Winning a Super Bowl, or just about any sports championship for that matter, is a team effort. While it’s no coincidence that the very best players and the teams they play on tend to rise to the top, we’ve seen numerous incidents of “no-name” championship squads that just go to confirm that the top of the world tends to be reserved for those that are able to work together and become even greater than the sum of their parts.
Yet, when the career of every great player is being measured, the same question always comes up. “How many championships did they win?” There is nothing sadder in the NFL than an all-time great individual talent that was never able to win the Super Bowl. While the failure to win a championship may not override everything else a player accomplishes in their career, it does forever stand as that one nagging deficiency that they wish they could go back and correct somehow. It happens to great players in every generation, and this one is no exception. There will be great, modern NFL players that manage to hoist that Super Bowl trophy and wear a championship ring. Specifically, these are the top 15 current NFL players who will never win a Super Bowl.
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15 Carson Palmer
As you’ll soon find, this is a list of players that will likely not win a Super Bowl in their careers as opposed to a list of players that don’t deserve one. Carson Palmer is a great example of the difference. As a star at USC, Palmer electrified the college world and rightfully earned his status as the number one pick in the 2003 Draft. Once he began playing for the Bengals, however, he started to enter a pattern of being good, but not quite good enough. His play helped put Cincinnati back into contention for the first time in almost 20 years, but he couldn’t quite get past that playoff hump. He experienced a career resurgence as a member of the Cardinals but again couldn’t turn his play into a championship. At this point, it’s looking like he never will.
14 Jamaal Charles
When you talk about Jamaal Charles, the conversation tends to go one of two ways. Either you harp on his brilliant athletic accomplishments and the things he can do on the field that nobody else seems able to do, or you talk about his injuries. Lately, however, that conversation has been focused more and more on the injuries. Jamaal Charles’ career numbers read like the stat line you could only wish for from a starting running back, but they don’t tell the full story of a guy that puts up a 200-yard rushing game one week and tears his ACL the next. Charles will always be an injury-prone running back at this point, and it’s starting to look like he spent his best years on a team that could never figure it out.
13 Andre Johnson
Poor, poor Andre Johnson. Imagine you’re the best in your chosen profession. Actually, more than the best, you might just be one of the most talented that there has ever been. Now, imagine that your talent turns out to be squandered and you never accomplish anything beyond personal achievements. This may not be the complete story of Andre Johnson’s career, but it does put into perspective just how frustrating it must have been for this incredibly talented receiver to spend his prime playing for a franchise that seemed doomed to fail at every opportunity. Many hoped that Johnson would be able to escape the demons of his early career by joining the Colts, but now it looks like one of the NFL’s most underappreciated talents might have finally lost the step that put him above the rest.
12 Joe Thomas
There are two ways to become a household name as an NFL offensive lineman. Either you need to be really, really great or you need to do something really stupid. Joe Thomas is one of the few shining examples of an offensive lineman who made his name solely off of career accomplishments. The man has been widely recognized as, perhaps, the greatest single piece of talent working on an NFL offensive line ever since he was drafted by Cleaveland in 2007. The key phrase there, of course, is “Drafted by Cleveland.” Thomas could have been the start of a very special Browns offensive unit, but the team was never able to build around him. Every year makes it more and more unlikely that he will decide to jump ship and join a contender.
11 Frank Gore
Frank Gore is a name that most NFL fans are familiar with, but he’s not a guy that a lot of people show the proper respect to. While Gore would never quite equal the brilliance of his 2006 season during which he posted over 1,600 rushing yards and eight touchdowns, the guy has been the most dependable running back in the league throughout much of his career. He’s usually good for at least 1,100 yards and five touchdowns and, for a time, looked like he was going to grab a ring with the 49ers. When that NFC dynasty fell apart, however, so did Gore. His play on the Indianapolis Colts looks like that of a man who is trying to contribute what he can now that his championship years are in the past.
10 Matt Forte
Matt Forte has had great lasting power for a running back in today's NFL. Now in his ninth season, Forte broke through as a rookie in 2008, rushing for over 1,200 yards and scoring eight touchdowns. Forte will likely pass the 10,000 yard rushing mark before his career is over, as he's already set to crack 9,000. Still, Forte is an aging back and he doesn't have that many great years left in him. He's on a Jets team that's shown a lot of promise but still hasn't proven they can dethrone New England for the top spot in the AFC East. As long as Tom Brady and the Patriots stand in the Jets' way, a player like Forte will be stuck without a Super Bowl ring.
9 DeSean Jackson
If the NFL were like video game football, then DeSean Jackson would likely have at least four Super Bowl rings. Nobody has ever denied Jackson his rightful place among the most athletically gifted wide receivers out there. The kid is the kind of speed freak that typically only gets drafted to the Oakland Raiders. Unlike those Raiders receivers with fast 40-yard dash times, however, Jackson has actually managed to convert his speed into success in the NFL. That’s kind of what worries some about Jackson’s long-term prospects, though. For one thing, you can’t continue to play at that level as you enter your later NFL years (which Jackson is approaching). Also, if those talents haven’t been good enough to get him close to a Super Bowl ring yet, will they ever be?
8 Steve Smith Sr.
If you think it’s too early to call it a loss for DeSean Jackson, then maybe you’ll feel a little better about calling Steve Smith’s career in terms of Super Bowl chances. Again this prediction is not a reflection of personal abilities as Steve Smith has been, and sometimes continues to be, one of the NFL’s elite receivers. Size, speed, skill…the guy has had it all at one point or another. When Smith was unable to capture a ring with that Panthers squad that some went so far as to label a team of destiny, however, it finally started to dawn on people that he will just never get there. Unless Smith decided to make a one-year jump to the Patriots or a similar team and happens to get really lucky, there will be no ring in his future.
7 Julius Peppers
Steve Smith’s former defensive partner in crime makes his unfortunate appearance on this list. Julius Peppers’ hall of fame career was arguably sealed the moment he left the Panthers in 2009. This human sack machine completely changed the way that people looked at the defensive end position, and some will argue that Peppers set a standard there that will never be beaten. The popular theory is that Peppers fell off when he left Carolina, but the guy continues to get it done. He even had 10.5 sacks last year as a member of the Packers!
None of these stats, however, have added up to equal a championship ring. The Packers are always in contention if Peppers chooses to stay on the team, but it’s hard to imagine he’s got more than a couple of years left in him.
6 Jason Witten
The future first ballot Hall of Famer and all-around good person Jason Witten’s biggest downside is that he’s not getting younger. While Jason Witten hasn’t been expected to put up 1,000 plus receiving yard seasons in some time, he is still expected to be a consistent receiver up the middle and a blocker when called upon. The problem is that Witten is starting to suffer just a bit in both those categories. His numbers suggest that he’s slowing down, but watching him play week to week confirms it. As a guy that’s spent his career terrorizing the middle of the field, Witten has taken a lot of punishment over the years that is only going to make his legendary career shorter. Sadly, it’s a career that might very well end without a Super Bowl.
5 Cameron Wake
Cameron Wake has more years on the field than a glance at his NFL career stats would lead you to believe. The former Pennsylvania State linebacker didn’t amass enough college highlights to get selected during the 2005 draft and failed to impress the New York Giants who brought him on as a walk-on undrafted free agent. Instead, Wake went to the CFL where he managed to become one of the most dominant forces the league had ever seen. Wake continued to impress when he joined the Dolphins in 2009, but sadly, he could never do enough to help the ailing franchise get very far. At 34 years old, Wake’s career isn’t exactly over, but he’s got some miles on him and his chances are dwindling.
4 Colin Kaepernick
Sometimes, predicting an NFL player’s future isn’t more than a feeling. Logic suggests that the still very young Kaepernick still has enough years left in him to turn his recent bad fortunes around and become a superstar once again. Then, however, you start to look at Kaepernick even when he was at his best, and you start to see a different future unfold. See, the truth of the matter is that Kaepernick was never that great of an individual talent. He was able to manage a very capable 49ers team once upon a time, but he rarely appeared to be the kind of guy that could win on his own. That’s not a career-ending quality, but Kaepernick would need to find himself as the QB of a great squad to stand a chance. That’s seeming less and less likely.
3 Larry Fitzgerald
Technically, Larry Fitzgerald is 33, but the man is truly timeless. He’s undoubtedly the greatest piece of talent the Arizona Cardinals have ever been able to call their own, and that is part of the problem. The Cardinals are still fielding a respectable squad, but Fitzgerald was a member of a really special Arizona team that looked primed to go all the way. When that didn’t happen, questions started to arise regarding whether or not Fitzgerald would be better taking his talents elsewhere. Fitzgerald chose to say. In and of itself, that decision may not mark the end of his career, but Fitzgerald’s current contract with the Cardinals won’t end before 2019. Can the Cardinals stay in contention that long? Would Fitzgerald be able to contribute meaningfully to another team after that? The answer to both is starting to look like a “no.”
2 Adrian Peterson
Given that he’s coming off of an incredible year and that the Vikings are currently tearing up the NFL, it seems a bit premature to predict that Adrian Peterson will not win a Super Bowl ring at some point in his career. The thing about being an NFL running back, however, is that you start your career on a timer. Eventually, your knees are going to wear out, you’re going to lose a step or two, and you’re going to find that things that used to be no problem are suddenly a lot more difficult. Despite being one of the most talented running backs to ever take the field, you have to believe that day is approaching for Peterson. It then becomes a question of whether or not Peterson is able to squeeze a title into those remaining years. If it doesn’t happen in the next couple of years, it’s going to get a lot harder for Peterson to contribute to a championship effort.
1 Philip Rivers
It feels like the story for the San Diego Chargers has been the same over the years. They enter the season as a favorite to win it all, show some promise, and then fall off the radar when the games matter most. At the center of that recent history has been Philip Rivers who has remained the Chargers' constant since 2004. Rivers continues to post numbers that rank among the best in the NFL, but it’s starting to become obvious that his contributions aren't amounting to much when it comes to the postseason. Besides, if Rivers couldn’t win with a San Diego team that included names like LaDainian Tomlinson, Antonio Gates, Antonio Cromartie, Malcolm Floyd, and Vincent Jackson, do you really think that he’s going to be able to win with the roster San Diego will be able to put together over his remaining contract years?
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