The NFL has been home to some of the most talented athletes in the history of sports. These are men who are capable of not only being some of the strongest men on earth, but who are also quick and agile. From a very early age, players eat, sleep and breathe the sport in order to become the best player they can be and realize their dreams of making it to the NFL. Some players work harder than others, while others rely almost solely on natural talent to get by.
However, in order to achieve maximum success at a high level such as the NFL, a good work ethic and hard work are absolutely required. Oftentimes, player’s work ethics aren’t called into question until it’s far too late and a team has already invested time and money into them. This means that players with a ton of natural talent and questionable work ethic can succeed and thrive at the high school and college level, but once they get to the NFL level where everyone is top notch, issues with their work ethic comes to the forefront. When it does, these players are often outed as “slackers,” which is a term that no professional athlete wants to be associated with. Oftentimes, talent itself is not enough to succeed in the NFL as evidence by the individuals on this list.
Talent can be potentially wasted in a number of different ways ranging from things such as work ethic concerns, legal troubles, injuries or just plain stupidity. This list will feature individuals that had the world at their fingertips, but squandered it away due to a variety of the issue listed above. Read on and enjoy reminiscing about what could’ve been if these players had reached their true potential.
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15 Adam "Pacman" Jones
“Pacman” was a highly touted cornerback with West Virginia and was thought by many to be one of the best athletes in college football, largely due to his explosive speed and agility. He ended up being taken 6th overall in the 2005 NFL Draft by the Tennessee Titans. His fall from grace began almost immediately as contract disputes and numerous off field incidents led to animosity between the Titans and himself. Over the next few years, there would be many more arrests which ultimately led him to be suspended for the entire 2007 season and a portion of the 2008 season. He's turned into a solid player for the Bengals, but if he was focused from the get go, he could've been an all-time great at the position.
14 Charles Rogers
In retrospect, Charles Rogers was destined to fail right from the jump. He was a brilliant college player and unanimous All-American at Michigan State. His insane athleticism and size drew comparisons to Randy Moss. He was selected 2nd overall in the 2003 NFL draft by the Detroit Lions. His comparisons to Randy Moss created extremely high expectations for him, which he was unable to reach. A mixture of injuries, legal troubles and failed drug tests ultimately led Rogers to be released from the Lions and eventually fizzle out of the NFL, without ever getting close to living up to those hefty expectations.
13 Todd Marinovich
This is a very interesting case. Marinovich was bred by his father at a young age to be the “Perfect Quarterback.” He participated in extremely strenuous workouts and drills from a very young age, in hopes of becoming a prototypical quarterback. He was often called “America’s First Test Tube Athlete.”This upbringing and pressure proved to be too much for Marinovich, as he suffered from numerous substance and alcohol related problems throughout his NFL career, such as taking amphetamines before games. Though you can’t excuse what he did, you could argue that his father and his upbringing hurt him a lot in the long run. He only played two sub-par seasons in the NFL, with eight touchdowns and nine interceptions.
12 Braylon Edwards
Braylon Edwards, like Charles Rogers, was a highly touted receiver out of college who was thought to be a surefire star in the NFL. He went 3rd overall in the 2005 draft to the Cleveland Browns after a great four years at Michigan. Edwards was actually quite impressive in his first few years, culminating in a great 2007 campaign that saw him catch 17 TDs and make the Pro Bowl. He really looked like he would be the next star WR in the NFL. However, it wasn’t meant to be, as he never ever got close to putting up those numbers again and suffered numerous driving and alcohol related arrests.
11 Randy Moss
This may seem weird, as Moss is a top three wide receiver in NFL history. The reason he appears on this list is because he could have, and should have, been the best. Moss had unmatched athleticism, as he ran the 40 yard dash in 4.25 seconds and had a 39 inch vertical, all while measuring in at 6’4. He had major character and work ethic issues coming out of college which led to him dropping all the way to the 21st pick in the 1998 draft. Unfortunately, these work ethic concerns followed him throughout his career and left fans wondering what he could’ve possibly done had he not been so lazy.
10 Michael Vick
Michael Vick was on pace to be one of the most polarizing quarterbacks in NFL history. A never before seen mix of speed and technique, Vick was taking the NFL by storm. Then it happened. In April 2007, right when Vick was in his prime, he was implicated in a dog fighting ring as it was revealed he had funded the events and been personally involved in some heinous acts. He spent nearly two years in prison and, once released, looked to continue his career. However,although he's worked extremely hard to fix his image, he hasn't had the same success with his salvaging his career, as he's only had one Pro Bowl season since his team in prison.
9 Marcus Dupree
Dupree was perhaps the most highly touted high school football prospect of all time. He was extremely quick and powerful, like no other running back before him and was thought to be destined for the big time. This was the first instance of numerous colleges awaiting the choice of a high school player. Dupree ultimately chose to play at Oklahoma. However, the extremely large expectations paired with his unimpressive play, questionable work ethic and injuries, led him to fizzle out of the spotlight without warning. He is truly “The Best That Never Was.”
8 Vince Young
Vince Young. The former Heisman winner and the man behind one of the best Rose Bowl games of all time, was thought to be a sure-fire NFL talent. Young was drafted 3rd overall by the Tennessee Titans in the 2006 NFL draft. Despite finding a bit of success his first few years (two Pro Bowl appearances), he never lived up to expectations brought on by his successful college career. Young eventually revealed in an interview that he considered quitting football as the excitement and passion was gone. He didn’t quit at that point, but never got close to living up to the expectations that go along with being a Heisman winning National Champion.
7 Maurice Clarett
Clarett was a powerhouse running back in high school and ultimately decided to commit to Ohio State and play under Jim Tressel, who used to coach in Clarett’s hometown. Clarett had one of the best freshman seasons in NCAA history as he had for 1300+ yards from scrimmage and 18 TDs while leading the Ohio State Buckeyes to an undefeated season and National Championship. After such a brilliant start, it was a shame to see where Clarett went from there. Marred by numerous issues from staff disagreements, to questionable work ethic, to arrests, Clarett had one of the most public falls from grace in football history.
6 Ryan Leaf
Ryan Leaf had a very successful college stint at Washington State that included him finishing second in Heisman voting his junior year. He declared for the 1998 NFL draft and was seen as a top 2 pick, along with a guy named Peyton Manning. Leaf ended up going second, behind Manning. Sadly for the Chargers, Leaf turned out to be one of the biggest busts in NFL history as his short lived NFL career was full of bad play, bad behavior and injuries. This all culminated in Leaf leaving the NFL and eventually facing numerous illegal substance and burglary arrests later in life. A player talented enough to throw for 3,968 yards and 34 touchdowns as a junior should've amounted to more.
5 Josh Gordon
Josh Gordon is one of the more recent examples on this list, but without a doubt deserves a spot here, with a note that he still has time to turn his career around and get off the list. Gordon was one of the only bright spots for the Cleveland Browns in 2013, as Gordon looked primed to be the next superstar WR in the NFL after leading the NFL in receiving yards in 2013. However, Gordon has faced numerous substance abuse problems throughout his career and is now suspended for the entire 2015 season. Though he is likely to make a return at some point, it’s sadly possible that his best work is behind him.
4 Lawrence Phillips
Phillips was a bruising back that played his college ball for Nebraska and despite some major character issues that arose in college, his play in college was so good that he was picked 6th overall in the 1996 NFL draft by the St. Louis Rams. Despite a promising first year and a half in the NFL, Phillips was ultimately released due to his inability to stay out of trouble. This inability continued and finally culminated with Phillips being sentenced in late 2009 to 31 years in prison for a variety of offenses including numerous assaults.
3 Albert Haynesworth
Albert Haynesworth was widely considered the best defensive tackle in the league during the 2007 and 2008 seasons. Following the 2008 season, Haynesworth signed a massive 7 year, $100 million dollar deal with the Washington Redskins. In retrospect, this is without a doubt the worst signing in NFL history. Haynesworth only played two years with the Skins and those seasons were awful as Haynesworth was out of shape, unwilling to work hard and just showed a general disdain for the Redskins and their staff, which led to him being let go from the team following the 2010 season.
2 JaMarcus Russell
Ah, JaMarcus Russell. Considered by many to be the best QB prospect since Peyton Manning, Russell looked to be the obvious top choice in the 2007 NFL draft. He was big, fast and could throw the football like very few others. He was in fact selected first overall by the Oakland Raiders, but his career turned out to be one of the worst in NFL history as he finished 7-18 as a starter with a 65.2 QBR. He is widely considered the biggest draft bust in NFL history due to his weight issues, lack of work ethic and bad attitude. With his natural talent, he should've been much more than he became.
1 Aaron Hernandez
Without a doubt, number one on this list is none other than former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez. He was one of the best tight ends in college, but slipped in the draft to the 4th round because of his admitting to failing numerous drug tests. This should’ve been a major red flag, but he was still drafted. Hernandez enjoyed a lot of success in the NFL until the summer of 2013, as Aaron Hernandez was arrested as he under investigation for the murder of his acquaintance Odin Lloyd. And then in another twist, Hernandez was indicted on two more murder charges in 2014. Compared to the most of the entries on this list, while he was a waste of talent, any feelings of empathy for the player are nil.
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