It takes years of hard work to get to the NFL. Most players' careers start even before they get into high school. They build upon a lifetime of mental and physical preparation just in the hopes that they’ll be able to make a name for themselves and get noticed by a good college. From there, they must somehow distinguish themselves from the best collegiate athletes in the country. Then, and only then, can they even have a hair of a chance of making an NFL roster. The good news is that if they somehow make it to that point, then surely everyone will remember their names.
Only, that isn’t always the case. There are some NFL players who make it to the big show, make a name for themselves, and still manage to become overlooked even while they are still active players. How, exactly, that happens can be attributed to a few things. Most of the time, you can chalk it up to a decrease in performance or a move to a smaller market team. Sometimes, however, a player manages to stay in the league for so long that fans simply can’t believe it. Whatever the reason, these are the 15 NFL players that you didn’t realize were still active.
15 Shaun Hill
Shaun Hill was never supposed to be in the NFL. He wasn’t drafted in 2002 – he wasn’t even invited to the scouting combine that year – and he was only brought into the league as a third-string backup for the Minnesota Vikings. After that failed, Hill began his backup career in earnest as a member of the San Francisco 49ers. While Hill was still never really considered to be a true starting quarterback, he was the backup that teams liked to have around because they knew that Hill could step in and not lose you the game if called upon to do so. At 36 years old, Hill is still doing backup work as a member of the Minnesota Vikings. Not bad for a guy who was never supposed to be in the league at all.
14 Vince Wilfork
If you played for the Patriots during the early days of Brady/Belichick regime, you kind of had to accept the fact that you were not going to necessarily become a household name. Very few players on those teams not named Tom Brady managed to achieve personal fame and Vince Wilfork was certainly one of them. The physically imposing nose tackle proved to be the anchor for the Patriots “bend but don’t break” defense. He, along with Tedy Bruschi, gave the Patriots’ defensive unit a real identity and the kind of talent that Tom Brady’s offense needed to always be in contention.
Wilfork fell off the radar a bit during his later years on the Patriots and eventually left the team in 2014 following a contract dispute. He’s currently signed with the Texans where he serves as a backup specialist.
13 Shane Lechler
The general rule of thumb is that if you find a good punter, you tend to keep him around for as long as possible. For as much flack as special team players sometimes get, all it takes is one season without an elite punter for a team, and their fans, to realize how valuable the position can be. For almost 17 years now, Shane Lechler has been that punter that teams can rely on. He spent most of his years as a member of the Oakland Raiders where he made the Pro Bowl an astonishing seven times. He currently holds an NFL record for best average punt distance over a career and once signed a contract that made him the highest-paid punter in NFL history. Lechler fell off the radar a bit when he signed with the Texans in 2013, but he hasn’t lost a step.
12 Ziggy Hood
Some players are forgotten about simply because you can’t believe someone could continue to play professional football for as long as they have. Other players are forgotten because they never lived up to their initial promise and fans simply stopped paying attention to their careers. Ziggy Hood falls into the latter category. As the 32nd pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, Hood was expected to at least become a constant contributor to that always potent Steelers defense. Instead, Hood proved unable to turn in anything more than a couple of decent single-game performances, which led to him being cut by Pittsburgh in 2013. Hood signed a four-year deal with Jacksonville in 2014 but was sent to Chicago the next year. He currently plays for the Redskins, which may very well be his last NFL stop.
11 Julius Peppers
For seven years, the Carolina Panthers had the privilege of playing host to the great Julius Peppers. Peppers recorded a shocking 12 sacks in his rookie season and has been terrorizing defenses ever since. Much like how Lawrence Taylor completely changed the role of a linebacker, Peppers’ ability to get to the quarterback at will from the outside linebacker position forced teams to reconsider how they lined up against certain defensive formations. He’s a surefire hall of famer who did lose a little star power when he went to the Bears in 2010. His stats didn’t really suffer much in the transition, however, which is why Green Bay picked him up in 2014. He’s still playing at a Pro Bowl level and helping Green Bay pave the way to yet another possible Super Bowl win.
10 Anquan Boldin
In his first career game, Anquan Boldin recorded 217 receiving yards. It was only a preview of what was to come. As part of a tandem with Larry Fitzgerald, Boldin absolutely terrified opposing defenses. While he was rarely quite as dynamic of a downfield threat as Fitzgerald, Boldin’s absurd ability to catch nearly any ball helped Arizona constantly move the chains. His move to the Baltimore Ravens was treated as one of the biggest wide receiver moves of the modern era. While Boldin didn’t quite make the same splash in Baltimore as he did in Arizona due to the team’s muted offensive style, he still helped lead the team to a Super Bowl. Boldin spent a couple of decent years in San Francisco after that and was stealthily signed by the Lions at the start of the 2016 season.
9 Glenn Dorsey
Glenn Dorsey is similar to Ziggy Hood in that both players were fairly highly touted defensive juggernauts who were expected to immediately contribute to whatever team they found themselves on. The biggest difference between the two is that Dorsey was taken number five overall in the 2008 draft. Simply put, Dorsey never really played at his expected level as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs. He occasionally put up some respectable tackle numbers, but he seemed to have lost his ability to get to the quarterback.
He was quietly sent to the San Francisco 49ers where Dorsey continues to try to find his rhythm. That didn’t happen during his 2016 season which saw Dorsey acquire 34 total tackles and just one sack. With another coaching change on the horizon in San Fran, we'll see what Dorsey's role is going forward.
8 John Kuhn
Once upon a time when the Earth was still young, NFL teams across the land valued an offensive position known as the fullback. While the fullback was capable of running the ball when called upon, their primary job was to lead the way for the running back and serve as a full-force blocker. These days, sighting a fullback during a game is like seeing the Loch Ness Monster. One exception to this rule is the great John Kuhn.
Kuhn’s ability to get a few yards when called upon was matched only by the way that he gave the Green Bay Packers an extra lineman in the backfield when they needed one. Kuhn finally waived goodbye to Green Bay in 2015 and was quickly picked up by the Saints in 2016 where he continued to get it done.
7 Mario Williams
The career of Mario Williams is a strange one indeed. If you look at Williams’ career stats, you’ll find that he has managed to produce some pretty impressive numbers throughout the years. Despite this, some people choose to remember his early years when he struggled to live up to the considerable hype he entered the draft with. As a member of the Houston Texans, Williams managed to display much of the brilliance that he exhibited as a college star, but a series of injuries and some bad team seasons dimmed his star power somewhat. The Buffalo Bills quickly snatched him up in 2012, and Williams rewarded them for their faith with some monstrous seasons. Sadly, he just never got along with coach Rex Ryan and ended up joining the Miami Dolphins in 2016.
6 Adam Vinatieri
What were you doing in 1996? If you don’t quite remember, don’t feel too bad. After all, that was a long time ago. Even trying to remember what you were up to 20 years ago makes it all the more impressive when you realize that 1996 was the year that Adam Vinatieri entered the NFL. A few years after making his debut, Vinatieri made a name for himself as one of the most clutch kickers in NFL history. Whenever the New England Patriots needed a big field goal, Vinatieri delivered one. He became the team’s secret weapon and one of the most feared kickers to ever step onto the field. In 2006, Vinatieri left the New England Patriots and joined the Indianapolis Colts. He’s still there, by the way, and is still one of the best in the league.
5 Karlos Dansby
There’s something to be said for a defensive player that always contributes and almost never asks for the spotlight. That’s the basic career summary of Karlos Dansby. He entered the league as a relatively unnoticed second round pick, but quickly established himself as one of the most complete linebackers in the NFL. Dansby shut down the middle of the field during every game he played in and gave the Arizona Cardinals defense the leader it needed. After six impressive seasons, Dansby left Arizona in 2010 and became something of a journeyman. In recent years, he’s played for Miami, Arizona, and Cleveland. He was released by the Browns early in 2016 and was snatched up by Bengals later that year. Unfortunately, he didn’t really get much time to shine during the 2016 season.
4 Chad Henne
Nobody was quite sure what to make of Chad Henne when he entered the 2008 NFL Draft. In four years at Michigan, Henne engineered a few impressive seasons that nevertheless failed to earn him superstar status. Some questioned if he had what it takes to make it at the next level. The Miami Dolphins were willing to take that risk and soon found that Henne was indeed the solid, but unspectacular, quarterback that many thought he would be. Henne just never seemed to be able to manufacture the kind of complete season that every great quarterback needs to have. He lost his starting job in Miami and was picked up by the Jacksonville Jaguars shortly thereafter. Henne was again relegated to the role of backup in Jacksonville which he still serves as today.
3 Terence Newman
With the fifth pick in the 2003 NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys selected Terence Newman. What they thought they were getting was a shutdown cornerback who would one day become the best in the league. What they got instead was a consistent corner who was rarely feared in the same way that guys like Darrelle Revis were feared, but nevertheless was regularly listed as one of the 10 best corners in the league. His output diminished somewhat over the years as his injuries mounted up, and Newman was eventually cut by the Cowboys as part of some salary cap cuts. The Bengals gave him a home after that and found that Newman was still a solid, if sometimes unspectacular, contributor. Currently, Newman is a member of the Vikings.
2 Chris Johnson
In 2009, Chris Johnson shocked the football world by going off for 2,006 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns. In that moment, the controversial and charismatic figure known as “CJ2K” was born. Johnson rightfully considered himself to be the NFL’s elite running back after his career year. Those that watched him at his best found it hard to disagree. Still, Johnson was never able to quite match his best year ever again. His output was still pretty great, but Johnson’s off-the-field issues eventually inspired the Titans to waive goodbye to the freakishly good running back in 2013.
Johnson tried to recapture his magic on the New York Jets but ended up having his worst season yet. These days, Johnson serves as the number two man in Arizona but didn’t have much of a chance to show his stuff in 2016 as a mid-season injury ended his year.
1 Reggie Bush
There has never been a college athlete quite like Reggie Bush. Bush wasn’t just one of the elite college running backs of his time who once averaged 8.7 yards a carry during his Junior year, he was the kind of player that was capable of performing highlight reel plays from nearly every position on the field. Many had him pegged as a consensus number one overall pick, but instead, he ended going to New Orleans with the number two pick. Sadly, Bush never managed to recreate his brilliant college play as a member of the Saints. Bush became a high-value utility player who New Orleans was willing to get rid of following a forgetful 2010 season.
Bush then went on to have some of his best NFL years as a running back for the Dolphins, but still couldn’t hold a starting job. As a Buffalo Bill in 2016, Bush accumulated -3 rushing yards for the season.