Injuries are a part of the NFL, and players are lucky to get through a full season unscathed. Most weeks, players do play hurt, and those little knocks can cause longer injury layoffs later on. NFL stars often return to the starting lineup after an injury, but not all stars are the same was they comeback. According to the NFL Players Association, injuries are on the rise. In 2010, the number of player injuries surged from 3.2 to 3.7 per team, per NFL gameweek. Some experts have blamed bigger, faster players for the increase in injuries, while others have criticized rule changes that influence players to tackle differently. Whatever the reason, injuries due occur, and they can completely change the careers for many NFL stars.
Many NFL stars who have suffered injuries haven’t been the same upon return. Whether physically or mentally, players cannot always comeback to the heights they once enjoyed. It isn’t just offensive players that have seen their careers dip following a spell on the sidelines. Plenty of defensive players, like Bob Sanders, have regressed following their injuries. Knees, necks, concussions and more have cut short plenty of promising careers. These 15 NFL stars were never the same following their injuries.
15. Jamaal Charles
Jamaal Charles’ NFL career went up in flames on one play during the 2015 season. The Kansas City Chiefs all-time leading rusher, averaging 5.1 yards a carrier during the season, blew out his knee in week 5 against the Chicago Bears. The four-time Pro Bowler had just come off of three straight 1,000-plus yard seasons for the Chiefs and the team’s offence revolved around him. The running back missed the rest of the season and the first four weeks of 2016 due to his torn ACL. When Charles returned, his knee wasn’t healed, and after three games he went under the knife for another surgery to repair his ACL. The five-time 1,000-yard rusher was released by Kansas City at the end of the season, not convinced he would return from his devastating knee injury. Charles signed with the Chiefs AFC West rival, the Denver Broncos, during the 2017 offseason. Despite playing in week 1 and 2 for the Broncos, Charles looks like a shell of his former self.
14. Teddy Bridgewater
Teddy Bridgewater has been out of NFL action for the last 12 months, and he isn’t expected to return to play until for mid to late October. Before his injury, the Minnesota Vikings quarterback made a meteoric rise in the NFL, leading the Vikings to the playoffs in just his second season under centre. Bridgewater went 11-5, completing 65% of his passes and threw for 14 touchdowns. However, a career threatening knee injury ahead of the Vikings first game in 2016 put him on the shelf, where he has remained ever since. Currently on the NFL’s physically unable to perform (PUP) list, Bridgewater won’t return until at least week 6. ESPN has reported he will be ready to play by midseason, and he Bridgewater is expected to become Sam Bradford’s backup. The Vikings declined Bridgewater’s contract option for next year, which makes him a free agent following the conclusion of the 2017 season.
13. Andrew Luck
Andrew Luck was Indianapolis’ answer to life after Peyton Manning. The former No. 1 draft pick was a Pro Bowl selection three straight seasons, and he led the NFL in passing touchdowns in 2014 with a career high 40. The only thing missing from Luck’s resume was a Super Bowl ring, and after three consecutive years of 11-5 finishes, fans thought 2015 was the Colts’ year. However, Luck suffered a shoulder injury four weeks into the season, and missed his first ever NFL game as a result. After returning for three games, another injury forced Luck out of action, but this time it was due to a lacerated kidney. Luck was sidelined for the remainder of the season as the Colts missed the postseason for the first time with him as quarterback. Luck returned to form in 2016, but he was only able to lead the Colts to an eight-win season. Following the team’s second straight year without qualifying for the playoffs, Luck underwent shoulder surgery. Since the operation, Luck hasn’t played a down for the Colts after being held out of preseason. Now over two weeks into the 2017 NFL regular season, Indianapolis doesn’t have a timeline on when Luck will play. However, news is gathering that he is unhappy and wants out of the Indy, according to ESPN’s Mike and Mike. This comes in just his second season of a massive six-year, $140 million contract. Whether a team can take on Luck’s guaranteed $87m is one thing. Whether his shoulder is actually 100% is another.
12. Robert Griffin III (RG3)
Robert Griffin III started his NFL life very promisingly, only to fizzle out shortly after being named 2012 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. In his debut NFL season, RG3 led the Redskins to their first playoff appearance in five years as the quarterback went 9-6 and threw for 20 touchdowns. Each of the four seasons he played afterwards however were far less impressive. RG3’s downfall started in the Redskins’ playoff loss to the Seahawks as he re-injured his knee; which resulted in surgery. The former Baylor quarterback returned for week 1 in 2013, but never looked like the same quarterback. RG3 was so poor, he was made inactive for the team’s final three games of the season to avoid further injury. More injuries followed in 2014 as RG3 went 2-5, and Washington made plans to cut ties with the former Rookie of the Year after he never played a down during the 2015 season. Signed as a free agent by Cleveland in 2016, RG3 was just another signal caller in a long line of Browns’ quarterbacks that fans hoped could lead the team to the playoffs. It didn’t happen. He played just five games as he missed week 2 through 13 due to injury. RG3 was released by the Browns after going 1-4 as a starter.
11. Daunte Culpepper
Daunte Culpepper played 11 seasons in the NFL for four different franchises and threw for 149 touchdowns. Culpepper’s early career with the Minnesota Vikings was as good as it gets in terms of statistics. Unfortunately, the Vikings only once finished over .500 while he was under centre. Culpepper’s best NFL season came in 2004 as he tossed 39 touchdowns and threw for more than 4,700 yards. Culpepper was expected to continue with his success in 2005, but poor performances to start the season meant Minnesota was quickly 0-2. Then, on October 30, Culpepper suffered an injury to his ACL, MCL and PCL, and the quarterback’s career began to unravel in Minnesota. Unhappy with his backup Brad Johnson’s performances outshining his, and being accused of not rehabbing his injury at his home in Florida, Culpepper demanded to be traded or released from the team. Culpepper ended up in Miami after the Dolphins decided against signing Drew Brees. Culpepper played just four games for Miami, going 1-3. He surfaced in Oakland in 2007 playing seven times before moving to Detroit where he managed 13 appearances in two seasons. He was never the same after his 2005 injury, although some credit his poor play to his attitude. Culpepper finished his career in 2010, playing for the Sacramento Mountain Lions of the United Football League before calling it quits.
10. Priest Holmes
Priest Holmes became a well-known name in the AFC when he starred for the Baltimore Ravens in the 1998 season. The former Texas Longhorn rushed for more than 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns. Although his next two seasons in Baltimore were nowhere near as successful, Holmes found new life when he moved to Kansas City in 2001. Three straight 1,000 yard seasons followed and in 2003, Holmes recorded 27 touchdowns. However, in 2004, years of banging into defensive lineman and linebackers began to take their toll. Then in October 2005, Holmes suffered a severe neck injury against the San Diego Chargers in a helmet-to-helmet collision. Holmes spent nearly two years recovering, but did play in four games in 2007. However, he experienced symptoms similar to what he had suffered from when he had the original injury. It scared Holmes, and he was warned another neck injury could result in permanent paralysis. Holmes retired in 2007 as the Chiefs’ all-time leader in rushing touchdowns with 76.
9. Ickey Woods
Ickey Woods burst on to the NFL scene in 1988 with the Cincinnati Bengals. In Woods’ rookie season, he rushed for more than 1,000 yards and scored 15 touchdowns as he featured in all 16 Bengals’ regular season games. In the NFL playoffs that same year, Woods averaged over a 100 yards rushing in each AFC playoff game and the Bengals’ Super Bowl XXIII loss to San Francisco. Woods and the Bengals were expected to be the AFC’s premier team as the 1980s finished and the 1990s began, however that wasn’t to be. Woods suffered a terrible ACL injury in Cincinnati’s second game of the 1989 season against Pittsburgh. Woods spent 13 months on the sidelines recovering. When he returned in 1990, James Brooks, Eric Ball and Harold Green had taken Woods’ place on the depth chart. The powerful running-back still played in 10 games, but only recorded 268 yards rushing. A year later and another knee injury set him back, but Woods still played in nine games, rushing for just 97 total yards. He was mostly used in short yardage situations. At the end of the season, Woods retired from the NFL at just 26-years old. Woods still holds 30 Bengals records, and is still a name that fans fondly remember. Although he had the skill and numbers to back up his play, Woods is often remember for his iconic touchdown celebration, the Ickey Shuffle.
8. Charles Rogers
Expectations were high in the Motor City when the Lions selected wide receiver Charles Rogers with the second overall pick in 2003. The former Michigan State star started his rookie season well, recording 22 pass receptions for 243 yards and three touchdowns. However, a broken clavicle ended his first year after five games. It was a devastating injury that put Rogers on the path to decline for the remainder of his NFL career. In the first game of the 2004 season, Rogers suffered a re-occurrence of the injury, forcing him out for the entire season. It wasn’t just Rogers’ injury record that killed his career, however. He failed an NFL drug test in 2005 for the third time, prompting Detroit to file a grievance against him. Heading into the 2006 campaign, the Lions cut Rogers due to a myriad of problems. No team was willing to take a chance on the wide receiver, forcing him into early retirement.
7. LeCharles Bentley
LeCharles Bentley was Sports Illustrated’s Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2002 thanks to his brilliant performances for the New Orleans Saints at right guard. A year later and Bentley had put in another star season as he was voted to his first Pro Bowl. A position move in 2004 to centre didn’t hurt the 300-plus pounder as he was regarded as one of the best offensive linemen in the NFL. In 2005, still playing as the Saints’ centre, Bentley was voted to his second Pro Bowl despite the team finishing with just three wins. Bentley left New Orleans for Cleveland in the offseason and was set to be the biggest free agent signing in that NFL’s summer break. Unfortunately for Bentley and the Browns, he suffered a horrendous knee injury on the first play of a training camp scrimmage. Bentley underwent two knee surgeries to repair his knee, plus two more to eliminate a staph infection that developed. According to reports, the infection was so bad, doctors had consulted on removing Bentley’s leg. After more than 680 days away from playing football, Bentley was finally able to return to the Browns. However, a day after reporting to the team, he asked for his release. In 2012, Bentley received a settlement from the Browns after filing a lawsuit against the team. According to reports, he wasn’t the only player from the team to obtain a staph infection from the rehab centre. Despite the Browns knowing about the infections the players contracted, they continued to send players to the medical facility. The Browns’ luck seems to have never returned after the original franchise moved to Baltimore.
6. Carson Palmer
In Carson Palmer’s second NFL season as quarterback for Cincinnati, he led the Bengals to the postseason for the first time in 15 years. Fans rejoiced and the heartache of more than a decade of being the NFL’s laughing stock was over. Yet, it wasn’t to last long. Palmer suffered a severe knee injury while making his first pass of the team’s 2005-06 playoff game against Pittsburgh. Kimo von Oelhoffen’s awkward tackle knocked Palmer out of the game, and ended the Bengals’ hopes of progression in the playoffs. Palmer returned the next season, but he couldn’t rekindle the previous year’s magic. Two years later, Palmer featured in just four games for the Bengals, losing all four, before undergoing Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow. Despite returning to Cincinnati and throwing 21 touchdown passes in 2009, Palmer’s Bengals couldn’t get past the AFC Wild Card game once more. Since leaving Cincinnati after the 2010 season, Palmer has suffered further elbow and right shoulder injuries, and he has only played two full NFL regular seasons. One of those was in 2015 when he threw for 35 touchdowns and made the Pro Bowl for the third time. Unfortunately, now 37, the injuries Palmer has endured have taken their toll on his body. Each time he gets hit, Arizona Cardinals fans cross their fingers he will get up to play another down.
5. Sterling Sharpe
Sterling Sharpe played seven NFL seasons with the Green Bay Packers, but most modern fans will know him as an NFL pundit. During his time at Lambeau, Sharpe was a great receiver, and if his career wasn’t cut short due to a severe neck injury in 1994 that nearly left him unable to walk, Sharpe would be remembered as THE GREATEST. Sharpe became the first receiver to make more than 100 catches in back-to-back seasons. As a member of the Packers, Sharpe had the misfortune to play for the team just before its back-to-back Super Bowl appearances. To make matters worse, Sharpe only played with Brett Favre for two years (1993 and 1994). The ’93 season saw Sharpe record a career high 112 receptions. That same year, Sharpe became the quickest player to reach 500 career receptions in the NFL’s history. Just imagine if he and Favre had played together for more than two seasons.
4. Terrell Davis
Terrell Davis was an NFL great and he helped the Denver Broncos to two Super Bowl championships. He even picked up the Super Bowl MVP award at Super Bowl XXXII. In his first four NFL seasons, Davis rushed for over 1,000 yards each year. In fact, each season got progressively better with his best coming in 1998 when Davis ran for 2008 yards and 21 touchdowns. The wheels came off after the 2008 season, however, as Davis suffered injury setback after injury setback. Davis played just four times for Denver in 1999 as he tallied a mere 211 yards. The 2000 season wasn’t much better, but he did show flashes of his old self in 2001. Davis ran for 701 yards on 167 carries. He can count a list of accolades and awards from his time with the Broncos as one of the greatest running backs to grace the NFL. Davis was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2017, becoming just the fifth Denver player to be enshrined in the hall.
3. Bob Sanders
Due to injury, Bob Sanders never played a full 16 game season during his eight-year NFL career. In 2005, Sanders had his break out season for the Indianapolis Colts, playing in 14 games and recording 71 tackles as he was voted to the Pro Bowl. Injury cut short his 2006 campaign, but a year later, Sanders returned with a vengeance. He recorded two interceptions, 3.5 sacks and 71 tackles. His performance led Sanders to be selected to another Pro Bowl and he made the NFL’s All-Pro team for a second time. Sanders was also selected as the NFL Defensive Player of the Year; an award given just three times prior to safeties. Sanders was on top of the football world, but that changed quickly in 2008. Sanders would only play 11 more NFL games as he battled injuries for the remainder of his career. In 2011, after a whirlwind career with with the Colts, Sanders joined San Diego. Unfortunately, he finished the season on the injured reserve list, making it the fourth season in a row he finished a season on the IR. Sanders played just twice for the Chargers.
2. Bo Jackson
Bo Jackson may have been the greatest natural athlete in United States’ sports history. There was nothing Bo couldn’t do. A baseball all-star and NFL superstar, Jackson was such a big part of pop culture in the early 1990s that he even had his own cartoon series on NBC alongside Joe Montana and Wayne Gretzky. Drafted first overall in 1986 by the Los Angeles Raiders, Jackson averaged 73 yards per game during his four-year career, but missed games in each season due to his baseball commitments with the Kansas City Royals. In wasn’t Jackson’s accumulation of yards per game that turned heads, however. Jackson was electric from the line of scrimmage and he wowed fans with his trademark long runs. It was on one of these long runs that Jackson suffered a football career ending injury on. In January 1991, during an NFL playoff game against Cincinnati the running-back dislocated his hip when he was tackled from behind. Jackson’s hip injury would only get worse and within weeks, doctors had found the blood flow to the area had been disrupted. Jackson would never play football again, although he did return to the diamond with the Chicago White Sox in 1991.
1. Joe Montana
For 11 seasons, Joe Montana was the greatest NFL quarterback of all-time. Throughout the 1980s he was cool, hip and devastating on the gridiron. Montana’s fame transcended sports and in 1987, he made a classic appearance on NBC’s Saturday Night Live that still holds up in 2017. Montana led the 49ers to four Super Bowl wins and picked up the MVP award in three of those games. His Super Bowl XXIII performance in which he led San Francisco on “The Drive”, still gives fans goose bumps. The 49ers were on pace to win their third straight Super Bowl until Montana suffered a devastating injury when he was sacked by the New York Giants’ Leonard Marshall. The Giants would go on to win 15-13, thanks to five field goals. Montana would never be the same, and he missed nearly all of the next two seasons. The Kansas City Chiefs traded for Montana in 1993, and in two years, he played 25 games. With the Chiefs, Montana threw for more than 5,000 yards and 29 touchdowns.