It may be a cliché, but it is because the statement is accurate: The life of the career of a National Football League player can be rather short, and it can also be over in the blink of an eye. Any player, even the toughest and the best in the NFL, can find himself sidelined for the rest of his life if he finds himself dealing with problems that stem from brain trauma or if he suffers a serious leg injury that seriously limits what he is able to do on the field. The Sports Gods can be cruel, even to somebody who has been an ideal citizen and somebody who is one of the more respected individuals in the NFL.
There is a popular saying among those in the sports world: There is little sadder in life than wasted talent. We have seen all kinds of examples of what cannot be referred to as anything else than men who should have been at the very least top-tier NFL players who killed their own careers through random acts of stupidity or because they, for whatever reasons, thought that they were above either the law or statistics that show just how special an opportunity it is for somebody to be presented an opportunity to play in the greatest American football league on the planet.
The list of talented NFLers who killed their own careers is long, and the stories range from curious to depressing to infuriating to downright disturbing. Drugs and party lifestyles, for some, proved to be too much for some to overcome en route to having pro football careers. Other poor decisions sunk the NFL careers of other athletes who would be more fondly remembered had they been able to walk away from the league on their own terms. Last but not least are the cases of NFL players who were seemingly downright evil, men who are, as of the posting of this piece, deservedly no longer free.
15 William Green
Running back William Green was the best offensive player on the new Cleveland Browns following the team's return to the NFL in 1999. Green seemed to be a star right out of the gates in his rookie campaign, and his “Run, William, run!” jaunt to the end zone remains a famous memory for diehard fans of the Browns. Green could not keep himself out of trouble, however, and he was also involved in an ugly domestic violence incident that saw him get stabbed, according to ESPN. The former Browns running back attempted a comeback in the NFL in 2008, but he had, by then, simply lost the ability to feature for a pro team.
14 Fred Smoot
The defensive back was the supposed “steal” of the 2001 NFL Draft when he was snatched up by the Washington Redskins in the second round. Smoot, who fell in that draft because of character concerns stemmed from off-the-field issues, never lived up to the hype that he built for himself, and he was more of a headache then he was an All-Pro. His NFL career was never the same after two incidents; one being the “Love Boat” scandal that made him punchline material for late-night talk show hosts, and a car accident that occurred late in 2006, which resulted in a severely broken jaw, according to ESPN. Smoot was arrested in May 2015 after he failed to appear for a child support hearing.
13 Michael Vick
The former Atlanta Falcons quarterback did well to resurrect his career following a jail stint that was the result of the player's involvement in a dog fighting scandal, but that does not prevent Michael Vick from making this list. Vick was more than just a talented player while in Atlanta. He was the most-exciting athlete in the NFL, one worthy of being a star in “The Michael Vick Experience” advertisements and a favorite among those who used him in video games. Vick may never have won a Super Bowl had he kept himself out of trouble, but it is a shame that he wasted years of what could have been a special career.
12 Tim Tebow
Tim Tebow is more often than not on the receiving end of harsh criticism that is not justified, but the truth of the matter regarding his career is that he could have flourished as an offensive playmaker had he been willing to switch positions years ago. Michael Robinson had a successful run in the NFL when the former Penn State quarterback made the move to running back, and Tebow could have mirrored Robinson's career had the former college football star not been so stubborn about wanting to be a pro quarterback. The Philadelphia Eagles have given Tebow a chance to resurrect his career, but odds are that he won't be leading that team's offense to a Super Bowl berth anytime soon.
11 Albert Haynesworth
The defensive tackle who had made multiple Pro Bowl squads was believed to be a top free agent acquisition for the Washington Redskins in the 2009 NFL offseason. Washington gave Albert Haynesworth a contract that could have been worth over $100 million based on incentives, but it was the guaranteed money that made Haynesworth as happy as could be. He never put in adequate effort as a member of the Redskins, repeatedly showing up out of shape and seemingly happy to just sit on his money and not feature in the NFL. He is widely regarded as one of the worst free agent signings in the history of the NFL, but you can bet that does not bother the man who is very rich.
10 JaMarcus Russell
Nobody will ever know for sure if JaMarcus Russell had the goods to be a top-tier NFL quarterback, but it is undeniable that he never put himself in the position to be a true pro player at the position. Russell, a first overall pick of the Oakland Raiders, held out for more money at the start of his career, and he then famously blew up and checked in at over 300 pounds at one point. All indications are that Russell was more than content to cash NFL paychecks while never being dedicated to his cause, and some see him as the worst draft pick in the history of the league.
9 Chris Borland
Chris Borland is a unique case as a former pro athlete and as a player who is showcased in this piece. Borland was selected in the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers and had a stellar rookie season for the club. It seemed as though Borland was set to be a defensive mainstay for the club, but he then shocked the team and the NFL world when he announced out of nowhere that he was retiring as a player. Borland cited concerns about problems stemming from head trauma as the reasoning for his decision, and it is believed that he is steadfast on never again playing pro football.
8 Maurice Clarett
Maurice Clarett was a troubled young man while he was playing in college at Ohio State, and he did not reward the Denver Broncos for taking a shot on him after he was drafted by the club in the third round. Clarett arrived to the team out of shape, and he never came close to reaching high expectations had for him due in part to a lack of work ethic. His life deteriorated outside of the NFL, and he even spent time behind bars, according to ESPN. That prison sentence changed Clarett in many ways, and he has since worked hard to rehabilitate his image and to help young to-be pro athletes to not repeat mistakes that he made.
7 Chad Johnson
The former Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver was everything that fans love in a pro athlete. He was flamboyant, he did well to stand out during interviews, and he was also a talented wide receiver who made highlight-reel plays during games. Johnson, who renamed himself Chad Ochocinco (he wore No. 85) for some time, was also a massive headache for coaches, and the Bengals, New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins all cut ties with the player when those teams decided that he was not worth the trouble. The 37-year old can now only get gigs from Canadian Football League sides.
6 Trent Richardson
Once thought to be a dynamic playmaker out of the backfield, Trent Richardson has become a forgettable character worthy of being dumped by two teams. The Cleveland Browns traded Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts a year and a half into his time with that club, and the Colts ultimately demoted the former first-round pick before cutting him in 2015. Richardson's work ethic and dedication to the cause have come into question multiple times during his career, and he is looking to quiet such doubters with the Oakland Raiders. Don't hold your breaths waiting for that to happen, everybody.
5 Plaxico Burress
Plaxico Burress was on top of the world in 2008. He was responsible for the game-winning catch in the Super Bowl when the New York Giants prevented the New England Patriots from going a perfect 19-0, and Burress was, later on in the year, playing for the best team in all of the NFL that seemed destined to repeat as champions when he entered a nightclub over Thanksgiving weekend. The rest, as they say, is history. Burress infamously accidentally shot himself in the leg, he lost time off of his career and his life due to serving jail time, and he never again reclaimed the success that he had while with the Giants.
4 Ray Rice
Where the former Baltimore Ravens running back deserves to be on this list, if he does at all, depends on how much you believe Ray Rice had left in the tank as of February 2014. There were signs that Rice's body had begun to betray him even before the ugly incident that involved him knocking his then-fiancee unconscious while the two were at a casino, and no other NFL team has given Rice a shot since the Ravens cut ties with the players. While Rice has not officially retired as of the posting of this piece, it is widely believed that he has killed off his NFL career for good.
3 Rae Carruth
The Carolina Panthers hoped to have a future star when the club used a first-round draft pick to select Rae Carruth. Carruth put pen to paper on a deal that earned him millions of dollars, but those running the Panthers could not have imagined the type of person that they had acquired. His girlfriend was shot multiple times three years into Carruth's career, and the player was later found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder for that incident, according to NRLC. Carruth has not since been a free man, and he will never again have any real association with the NFL outside of what was a brief playing career.
2 Tiki Barber
He is the greatest running back in the history of the New York Giants, but Tiki Barber has also become a maligned individual among fans of that proud franchise due to his actions following his surprise retirement after the 2006 regular season. Barber had harsh words for New York head coach Tom Coughlin and for quarterback Eli Manning and an affair that he had following his playing career cost Barber his marriage, television gigs and also endorsement deals. The once talented star was unable to make a return to the field despite attempting to do so, and Barber's playing career is now over.
1 Aaron Hernandez
The New England Patriots tight end had the world in the palms of his massive hands in 2012. He was arguably the best tight end, physically speaking, in the NFL, and Aaron Hernandez had put pen to paper on a contract that was going to earn him an additional $40 million. None of us on the outside could have imagined the type of person that Hernandez actually was, a sociopath who was capable of, according to the legal process, murdering at least one man. While there is sorrow to be felt about somebody with such talent now being incarcerated until he breathes one last time, the ultimate shame is that at least one person is no longer with us because of actions taken by Hernandez.
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