Everyone is familiar with suspensions in the NFL. Every year there are always a number of players banned, but usually only a couple of them are notable. Yet, this season is far worse than anything we have seen recently. If you took all the suspended players and made a team with them, they'd likely do pretty well.
For fans, this is the most frustrating part of the game. Everyone is numb to seeing their favorite players miss games without notice, as injuries have always plagued the NFL. Despite having the same effect, suspensions carry a very different feeling. This is because they are completely avoidable. There are only a handful of reasons a player gets suspended and none of them are acceptable.
The first is the NFL's most common - performance-enhancing drugs. NFLers don't get as much criticism as athletes in other sports do for PED use. This is largely because the NFL doesn't release information on what exactly the player took. As a result, many athletes have claimed they used very mild drugs. It makes fans think the NFL is just being overly strict. They could easily be lying about it, but will always get the benefit of the doubt.
The second is substance abuse - using illegal drugs or going overboard with alcohol. While some believe the NFL shouldn't punish players for this, it doesn't change the fact that players need to respect the rule while it's in place. Giving up drugs and controlling your drinking is a small price to pay for your career. It is incredibly disappointing to see a talented athlete disagree.
The last one is suspensions for dangerous on-the-field plays. Everyone will remember the absurdity last season between Odell Beckham and Josh Norman. It's entertaining to see players get into a rivalry and go at it. When they start trying to injure each other, the fun dies incredibly quickly.
Here are the NFL's top 15 players who will be watching opening week from their couch, just like the rest of us.
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15 Johnny Manziel
Johnny Manziel got a lot of criticism for his performance at the NFL level. Part of it came from the fact that many felt he was severely overdrafted in 2012. His poor rookie season seemed to confirm those beliefs. He went on to only start two games and was pitiful.
In his second season, he showed a significant amount of improvement. He only started six games, but recorded 1,500 passing yards, 7 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions. They weren't eye popping numbers, but it was something to build on. Yet, he was already written off as someone who didn't have what it takes to succeed at the NFL level. It's very hard to undo first impressions.
Unfortunately, no team is willing to deal with him. He's been getting into constant off the field trouble and simply isn't worth the trouble. He's facing a four game suspension for violating the substance abuse policy, but that won't kick in until he signs with a team - if he ever manages to sign with a team. It's a sad thing to say given that he had real potential to develop into something.
14 Jalen Collins
Jalen Collins struggled mightily in his rookie season. He did find some success towards the end of the season as the team's nickel. Though, no one is going to draft a slot corner in the second round. He still needs to progress significantly in order to live up to expectations but it's a decent starting point.
Collin was looking to jump into the season and quickly regain the trust of both the coaching staff and the fans. Unfortunately, violating the performance-enhancing substance policy and getting banned for the first 4 games is not a good way of doing that.
You can't write a player off after his rookie season. Though, many fans are understandably pessimistic. He had character concerns going into the draft, performed poorly in his first season, and now received a suspension. You can be sure the Falcons would not make the same choice again if they had a do-over, but there is still a very realistic chance Collins comes back from this.
13 Rolando McClain
Prior to the 2014 season, Dallas appeared to be in bad shape. There defense was already sub-par and they had just lost many of their top defense players due to salary cap issues, notably star edge rusher DeMarcus Ware.
To remedy the situation, they traded for linebacker Rolando McClain. He was the 8th overall pick in 2010, but had played very little. In fact, he was retired at the time Dallas traded for him. It resulted in them being the laughing stock of the offseason.
To the surprise of nearly everyone, the trade actually worked out. McClain came back and was a reliable piece in the middle of the Cowboys' defense. Against all odds, the team ended up making it to the playoffs. He came back in 2015 and was still solid for the team.
However, McClain has just been suspended for the first 10 games of the 2016 season for violating the substance abuse policy. This is highly concerning for a player who has been in and out of the league as much as McClain. It's a big blow to a team with little defensive depth.
12 Aaron Colvin
Leading up to the 2014 NFL draft, Aaron Colvin was considered to be a second round pick, with potential to go in the first. The corner had solid one on one coverage skills, tackling ability, and leadership. An unfortunate injury caused his stock to drop significantly and he ended up going in the fourth round to the Jaguars.
So far he has been a solid piece on Jacksonville's defense with great potential. There were many fans expecting to see him take the leap this year. It would have been the perfect time for it.
There's still potential for it to happen, but his four game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances is not the ideal way to start off. It's a disappointment for the team. His absence is something they will notice.
11 Karlos Williams
Karlos Williams surprised many last season. Despite being a fifth round rookie, he managed to take a few carries away from LeSean McCoy. He only played in 11 games, but managed to get over 500 yards and 7 touchdowns on the ground while being the backup.
However, this offseason is off to a poor start for Williams. He violated the league's policy on substance abuse and will miss the first four games. Due to LeSean McCoy's injury history, the team went out and acquired running back Reggie Bush. Now when he comes back, he'll have serious competition for the number two role.
There have been some reports this off0season that the team is looking to trade Williams. Given that he is suspended for substance abuse, it's hard to imagine the running back generating a lot of interest from around the league.
10 Randy Gregory
Randy Gregory was one of the top edge rushers in the 2015 draft class. He could have easily been a top ten pick, but fell to the second round due to concerns over his character and intelligence. Most notably, he had failed his drug test at the combine. It is an event that takes place at the same time every year and everyone knows they're going to be drug tested. It should be the easiest thing in the world to pass.
The Cowboys scooped him up and many claimed it to be one of the biggest steals in the draft. However, we're beginning to see why so many general managers decided to pass on him a year ago. Gregory is currently banned for the Cowboys' first four games, though there is concern among the team that the suspension will be increased to 14 games. It would be a disastrous blow to a team that is already dealing with numerous suspensions and injuries.
9 Will Hill
Entering college, Will Hill was the nation's top safety prospect. His play lived up to the hype as well, as he was stand out athlete at Florida. He could have easily gone in the first two rounds of the 2012 draft had he not had so many character concerns. Instead, he went undrafted.
He was picked up by the Giants and showed a lot of talent when on the field. As soon as he became a starter, he emerged as one of the league's better safeties. He had almost unlimited potential.
Unfortunately, he couldn't stay out of trouble. He kicked off his rookie season with a four game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs. He followed up on it in 2013 with another four game ban, this time for violating the substance abuse policy. In 2014, the Giants gave up on him after he received his third suspension in as many years.
The Ravens decided to give the talented safety a shot this past year. For the first time in his career, he played an entire 16 game season. That was short lived though, as several months ago he received a 10 game suspension for yet again violating one of the league's drug policies.
Baltimore decided to release him in March and it's hard to see any team ever deciding to give him another shot.
8 Aaron Lynch
The 49ers experienced a devastating drain of talent several years ago, one that the team still hasn't recovered from. A silver lining is that it has allowed several young stars an opportunity to step up.
One of those players is Aaron Lynch, a fifth round pick in 2014. The edge rusher recorded an impressive 6 sacks in his rookie season and followed up on it in 2015 with 6.5. Pro Football Focus graded him as the 8th most effective edge rusher in the NFL, ahead of Tamba Hali and Ezekiel Ansah.
Unfortunately, Lynch's four game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy will leave a noticeably hole in San Francisco's defense. They will have to rely on Ahmad Brooks and Eli Harold to do the heavy lifting for the first quarter of the season. While many teams have worse edge rusher situations, a 32 year old former star and a 2015 3rd round pick is not the ideal tandem.
7 DeMarcus Lawrence
DeMarcus Lawrence is a standout player on Dallas' defensive line. He's insanely fast off the edge and excels at generating pressure. He missed most of the 2014 season due to injury, so 2015 was his real debut and he made the absolute most of it. As good as he was last season, he still has a lot of room to grow.
Unfortunately, he was slapped with a four game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs. The team's first two opponents are division rivals as well, the New York Giants and the Washington Redskins. Every game in the NFL matters immensely, but division games much more so. Lawrence's impact will be sorely missed.
When he comes back, he can be expected to be one of the featured players on the team. If he stays out of trouble, it won't be long before his name gets thrown around with the league's best.
6 Vontaze Burfict
Vontaze Burfect has had a strange ride in the NFL. Leading up to the 2012 draft, he was as high as number two overall on some big boards. A terrible combine and growing character concerns caused him to fall of draft boards completely. The Bengals picked him up as an undrafted free agent.
He immediately earned the starting job and became an impact player at linebacker. In 2013, he went to the Pro Bowl and was named a second team All-Pro. In 2014, he signed a four year contract extension worth $19 million.
He has been considered one of the biggest steals in recent memory and has been used as an example of teams overrating character issues and combine results. However, last year's playoff game between the Steelers and Bengals showed the other side of the argument.
Vontaze Burfict handed the game to Pittsburgh on a silver platter when he laid a dirty hit on Antonio Brown with less than 20 seconds left. It set the Steelers up for an easy field goal and got the Bengals linebacker a three game ban to start the 2016 season.
5 Aldon Smith
Aldon Smith was once one of the most feared pass rushers in the league. He began his career as the seventh overall pick in 2011. He went on to have an unbelievable rookie season, recording 14 sacks. He followed it up with 19.5 sacks the next year.
However, over the past several years, Smith has been repeatedly getting into legal trouble. The latest bit came in August of last year where he was accused of a hit-and-run, vandalism, and driving under the influence. Three months later, he received a one year suspension by the NFL for violating the substance abuse policy.
The Raiders are confident the star edge rusher can still make a comeback. Several months after receiving his punishment, the team signed him to a two year deal worth up to $11.5 million. If it works out, they may just have the best pass rushing combo in the NFL, between Smith and Khalil Mack. However, the former 49ers stand out has to stay out of trouble to make that work.
Smith will come off his suspension midway through the season in November, but still has to apply for reinstatement. He's reportedly just re-entered rehab, so it remains to be seen if he'll be reinstated.
4 Martavis Bryant
Antonio Brown has provided the Steelers with a strong, number one option in the passing game over the past several years. He has come a very long way since being a sixth round pick back in 2010.
In 2015, the team was looking for a proper compliment to Brown. They were hoping either Markus Wheaton or Martavis Bryant could set up. They were both mid round selections in 13' and 14' respectively. You can find a long list of stars that were third or fourth round picks, but the success rate is still rather low. It came as a pleasant surprise when both players excelled.
Bryant came out as the better player though and everyone had him penciled in as the number two heading into 2016. Wheaton was expected to leave in free agency in 2017. However, things have quickly changed becayse Bryant has received his second suspension in two years for violating the league's policy on substance abuse. The violation carries a one year suspension.
Now it's hard to say what the future holds for Bryant. It's hard to see the team committing to a player with so much off-the-field trouble, especially with a capable replacement.
3 Sheldon Richardson
Sheldon Richardson was one of the few stars to come out of the 2013 draft. He has been one of the best 3-4 ends in the NFL. He also makes up one of the most dominate defensive lines alongside Muhammad Wilkerson and Leonard Williams.
Richardson has one of the more unique suspensions on the list. Officially, he's suspended for violating the personal conduct policy. What he did was get involved in a high-speed road race during the offseason. According to the police, he was going 143 miles per hour. In addition, he resisted arrest and had a 12 year old in the car.
Richardson's plea deal involved a large fine and a lot of community service hours. The punishment he received from the NFL was a one game suspension to start the year. It's worth noting he received four games last year for smoking marijuana.
2 Josh Gordon
Josh Gordon is among the league's most talented receivers. In 2013, he led the NFL in receiving yards despite playing only 14 games. Unfortunately, he's undergone a very sharp decline ever since. He only played a handful of games in 2014 and was suspended for the entire duration of the 2015 season.
It appeared that his career was done for after he failed a drug test back in March. However, after applying for reinstatement in late July, Goodell decided to give him another shot; perhaps his last. The condition is that he'll be suspended for the first four games of the season.
This is very good news for the Browns, who desperately needed an elite offensive weapon. The team already had some nice players in place, Corey Coleman and Joe Thomas notably, but Gordon was the missing piece. At just 25 years old, Gordon still has plenty of time to get his career back on track.
1 Tom Brady
Tom Brady has won four Super Bowls, two MVPs, and named a First Team All-Pro twice. He may just be the greatest quarterback of all time when it's all said and done. Players like Brady don't often get suspended - in any sport.
His four game suspension was part of his punishment for the Deflategate scandal that dominated headlines. After a long battle in the U.S. court system, the decision to keep the suspension in place was upheld. Brady had the option of taking the battle to the Supreme Court, but thankfully decided to let issue come to a conclusion.
For the Patriots, it's an opportunity to test out their 2014 second round pick, Jimmy Garoppolo. With Brady nearing the end of his career, it will be interesting to see if New England has their next starter lined up. Four games won't be enough to answer that question, but it will give us a look at his potential.
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