Because of how all professional sports teams work, the worst franchises (by record) get the best incoming players into their respective leagues. When it comes to a sport like basketball, all it takes is one player to turn a team from a loser into a playoff contender in just one season.
However, in the NFL, things – unfortunately – don’t necessarily work out like that.
If you’re a fan of football, you realize that it is the ultimate team sport. Each position plays a critical part in the game, and if one portion isn’t holding their weight on the field, the team will fail to be successful. Just because a team receives the first overall pick, it doesn’t mean that the organization will go from pretender to contender overnight.
Because of this narrative, top tier talent gets stuck for multiple years on teams that have trouble with succeeding on the field. However, that isn’t said players fault; it’s simply because their talent warranted a high selection.
However, that isn’t always the case.
When it comes to a new deal for a star player, a lot of the big time money outweighs everything else – and, in most cases, that’s how it should be. However, it does become baffling when a player is on a team that is either in constant contention or is on the rise but instead opts for taking the money from an organization that isn’t in a position to win.
On this list, you will see players on both ends of that spectrum. With that being said, here are the top fifteen current players who are too good for their teams.
15 Alshon Jeffery
With Brandon Marshall being the best receiving target for the Chicago Bears, the organization knew they needed another threat to take the pressure off of their number one receiver. Enter Alshon Jeffery.
Ever since being taken in the 2012 NFL draft, Jeffery has grown from tall target to one of the best young receivers in the game. After playing in just 10 games in his rookie year, Jeffery took his game to another level starting in 2013. That year, Jeffery hauled in 89 receptions for 1,421 yards while scoring seven touchdowns. His 2014 season was just as strong, as Jeffery scored 10 touchdowns while bringing in 1,133 yards through the air.
With Marshall now a part of the New York Jets, Jeffery has emerged as the Bears number one target. While he has dealt with unfortunate injuries, it doesn’t help that Jay Cutler is his quarterback and Kevin White, who was drafted to take pressure off of Jeffery, has been injured this season.
14 DeAndre Hopkins
Outside of the oft-injured Arian Foster, the Houston Texans offense doesn’t feature many standout players. However, there is no doubt that wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins is head and shoulders above the rest on the offensive side of the ball.
At the halfway point of only his third season in the NFL, Hopkins went from an athletic enigma to someone who could be the organization’s number one target for years to come. After scoring just two touchdowns over 52 receptions in his rookie campaign, Hopkins burst onto the national scene last season, as he hauled in 76 catches for 1,210 yards, along with six touchdowns. He is on pace to surpass those numbers this season.
Unfortunately, Hopkins is a part of a highly unstable organization. With questions at quarterback seemingly each season, it is amazing that Hopkins is performing so well.
13 Julius Thomas
It seemed as though Julius Thomas had it made with the Denver Broncos. However, because they had other strong options to pay in free agency, Thomas – a standout basketball player in college – took the paycheck over the quality of team, as he signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Thomas became a household name due to Peyton Manning and a high-octane offense over his final two years with the Broncos. During the 2013 and 2014 seasons, Thomas became a premier tight end, as he combined to score 24 touchdowns and nearly 1,300 receiving yards in 27 games.
With a five-year, $46 million contract too rich to pass up, Thomas left a stable organization for an uncertain one. While Blake Bortles could blossom, he is experiencing serious growing pains; which is hindering the tight end’s growth.
12 Trent Williams
For one reason or another, it seems that offensive tackle talents seem to be the most hit or miss players during each NFL Draft. However, in 2010, the Washington Redskins struck gold with Trent Williams.
Williams immediately took the starting left tackle job and hasn’t looked back since. A team captain since 2011, Williams has been a three-time Pro Bowler, while also being ranked among the top 100 players in the NFL in each season since 2013.
Unfortunately, it appears as though his immense talent is being wasted in Washington. Whether it is due to inept management or lack of talent, the team is never in a position to compete come playoff time; and it is unfortunate that a great player like Williams needs to suffer through that.
11 Gerald McCoy
Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy were the stud defensive tackles of their draft class. While Suh has been the flashier of the two, there is no doubt that McCoy has steadily been one of the best 4-3 defensive tackles in the game.
Although various injuries held him back his first two seasons, McCoy grew into the league’s best defensive tackle in 2013, according to Pro Football Focus. Since 2012, McCoy has three Pro Bowls while being named a first team All-Pro.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers rewarded McCoy for his efforts, as they signed him to a seven-year, $98 million contract with $51 million in guaranteed money. Although the team has Lovie Smith at the helm and Jameis Winston as their rookie quarterback, the team is still struggling on the field. Although their fortunes could change, McCoy’s prime years are being spent on bad teams.
10 Joe Thomas
When it comes to Joe Thomas, his situation could be related to that of Trent Williams; while it is tough to find a franchise left tackle, the Cleveland Browns found theirs in the 2007 draft with the third overall pick.
Although offensive linemen struggle to get the recognition they deserve, it is known across the league that Thomas is the best left tackle in the game. Starting every game since Week 1 of his rookie year, Thomas has been selected to the Pro Bowl in his first eight NFL seasons. On top of that, Thomas was named as the NFL’s 18th best player before this season began.
Unfortunately for Thomas, he plays for one of the worst franchises in professional sports. Before the 2015 NFL trade deadline, there were rumors that the Browns could move Thomas; however, showing the true testament of his character, the left tackle stated that he wouldn’t ask for a move, instead wanting to finish what he started when he was drafted by the Browns.
9 Joe Haden
When you think of the top cornerbacks in the NFL, the list isn’t very extensive. However, one player that undoubtedly would be featured on everyone’s list would be shutdown cornerback Joe Haden.
Haden has gone from athletic defensive back to a do-it-all for you corner in the span of five years. Although he, too, has dealt with different injuries and suspensions, when Haden is on the field, most quarterbacks don’t take the risk of throwing it his way. Haden is a two-time Pro Bowler, was ranked among the top 40 NFL players over the past two seasons while also securing a total of 16 interceptions as well. To add to his resume, Haden was also an All-Pro in 2013.
Just like his teammate Joe Thomas, Haden is, unfortunately, a part of the underwhelming Browns organization. And it doesn’t look like he’s going anywhere soon, as Haden signed a five-year extension before the 2014 season.
8 Lavonte David
While Gerald McCoy holds down the defensive line for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it is Lavonte David, the fourth year linebacker and captain, who is the heart and soul of the team.
Ever since stepping on the field as a rookie, David has turned into arguably the most productive linebacker in football. Starting in all games he's been dressed for, David has combined for 360 solo tackles, 150 assisted tackles, 12 sacks and six interceptions. Heading into the 2015 season, David was rewarded with a five-year, $50.25 million contract with over $25 million in guarantees.
However, just like McCoy, David’s strong on field production hasn’t amounted to any team success.
7 Matt Forte
The running back position could be seen as many as a dying one in today’s game. In the case of many teams, there is a back that can run the ball and one who can catch. For the Chicago Bears, they have someone who can do both at a high level: Matt Fotre.
Forte has rushed for over 8,000 yards and has scored 43 touchdowns in his eight NFL seasons. In the passing game, Forte has been equally as effective, as he has made 468 receptions for nearly 4,000 yards while scoring 17 touchdowns. In 2014, he set the record for most receptions in a season by a running back with 102.
While the Bears have exceeded expectations this year, a lot of Forte's best years have been wasted on a sub-par team.
6 NaVorro Bowman
Linebacker NaVorro Bowman, along with others like Patrick Willis and Justin Smith, were the faces of a fierce San Francisco 49ers defense that led the team to great success over the last five years.
After playing as mostly as a backup in 2010, Bowman took over for the departed Takeo Spikes and turned into one of the best inside linebackers in the game. From 2011-2013, Bowman totaled 327 solo tackles, nine sacks and three interceptions en route to three Pro Bowls and two All-Pro selections. Unfortunately for both he and the team, Bowman tore both his ACL and MCL during the 2013 NFC Championship Game, sidelining him for the entire 2014 campaign.
All in all, Bowman has come back and returned to form in 2015. Unfortunately, the 49ers have completely fallen off as a competitor. While he worked as hard as anyone to return from the tough injury, Bowman has been playing his heart out for a team that doesn’t seem to care while on the field.
5 Jamaal Charles
After splitting time with other running backs in both 2008 and 2009, Jamaal Charles emerged as the number one option in 2010, as he had 1,935 all-purpose yards to go along with eight touchdowns. After injuring his ACL in 2011, Charles was better than ever from 2012-2014. Over that span, Charles ran for 3,829 yards while receiving 1,220 yards, combining for 39 touchdowns.
Unfortunately, the Chiefs struggle overall as a franchise. While they have shown spurts of success in recent years, it has never amounted to the ultimate goal of a Super Bowl. What is even worse for Charles is that this season, he tore his ACL yet again.
4 Philip Rivers
Ever since the New York Giants traded Philip Rivers to the San Diego Chargers for Eli Manning, he has always had a chip on his shoulder. Because of that chip, Rivers has had much regular season success since his rookie season in 2004.
After spending two seasons as an understudy on the Chargers bench, Rivers has started every single game at quarterback for the last 10 years. Over that span, Rivers has passed for over 39,000 yards with a 65% completion rate. Adding to those numbers, Rivers has thrown for 270 touchdowns to 128 interceptions, while being named to five Pro-Bowls, including three straight from 2009-2011.
It’s always great to have a franchise quarterback, simply because they are so hard to come by. Similar to the Chiefs, the Chargers have made it to the playoffs, but have yet to have true success. Rivers could flourish on another team, yet seems primed to be a Charger for life.
3 Ndamukong Suh
Ndamukong Suh took the money and ran as the Miami Dolphins paid him a monster six-year, $114 million contract with $60 million in guarantees. That deal made Suh the highest paid defensive player in NFL history.
While Suh has had problems keeping himself calm on the field, it’s hard to argue with the Dolphins' decision to hand him such a lucrative pact. Over his career in Detroit, Suh justified the Lions decision to take him second overall in 2010, as he totaled 239 combined tackles, 36 sacks, two forced fumbles, four trips to the Pro Bowl and four first team All-Pro selections.
While the Lions aren’t known for putting a winning team on the field each year, it does seem that the Dolphins were an odd choice for Suh. Yes, the money is tempting, and more times than not, the deciding factor in a contract situation. However, the organization has failed to have any success in the AFC East, and even with Suh in the fold, it looks like that will continue.
2 Calvin Johnson
Speaking of the Detroit Lions, outside of Barry Sanders, it is widely regarded that Calvin Johnson is the best offensive player in franchise history. Taken by the organization with the second overall pick in 2007, Johnson has accomplished feat after feat ever since.
In nine seasons (including 2015), Johnson has totaled over 11,000 receiving yards. That’s why it isn’t a surprise that Johnson has been named to five Pro Bowls, five first team All-Pro selections, led the NFL in receiving yards in 2011 and 2012. On top of that, Johnson holds an eye popping 15 NFL records and seven Lions records. Unfortunately, Johnson is a part of an organization that has failed to put a successful on field product since he was drafted. Similar to Joe Thomas, Johnson’s name was floated in trade talks this year; however, Johnson plans to stick with the franchise – although that can come back to haunt him.
1 J.J. Watt
The competition is stiff; however, there may be no more popular player both on the gridiron and off the field than Houston Texans franchise star, J.J. Watt.
Ever since joining the NFL in 2011, the 26-year old phenom has dominated any and all competition that has lined up against him. However, Watt hasn’t only starred on the defensive side of the ball. Last season, the Texans experimented with him on offense, which saw Watt catch three touchdowns. From 2012-2014, Watt was a three time Pro-Bowler while also being named to the All-Pro team three times as well.
The organization has a once in a generation talent locked into a huge deal; however, they have yet to put a competent enough team around him to make a true run at a Super Bowl.