There are many vices that have threatened to ruin the careers of highly touted NFL players. Whether it’s an addiction to alcohol, drugs or gambling within the sport, these can be thought of as self-inflicting wounds. However, there are times when players are misused by the organization that drafted them and most often, coaches are the ones to blame. Careers have gone into a downward spiral due to mismanagement, as college football stars are not nurtured and groomed for a particular role. When players are immediately thrust into the limelight, the reality of stepping foot onto the biggest stage and upper echelon of professional sports may be too much to handle.
With the current NFL playbook providing endless opportunities to select plays and schemes, there is also an increased risk of mismanagement by coaches. The pressure to win and succeed in the NFL is immense and there is virtually no room for error. One mistake, one injury or one infraction both on and off the field will end a career in this day and age. The value of an NFL player to each individual coach is very subjective in nature and the cutthroat approach deployed by coaches provides football players with a small window of opportunity. In essence, coaches are hired to eventually be fired and management across the NFL is not patient with coaching staffs across the league. In acts of desperation, coaches sometimes don’t allow for players to grow and develop in good stead. In turn, this is the beginning of the end for many great football players who transition from college to the NFL.
College players who have gone on to win the Heisman trophy for their exceptional qualities on the field do not always garner success on the professional stage of the NFL. Oftentimes, this is due to vices which hamper their mental and physical abilities on the gridiron. On the flip side, careers are also mired in turmoil due to extraneous sources such as managerial liability and negligent use of an individual’s talent. Could it be the scheme packages and play calls that are not adapted to the player’s skillset that cause their demise? What about the inept aptitude of coaches in their ability to manage player personnel? Whatever the case may be, NFL coaches have readily been the main culprits in the tailspin of careers that once looked promising. The list of players who have had their professional careers tarnished by management is endless, but here are 15 of the highest profile cases.
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15 Lawrence Phillips
While Phillips deserves a lot of blame for where his life has gone, better management could have changed his trajectory. One of the best running backs to step onto the field for the Nebraska Cornhuskers, Lawrence Phillips had a career that began to take a turn for the worse from his early college days. In 1995, Phillips rushed all over Michigan State in the Spartans home opener and looked to be on a path to stardom. However, that same evening, Phillips assaulted his girlfriend and was never reprimanded by coach Tom Osbourne.
Dick Vermeil and the St. Louis brass took the calculated risk and drafted Phillips 10th overall in the NFL draft. However, after flashes of brilliance, the running back was exiled from the Rams after several alleged assault cases against him. One can make a case that Phillips' first experiences with Nebraska and St. Louis should’ve made him into a star. Conversely, his career and livelihood was ruined by management who never mentored, disciplined and supported the troubled player in all of his endeavors.
14 Robert Gallery
An all-American offensive tackle, Robert Gallery had an eight year NFL career that was hampered by inconsistent management. A no.2 overall pick by the Oakland Raiders, Gallery was drafted to be the dominant left tackle that he was at Iowa. However, under Raiders coach Tom Cable, Gallery was converted into a guard. Gallery had some decent years in front of the black hole faithful, but he never tapped into his full potential.
Al Davis, the Raiders owner at the time, was never satisfied with his coaching staff and Gallery played under Art Shell, Cable and Lane Kiffin. The coaching carousel in Oakland resulted in Gallery being misused in a position he did not get drafted to play in and the change in personnel also resulted in different blocking schemes for the gifted Gallery.
13 Ken MacAfee
One of the best tight ends to ever grace college football, Ken MacAfee was in contention for the Heisman. Drafted by the 49ers, MacAfee played the tight end position for two years and did not show any glimpses of brilliance. In his third year, the 49ers coaching staff and management decided that it was time for MacAfee to change position. Thus, the 49ers asked the former Notre Dame standout to become a guard and relinquish the tight end spot.
MacAfee was appalled by the suggested move and not only did he reject the proposal, MacAfee quit football to pursue a career in dentistry due to the managerial antics of the 49ers.
12 Brady Quinn
Dubbed as the savior for the Cleveland Browns franchise, Brady Quinn underwhelmed in the biggest of stages. After breaking 36 college records at Notre Dame, Quinn had an unremarkable professional career in Cleveland. In 2009, Quinn won the role of starting quarterback for the Browns, but after three uninspiring performances to start the season, head coach Eric Mangini benched Quinn in favor of Derek Anderson despite the offensive unit struggling as a whole.
Late in the season, Quinn regained the starting gig and posted impressive QB ratings of 133.1 and 95.7 in the last two games of the regular season. Unfortunately, this was a case of too little, too late as Quinn was traded to Denver and faded in obscurity. For a Cleveland franchise that seems as if it was always struggling, perhaps cutting ties with Quinn after his end of season performances was the final dagger in his attempt to establish himself as a legitimate NFL player.
11 Huey Richardson
Huey Richardson could simply be the most confounding draft day pick in the history of the NFL. Imagine being selected by default by a team devoid of ideas and backup plans. This was the case for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1991 draft as they had the 15th selection and the top three players they had on their queue had been selected with picks 11 through 13. Enter Huey Richardson as a last second contingency plan.
Tom Donahue who was responsible for football operations in Pittsburgh selected Richardson in a panicked move. Richardson was a defensive end in college but the Steelers felt he was undersized and deployed him as a linebacker. The organization was never prepared to have Huey in the locker room and never considered him prior to the draft. Richardson’s career started off with an aura of not belonging and this is the main reason he didn’t thrive in the steel city.
10 Gary Beban
A Heisman trophy winner back in 1967 with the UCLA Bruins, Gary Beban’s NFL career as a QB was over before it even started. Although, Heisman winners are usually high profile draft picks, Beban was taken in the second round by the Los Angeles Rams. The Rams management and Beban were at odds in contract talks and nothing concrete ever materialized.
As a result, Beban’s rights were traded to the Washington Redskins, where played second fiddle to future Hall of Famer Sunny Jurgensen. Beban was moved to wide receiver in Washington and provided little to no spark for the Redskins offense. What seemed to be a promising career from the solid foundation that was laid out in UCLA, Beban’s career is just a footnote and another causality of the inefficiency of management.
9 E.J. Manuel
As a rookie, E.J. Manuel had the fourth highest passer rating in NFL history for a rookie QB through the first three games. His reward? Coach Doug Marrone stripped the young play caller of the ability to pass on early downs after three weeks. With Manuel on the field, the Buffalo Bills had the most handoffs on early downs than any other team in the league. The training wheels were never taken off the E.J. Manuel experiment in Buffalo and his development was hindered by a coaching staff that was reluctant to trust the 16th overall pick of the 2013 draft.
In the 2014 season, E.J. was relegated to the backup role in favor of Kyle Orton as the Bills finally opened up the playbook on early downs. It is quite puzzling to think about how a team could invest so heavily on a QB like Manuel and not put their utmost trust in his abilities. This was the case with Doug Marrone and his coaching staff.
8 Terry Baker
Another case of a player with subliminal abilities that wasn’t given the opportunity to truly showcase his talent. The Los Angeles Rams drafted Baker in 1963 as a long term solution at quarterback. Baker was a standout at Oregon State, winning the Heisman and earning accolades from Sports Illustrated as “Sportsman of the Year.” The Rams only used him sparingly in his three seasons as Baker completed 12 of 21 passes as a QB.
Baker spent most of his playing days with the Rams as a running back and that experiment flopped. It is quite confounding that an organization like the Rams selected the best college quarterback in the country only to limit his snaps and convert him into a running back at the professional level.
7 Johnny Manziel
Despite his struggles and celebrity lifestyle off the field, Johnny Manziel has shown some flashes of brilliance for the Cleveland Browns at the QB position. However, for a number of years, the Cleveland front office has laid the foundation for a QB of Manziel’s reputation to fail. Johnny Football has the talent to turn the Browns franchise into a respectable team.
On the other hand, the Browns knew that there was significant risk in drafting Manziel, as the playbook at Texas A&M was only a fraction of the NFL playbook. The Browns named Manziel the starting QB for the rest of 2015 season midway through the year, only to consign him to third string in the subsequent weeks. In addition, coach Mike Pettine has admitted that the Browns might not retain Manziel’s services in 2016. Not the way an organization should nurture a player that they invested in despite knowing the risk involved.
6 Rashaan Salaam
A former first round draft pick of the Chicago Bears, Rashaan Salaam was cut at the tender age of 23. Rashaan had an innate athletic ability as a running back, but his work ethic and lifestyle choices were the detriments of his career. As a rookie, Salaam rushed for over 1,000 yards and his subsequent demise, where he amassed only 610 yards on the ground for the rest of his career is quite frustrating.
Salaam had endless potential and an abundance of talent, but his lack of discipline was his downfall. The onus must be partially placed with the management and coaching staff of the Bears. As a 20-year-old with all that talent in his first year, all Salaam needed was that one nurturing and motivational figure to enter his life and spur him on to success. The Chicago Bears could not provide this.
5 Colin Kaepernick
Colin Kaepernick has had his career shred to pieces by the 49ers management as several coaches were lost and significant pieces of the offense dismantled either through trades or managerial negligence. Kaepernick has won four playoff games and posted QB ratings over 90 in the 2012 and 2013 seasons before regressing significantly in 2014 and 2015.
Throughout all of his hardships, Kaepernick has lost personnel and the roster has markedly lost talent on offense. In addition, Kaepernick took this past offseason to work on his craft with Kurt Warner and the 49ers had yet to announce an offensive coordinator for the season. In essence, Kap was working on his mechanics without any knowledge of the playbook and offense that he would run in 2015.
4 Eric Crouch
In college, Eric Crouch was an outstanding quarterback for the Nebraska Cornhuskers establishing himself as dual threat as a player who could run or throw to wreak havoc on opposing defenses. The St. Louis Rams and coach Mike Martz drafted the talented Crouch as a wide receiver, deeming him too small to play QB at the professional level. Although Crouch was under the tutelage of some great wide receivers in St. Louis like Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce, Crouch voiced his displeasure of changing positions.
Crouch lost the passion for the sport due to the switch and people doubting his ability. In hindsight, the NFL of today has integrated a lot of option quarterbacks that are seen as ‘undersized’ and Crouch would’ve had the opportunity to flourish in this day and age.
3 David Carr
Selected 1st overall by the Houston Texans in the 2002 NFL draft, quarterback David Carr was thrown to the wolves in his rookie season. There was very little room for development in his rookie season, as Texans management put together one of the worst offensive lines in recent history. Carr was sacked 76 times, which resulted in the rookie QB fumbling the ball on 21 occasions. In addition, Carr did not have quality running backs or wide receivers and this was a detriment to his play.
Carr was dubbed as the franchise QB of the Texans and management invested so heavily in his stock, yet neglected the personnel surrounding him. As a result, the Texans failed Carr before they could ever reap the benefits of his skill and ability to play in the NFL.
2 Tim Tebow
Tim Tebow has been heavily scrutinized by former teammates, coaches and members of the media for his lack of talent and ineptitude as a QB in the NFL. As a member of the Denver Broncos, Tebow led an improbable playoff run in 2011, but since then, his playing career went into a downward spiral.
In Denver, it is reported that Tebow was purposely allowed to complete passes by defenders in practice in an effort to boost his confidence. Furthermore, when he got traded to the Jets, Tebow was either on the bench or involved in some WildCat formations on the field. Subsequently, Tebow was asked to reinvent himself as a tight end and seemingly refused. The media sideshow that followed Tebow around and the way he was handled by his coaching staff wherever he played are contributing factors to his lack of development.
1 Robert Griffin III
RGIII is a lock for the no.1 spot on this list. His career was ruined by the Washington Redskins like no other. RGIII was drafted in 2012 and led the Redskins to the playoffs while earning a spot in the Pro Bowl in his rookie season. The Redskins started off on the wrong foot by drafting Kirk Cousins in the same draft as RGIII, thus signaling their lack of faith in his ability to succeed. In addition, the Redskins rushed RGIII back into a starting role after an initial LCL sprain in the knee which led to further damage as Griffin tore his ACL, LCL and meniscus a few weeks after the initial injury in a playoff game.
So what do the Redskins and coach Mike Shanahan do in the following season? They rush Griffin back into starting without the QB taking any reps in preseason. The number of reasons as to how the Redskins ruined the career of Robert Griffin III is abundant and for this purpose, he is the unanimous choice as the one player who has single handedly had his career ruined by management.
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