An NFL player's tremendous fall from grace can be attributed to a variety of things, from off-the-field issues to brutal injuries. Spectacular careers can be inexplicably ruined in the blink of an eye, and at times, there is very little that these players can do about it. It's hard to watch. Yet, we as avid sports fans still do. We grit our teeth when we see a completely catch-able ball helplessly bounce off their once-reliable hands, or sigh in frustration when our former iron-arm captain zips a pass right into the mitts of the defender. While they were once revered as resilient players in their prime, have now become shades of their former selves.
However, with tragedy comes triumph. Their departure leaves the door open for the next man up. Each year, a handful of ambitious, young players look to climb the depth chart to plant themselves in that coveted starter position. The youth movement is here to stay, and it continues to place pressure on performing at high levels year after year. After all, it definitely is not easy to maintain a lasting career in the NFL. Longevity has no doubt become a rarity in today's league, just ask the pool of players that are still looking to find a home on a team's 53-man roster. Teams want what they believe to be are the best available, which is why there is, and will always be constant player circulation. According to the NFLPA, the average career length for an NFL player is roughly 3.3 years. Early retirement, even when a player is still healthy, is also an emerging trend, as players like Patrick Willis, Calvin Johnson and Marshawn Lynch have walked away from the game with plenty left in the tank, but don't want to hang on for too long or pay a heavy price later on.
This list will cover some of the most productive players that suffered a tremendous drop in production due to injury, age or other factors. Although most of them still remain household names for their contributions to the league, they will also fondly be remembered for their statistical decline.
12 Jared Allen
The former defensive pass rusher began his career in a Kansas City Chiefs uniform. As a rookie, he started 10 games and notched nine sacks. He would then continue to flourish in the Chiefs' defensive schemes, amassing a total of 43 sacks in four seasons. Allen would then sign a six-year, $73.3 million deal with Minnesota where he would take his career to whole new heights.
People tend to forget how productive Dan Morgan was. His sideline-to-sideline plays made him an unstoppable force at linebacker. If it weren't for the numerous concussions that he received throughout his career, he would've went on to become one of the greatest players in his class.
11 Steven Jackson
The former bruising running back built a career out of punishing defenders that dared to face him head-on. Drafted out of Oregon State, Jackson became one of the most productive running backs in the NFL during his Rams tenure. Jackson eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards in eight out of nine seasons with the Rams and gave everything he could to help push them into playoff contention.
The hardened wide receiver played 12 seasons for the Houston Texans. After producing stellar numbers and playing the role of first-string receiver for a team that was going absolutely nowhere, he decided to move on to greener pastures and joined the Indianapolis Colts in 2015.
10 Wes Welker
Welker's story is definitely a bittersweet one. With a work ethic comparable to few others, Welker spent his entire career proving doubters wrong. After all, it's hard to imagine many 5'9, 185 pound wide receivers make a lasting career in the NFL (Steve Smith is the exception). With a chip on his shoulder and an undying love for the sport, Welker proceeded to excel at his position and earned his spots on the Miami Dolphins, , New England Patriots, Denver Broncos and now the Los Angeles Rams.
9 Nick Foles
When the Rams picked up the former Eagle gunslinger, they thought they had the crown of all jewels within their grasp. They secured a second-round pick and they got rid of the inconsistent and injury-prone Sam Bradford. When you take a look at what Foles accomplished during his tenure at Philadelphia, you can't deny that it was impressive. In his 2013 campaign, he threw for nearly 3,000 yards with a monstrous 27 touchdowns to 2 interceptions.
8 Dwayne Bowe
When the Chiefs picked Bowe up in the first round of the 2007 NFL Draft (no.23 overall), he immediately made an impact. His solid route running along with his strong ability to go up and snatch the ball out of the year made him one of the most productive receivers in Chiefs history.
7 Robert Griffin III
While RG3's criticism has been unwarranted at times, the statistics still don't lie. The Baylor product came out guns blazing during his rookie season back in 2012, passing for over 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns. As dangerous as he was zipping the ball down the field, Griffin found much success in the running game also, scrambling for 826 yards and 7 touchdowns.
6 Michael Vick
Michael Vick's career was defined by his unbelievable athleticism and speed. His tenure with the Falcons and the Eagles showcased what type of versatile and agile specimen he was. Although never known for his pocket passing abilities, his ground game was a work of art. You can even say that Vick was a running back decoying as a quarterback. Week after week jaws would drop while he flawlessly seamed through defenders all the way to the end zone.
5 Peyton Hillis
Hillis' career still puzzles people to this day. His breakout 2010 season turned him into a superstar, even gracing him to be on the cover of the Madden game.
Life was great for Hillis. Browns fans loved him, he worked his way up to become a starter, and he was putting up consistent numbers. Then it all came tumbling down. To say that his dramatic conclusion to his career wasn't soap opera-worthy is just ridiculous. A slew of contract disputes, injuries, and distractions ended up claiming Hillis' career.
For Pete's sake, in his second year (in Denver) there were even claims that he was inappropriately hitting on former coach Josh McDaniels' wife. Really?
4 Brett Favre
The iconic Brett Favre had one of the most productive careers in the NFL. His humble personality, strong leadership qualities, and undeniably high football IQ made him "the man" in Green Bay. Who could deny that? His dazzling career numbers were nothing short of greatness after all.
3 Nnamdi Asomugha
Known as one of the biggest free agent signings by the Philadelphia Eagles back in 2011, Nnamdi Asomugha can be considered as one of the worst pickups in Eagles history. The cornerback made his mark during his Oakland career by shutting down the most elite receivers with a refined technique that few could match. Turns out he couldn't bring that same intensity to a secondary that needed it most. He ultimately proved to be a huge bust and even ended up losing his job as a consequence.
2 Ickey Woods
Elbert L. "Ickey" Woods is known more for his "Ickey Shuffle" rather than his utter short career. The former one-hit wonder fell into obscurity after a tumultuous four seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals. Once thought to be the next great runner of the decade, Woods suffered a devastating knee injury during the second game of the 1989 season. From there, nothing seemed to go right for the embattled running back.
Anyone that has ever followed the NFL knows that Peyton Manning is one of the all-time greats. His records and accolades have more than enough proof to confirm that. However, his rapid logistical regression is the reason why he landed on his list.
No football fan can deny witnessing the dramatic decline of the former strong-armed quarterback. When you think of the guy, you're either hit with nostalgic memories of his glory days back on the Colts, or his most recent seasons where he struggled to even release the ball 15 to 20 yards.
1 Albert Haynesworth
There are a ton of things that can be said about Mr. Haynesworth. From the curb-side stomp on Andrew Gurode to his nonchalant attitude that drew countless criticism, the two-time Pro Bowler was just asking for the door. Labeled as one of the worst contract signings in all of NFL history, Haynesworth's decline in production was attributed to a foul attitude and the failure to stay at a reasonable weight.
It's humiliating to be the face of free agency failure. With all the glory that the league brings --not to mention the money-- you'd at least think that someone would put in more effort than what Haynesworth contributed during his final seasons. After flaming out of the league, and rightfully so, Haynesworth didn't find much success in his personal life either, constantly burdening himself with legal issues. A disgraceful end for a disgraceful player -- what a shame.
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