Watching professional athletes ruin their NFL careers by repeatedly making bone-headed decisions is one of the most frustrating things a sports fan can witness. After all, the opportunity to play a sport for a living is a fantasy to most people. And seeing an athlete with Hall of Fame-caliber abilities waste their opportunity by making poor choices and/or breaking the law can be downright infuriating to those who could only dream of playing a sport for a living.
Throughout the years, we have seen these unfortunate scenarios play out many times in the National Football League. Sadly, these 10 former NFL players serve as examples of what not to do concerning pro football careers.
1. Johnny Manziel
Johnny Manziel’s brief career with the Cleveland Browns was nothing short of a disaster. At this point, we find it hard to imagine the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner getting another chance given his off-field behavior. In reality, even if a team were willing to overlook his party-boy lifestyle, it would be hard for them to overlook his subpar performance and inability to adjust to the speed of the NFL game when he actually was on the field for the Browns.
2. Rae Carruth
Rae Carruth’s story is just flat-out sad. The once-promising first-round draft pick of the Carolina Panthers seemed destined to have a decade-long (or more) career as a wide receiver in the NFL. Then he was convicted of conspiracy to commit first degree murder for his role in the shooting death of Cherica Williams, who was eight months pregnant with Carruth’s child at the time of the incident. He is currently serving out a jail sentence of 24 years and four months.
3. Vince Young
Vince Young’s professional career started off strong. The former Texas Longhorn won the 2006 NFL Rookie of the Year award after the Tennessee Titans selected him with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft.
And just when it looked like Young would have a long-lasting, financially fruitful career, he let his ego get the best of him after a tough overtime loss and got into much-ballyhooed verbal altercation with then-Titans head coach Jeff Fisher. The incident effectively ended Young’s stint in Tennessee, and the two-time Rose Bowl MVP would only spend one more season on an active NFL roster.
4. Lawrence Phillips
Lawrence Phillips’ story is yet another sad, cautionary tale. He had a starring role on the field — off the field was a whole different story — during the University of Nebraska’s run to national titles in 1994 and 1995. Then, the St. Louis Rams selected Phillips with the sixth overall pick in the 1996 NFL Draft.
Long story short, his off-field transgressions continued during his time in the NFL, and his career never had a chance to take off, which is sad considering how former Rams’ head coach Dick Vermeil called him “potentially the best running back he ever coached.” In 2009, Phillips received a 31-year prison sentence. Guards found him dead in his cell earlier this year, shortly after he received a charge for murdering his former cellmate.
5. Greg Hardy
The media has extensively documented Greg Hardy’s legal issues over the last few years. The Dallas Cowboys gave the 2013 Pro Bowler a second chance in 2015 despite the disgusting domestic violence accusations he faced in North Carolina.
Hardy went on to repay them by getting into a physical altercation with special teams coach Rich Bisaccia and more than one of his teammates during a game on national television. We wouldn’t be surprised if another team takes a chance on him given his immense talent, but we just don’t see it happening.
6. JaMarcus Russell
The definition of an athlete having a “million dollar arm, and a 10-cent head”: JaMarcus Russell. The Oakland Raiders selected the former LSU Tiger with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft. Now, NFL fans and experts call him the biggest bust in NFL draft history. During his time in the NFL, Russell gained a reputation for being abnormally lazy in everything he did, from studying film to working out. He made a habit of showing up to team activities incredibly overweight after time off.
7. Aaron Hernandez
Whether you are a sports fan or not, you likely heard plenty about Aaron Hernandez’s fairly fall from grace. Even before he entered the NFL, the former New England Patriots tight end had a long history of violence and run-ins with the law dating back to his time at the University of Florida.
It all came to a boiling point — and his professional football career came to a screeching halt — when he was arrested and charged with committing first-degree murder (among other charges) for his role in the shooting death of Odin Lloyd, who was once a personal friend of Hernandez’s. The jury found him guilty of first-degree murder. Then he faced additional legal issues involving a double murder.
Tragically, prison officials found Hernandez dead in his cell despite his recent acquittal concerning the double homicide. The NFL community took to Twitter and other media platforms to express their sympathies.
8. Maurice Clarett
Maurice Clarett led the Ohio State Buckeyes to a national championship as a freshman in 2002, and the bruising running back seemed destined for NFL stardom. However, as it turns out, outside of a brief stint in the United Football League, Clarett would never play football again. His time at Ohio State ended after a battle with university administrators and a plethora of NCAA, academic, and legal transgressions.
Following his dismissal from the Buckeyes, Clarett filed and lost a lawsuit concerning his eligibility for 2004 NFL Draft. He was finally eligible for the NFL in 2005, but showed up to the NFL Combine out of shape and went on to turn in one of the most embarrassing performances in the history of the event. Still, the Denver Broncos selected him in the third round of the 2005 NFL Draft.
In yet another head-scratching move, Clarett ignored his agents’ advice and opted to sign a contract that included no guaranteed money when his draft slot carried an approximate guarantee of over $400,000. He reported to Broncos’ training camp more than 20 pounds overweight and didn’t make the team’s final roster, and that proved to be the last time Clarett would be on a NFL roster.
His life went on to spiral out of control, culminating in a seven-and-a-half-year jail sentence for several criminal offenses. On a positive note, Clarett received an early release in 2010, and has since become a productive member of society.
9. Ray Rice
Ray Rice will forever live in infamy for being the man who brought about the NFL’s new domestic violence policy. We don’t have to go into too much detail here, but Rice’s NFL career came to an unfortunate end when surveillance video surfaced of him punching and dragging his wife out of an elevator at a casino in Atlantic City.
10. Ryan Leaf
People throw Ryan Leaf’s name around any time a discussion arises concerning the biggest draft busts in NFL history. Not only was he terrible when he was on the field — he had 14 touchdown passes, 36 interceptions, and a quarterback rating of 50 in 21 career starts — but he was also a complete train wreck off the field.
Leaf started his career off on the wrong foot by skipping the final day of the mandatory Rookie Symposium, and then it all went downhill from there. Aside from gaining a reputation for having a pathetic work ethic (he didn’t really care for studying film), he also had multiple aggressive altercations with fans, reporters, coaches, and even then San Diego General Manager Bobby Beathard.
Since retiring from the National Football League in 2002, Leaf has seen his life hit several all-time lows, and as of now, the No. 2 overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft is trying to get his life back on track after spending time in jail for burglary and drug charges.
Statistics courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.