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.
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.
During those six seasons as a Viking, Allen obliterated quarterbacks for a total of 85.5 sacks. The merciless cowboy was at the peak of his game, but only enjoyed stardom for a minimal amount of time. The Chicago Bears picked Allen up in 2014, and despite coming off an 11.5 sack season in his final year in Minnesota, his production sharply dropped, ending with a measly 5.5 sacks for his two seasons with the team (and 2 sacks in his final season as a Carolina Panther).
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.
However, overshadowed by a slew of injuries and head trauma, Morgan failed to stay healthy and ended up playing in only limited games. In his last two seasons playing in the league, Morgan managed to step on the playing field for only four games. A sad finish for a player with that much potential.
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.
He then parted ways with the Rams in favor of the high-flying Atlanta Falcons in hopes that he would finally get a chance to play for a legitimate contender. The experiment never panned out the way Jackson wanted it to and he ended up suffering a dip in production and ultimately fell out of the league until the New England Patriots picked him up for running back depth.
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.
Doubts about his age and ability soon came into question after starting the year at a slower than usual pace. His lack of production continued throughout the 2015 season, and Johnson, who will turn 35 in July, finished with pedestrian numbers. Sources have said Johnson wants to suit up for the 2016 season, but it won't be with the Colts, who have now released him.
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.
However, as successful as his career was, he also became the "poster boy" for concussions. With at least six documented concussions during his career, Welker took hit after hit, to the point where he even wore a specially-designed padded helmet to prevent further damage to his already beaten and bruised brain. His latest stint in the NFL only produced 13 receptions for 102 yards.
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.
However, once Foles became a Ram, everything that could've possibly gone wrong for the 27-year-old did. He barely threw over 200 yards per game, something that he easily accomplished back in Philly. He even barely managed to throw touchdown passes. Eventually, enough was enough and Foles was benched for backup quarterback Case Keenum. With the way he's currently playing you've got to think, how did this guy even put together that stellar 2013 season in the first place?
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.
His outstanding 2010 season, where he recorded 15 receiving touchdowns, made fans believe that he was going to become the next elite receiver in the NFL. His 2011 season wasn't too shabby either. Two consecutive seasons eclipsing over 1,000+ yards without a doubt seemed promising. But then, things started to go downhill. During his 2012 and 2013 seasons, Bowe put up pedestrian numbers until he was finally released and picked up by the Cleveland Browns. Their optimism quickly turned into regret when Bowe finished off the 2015 season with a mere five catches and 53 yards.
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.
After showing strides in his rookie year, the former Heisman trophy winner became the face of the Washington Redskins. That glimmer of hope that would bring the team out of obscurity and into the race to win it all. Then, it all ended in shambles. You might remember that gruesome injury that he took against the Ravens' Haloti Ngata. Injury after injury, along with questionable decisions by head coach Mike Shanahan, ultimately put a halt to his greatness. The jury is still out on this one, but Griffin will soon get the chance to prove himself on a new team.
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.
Up until the 2012 season, Vick was an immensely dangerous weapon in the running game. He then began to suffer a decline in both efficiency and athleticism, which earned him a nod to the bench. He's never been the same player since, putting up only average numbers at best. It's hard to imagine Vick leading the charge on another team ever again.
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?
Even Browns team captain, offensive lineman Joe Thomas, stated that the relationship between Hillis and the Browns was "toxic".
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.
His rapid deceleration came at the hands of what you may consider an identity crisis. The full-blown egotistical attitude that he started to display during the late Mike Sherman-era only added fuel to his uncanny decline. It didn't help that his off-the-field antics practically separated him from the team either. Nonetheless, Favre ultimately began to fade in to the darkness. His once hall-of-fame stats were reduced to petty numbers due to a combination poor play and the Father Time's unrelenting grasp.
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.
It's hard not to shudder when you think back on Asomugha's career. Game after game you would watch him completely lock down his match-up. To go from that, to watching him get torched play after play is just completely mind-blowing. How could this happen is such a short span?
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.
In his final three seasons, Woods gave everything he could to prove that he belonged in the league, but it just wasn't enough. After the end of the 1991 season, Woods was released from the Bengals, abruptly ending his career. Look on the bright side though, at least he's "gonna get some cold cuts today".
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.
For a leader that once carried the team on his shoulders, Peyton is as good as done in the league. And, by adding another Super Bowl win to his already impressive resume, he may finally be able to ride off into the sunset.
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.