prior. His polarizing celebrations and actions will likely continue, only to generate more heat from fans and media.
5. Bill Belichick
Seen as the brains behind the evil empire in the NFL that is the New England Patriots, Belichick has long been one of the most mocked and reviled coaches in the league. It’s pretty safe to say that every fan outside of New England is perennially hoping for his failure, and for the dynasty to come to a crashing halt. His snide remarks, hidden behind a bland, disinterested media persona, has made Belichick the source of many parodies. Though he’s been the butt of many jokes, he’s won far too much for them to carry much weight. If there is one coach everyone is perpetually rooting against, it’s him, though it may be futile until his QB retires. Speaking of, next on the list is…
4. Tom Brady
Part golden boy, part Hall of Fame QB, part suspected-cheater; Tom Brady is on top of the NFL landscape, and has been for over ten years now. Though his against all odds, sixth round draft pick, should have made for an embraceable underdog story, Brady’s career has represented anything but. Instead, Brady has been involved in spying, football deflation, and exhibited a snarky attitude that makes every fan minus those in New England, want to see him eat the turf every Sunday during the season. He’s undoubtedly one of the greatest to ever play his position, but he’s also unquestionably the biggest villain in the league who hasn’t been involved in major legal issues.
3. Roger Goodell
In a sense, it may be unfair to criticize Goodell to this degree, since most anybody who’s been a commissioner in any major American sport, has been the subject of ridicule. By the same token, Goodell has handled numerous situations and transgressions by players rather poorly over the past few years. With the topics of domestic violence and drug use making themselves more prevalent in the modern era of technology, a better plan has to be enforced by Goodell in order to better regulate the game. Goodell hasn’t been a complete disaster of a commissioner, but he has made enough questionable decisions to make the consensus on him less than praising, and qualifies as one of the most disliked people in the NFL.
2. Ray Rice
The last two on this list are pretty much interchangeable, as both committed heinous acts of domestic violence, bringing the issue to the forefront of off-field NFL discussion. When the report came out that the former Ravens’ RB had struck his significant other in an elevator, it was a big problem. When the video eventually surfaced, all hell broke loose. Rice was appropriately criticized and condemned at length for his actions, and the discussion began on how much of a league-wide problem domestic violence is. Rice is currently out of the NFL, but the damage sustained from his deplorable act, has made him one of the most hated NFL-associated names in recent years.
1. Greg Hardy
Like Rice, Hardy had a noteworthy incident of domestic violence, but it’s his relatively recent lack of remorse for the whole situation, that is particularly horrifying. Despite multiple, publicized opportunities, Hardy has never candidly expressed true regret for his misdoings. This has hurt his career (and obviously rightfully so) to the point where any hope of a substantial return is unlikely. He did appear in 12 games for the Cowboys last season, but even Jerry Jones wasn’t able to stomach someone so devoid of character. There’s been talk that Hardy’s general attitude problems are the reason he isn’t currently on a team, but the domestic violence is clearly the elephant in the room. Without question, he is the most reviled name currently around the NFL.
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