Athletes who are involved in the NFL run the risk of harboring personal demons, just like every other member of society. In some cases, they’re able to work through it, get treatment, and continue a productive life on and off the field. Other times however, they’re enslaved to these problems, and it ends up ruining their career in full. They’re never able to recover from their personal problems, and it cost them in a big way.
Unfortunately, many of the NFL players over the years who have dealt with such issues have been among the most talented of their generation. In some cases, they never even got to have a taste of success in the pros because of their personal issues. It’s always a tragic scenario (most of the time) when a talented athlete goes down the wrong path and isn’t able to excel to the fullest extent of their capabilities. Issues like mental health and substance abuse have derailed many careers, and will continue to do so in the future. Let’s take a look at some of the notable names in NFL history who just weren’t able to sustain their careers because of these problems.
Ranked below are 15 would-be NFL stars who were completely destroyed by personal demons.
Whether or not Hernandez actually had personal demons which caused him to commit the terrible murder, it’s no secret that he wasted away what could have been an all-time great career. He was near-unstoppable at times with the Patriots, and was one of the best tight ends in the league. The truth is, Hernandez always had red flags with his anger, and it became abundantly clear that he wasn’t playing with a full deck most of the time.
Everyone knows the story by now. Convicted or murder, Hernandez was sent to prison to serve a life sentence. Earlier this year, he took his own life while incarcerated. It was a disturbing end to a person who struggled with some degree of mental illness, even if his crimes were committed on his own volition. He’s definitely one of the bizarre character studies in sports over the past decade.
Whatever it is that makes Hardy a borderline sadistic person is anyone’s guess, if they aren’t in a medical field. His complete lack of remorse for his actions, along with the actions themselves, have made him one of, if not the single most hated player in the league right now. A phenomenal pass-rushing talent, he wasted his career away because of his horrific abuse towards women, and was never able to recover.
Despite the Cowboys giving him a job in 2015 after the fact, he only lasted a single season, and was essentially forced off the roster by public dissatisfaction. Hardy’s attitude and abusive actions have cost him the accolades of being one of the best defensive players in the game. There’s not likely a team who will be willing to take the risk on him with so many inherent problems to his name.
“Johnny Football” may never play another snap in an NFL uniform, and he really has nobody to blame but himself. Manziel’s partying antics have been put on display since he was at Texas A&M, and haven’t let up no matter what was going on around him. His substance abuse was never concentrated to just one thing; Manziel was simply addicted to nightlife first and foremost. Unfortunately, it came at the expense of not learning the NFL game, and he was quickly out of the league.
It’s hard to feel bad for Manziel, who has had every advantage to make himself a successful football player. Wealthy family, good college program, quality coaches; none of it has made a bit of difference, and his chances of getting back into anything athletic for a career are swirling the drain with each passing day.
A former top-10 draft pick, it’s easy to forget that there was a time when Smith was one of the absolute best pass-rushers in the league. He helped lead the 49ers to a Super Bowl appearance in 2012, and everyone figured that he’d be an elite player for the rest of his career. Instead, he checked into rehab in the middle of the 2013 season, and was suspended for a good portion of the 2014 season.
Smith was just never able to recover from his substance abuse. He’s currently on the Raiders, but the quality of his play has dropped dramatically, and he’s still dealing with suspension issues, and recurring problems. He probably won’t last much longer, and is a big disappointment after being such a promising young player.
A game-breaking receiver at Oklahoma State who many thought would be an elite talent in the NFL, Blackmon fizzled out after just two seasons in the league. Struggles with substance abuse, and numerous arrests followed, and it’s clear that Blackmon just wasn’t going to be able to make a career in the NFL.
He’s still struggling with the same issues today, and unlike someone like Josh Gordon, has pretty much given all hope entirely about ever playing again on an NFL field. It’s sad to say, because Blackmon had a chance to be a truly marquee receiver in the league, but he wasn’t able to get his consumption under control, or get rid of it all together.
Selected 2nd overall in the 1998 draft, there were some people who claimed that Leaf would be a better NFL quarterback than Peyton Manning. Quickly after joining the Chargers he started spiraling out of control, and wasn’t able to shake clear issues with anger, and lingering issues with substance abuse. Leaf was a mess, and he would be gone from San Diego after a disastrous pair of seasons as their starting quarterback.
The issues never seemed to cease with Leaf over the years, and he’s had several run-ins with the law well after his playing days ended in 2002. He may never have ended up as an all-time great, but with less outside distractions he could have been a solid one. It just wasn’t in the cards, and he remains one of the biggest draft busts of his era.
He’s not an outright failure of a professional player like some others here, but Williams definitely squandered away a good amount of his potential. After a few very productive seasons coming into the league, Williams tested positive for marijuana, and a slew of suspensions and controversy began surrounding him. He missed a year with the Dolphins, ended up trying a stint in the CFL, and then came back to the NFL several years later, in much less effective fashion. It was a mess.
Williams was never the same once the suspensions started rolling, and even though he would play in the NFL up through the 2011 season, he wasn’t the same player that he was before. A solid career could have ended up being a great one had he not made smoking weed his primary concern as an NFL player.
There were legitimate concerns about Gregory coming into the league in 2015, but in true Dallas Cowboys fashion, they opted to take the risk and draft him anyway. Going in the 2nd round, Gregory was slated to be a boost to the Cowboys’ pass-rush, and their defense as a whole. After some injuries got him early on, he suffered numerous suspensions for substance abuse, and that’s the status on him now as we speak.
Despite being a legitimately great college talent, he couldn’t keep it under control in the pros, and the Cowboys’ worst fears were realized. Whether Gregory plays another snap in the league or not, he’s not likely to make much of an impact given how much time he’s lost to suspensions.
Trying to reclaim the days of Johnny Unitas, the then-Baltimore Colts drafted Schlichter with the 4th-overall pick in the 1982 draft. It was a high-profile selection at the time, as Schlichter had been an outright star while at Ohio State. He was considered to be one of the best young quarterbacks in the country at the time.
Unfortunately, his vice was gambling, and it quickly got out of control once he got into the professional ranks. Suspended for the entire 1983 season because of it, once he got back into the NFL he was never the same. He committed a bevy of felonies on his way out of the league, most of which were directly related to gambling. It was a serious problem, and one that he never really recovered from.
Marinovich was supposed to be the future franchise quarterback for the Raiders when they drafted him in 1991. He lit up the college game at USC, and was slated to have a great NFL career on the horizon. What followed was nothing more than a classic problem, cocaine being the main vice in question.
He wasn’t able to sustain an NFL career, but did manage to bounce around to peripheral leagues here and there. The drug problems never went away however, and his career was a mere shell of what it could have been had he not gone that route. He’s currently facing a methamphetamine charge that could land him in jail. Just a sheer waste of talent for this one.
In the 2013 season, Gordon may have been the best young wide receiver in football. It was his coming out party with the Browns, and he racked up monster numbers on his way to a Pro Bowl appearance. Everything seemed like it was on the up-and-up, and that he would be a marquee NFL star for years to come. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out that way.
The next season in 2014, he was hit with a year-long suspension for driving under the influence in North Carolina. From there it was all downhill. Gordon faced additional suspensions, and was never able to get his substance abuse under control, for a long enough time to be reinstated long-term in the NFL. As it stands, it’s unlikely he ever plays another snap, after being one of the most promising young players.
Carruth was a wide receiver for the Panthers in the late-’90s, who conspired to murder his girlfriend who was pregnant with his child in 1999. In simply one of the most tragic stories involving an NFL player, whatever would prompt Carruth to do such a horrible thing is beyond comprehension. As a 1st-round pick of Carolina, it was a shocking development for one of the most notable young players in the league.
Now, he’s looking at an expected release date in 2018, after being sentenced in the year 2000. There’s not much in the way of recurring personal problems here. Carruth simply snapped one day and was the catalyst of a terrible murder. Obviously, his football career ended right away.
Appearing on seemingly a different roster every season he was in the NFL, Stallworth was one of the league’s most reckless players when he was in it. He was convicted of DUI manslaughter in 2009, and struggled with substance abuse for the majority of his career. While it didn’t derail his career entirely, he never was able to live up to his potential, because it was always clear that he had priorities other than excelling at football.
Ultimately, he never did fully crack, and he didn’t truly succumb to any one aspect of his personal demons. But it’s safe to say that his career would have been much better off had he not had the struggles that he while simultaneously in the prime of his career. There was a lot of wasted potential when it came to Stallworth.
Phillips’ story is one of the most tragic in league history, and it was truly a horrific demise for one of the game’s brightest young talents. He just wasn’t able to shake the substance abuse, and even though he flashed brilliance during his brief time with the Rams, that was about the extent of his professional career. He became a journeyman soon after, and bounced around the league to no avail.
After retiring from football, things went from bad to worse. A bevy of arrests, assault charges, and the continued substance abuse all had a hand in ruining Phillips’ life, and landing him in jail. It was there that he unfortunately committed suicide in 2016. It was really just a nightmare of a story involving a player who could have been one of the league’s best of the Y2K Era.
Perhaps the most popular college football player of the late-’90s, Clarett projected to be a transcendent superstar when he was at Ohio State. There were warning signs even then that Clarett was a deeply disturbed person, having problems with anger and attitude, but those issues and others came to light when he moved to Los Angeles to train for the NFL Combine.
Clarett developed a serious problem with drugs and alcohol while on the West Coast, and by the time he was drafted by the Broncos, he was already in the throes of addiction. He spent one training camp in Denver, but never was able to shake his problems, and was promptly cut in 2005. Other problems such as gun charges, armed robbery and significant prison time awaited Clarett after he was done with his very brief stint in the NFL. With a DUI arrest as late as 2016, it’s clear that he hasn’t been successfully rehabilitated.
Clarett represents perhaps the quickest fall from grace in football history.