The careers of NFL players are incredibly uncertain. One day they’re among the best in the league, the next day they are stinking up the joint. Some of these drops in performance are explainable. Injuries often account for most of a loss of performance. Sometimes players just get older and they aren’t as sharp anymore.
We’ve put together an interesting list of players whose performances fell off dramatically after having had great seasons before. We look at what may have accounted for the drop and where they are now.
Some of these names are well known, but others you may have forgotten about. Either way, you’ll enjoy taking a look at these guys.
It didn’t take long for Nnamdi Asomugha to get to the top of the league. By his fourth season, he was an All-Pro performer and in 2009, the Oakland Tribune named him one of the greatest Raiders of all-time. He hit the free-agent market in 2011 and was never the same in two failed contracts with the Eagles and 49ers.
These days Asomugha is working on his second act, quite literally. He’s been pursuing a career in acting since 2008 and has been in several films and television shows.
Murray was the NFL Offensive Player of the Year in 2014 with the Dallas Cowboys and then promptly took his talents to their biggest rivals, the Philadelphia Eagles. It was not a match made in heaven. He struggled early and then got injured. By Week 13 he was demoted to backup. After the season he was traded to Tennessee where he backed up Derrick Henry.
Murray has stayed around football in retirement. He has worked as a college football commentator for Fox Sports before turning to coaching. Murray spent a season as the running backs coach at the University of Arizona before returning to his alma mater in 2020 to perform the same role.
Eddie George was a stud running back for the first few years of his career, making the Pro Bowl 4 times in his first 5 seasons. Then, as with many running backs, the wheels fell off. He averaged under 3.5 yards per carry in each of his final four seasons in the league.
The 1995 Heisman Trophy winner has had an exciting life in retirement from football. He’s earned his MBA from Northwestern University, and he’s performed in the musical Chicago on Broadway. He is married to singer Tamara Johnson George.
Peyton Hillis took the league by storm during his time in Cleveland. He became the first white running back to rush for 1,000 yards in the league since 1985. This earned him the nickname “The Great White Buffalo”, and a spot on the cover of the Madden 2012 video game. The Madden curse struck Hillis and he struggled through four more seasons as a backup before retiring.
These days Peyton Hillis lives on a 1,300-acre soybean farm in southwestern Tennessee with his wife and young son. Aside from farming, he spends some time volunteer coaching at a local high school.
Eddie Lacy tried to break the mold when it came to NFL running backs. In a day and age where offenses were getting smaller and quicker, Lacy was the biggest back in the league. Initially, it worked for him and he was named Offensive Rookie of the Year and made it to the Pro Bowl during his first season in 2013. Just 4 seasons later he was out of the league, after having spent his final year as a backup in Seattle.
After struggling to stay healthy throughout his career, it was time for Lacy to hang it up. Lacy has been asked whether he’d like to get back into the league, to which he responded that he wasn’t sure. He had a tryout with the Ravens in 2019, but nothing came of it.
Dwayne Bowe was one of the most prolific receivers in the league during his time in Kansas City. He led the league in receiving touchdowns in 2010 and made it to the Pro Bowl in that same season. A few seasons later he signed a new deal making him the 3rd highest-paid receiver in the league.
Arrests, suspensions, and injuries followed the signing of the deal, and eventually, he was released from the Chiefs. He played one final season with the Browns, but was often inactive or buried on the depth chart. In 2018 he launched a rap career under the name Money Bo.
When Colin Kaepernick took over for an injured Alex Smith he was unlike any other player in the league. He was nearly unstoppable with his arms and legs. Eventually, though, the rest of the league caught up and figured him out. His production over his final two seasons in the league dropped and he had career lows in passing and rushing yards.
Kaepernick has been one of the most polarizing individuals in the country since his final season in San Francisco, but he claims to want a chance at playing football again. He even had a public workout for the league last year. We’ll wait and see if any teams bite.
Peyton Manning is one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time. The guy won the NFL MVP award a record five times. But when his playing level dropped, it dropped hard and fast. Sure, he won a Super Bowl with the Broncos in his final season but he struggled and was frequently dropped for Brock Osweiler during that season and playoff run.
In retirement, Peyton Manning has continued to be one of our country’s most beloved sports icons. He features on commercials and even has a show on ESPN+ called Peyton’s Places.
Robert Griffin III
RGIII had one of the most exciting seasons in NFL history. He breathed life into a Redskins franchise that sorely needed a star to get behind. He was one of the most exciting players in the league until the knee injury in the Redskins opening playoff game.
ACL and LCL injuries in his knee cost him the explosiveness he displayed in his rookie season and he was never the same. Griffin is still in the league but has featured only in mop-up work for the Ravens in the past few years.
Merriman was nicknamed “Light Out” because he was one of the most ferocious tacklers in the league. He made the Pro Bowl and All-Pro teams 3 times. However, injuries took their toll on Merriman and he missed a significant amount of game throughout the final 5 seasons he was in the league.
In retirement, Merriman has appeared on various media outlets including MTV’s The Challenge, and on FS1 as an NFL analyst. He is still very involved with his charity, the Lights On Foundation.
Josh Gordon is a sad tale of addiction ruining careers. Josh Gordon was an all-world receiver during his early days with the Cleveland Browns. In 2013, Gordon led the league in receiving yards and was named a first-team All-Pro.
Gordon put up those kinds of numbers despite being suspended for the first two games of the season. The suspensions continued for off-field issues and Gordon played 5 games from 2014-2016. He attempted a comeback after being reinstated by the league but once again issues caught up with him and he appeared in just 28 games over his final 5 seasons in the NFL. He is currently suspended indefinitely for substance abuse yet again.
Cadillac wasn’t his birth name, but you might think it was watching how smooth he ran the football. He was the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2005 with the Bucs, but that would be his only professional season with over 1,000 yards. Injuries caught up with Williams in the middle of his career and limited his dev elopement. Finally, able to see the field, it was his production that dropped over his final three seasons.
These days Williams has returned to his alma mater, Auburn, to coach running backs. Before returning to Auburn, Williams worked as a running backs coach at the University of West Georgia and the Birmingham Irons in the AAF.
Daunte Culpepper was one of the most productive quarterbacks in the league for a few years in Minnesota. Together with Randy Moss, the Vikings offense was feared. Then, during the 2005 season, Culpepper injured 3 of the 4 major ligaments in the knee. The Vikings traded Culpepper to the Dolphins but he never got back to the level he was at in Minnesota.
Culpepper played sparingly over 4 seasons with the Dolphins, Raiders, and Lions before one final season with the Sacramento Mountain Lions in the UFL. In retirement, Culpepper has tried his hand at a few business ventures. He opened a University of Central Florida-themed bar near the campus of his alma mater in 2013.
Bob Sanders earned his nickname “The Hitman” through his stellar play at safety. He was the best defensive player in the NFL in 2007 and earned the DPOY award for his work. That was also the season that he helped guide the Colts to their Super Bowl win.
Unfortunately for Sanders, that was also the last season he would play more than 6 games in a single season. Injuries decimated the final four seasons Sanders played before retiring. These days Sanders is focused on raising his four children with his wife. He occasionally appears at charitable events and camps but prefers to keep out of the limelight.
Ickey Woods burst onto the scene like he was shot out of a cannon. He had an incredible rookie season in which he led the AFC in rushing touchdowns, made the ALL-Pro team and Pro Bowl, and popularized the “Ickey Shuffle.” Then he blew out his knee.
Woods rushed for just 459 yards in his final three seasons in the league and was retired by age 26. The knee injury prevented him from ever coming close to replicating his number from his rookie season. Woods has stayed in Cincinnati since retiring and owns the Women’s Football Alliance team, Cincinnati Sizzle. He also runs various foundations around town.
Vince Young was supposed to be what Michael Vick never could be, a quarterback that was pass-first but could also be explosive with his legs. And for a while he was. Young won the Rookie of the Year award in 2006 but he struggled through injuries his second season and never continued his development in the way he would have hoped to.
Young would make another Pro Bowl in 2009, but apart from that, he was never able to recapture the success of his rookie season. In retirement, Yong returned to the University of Texas and worked in their Office of Engagement.
We are all aware of what ended Rice’s NFL career, but it’s often overlooked that his production was declining at a pretty rapid rate in the season leading up to his dismissal from the league. Rice had been a consistent 1,000-yard rusher for the previous 4 seasons, but in 2013 he rushed for just 660 yards.
Rice was a physical running back, and it’s possible that his body was just wearing down. These days Ray Rice is working to restore his public image. He is involved with several charitable organizations around Baltimore.
Josh Norman played and talked his way into a reputation as one of the league’s lockdown corners. This earned him a massive contract from the Washington Redskins. This move did not pay off for the Redskins as Norman struggled to live up to the money he was making. He was released by the Redskins following the 2019 season.
The Bills signed Norman in March 2020 to a much smaller deal and will be hoping he can replicate his levels from his time with Carolina early in his career. At the age of 32, that is questionable though.
Albert Haynesworth is held up as having the worst contract in NFL history, which isn’t his fault. He was a game-changer in his final two seasons with the Titans before signing the massive contract with the Redskins. The Redskins signed him to the massive deal and then changed his position. The switch from a 4-3 scheme to a 3-4 scheme didn’t suit Haynesworth, and a host of personal issues helped derail any chance of success in the nation’s capital.
Despite his millions of dollars from Dan Snyder, life has not been kind to Haynesworth since retiring. In July 2019, Haynesworth revealed that his kidneys are failing and he needs a donor for a transplant.
In Kearse’s first season he was the best defensive player in the AFC. He won the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Award and the AFC Defensive Player of the Year Award. His play earned him the nickname “The Freak.” He was truly unstoppable…for about three seasons. No one really knows what happened, but he stopped putting up the massive numbers from early in his career.
Kearse tried a change of scenery with the Eagles but never recorded more than 7.5 sack in a season over four seasons. These days Kearse is keeping a low profile and living in Moorestown, New Jersey.
Terrell Davis’ career was short but sweet. He was a two-time NFL Offensive Player of the Year and a crucial part of the Broncos back-to-back Super Bowl wins with John Elway. However, after his incredible 2,000-yard season in 1998 Davis never played in more than 8 games a season.
Davis struggled with knee injuries throughout those final 3 seasons and Davis retired in 2001 after just 7 seasons of football. In retirement, Davis has been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and has worked for the NFL network.
McNabb was one of the greatest quarterbacks in the league during his time in Philadelphia. He even took the team to the Super Bowl in 2005. However, he dropped off a cliff in his final seasons with Washington and Minnesota.
He set lows for QB rating and threw 17 interceptions to just 18 touchdowns in those final two seasons. In retirement, McNabb spent some time working for the NFL Network and FS1 before landing at ESPN. In 2018 he was let go by ESPN.
Shaun Alexander was one of the most dominant running back of the 2000’s. In 2005 alone he set NFL and Seahawks records on the way to earning the NFL MVP Award. Then injuries struck and his productivity dropped like a rock. His yards per carry average never got higher than 3.6 during his final 3 professional seasons, down from 5.1 in his MVP season.
He finally retired in 2008 after one injury-shortened season with the redskins in which he rushed for just 24 yards. These days Alexander and his wife live in the Washington D.C. area and are homeschooling their 8 children. He also has a podcast called Finish The Game.
Javon Walker had an outstanding year in 2004. He tallied 1,382 yard and 12 touchdowns and was named to the Pro Bowl. Then he declared he wouldn’t play for the Packers again and threatened to retire if he wasn’t traded. He did return anyway but injured his ACL in the first game of the season and didn’t was put on injured reserve.
He was traded to Denver following that season and had another 1,000-yard season in 2006. His final two seasons in the league he played just 8 games in each season and had a high of 287 yards receiving. These days Walker lives in Houston and is an amateur bodybuilder and works for a supplement company.
David Boston had an outstanding 3rd season in the NFL. In 2001, Boston had 98 receptions for 1598 yards and 8 touchdowns. Those are massive numbers, and they earned him a starting spot in the Pro Bowl. Boston’s numbers dropped the following year due to games missed due to injury, and he bounced around through 2 different teams later in his career with each team citing his poor off-field behavior and injuries as the reason to release him.
Boston has had a string of arrests since his final season in the NFL and has even been jailed. The judge reduced Boston’s sentence citing medical evidence that he had incurred “permanent brain injuries” from the concussions he sustained during his playing days.