Top 15 NCAA Stars Who Initially Succeeded In The NFL But Eventually Failed

It happens sometimes, but we often see guys star in college, then fall out of the spotlight before Week 1 of the regular season.

This gap between the Super Bowl and the start of next season kills us fans of the NFL. We go from the biggest game of the year, to absolutely nothing coming from the league. The offseason is the worst. But that’s what has driven this immense focus on new talent coming into the league. Every year, there’s a focus on trying to figure out who will be the league’s next star. NCAA football is a multi-billion-dollar industry because it’s the breeding ground for the NFL’s upcoming talent.

So, we all can’t help it. As collegiate athletes tear up the highlight reel and rake in the awards, we all can’t help but predict if that success will translate into the NFL. And it feels so good when a college star continues their success in the NFL. It happens sometimes, but we often see guys star in college, then fall out of the spotlight before Week 1 of the regular season.

Then there is another group. This group is the one that this list ranks. This group of guys has a different career trajectory. These are the guys who were absolute stars in college. That turned into a first round draft pick along with some very lofty expectations. The craziest part is that everyone on this list exceeded those expectations at first. But then reality quickly sunk in and each of the following used-to-be stars faded from relevance, and either was pushed out of the league or is struggling to maintain a roster spot in the NFL. (The guy who is at the top of this list doesn’t match that criteria. He’s still in the league and has a solidified roster spot. But he won’t by the end of next season.)


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With all that Tim Tebow always has going on, it’s tough to remember that he used to be one of the best college quarterbacks. It’s even harder to remember that Tebow was a successful NFL starting quarterback for a short time while on the Broncos. Tebow was a consistent starter during his second season in Denver and he finished with a 7-4 regular season record as a starter and even recorded a playoff victory. He always tossed more touchdowns than interceptions but had a lot of trouble with accuracy. His short career finished with a 47.9 percent completion percentage.

Now, Tebow is trying to find his way into the MLB as he signed a minor league contract with the Mets in September. But we shouldn’t forget about how good this guy was in college. Tebow was a two-time BCS national champion, was named the Heisman Trophy winner and was named the player of the year by both the AP and Sporting News in 2007.


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It did not take long at all for this college star to succeed in the NFL. It didn’t take long for Robert Griffin III to fail, either. Griffin is one of the guys on this list who has a chance to still succeed in the NFL, but it doesn’t look likely after seeing the type of production he’s posted since that Pro Bowl run in his first season (that year he led the Redskins to a playoff victory, completed 65.6 percent of his passes, tossed 3,200 yards with 20 touchdowns and just five interceptions).

The following year, Griffin looked nothing like we expected after seeing him continue his collegiate success in the pros. Griffin was the second overall pick in 2012 after he walked out of Baylor as the NCAA’s Heisman Trophy winner. But he’s now a player who looks to be on his way out of the league. Since that initial winning season, Griffin has been 6-19 as a starter and continuously misses time due to injuries.


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Through the six seasons Vince Young (Pictured Left) spent in the NFL, he started 50 games and recorded a 31-19 record. Young even managed a Pro Bowl appearance during his rookie season then again in 2009 (even though he only played in 10 games that season). The tough part about Young’s story is that he was overhyped far too early and never had a chance to develop as a unproven rookie should.

During Young’s first season, he recorded an 8-5 record and everyone that watched the NFL lost their minds. Here was college football’s best quarterback from the year before, and he was winning like everybody expected him too. Unfortunately, he threw one more interception than touchdowns that season, which is something that plagued his career till he was forced to retire in 2011. In 2007, Young finished with a 9-6 record but threw just nine touchdowns and 17 interceptions. He finished his career with a 46-51 touchdown-interception ratio.



In three seasons Gaines Adams was active all but one game. He was on course for a respectable NFL career. Unfortunately, in January 2010, Adams died because of cardia arrest due to cardiomyopathy, also known as an enlarged heart. Although it is sad, that meant Adams career had to be judged off of just three years in the league, including a final season in Chicago where he didn’t produce that much. Coming out of college at Clemson, Adams was a star and was drafted with the fourth overall pick in 2007.

After his All-American and ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors received during his final year of college, Adams seemed poised to be a breakout defensive end for the Buccaneers. And he had a pretty good first season. The Pro Football Writers Association named Adams to their All-Rookie Team. The next year, he started every game, recorded two interceptions with a pick-6 and had six pass deflections along with 6.5 sacks. But production declined in his last season in the NFL as he managed just five starts



Aaron Curry was considered one of the best players and one of the safest choices during the 2009 NFL Draft. Curry was selected fourth overall by the Seahawks and received the richest non-quarterback rookie contract in league history as Seattle signed for six years with a $60 million with $34 million guaranteed. He was called a safe pick but after three seasons on the Seahawks, he was traded to Oakland for a seventh round pick. He eventually retired following a season where he recorded just one tackle in two games for the Raiders.

But the three seasons before that were pretty good. Curry had four fumble recoveries and two touchdowns with 80 tackles in 2011, and he was a consistent starter throughout those first three years. It looked like Curry was continuing the success that led him to a very successful college career. Curry was waived by the Raiders, then signed a one-year deal with the Giants, but didn’t make the cut and subsequently retired from the NFL.



Through three seasons, Laurence Maroney posted 2,746 yards from scrimmage for the New England Patriots (that doesn’t count the 2008 season because he was active for just three games that year). Maroney didn’t have huge numbers, but nearly 3,000 yards from scrimmage on a team who rotated backs was very good. Maroney started just 11 games in that stretch but still was a very successful running back off the bench.

Maroney’s successful career at Minnesota led to a 21st overall selection by New England back in 2006. Although Maroney played just five seasons, he was very successful for three of his four years in New England, and it looked like he could be a starting back on a lot of teams in the NFL. But it didn’t work out that way and Denver was the last NFL team he would play for in 2010.


Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Trent Richardson hasn’t seen a regular season game since 2014 with the Indianapolis Colts. Richardson started in the NFL with the Browns, after the team drafted him with the third overall pick in 2012. Richardson, a two-time BCS National Champion at Alabama and a unanimous All-American, was often talked about as the best running back prospect since Adrian Peterson. All that talk sure tricked the Browns (though the Browns would eventually play that same trick on the Colts and got a first round pick back for trading the overvalued running back).

Richardson never rushed for more than 1,000 yards in his three-season career, but Clevelanders hyped up Richardson as the next big thing in the NFL after he rushed for 950 yards and 11 touchdowns, while adding 367 receiving yards. But he wouldn’t come close to that production for the rest of his short-lived NFL career.


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Playing 10 seasons in the NFL doesn’t look like a failure at first glance. But in Rex Grossman’s case, it was a huge failure. The quarterback didn’t see much time during his first few seasons in the NFL. He started just seven games throughout those first three years. However, that seemed like an amazing plan. The first year Grossman started, he led the Bears to a 13-3 record, and continued deep into the playoffs with two postseason wins. But that year was his only successful NFL season. After that was a constant stream of failures.

After his only successful season, Grossman didn’t post anything we’d grown to expect from him. Especially after his dominant career at Florida where he was named the AP College Football Player of the Year in 2001.



The toughest part about David Carr is that it’s really tough to justify a successful start in the NFL. Carr had five-straight seasons where he started every game. Those five seasons were his first years in the league. Although he threw more interceptions than touchdowns during three of those seasons, he was a crucial part of an offense that forced him to throw more than 400 passes in four of those seasons. And he wasn’t getting the proper help from his line up front. Carr led the league in sacks during three of those seasons.

That’s why Carr gets a spot on this list. He may not have had the best stats, but that was because he didn’t have a good supporting cast. Plus, he still led the offense for five years. That’s better than most guys can say. But the second half of his career saw barely any action. In the next five years, Carr would stat just four games. He was the first overall pick out of Fresno State, but that was way too high for a quarterback who bottomed out like Carr.



Since Courtney Brown was drafted by Cleveland in 2000, his early success was buried beneath the Browns terrible team play. Cleveland was in its rebuilding stage (well the Browns might have been in a constant rebuilding stage since their return in 1999). Back in 2000, Brown was Cleveland’s second-straight first overall pick. The Browns failed in 1999 with Tim Couch, and Brown’s addition to the team didn’t help much either.

Brown, who was a consensus All-American defensive end from Penn State, was a lock for Cleveland at the top spot in 2000. It seemed like a pretty good pick after his first season as he started every game. And things were really optimistic as he recorded 4.5 sacks and forced four fumbles in just five games during the beginning of his second season. But he got injured and was out the rest of the year. When he returned, things just weren’t the same and his last season in the NFL was with Denver in 2005.



This superstar wide receiver out of Florida State got drafted with the fourth overall pick in 2000, went on to play four good seasons in the NFL, but then really struggled for two years before being pushed out of the NFL. Peter Warrick was a consensus All-American twice before the Bengals used a top-5 pick to add Warrick to their roster.

Although Warrick posted good stats in his first year, he recorded a terrible 40-percent catch percentage. The next three season, though, he improved on that and would be consistently catching about 65 percent of the passes thrown his was in 2003. Warrick posted his best season in 2003 with 79 receptions for 819 yards and seven touchdowns. He also had 157 rushing yards off of 18 carries. Unfortunately, Warrick missed most of the next year because of injury and had just 22 receptions in the final two seasons of his career.



This running back truly optimizes a guy who had an amazing college career, had an awesome rookie campaign, but then faded away to the bench before bowing out of the NFL after just seven seasons. Carnell "Cadillac" Williams was still in his twenties when he retired from the league. In college at Auburn, Williams was so good that a sportscaster dubbed him “Cadillace” because he was a notch above everyone else on the field. Williams was an All-American in college and recorded a career totals of 3,831 rushing yards and 45 touchdowns.

During his rookie season, Williams shocked spectators as he rushed for 1,178 yards. That was by far his best rushing season, and he even had four seasons of absolute dismal play where he barely was on the field and recorded less than 500 rushing yards. His last season was as a backup on the Rams in 2011, when he started just one game and had 87 carries.



Ronnie Brown had a long career. Much longer than anybody else on this list. He played from 2005 to 2014, but was a non-factor for his last four seasons in the NFL. Brown broke into the league as a star, and continued to be a featured back for the early parts of his career. Through his first four years in the league, Brown recorded three seasons with more than 1,000 yards from scrimmage. In five of Brown’s first six years, he recorded more than 900 yards from scrimmage. But 2011 was the first season away from the Dolphins, and Brown never recorded consistently good performances for the rest of his career.

By the time Brown got to Philly in 2011, he was a mostly bench player and started just three games in his final four seasons. It looked nothing like his early career and was the last thing anyone expected after watching what Brown had done on the field.


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Offensive tackles aren’t often regarded as stars, but Jake Long might be one of the most accomplished NFL athletes on this list. Long has been selected to the Pro Bowl four times and was a first-team All-Pro selection in 2010. All of that success came during his first four seasons in the NFL while he was playing with the Miami Dolphins. Long is still in the league and played with the Vikings last season, but he hasn’t been a consistent producer in the NFL for the past three seasons. It looks like Long is on his way out of the league and doesn’t have much longer left.

It's a drastic shift from where he was at the beginning of his NFL career. Long was on fire right out of the gate as the Dolphins drafted him with the first overall pick in 2008. And in college, Long was a two-time consensus All-American while playing with Michigan and was also a two-time Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year.


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Todd Gurley shows up on this list because of his sever drop in production seen following his Pro Bowl worthy rookie season. Part of this ranking is based on projecting Gurley’s future. He can change the outcome of his career, but it seems much more likely that he’s doomed to fail in the NFL. Gurley is part of a Rams team that just can’t figure their stuff out on offense and it’s not going to make things any easier for Gurley going forward.

Gurley had a pretty good college career at Georgia (though his final season lacked production as he was suspended and then injured and played just six games). Gurley was the 10th overall pick in 2015, and it seemed to pay off as he was named to the Pro Bowl that season after rushing 1,106 yards and 10 touchdowns while averaging 4.8 yards per carry. Last year, Gurley rushed the ball 49 more times, but had a significant drop in yards (885) and rushed for just six touchdowns while averaging 3.2 yards per carry. That’s really scary for a guy who most thought would be the league’s next leading running back.

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Top 15 NCAA Stars Who Initially Succeeded In The NFL But Eventually Failed