Hate is a difficult variable to quantify, especially when it comes to a subject that contains as much passion as football.
The easiest targets are the players who are hated for who they are as people. If they're involved in murder, assault, domestic or sexual abuse, or anything else heinous in nature, they are likely to be disliked by most people.
Players who perform awfully on the field are another group of obvious candidates, as even their own fans will often jump in to express their displeasure. On the flip side, a totally dominant player will draw the ire of most of the league too. Getting badly beaten by the same individual on a regular basis can get frustrating.
However, it's important to note that this article specifically deals with 2015, meaning players that may have been considered monsters in previous years - Michael Vick, Aaron Hernandez - slipped off the naughty list this season for good behavior (Vick was convicted over eight years ago) or, in the case of the latter, for being incarcerated and no longer eligible to be a player.
We'll also see some players that surprisingly misplaced their usual talent or health in 2015 and thus also added a disappointed fan base to their usual group of haters.
In the end, hate is a subjective feeling, as even universally respected football players will get guff from some viewers, just as grudges might still be held for the usual suspects of years passed. So rest easy, dear reader; you are still more than free to despise whomever you like, even if they aren't included in this, the top 20 most hated NFL players of 2015.
20 Peyton Manning
Regardless of what happens in the coming weeks and months, Peyton Manning will have a Hall of Fame-worthy career and be remembered as one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history. This season, however, might warrant some forgetting.
Despite having a 7-0 start and breaking Brett Favre’s career passing yards record in Week 10, Manning also threw four interceptions in that game (for a league-leading 17 on the season), got benched, and was later diagnosed with plantar fasciitis. He has yet to return to play in what is now a nightmare of a season for both Peyton and the countless fantasy coaches who drafted him.
It probably doesn’t help that we also have to see him hawking pizza and insurance every commercial break.
19 Jason Pierre-Paul
It seems unfair to hate someone for acting dumb, or for getting injured, but when a player is so dumb that they injure themselves in one of the stupidest and most reckless ways possible, they almost have to appear in this list.
On July 4, 2015, Jason Pierre-Paul of the Giants played with fireworks, and as they are known to do, they blew up, taking part of his right-hand index finger and thumb with them. Pierre-Paul vowed to return, and has, but his journey back was riddled with mystery, uncertainty, and fan frustration. And with the Giants barely keeping afloat in the awful NFC East and ranking second-to-last in the league for sacks, even the hometown fans began pointing their fully-functioning fingers at JPP.
18 Richard Sherman
Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman almost made it off the list this year. Almost! After being arguably the loudest and cockiest player over the last two seasons, as well as one of the best at his position (just ask him), Sherman put together a quiet 2015 both on and off the field. Maybe even a bit too quiet in regard to the former, as Sherman didn’t nab his first interception until Week 12, and a 5-5 team record at the time didn’t help his case any. The Seahawks are on the upswing now, but Sherman still only has 27 tackles on the year, which expands his group of haters just a bit more.
17 James Harrison
Linebacker James Harrison, known as much for his all-star stats as his routine fines ($150,000 in total), hard hits, and big mouth, retired last year - much to the delight of players’ bodies across the league. However, it was short lived, as the Steelers inked Harrison to a contract this past March following a number of team injuries.
CB Cortland Finnegan pulled a similar trick this season as well, but the fact that Harrison has been attempting to recoup his well-deserved fines, and the pregame fight he got into before a recent game against the Bengals, has secured this spot on the list solely for Harrison.
16 Tony Romo/Brandon Weeden/Matt Cassel
When it comes to the Dallas Cowboys disastrous 2015, it would be too simplistic for fans to point the blame at their quarterback. A trio of QBs, on the other hand? That’s fair.
After putting together a heroic final touchdown drive in the team’s opening game, Tony Romo (who is generally unliked outside of Dallas) injured his clavicle in game two, and had to rely on backup Brandon Weeden to take over. Weeden secured the victory, but followed it up by losing three games in a row. Matt Cassel took over and topped that, losing four in a row, including a three interception performance in his first game. Romo attempted a premature return to try and save his team, but threw three INTs on Thanksgiving and injured himself again, essentially dooming both his and his team’s season.
15 Sam Bradford
This spot could easily be called “whoever the Eagles are playing at quarterback this season.” Until Philadelphia wins the Super Bowl, or at least finds a QB capable of keeping them atop the division standings, Eagles fans will continue to hate whoever is taking the snaps.
New addition Sam Bradford isn’t doing much to help his case. After seeing recent names like Michael Vick and Mark Sanchez fail to produce or stay healthy, Philly traded Nick Foles to the Rams for Bradford, who has used his debut in 2015 to throw 11 interceptions, fumble six times, and only score 14 touchdowns on his way to an abysmal 38.3 QBR. Predictably, Eagles fans have been relentlessly hard on the new guy, especially in a year where the NFC East has been a complete wasteland.
14 Brandon Meriweather
The career of safety Brandon Meriweather has been akin to a national tour of un-sportsmanship, fines, and suspensions. It started with him stomping on players’ heads during the 2006 Miami-FIU brawl, but transitioned into helmet-to-helmet violations with the New England Patriots in 2007 ($50,000), the Chicago Bears in 2011 ($20,000, and also a late hit worth $25,000), four times with Washington in only two 2013 games ($42,000 and $70,588), and once more in 2014. Meriweather isn’t just a frequent offender, but was actually the main reason the NFL started suspending players for dangerous hits.
Meriweather avoided fines in limited play in 2015 for the Giants, but was also cut due to injury and poor performance.
13 Colin Kaepernick
After leading the San Francisco 49ers to a Super Bowl in 2012 and NFC Championship (with a 12-4 record) in 2013, QB Colin Kaepernick signed a six-year extension in 2014 that is worth up to $126 million. He has yet to come close to that contract’s worth.
After a disappointing 8-8 season last year, Kaepernick added a 2-6 start in 2015, and lost his job to backup Blaine Gabbert following an embarrassing 27-6 loss to the Rams. Two weeks later, it was announced that Kaepernick would need season-ending shoulder surgery, further sealing his 2015 fate and that of his frustrating 4-9 49ers.
12 Joseph Randle
After a decent debut in 2013, a strong performance in limited capacity in 2014, and being named a starter for the 2015 season, running back Joseph Randle gave the Dallas Cowboys some solid hope. Although his rise had been steady, his decline came quickly.
In addition to an October 2014 arrest for shoplifting, Randle was also involved in a domestic violence altercation and busted for marijuana possession in February of this year. He also criticized former teammate DeMarco Murray, twice disobeyed coaches orders, strained his oblique after starting six games, lost his first-string role to Darren McFadden, and walked out of the Cowboys practice facility.
Dallas responded by releasing him a few days later.
11 Vontaze Burfict
Drafted in 2012, it was the last three seasons that really saw linebacker Vontaze Burfict make a name for himself as a dirty player. In 2013, he was fined $10,000 for striking TE Ryan Taylor in the groin and $21,000 for a hit on a defenseless player - in the same game! He was fined another $21,000 for spearing a receiver later in 2013, and $25,000 in 2014 for twisting the ankles of both QB Cam Newton and TE Greg Olsen after they scored touchdowns.
Burfict was also accused just recently of attempting to go for Ben Roethlisberger’s ankles during in a low helmet hit, and also got into a pregame scuffle with James Harrison. Burfict has amassed a total of $77,000 in fines in his young career.
10 Richie Incognito
Although the hype around Richie Incognito’s 2013 bullying of Jonathan Martin is now behind him, it’s still fresh in the minds of both players and fans, and the Buffalo Bills guard can’t escape the negative reputation he has consistently built over the years. In addition to being previously accused of sexual battery and harassment in separate incidents in 2012, Incognito is frequently voted by his fellow players as one of the dirtiest in the game, accused of doing things like gouging, punching, and making illegal tackles.
However, it’s worth noting that Incognito has generally stayed out of trouble in 2015, avoiding both legal issues and league fines. Too little, too late?
9 Johnny Manziel
This was going to be the year Johnny Manziel finally made his mark, but things got derailed once again when the noticeably-improved Cleveland Browns QB went down with an elbow injury.
After getting occasional playing time between the injuries of Josh McCown and himself, Manziel was officially named the Browns’ starter for the remainder of the season on November 17. Manziel answered by almost immediately getting demoted to the third string after images surfaced of him partying during the team’s bye week, further adding to his cocky and irresponsible image.
He got his starting job back a couple weeks later after yet another McCown injury and managed a victory, but has still left the hapless Browns last in the AFC North.
8 Ray Rice
After a 2014 indictment on third-degree aggravated assault charges for a fight in which he knocked out his then fiancee, Ray Rice’s current status in people’s minds is a bit questionable.
First, he is currently married to the woman he assaulted, who also defended her husband, dropped the charges, and criticized the media’s coverage of the events. Rice has also flown under the radar in 2015, only popping up in January after settling a grievance against the Ravens and the NFL for wrongful termination - begging the question of how serious Rice took the assault charges. Of course, it’s also easier to stay quiet when you’re a free agent. And if no one wants to sign him, it’s a clear indication that animosity is still rampant.
7 Adrian Peterson
One of the most hated NFL players of 2014, running back Adrian Peterson only played one game for the Minnesota Vikings last year before an indictment on child abuse charges earned him a season-long suspension. Peterson returned in 2015, and to his credit, has managed to stay out of trouble both off and on the field.
Additionally, Peterson has performed at a strong but not dominant level, helping him avoid any criticisms from Vikings fans about losing his form after time off, or complaints from sore losers who don’t want to get beaten by a man who senselessly and despicably beat a child.
6 Adam Jones
Cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones is like the comic book supervillain that just never seems to go away. Most notably, Jones was involved in a Las Vegas strip club shooting in 2007, a, altercation at a hotel in 2008, and whole lot of NFL suspensions. Jones has managed to control his off-field life in recent years, but still carries a reputation as a dirty player.
In the very first game of 2015, Jones was fined $35,000 after slapping off the helmet of the Oakland Raiders’ Amari Cooper during a tackle, grabbing the receiver’s head, and smashing it into his helmet. Classy as always.
5 Ahmad Brooks
Not only was San Francisco 49ers lineman Ahmad Brooks charged this year with sexual battery for groping a woman in December of 2014, but it involved the same woman that former teammate Ray McDonald is accused of sexually assaulting.
Oddly, the NFL and the Niners have both allowed Brooks to continue playing, an especially curious decision considering he has previously been accused of punching a woman in the face and repeatedly hitting a former teammate in the head with a bottle. Brooks hasn’t been an angel on the field either. He was benched twice last year (once for yelling at Jim Tomsula, once for missing a team meeting) and was reprimanded earlier this month for throwing his helmet.
4 Ray McDonald
Right about this time last year, the San Francisco 49ers cut ties with defensive end Ray McDonald. He had just been named as a suspect in the aforementioned sexual assault investigation, and had already been arrested on suspicion of domestic violence in August 2014, and drunk driving in 2010.
Surprisingly, the Bears signed McDonald to a one-year contract in March of this year, but after a domestic violence, false imprisonment, and child endangerment arrest in May, he was once again unemployed. McDonald was arrested only two days later for violating a restraining order, and indicted this past August for the alleged rape in 2014.
3 Greg Hardy
On May 13, 2014, Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy was arrested for assault and communicating threats after his then-girlfriend accused him of throwing her into a wall, onto a sofa covered with assault rifles, and violently choking her, with the grotesque pictures to prove it. Despite getting tagged as a franchise player earlier that year, Carolina cut ties with Hardy at the end of the season.
Soon afterward, Hardy was signed by the Cowboys, and began 2015 by serving a four game suspension for the assault incident, which was later expunged from his record. The time off didn’t change him though, as Hardy still failed to clean up his act after returning. His notable actions included making sexist comments to the press and going after a coach on the sidelines.
2 Ndamukong Suh
Ndamukong Suh’s career has basically been one long list of dirty plays, penalties and fines. Beginning as a rookie in a 2010 preseason game, Suh has stomped, kicked and roughed his way to multiple violations and disciplinary measures every single year since, totaling almost $250,000 in fines. Suh could have fared better on this list with a fresh start as a member of the 2015 Miami Dolphins, but apparently that was too much to ask.
In Week 1 alone, Suh gouged at the eye of Washington lineman Morgan Moses and kicked away the helmet of RB Alfred Morris...when it was still on his head...and the player was on the ground.
Welcome back to the list, Suh. See you next year.
1 Tom Brady
As disgusting as some crimes can be, football fans care most about what happens on the field. When someone plays with absolute dominance, or cheats, or gets so much attention that fans just start to hate their stupid face in general, it’s an awfully big deal.
On that note, everything opposing fans hate about Tom Brady (who is already despised by basically everyone other than Pats fans) popped up again in the past year - even stronger than usual.
Coming off a Super Bowl victory that was tainted by his involvement in the Deflategate scandal, Brady was initially suspended for four games this season. But despite proof that the QB destroyed a cell phone containing incriminating evidence, Brady’s punishment was overturned and he got off scot-free. He and the Patriots responded by winning their first 10 games.
As for Brady’s face? Even that got a whole lot stupider, thanks to a famous courtroom sketch.