Top 10 NFL Late-Career Surges

ted hendricks 1

People say the longer you play into your thirties, the worse you get. Father Time is undefeated, and it’s a matter of time before one can’t muster the ability to play to their full potential. In the NFL, younger is typically better than older, with some positions becoming outright obsolete upon hitting a certain age. Of course, there are exceptions to everything, and with that, I decided to look into the most notable cases of players performing spectacularly at a time when they probably shouldn’t have. On a further note, this list is specifically looking for players that weren’t already consistently great players. One must simply perform far better than initially expected at the most unexpected time of their careers. Much like the saying, “It’s not how you start, but how you finish.”

#10: Aqib Talib

aqib talib

The only current player on this list, Aqib Talib is a somewhat polarizing player. His antics within games has given him the image of a dirty player, and at times costs his defense some ground. Controversial image aside, his production is something that makes up for his bad temper.

Talib was drafted 20th overall in the 2008 NFL Draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He became an established starter the year after, where he would stay until 2012, when prior to the trade deadline cutoff, he was traded to the New England Patriots. As 2013 rolled by, it was evident that the Buccaneers gave up a great player when Talib was named to his first Pro Bowl with the Patriots. Unable to work out a long-term deal, he signed with the Denver Broncos prior to the 2014 season, where he would become a part of a mega-deal spending spree for Denver, along with the signing of DeMarcus Ware and T.J. Ward. Talib showed he was worth every penny.

Between 2008 and 2012, Talib was a good, but not great player. Once he had joined a great team in New England, his true skills were brought to light, then again when joining Denver. Since 2013, Talib has made the Pro Bowl every year, along with a First Team All-Pro selection just this last year. His skills as a corner also reflect in his ability to turn those picks into points, as he’s recorded five pick-sixes in the last three seasons with Denver. At age 31, his ability to play doesn’t seem to be in question, which can’t be said for other once-great corners, unfortunately.

#9: Dan Fouts

dan fouts

Fouts’s career surge isn’t exactly late into his own specific career, but it’s late enough to be considered something noteworthy. With the addition of head coach Don Coryell in 1978, the San Diego Chargers’ offense got retooled into something unlike the NFL had ever seen before. At the helm was Dan Fouts, a third-round pick back in 1973 who had had limited success as a starter, but was kept around for sheer talent alone. That talent bloomed suddenly in 1979 when the offense began to click on all cylinders.

The Chargers of the early ’80s were what many considered the father of the modern passing attack of today’s NFL. Dan Fouts managed to conduct the passing machine with grace as he consistently piled on the passing yards game after game. In his first three years as a 16-game starter, he threw for 4,082, 4,715, and 4,802 yards, numbers that were mind-blowing at the time. Even with the strike-filled 9-game 1982 NFL season, he threw for 2,883 yards, good for an average of 320 yards per game. Those are Drew Brees numbers back when Drew Brees was in diapers.

Between 1979 and 1985, Fouts was named to six Pro Bowls and granted two First Team All-Pro honors. His rampant success didn’t begin until he was 28-years-old. He may have placed higher on this list if he sustained that success until retirement, but alas, his last two seasons were forgettable at best. Injuries also caused the acceleration of his regression. If only his talent allowed him more success in the playoffs.

#8: Jimmy Johnson

jimmy johnson

No, not that Jimmy Johnson. This Jimmy Johnson was a long-time player for the olden-days San Francisco 49ers. And boy, did his career go out with a bang.

The start of Johnson’s career proved just as interesting as the developmental prodigy’s finish. While listed as cornerback, Johnson also saw some time on offense in 1962, catching 34 balls for 627 yards and four touchdowns. For 1962, those are some fine numbers! Snagging that many receptions would make sense for Johnson’s ability to snag interceptions as a cornerback, with 47 career interceptions along a sixteen-year career. His role in the offense dissipated after 1963, and for a while, he served as a capable, if not expendable starter for the 49ers’ defense. At the tender age of 31, Johnson became a part of a changing atmosphere in San Fran, part of which shows with his production.

Between 1969 and 1972, Johnson landed four straight Pro Bowls nods and was named to four straight First Team All-Pro teams. He had established himself as the league’s top corner after nine seasons of subpar team records. He even has a safety to his credit! A safety! As a cornerback! He would make the Pro Bowl one more time in 1974 before finishing his career the same we he started it: by consistently playing to his best capabilities. A sixteen-year career as a cornerback is rare in and of itself, but to have your best success on the wrong side of thirty? That’s remarkable. Jimmy Johnson deserves some recognition for his fantastic ability to stop the clock, if only for a little bit.

#7: Ted Hendricks

ted hendricks 2

Many remember Kurt Warner’s early success, middle blank, and late revival, but Ted Hendricks did it nearly thrity years before. Only difference was that while Warner was undrafted and had to work to get his shot in the NFL, Hendricks was a second-round pick and immediate starter for the Baltimore Colts in 1969. He made an impact, too, though the hardware wouldn’t start until 1971.

Between 1971 and 1974, Hendricks made the Pro Bowl four straight years and snagged two First Team All-Pro titles. Interestingly enough, one of those All-Pros was earned in a lone season for the Green Bay Packers in 1974. In ’75, he signed with the Oakland Raiders and wasn’t immediately named a starter. He eventually gained the coaches’ trust and became one of the core pieces of a championship-caliber team, but his production was somewhat overshadowed by other members of the team. Hendricks’s rise to fame came at the twilight of his career, in 1980, his twelfth NFL season.

At age 33, Hendricks was named to his third First Team All-Pro team, then continued his dominance by earning another two years later, all the while being voted to the Pro Bowl in as many years. He again was voted to the Pro Bowl in 1983, his last NFL season, which ceremoniously ended with the fourth Super Bowl ring of his career. With four Pro Bowls and two First Team All-Pros in his last four NFL seasons, and a Super Bowl title win in his final game, Ted truly rode out on top of the world.

#6: Bill Forester

bill forester

An oldie, but a goodie.

Before the Packers were run by the late Vince Lombardi, they were a laughing stock. Losing season after losing season, the team had talent, but couldn’t ring in their ability to win games. Bill Forester was one of those players that were lost in the shuffle of it all. As a third-round pick in 1953, Forester played within a team in disarray, but played well enough to earn his starting spot. He would remain in that spot for his entire career, never missing a game between 1953 and 1963. Once Lombardi came along, Forester became an irreplaceable plug in the Lombardi conundrum.

In every year but his last once Lombardi was head coach, Forester made the Pro Bowl. He also made three straight First Team All-Pros between 1960 and 1962. Even with his final season, he performed well enough to start every game and contribute to the team. Under the right management, Forester was able to unleash his talent in a way that suited his strengths, and the league recognized his superior talent within a pool of fantastic athletes. Forester was one of many greats in Lombardi’s Packer defense.

While Bill’s success didn’t seem all that late, with his best years coming in his late-twenties, he retired somewhat early in 1963, at the age of 31 (31 keeps coming up in this list for some reason). Who’s to say if his career would’ve stayed consistently great had he kept playing, or if he realized his ensuing regression in his final year and decided to hang up the cleats to save himself the embarrassment. Whatever the case, Bill’s legacy lives on in the hearts of many old Packers fans, as he helped his team win back-to-back championships in ’61 and ’62.

#5: Rich Gannon

rich gannon

Rich Gannon is a player who was lucky enough to survive in the NFL for as long as he did. The man was drafted by the New England Patriots, but never played a down for them. He caught on with the Minnesota Vikings and eventually became their primary starter, but flamed out after three years. A quick, one-year stop in Washington also didn’t pan out very well. He would see limited success with the Kansas City Chiefs years later, playing well enough for the Oakland Raiders to take a crack at him in 1999… twelve years after he was drafted by New England.

34-years-old, Gannon would see his career take a different turn suited in the silver and black. In his first year as a starter, he made the Pro Bowl. The next three years, his team would go 33-15, and a big part of that was Gannon throwing for 81 touchdowns, a 64% completion rate, and around 12,000 yards. His performance earned him two First Team All-Pro honors and three straight trips to the Pro Bowl, bringing his total to four in four years with the Oakland Raiders. There was no doubt that in that four-year span between 1999 and 2002, Gannon was a top-three quarterback in the NFL.

His success wouldn’t continue through his final two seasons, unfortunately, as injuries and a rapidly regressing team cost him a shot at winning the big one. He would end his career on a soft note, but to think that Gannon would be considered among the best quarterbacks of the early 2000’s after twelve years of relative obscurity is something no one would’ve predicted from a fourth-round pick in 1987. Winning the NFL MVP award at the age of 37 isn’t too shabby, either.

#4: Charles Woodson

Charles Woodson

This selection is very similar to that of Ted Hendricks. Only difference is that Woodson was a bonafide star coming out of college, as the only defensive player in College Football history to win the Heisman Trophy. Selected fourth overall by the Oakland Raiders in 1998, he would enjoy a little of that success that Rich Gannon enjoyed when he was signed there a year later. Woodson, also like Gannon, enjoyed immediate success donning the silver and black.

In his first four years, Woodson was named to the Pro Bowl four straight years, along with First Team All-Pro honors in 1999. In 2002, the year Oakland made it to the Super Bowl, Woodson was injured halfway through the season, almost symbolic of the downward spiral the franchise would face for years to come. Woodson would continue to deal with injuries for the next few years, until he was eventually released by Oakland after the 2005 season. He eventually signed with the Green Bay Packers, and after two seasons of good play, his real potential would be unleashed once Aaron Rodgers took over the team in 2008.

Between 2008 and 2011, Woodson was selected to four straight Pro Bowls, snagged two First Team All-Pro honors, and won the Defensive Player of the Year award in 2009. He picked off 25 passes in that span, with seven scores along with them. Woodson was at the top of his game playing in his early thirties, the age most defensive backs were slowing down. The performance wouldn’t last, as in 2012, an injury cut his season short, and was released by the Packers soon after. As fate would have it, Woodson would sign back with the Oakland Raiders and spend three years as their starting safety. In his final season in the NFL, at the age of 39, he made the Pro Bowl one last time.

#3: Gene Hickerson

gene hickerson

A seventh-round pick out of Mississippi, there wasn’t much expectation for Hickerson to become the star that he did. For a while, that expectation stood, as while he played in a good number of games, he wasn’t so important to the team that he was recognized as a star on the field. No, Hickerson wouldn’t find his groove until mid-way through his career.

Gene didn’t make his first Pro Bowl until the age of thirty, in 1965, seven years after he was drafted. This would result in a consistent surge from Hickerson, making the Pro Bowl six straight years between 1965 and 1970. In that span, he was also named First Team All-Pro three straight years. For a seventh-round pick, this was an absolute steal.

By the end of his career, Hickerson would appear in over 200 career games, performing at a level many wouldn’t have expected him to. His last three years were standard fare, but he started every game and ended it with the toughness that the Cleveland Browns were known for back in the old days. He would eventually be rewarded for his efforts by making the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007, 34 years after he retired. This honor wouldn’t have happened without that unprecedented six-year span of dominance, and is very well deserved, despite the wait.

#2: Chuck Howley

chuck howley

Speaking of the Hall of Fame, here’s a player that probably really deserves to be in there.

Chuck Howley was drafted seventh overall by the Chicago Bears, but had so little impact for them that he may as well have not played for them. After two seasons in Chicago, he didn’t play at all in 1960, but was eager to play the next year. Chicago traded him to Dallas, where he would play under Tom Landry and the “Doomsday Defense,” though his contributions wouldn’t become notable until some years later.

Howley played well within the defense, but his best years started in 1965, seven years after he was drafted and at the age of 29. Between 1965 and 1971, he would make six Pro Bowls and five First Team All-Pros. His exertion of skill showed tremendously in his early-to-mid-thirties, in spite of Father Time. He recorded two seasons of five or more interceptions as a linebacker. Some defensive backs can’t even do that, and to do it in the ’60s? Absolutely fantastic.

While playing well in 1972, he didn’t make the Pro Bowl, and injuries caused his final season in 1973 to be relegated to a single game. Still, how poetic it is to have Howley’s last great season as a Cowboy be celebrated with a Super Bowl victory. It almost seems like once he made it to the top of the mountain, he took his time coming back down. Even so, the journey to the top paid off for him in a big way, with all sorts of awards to his credit as one would expect from a first-round pick. It just took him a little while to find a system where he could play to his heart’s content.

#1: Steve Young

steve young

This was really a no-brainer, at least for me. Steve Young is one of the most fascinating stories in NFL history, and his talent is evident in his performance alone.

Touted as a great NFL prospect in 1984, Young decided to skip the NFL and sign a ten-year, $40 million contract with the emerging USFL football league, where he would play with the Los Angeles Express. In 1985, the league went under, and after being selected first overall in the NFL’s Supplemental Draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Young would spend his first two NFL seasons being chased around by opposing defenders. His record with Tampa Bay as a starter was 3-16. He was traded to the San Francisco 49ers in 1987, where he would serve as the back-up to the legendary Joe Montana. He would play sparingly, but never took the starting spot from Joe until a fateful injury in 1991.

Starting in 1992, at the age of 32, Steve Young was the bonafide starter for the San Francisco 49ers. He performed as though Joe Montana was just another quarterback.

While Young didn’t win as many Super Bowls, he was absolutely magnificent in the starting role. In the span between 1992 and 1998, he made the Pro Bowl every year, was awarded with three-straight First Team All-pro honors, and won the NFL MVP award twice. His three-year run between 1992 and 1994 had him post three consecutive quarterback ratings of over 100. In 1994, he completed over 70% of his passes, a feat only done three times up to that point. He led the league in completion percentage five times, in quarterback rating six times, and in touchdown passes four times. He was an absolute monster as the 49ers starting quarterback, and in a lot of ways better than his predecessor. It would be naive to say he wasn’t the best quarterback of the ’90s. His only knock was that he didn’t perform nearly as well in the playoffs.

Almost in a Peyton Manning-like sense, Steve Young was a fantastic pure passer, but wasn’t exactly the best person to win championships with. Even so, what he was able to accomplish in the regular season (along with a single Super Bowl victory) makes him incredibly deserving of the top spot on this list. Young enjoyed the most success of his career when most quarterbacks would be relegated to back-up roles. For that, his late-career surge is certainly one that should be noted for all who wish to know.

Honorable Mentions: Kurt Warner, Jay Hilgenberg, London Fletcher

Quarterback Clash: Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady

peyton and tom

If the NFL itself wasn’t hyping up the battles between two all-time greats, fans were belligerent in proclaiming either Tom Brady or Peyton Manning as the GOAT—Greatest Of All Time. Both have loaded resumés; seven Super Bowl wins, nearly 1,000 touchdowns, and 408 career wins between them. No one should argue that both aren’t among the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game, but which was the better choice? Which of these two would you rather have manning (no pun intended) the offense with the Super Bowl on the line? The intricacies of the position are so complex that either side could have a better argument depending on their definition of success in the NFL.

Consistency

Something that Manning has managed to accomplish throughout his career is being the beacon through which his offense runs off of. It seemed as though no matter the offensive scheme, coaches on the sideline, or the weapons at hand, the Colts, and later on the Broncos, managed to have a top-five offense with Manning at the helm. While not without some seasons with far too many interceptions, he never threw less than 26 touchdowns in a single season, sans his final season with the Broncos. Watching him play was like seeing an artist at their very highest, in complete control of their ability to craft articulate things with ease. Manning showed signs that he was destined for the Hall of Fame since his second season as a pro.

On the other end, Tom Brady was in a bit of a hierarchical dilemma to start his career. Winning three Super Bowls in four years helps your status as elite, but his play wasn’t so terrific that it garnered unanimous praise, unlike Manning. Brady bordered between really good and elite, with a lot of his performance being attributed to the system that he played in. Bill Belichick is commonly associated with coaching greats a la Vince Lombardi, Tom Landry, and co. To be able to play under such insight is something Manning never had the chance to discover, though many felt he was his own coach on the field. Some wondered if Brady really had full control of his offense, or if Belichick eased him into the role so that he could develop slowly as time passed. Brady’s coming of age didn’t happen until 2007, where he threw for a then-NFL record 50 touchdowns, in his seventh year as a starter.

peyton manning 2

Playoff Success

Tom Brady was 9-0 in the playoffs in his first four years as a starter. Peyton Manning was 0-2. Brady didn’t lose a playoff game until his eleventh shot. Manning didn’t win one until his sixth season as a starter. In fifteen years qualifying for the playoffs, Manning went one-and-done nine times. In fourteen years qualifying, Brady went one-and-done twice. Manning’s record in the playoffs is 14-13. Brady’s record is 25-9. What does this all amount to? One of two things: Brady always had a superior team around him or Manning chokes.

Interestingly enough, in the time when Brady became more of an offensive powerhouse of his own, between 2007 and now, his record in the playoffs is 13-7. Before then, he was 12-2. It seems there’s a correlation between offensive powerhouses and playoff success dropping between these two legends. Manning’s last season with the Broncos was a rollercoaster ride, but he did just enough to cruise through the playoffs riding his top-three ranked defense. While his 2006 defense with the Colts wasn’t very impressive, they handled enough in the playoffs to give Manning every opportunity to win the game. With Brady, his championship defenses were typically stellar, especially in points allowed. Disregarding the last few seasons and the first three Super Bowl teams, the Patriots’ defense wasn’t exactly frightening. One could make the case that Brady only played a minimal part in his early playoff success, riding the coattails of a super team concocted by a genius head coach. Peyton Manning single-handedly made his team a playoff contender year-in and year-out.

It wasn’t until Brady’s two Super Bowl wins in the last three years that he was able to establish himself as a quarterback that could single-handedly win a Super Bowl with his arm, especially coming back from 3-28 against the Atlanta Falcons. This gives an edge against Manning, who couldn’t do the same.

tom brady

Statistics

Peyton Manning holds quite a few passing records. The two most notable ones are career passing touchdowns and passing yards, with him leading the former by more than thirty touchdowns to the person in second (Brett Favre). There’s a possibility it may be surpassed by either Drew Brees or, conveniently enough, Tom Brady, but Peyton Manning’s offensive spectacle deserves that top spot. Manning surpasses Brady in nearly every statistical category (including interceptions), while also doing so in a record number of games.

Tom Brady is no slouch in the statistical category, either. His career touchdown to interception ratio is 3 to 1, a number only surpassed by Aaron Rodgers’s mind-blowing 4 to 1 ratio. The one leading example he has over Manning is that Brady has thrown nearly 100 fewer interceptions in his career. And should Tom continue his offensive capabilities, he may very well surpass him in career touchdowns and passing yards, as well.

Peyton Manning is among the offensive greats who could make a team great with only his arm, much in the way Dan Marino was. Considering the lax rules in favor of offensive performance in today’s NFL, his stats may pale in comparison to current greats or future greats who rack up touchdowns like it’s a chore. With the context that Manning was able to achieve what he did in the early 2000’s, consistently throwing for 4,000 yards and over 25 touchdowns, he becomes a shining example of offensive history. Not to mention, his first three years in Denver may go down as the best statistical three-year stretch by a quarterback in NFL history.

peyton manning

Conclusion

What it all comes down to is statistics and consistency vs. winning. Manning has undoubtedly been forever a powerhouse in the NFL, while Brady has the cover of being plopped into great teams. Manning also has most statistical advantages. What Brady beats him in is Super Bowl wins/appearances. 5 of 7 vs. 2 of 4. Again, one could say it was the teams that led him to his staggering winning percentage or his coach, but how far does that argument carry in the face of people who get it done? While Manning has better records, they’re only slightly better overall, as Brady has enough numbers to show that he’s better than most that came before him, with the key statistic being the relatively low number of interceptions thrown in 237 career games. While Brady has always had a great core around him, he makes the team that much better. It’s hard to wave off five Super Bowl wins, too. That’s why, in my mind, Tom Brady is the GOAT.

Predicting Dak Prescott’s Sophomore Success

dak prescott 1

One of the more intriguing storylines of the 2016 NFL season was the Dallas Cowboys and their surprise success after coming off a 4-12 season and losing incumbent starter Tony Romo to injury for the first half of the season. Instead of journeyman Mark Sanchez, the Cowboys decided to roll the dice with 4th-round rookie Dak Prescott out of Mississippi State to start at quarterback going into the season. The results included an NFC-best 13-3 record, a Pro Bowl berth, and Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. (Though many thought his running back teammate deserved it more.) In what is typically considered the hardest season for a pro athlete, Dak cruised through his rookie year like it was just another college game. Now, with the spotlight on him closer than ever, what are the chances of him sustaining, or even improving upon his first year as a starter?

There’s an interesting factor to consider when analyzing the value of a quarterback and what they can achieve in a specific system. Many times people hear general managers and coaches talk about “the pieces around” a quarterback, building the team around them. Oftentimes, analysts and experts will comment how a good defense and running game are a rookie quarterback’s best friends. This, more often than not, makes the difference between Dak Prescott’s rookie season and Tim Couch’s rookie season. Considering the Cowboys had one of the best offensive lines in the league, resulting in more time for the quarterback to throw and more time for the running back to find open lanes, that automatically gives an edge to Prescott’s success. Throw in Dez Bryant, Cole Beasley, (an albeit aging) Jason Witten, and an All-Pro rookie running back in Ezekiel Elliott, it all but ensures his chances at finding success. Of course, one can still do badly with pieces around them.

dak prescott 2

Another point that’s hard to really distinguish into words is the factor of being in the right place at the right time. Robert Griffin III had a fantastic first season, as well, leading his team to a 10-6 record and posting fantastic quarterback stats for a rookie. Since then, he’s been mediocre as a starter at best, and is currently out of the league with little hope of returning. The Redskins have managed to find success since then, so why wasn’t Griffin able to perform? Sometimes the NFL has a magic that deems some unworthy of consistent success despite their natural talent. Whether one-hit wonders or “magical seasons,” sometimes things seem too good to be true, with the weight of expectations bringing teams back down to Earth the following season(s). It happened with the Panthers last year, who finished 6-10 after going 15-1 and reaching the Super Bowl the previous year, despite being relatively unchanged roster-wise. Dallas’s roster is loaded with talent, at least offensively, but after a surprise success story last year, they’re due to be hit by NFL karma if they’re not careful.

And with the talk about roster, the Cowboys have let a number of people go this offseason, leaving questions as to how to fill them. Last year, the defense played exceptionally well despite not having many flashy players in the backfield. Though it may not seem as such with the lack of recognition, the unit allowed less than 20 points a game, among the best in the league. To lose starters Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, Barry Church, Terrell McClain, and Jack Crawford, Dallas looks quite thin on the defensive line and along the sidelines. With Ronald Leary signing in Denver and Doug Free retiring, that’s two big hits against their prestigious o-line, too. To combat this, the team drafted two cornerbacks with their second and third-round picks, with a third in the sixth round. They also took two defensive tackles in the seventh-round and Taco Charlton with their first-round pick. On paper, those holes seem to be filled, but once again, Dallas is rolling the dice on a number of rookies to pick up the slack of proven veterans. While offense is unquestionably solid, there are a lot of question marks on the defensive side.

dak prescott-ezekiel elliot

Many people make the argument that the 1972 Miami Dolphins perfect record isn’t as amazing as it seems because they had an easy regular season schedule. Dak’s opponents in 2016 weren’t that great, either, as strength of schedule based on winning records had them as the 6th easiest schedule in the NFL, with opponents such as the 3-13 Chicago Bears, 2-14 San Francisco 49ers, and 1-15 Cleveland Browns. With this season’s schedule released, Dallas’s strength of schedule, based on 2016’s results, has them in the top 10 in difficulty. If Dak is for real, this will be the season to prove it, with the league taking note of the team’s assumed quality.

The key difference for me between Robert Griffin III and Dak Prescott’s rookie years is that Griffin was better using his legs to compensate for his arm. Dak scored six rushing touchdowns in 2016, but only attempted to rush 57 times. Griffin tried over twice that amount in 2012, with seven scores on 120 rushing attempts. One can argue that Griffin had to to suffice the offense’s potential, seeing as most of his weapons were either injured or ineffective, but the less he ran over the course of his career, the lower his effectiveness as a quarterback was. Dak has shown (small sample size and all) that he can sit in the pocket and throw his way to victory. In the NFL, that’s the feature you want to see most in a quarterback. So long as Dak keeps himself steady, there’s no limit to his potential.

Taking everything into consideration, from the defensive roster overhaul to the unspeakable magic that limits the potential of various teams from year to year, I don’t feel the Cowboys will go 13-3 this year, but will find success on the shoulders of their offensive one-two punch in Prescott and Elliott. The offensive line still seems in great shape, most of the core offensive weapons stayed put, and so long as Elliott himself doesn’t regress, Prescott has the luxury of not taking on too much by himself. I expect Dak to better his statistics in touchdowns and yards, though perhaps not in completion percentage and interceptions, to make up for the defense’s shortcomings. Depending on one’s interpretation of success, I predict Dak to have a more successful quarterbacking season, if not a better team season.

Does Kurt Warner Belong in the NFL Hall of Fame?

kurt warner 1

The NFL Hall of Fame is an exclusive, invite-only fraternity of the best of the best players in NFL history. Names that need to be addressed when speaking about the NFL’s “lore” make up that fraternity; the people who made an impact to the game whether in their own way or improving upon what was already established. Dan Marino, Joe Montana, Otto Graham, Terry Bradshaw, and Brett Favre are only five of many quarterbacks already enshrined within the Hall of Fame, and with the next group of enshrinees comes a new quarterback being given his own golden jacket. This quarterback’s name is Kurt Warner, and his inclusion within the now-crowded Hall was met with the same force that hampered most of Warner’s career: uncertainty.

Many have the mind to voice their opinion. Most times, one doesn’t need to be asked to do so. The debate upon Warner’s legitimacy as a Hall of Famer is one that many can’t seem to agree on. No one denies the talent that he had and the stellar performances he was capable of in his prime, but what seems to be the biggest factor of debate is his consistency. Because Warner did not have the ability to play fifteen-plus years of top-five quarterback play, he’s not worth being named among the greats of the league. Valid criticisms of his induction have been made, while others seem to be more speculation than anything. My aim is to sort out a lot of the arguments that I’ve seen from NFL fans and see if I can’t get a firm grasp of what I think of Warner’s legitimacy for the Hall of Fame from them.

“He had a long, forgettable in-between phase”

kurt warner 2

Warner played one season for the Giants in 2004.

Among the most common complaints I hear (and the most valid) is that Warner had a long stretch of time where he was just a journeyman back-up quarterback. When injuries derailed his performance within the final years of his Rams tenure, he signed a deal with the Giants in 2004 to become their starter, only to be replaced by a rookie Eli Manning after nine starts. The next year, he signed with the Cardinals, where he was again plagued by injuries, on top of not performing well enough to win. The year after that, the Cardinals drafted Matt Leinart in the first round, who was known for his winning ways at USC. With this added pressure, Warner would fight for the starting job for the next two years, finally becoming the established starter after week seven in 2007.

Adding it all up, from 2002 to 2006, Warner had a win-loss record of 8-23, changed teams twice, and threw 27 touchdowns to 30 interceptions. Hall of Fame statistics? Certainly not.

His best years came between 1999-2001 and 2007-2009. His win-loss record in those spans combined was 59-26, while throwing 181 touchdowns to 98 interceptions. He was also 1-2 in Super Bowl games in those spans. Hall of Fame statistics? Could certainly make a case for it.

When all comes together, the argument is essentially the six-year spurt of greatness versus the five-year span of fighting for a job against unproven rookies. To some extent, I feel the baggage of drafting a quarterback with a high draft pick puts too much pressure on someone designated to be a “bridge-starter.” Kurt led the Giants to a 5-4 record in 2004 before being pulled for Manning, who lost every game he started for the rest of that season. Again during his tenure with the Cardinals, he was constantly looking over his shoulder. Leinart was an incredibly hyped prospect coming into the NFL and fans and likely coaches were clamoring to see what he could do on the field. The mental beating Warner must have taken probably built his patience, because no one could provide him with any. Ultimately, I’d guess the combination of lingering injuries and never being given a fair shot at competing dragged Warner down in his transitional phase.

“He was a ‘Feel-good pick'”

kurt warner 4

Warner won the Super Bowl in his first year as a full-time starter.

It was a tough journey to the NFL for Kurt Warner. Undrafted in 1994, he would try out for the Packers’ practice squad, only to be cut later on. With nowhere else to turn, he played for the Arena Football League, and guided the Iowa Barnstormers to two Arena Bowl appearances. In 1998, he played football in Europe before catching on with the St. Louis Rams by the time the ’98 season rolled around. In 1999, incumbent starter Trent Green suffered a massive injury during the preseason, leaving Warner with the keys to the starting job. With that opportunity, he led the Rams to a 13-3 record and won it all over the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV. An undrafted player, who was bagging groceries for a living just the year before, was now a Super Bowl champion.

While not as sweet, Warner’s second Cinderella story came nine years later with the Arizona Cardinals, where he re-established himself as an elite starter within the league. With just a 9-7 record in the regular season, Warner took a talented, but flawed Cardinals team to the playoffs and farther than they’ve ever been in franchise history: the Super Bowl. If not for a spectacular catch by Santonio Holmes, or perhaps a hundred-yard interception return by James Harrison, he would’ve won two Super Bowls when the expectations were at their absolute lowest. It’s this sort of dramatic turn of events in sports that keeps the game interesting over time.

To some, this is more a distraction than anything else. However, I believe one of the most impactful things about the Hall of Fame is the players impact on the game itself. While I certainly believe a player must be good first and foremost, I can excuse that they may not have been as good as others if they changed the scope of what the game provided. Kurt Warner is a feel-good case, yes, and I feel that ultimately helps his case. One cannot mention Rams history without Kurt Warner, as he was the only quarterback to bring home a Super Bowl trophy. One cannot mention Cardinals history without Kurt Warner, as he’s been the only quarterback to bring them to a Super Bowl. His ability to perform at the highest level for two different teams (much like Peyton Manning) is a testament to his will and determination. Not to mention, why wouldn’t one want a guy who practically owns the penultimate story of being the underdog in the Hall of Fame? That’s what makes Sports more exciting, what makes them more than just a game. That passion is what makes the NFL such a magical experience year-in and year-out. Kurt Warner has that advantage to his resumé.

“His window of success was too short”

kurt warner 3

Warner only played one full season as a starter with the Cardinals.

Here’s another valid criticism of Warner, whose best years came in seemingly very quick timeframes. As noted above, his best years came between 1999-2001 and 2007-2009. Is six years of fantastic play enough to warrant a Hall of Fame induction? The issue seems to divide a number of Hall of Fame voters and fans alike, as a number of players are subjected to such scrutiny.

Terrell Davis is an example of someone who got into the Hall of Fame despite his short window of success. He won two Super Bowls with John Elway and the Broncos in 1997 and 1998. With four-straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons (including one 2,000-yard season) to start his career, three-straight seasons with 13 or more rushing touchdowns, and three First-Team All-Pro selections in that span, Davis’s path to the Hall of Fame seemed predestined. Then, injuries began to pile on, forcing him to retire early after three more forgettable seasons in the NFL. So the question becomes, “Is four years of fantastic play enough to warrant a Hall of Fame induction?” It seems in this case, yes, as he will be joining Warner this year in the Class of 2017.

Alternatively, Sterling Sharpe is a good example of someone within that same discussion. A wide receiver for Green Bay during the ’90s, injuries forced him to retire early at age 29, the same age as Terrell Davis. Not counting his rookie year, though he played well regardless, Sharpe snagged five Pro Bowl nods and three First-Team All-Pro honors in six years. Unfortunately, he retired before Brett Favre managed to win his first and only Super Bowl, which may have hurt Sharpe’s chances at Hall of Fame status. While few would deny that Terrell Davis was paramount in the Broncos’ success during those Super Bowl runs, Sharpe was no simple cog in the offensive juggernaut himself. He led the league in receptions three times, in receiving yards once, and twice in touchdown receptions. There was little doubt he was a top-five receiver in his prime, so why no love for him as a Hall of Fame candidate? Because he didn’t win a Super Bowl? Tell that to Dan Marino, Fran Tarkenton, Barry Sanders, etc.

It seems this “Window of success” argument hold weight in some cases, but not for others. Gale Sayers is an obvious choice as a Hall of Famer, and he only played seven years in the NFL. What a lot of these players have in common is the impact of injury on their careers, whether positively or negatively. Kurt Warner dealt with his fair share of injuries, too, so the justification of adding a Terrell Davis in a sort-of “What if” situation should then also apply to Warner, who managed to break through his injury bug and have a relatively successful end-of-career.

While other arguments may exist in the minds of NFL fans, whatever may arise, I feel the success of Kurt Warner’s career overlaps his failures. He has the benefit of having the hook of a pure underdog story, a Super Bowl ring, and a top ten career quarterback rating to his name. The theme of overcoming adversity should only benefit his inclusion in the Hall of Fame, as his leadership characteristics contributed to his ability to win at the most opportune times. Do I believe Kurt Warner belongs in the NFL Hall of Fame? Yes.

Top 10 Great Seasons By Average NFL Players

derek anderson give

(Originally posted to my main blog on September 7th, 2016. Slightly edited.)

The NFL is very quick to highlight the spectacular talent produced within the league. J.J. Watt, Todd Gurley, Cam Newton, and more have been showing up in commercials and headlines more and more due to their recent (or sustained) success. It’s easy to get carried away by a single great season, but it gives the impression that a player is taking the first step into sports stardom. This is a list I devised focusing on the players that took that first step into achieving the productivity typically only seen by hall of famers, but couldn’t manage to match it throughout the rest of their careers. And to clarify, this isn’t technically a “One-hit Wonder” list, but rather a list focusing on the limits of a player and those magical seasons where they played well beyond their expectations.

I also tried to limit the impact of injuries had on a player’s production. This is a list that tries not to hide behind the “injury bug” loophole that damages many players’ careers. These are players that simply had okay careers, with one fantastic season attached to it.

#10: Lionel James – 1985

lionel james

They called him “Little Train.” Standing at a measly 5’6″, Lionel James came into the league in 1984 as a fifth-round pick by the San Diego Chargers, near the end of the Don Coryell era. Needless to say, the offense James had stumbled upon was known for being high-powered, especially with Dan Fouts in the backfield. As a rookie, James made an immediate impact as a return-man, but didn’t contribute much to the offense. That would come the year after, in 1985.

516 rushing yards. 1,027 receiving yards. 213 punt return yards. 779 kick return yards. Tack on two rushing touchdowns and six receiving touchdowns, and you have a season accumulating 2,535 total yards and eight touchdowns. His total yardage count was an NFL record at that time, as well as his receiving total for his position at running back. James was able to obtain success on almost every front, whether it be rushing, receiving, or returning. Most of all, he didn’t even start half the season.

His career soon dwindled out afterwards. He only posted 2,596 yards total yards in the next three seasons, only 61 more yards than he had in all of 1985. Not to mention, only seven more touchdowns throughout that three-year span. He was released after the 1988 season and never caught on anywhere else. But for what it’s worth, he’ll always have his 1985 season.

#9: Renaldo Turnbull – 1993

renaldo turnbull

Unlike Lionel James, Renaldo Turnbull was no “little train.” Drafted by the New Orleans Saints in the first round of the 1990 NFL Draft, Turnbull had high expectations from day one. He managed to quell those expectations in his rookie season when he posted nine sacks and 31 tackles in six starts and ten more games in rotation. However, as years followed, he was buried on the depth chart and didn’t see a lot of action on the field, posting only two and a half sacks in the next two years. In 1993, he was able to start in fourteen games, and showed the world why he was picked in the first round.

Garnering Pro Bowl and First-Team All-Pro honors, Renaldo Turnbull finished the ’93 season with 63 tackles, thirteen sacks, five forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and even an interception. His teammate, Rickey Jackson, also made the Pro Bowl that year, which may have aided Turnbull in his productivity. Whatever the case, Turnbull would be one of a tandem of outside linebacker forces offenses would have to prepare for for years to come. At least, that’s what was initially expected.

Turnbull still had some pass-rushing ability to him, but never to the same extent as in 1993. He finished the ’94 season with six and a half sacks, the ’95 season with seven sacks, and the ’96 season with six and a half sacks. However, by 1996, they had him more of a situational pass-rusher than an all time starter. He was released after the ’96 season and spent one final season with the Carolina Panthers, where he only managed one sack in sixteen games played, before calling it quits.

#8: Scott Mitchell – 1995

scott mitchell

It’s almost become a running joke that Scott Mitchell wasn’t very good as a quarterback. However, based on his statistical performances, that’s somewhat hard to back up, especially with his play in 1995. He’s better than most people give him credit for, but that’s easy considering most people credit him with being atrocious.

Mitchell started his career as a backup to Dan Marino in Miami. After Marino went down during the ’93 season, Mitchell came in to replace him, and did a good enough job to have the Detroit Lions interested in signing him to a lucrative contract. However, it wasn’t easygoing for Mitchell when things started out. In 1994, Mitchell threw more interceptions than touchdowns while leading the Lions to a 4-5 record before getting injured. Back-up Dave Krieg led the team to a 5-2 record in his absence, and played far better in Mitchell’s stead. This wouldn’t mean anything as Mitchell was the starting quarterback the moment the 1995 season rolled around. The Lions are likely glad they stuck with him that year.

Mitchell enjoyed the best season of his career by far, posting 32 touchdowns against 12 interceptions and 4,338 passing yards. With the help of Barry Sanders, Herman Moore, and Brett Perriman, Mitchell was able to orchestrate an offense capable of scoring at any time. This helped to lead the team to a 10-6 record… before being blown out in the first round of the playoffs, where Mitchell had a putrid performance.

Mitchell would probably place higher on this list had he not posted two decent seasons after 1995. However, past 1997, he was regarded as a journeyman back-up, bouncing from team to team before retiring after the 2001 season. He’s certainly not the worst quarterback Detroit has had in the last fifty years, but he gave them enough hope for greener pastures during 1995. It’s only a shame he couldn’t win at least once for Barry.

#7: Audray McMillian – 1992

audray mcmillen

McMillian is an interesting story. Drafted by the New England Patriots in the third round of the 1985 NFL Draft, McMillian didn’t even make the final cut. He was picked up by the Houston Oilers and provided serviceable back-up at cornerback over the course of three years, appearing in 44 games from 1985 to 1987, starting two. He was released after the ’87 season and was out of football for a year. In 1989, the Minnesota Vikings gave him a call.

He spent the next two seasons with the Vikings the same way he did with the Oilers: as a serviceable back-up. He played in 31 games in two years, starting four. He even managed to snag three interceptions in 1990. In 1991, McMillian was given a bigger role in the defense, starting seven games and intercepted four passes while appearing in every game that season. He was eventually named as a permanent starter, and he proved he belonged in 1992.

Helping new coach Dennis Green’s debut season reach an 11-5 record, Audray McMillian started all sixteen games and picked off eight passes, returning two of them for touchdowns. He established himself as the league’s premier shutdown corner, seven years after he was drafted. He was rewarded with a Pro Bowl birth and a First-Team All-Pro selection to cap off a remarkable late-career resurgence.

In 1993, his production slipped quite a bit. He started every game and intercepted four passes, but wasn’t the same player he was the year prior. He was passed over for the Pro Bowl and never sniffed All-Pro honors as his team went from 11-5 to 9-7. In the prime of his career, McMillian retired after the ’93 season.

#6: Jerry Azumah – 2003

Atlanta Falcons vs Chicago Bears

A running back in college, Jerry Azumah was drafted in 1999 with the intention of converting him into a cornerback. This transition proved to be somewhat successful, as he began to start on defense as soon as 2000. As the years went on, Azumah started more and more games, until he became the permanent starter in 2002. It wasn’t until 2003 where his versatility would become his biggest asset.

Along with starting cornerback, Azumah’s resume included starting kick returner during his 2003 season. In that season, aside from providing solid coverage on defense, he also led the league in kick return average and kick return touchdowns. Consider him a Devin Hester before Devin Hester. Whenever he had the ball in his hands, he was dangerous. He finished the season with 82 tackles, four interceptions, a sack, 1,191 return yards, and two kick return touchdowns. He was named Pro Bowler and Second-Team All-Pro as a kick returner to cap off the year.

In 2004, the Bears decided to use Azumah more as a kick returner than a cornerback, cutting his playing time on defense down to just starting eight games. His returning skills were still there, but not nearly as effective as the year prior, only gaining 924 return yards without a single score. At least he managed to nab another four interceptions on defense.

2005 would prove to be the breaking point. Azumah started only a single game on defense, while posting even fewer return yards as a returner. He retired the next year, knowing full well that his production was starting to wane on the eve of his 29th birthday.

#5: Ladell Betts – 2006

ladell betts

An interesting case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, Ladell Betts is a prime example of what could’ve been, had the Redskins not had Clinton Portis as the perennial starter.

Drafted in the second round in 2002, Betts was constantly buried within the Redskins’ depth chart behind other backs, like the aforementioned Clinton Portis. Throughout the years, he was used in situational plays for the most part, but never surpassed the expectations of being a three-down back. He showed what he was capable of, however, in 2006.

The season started the same. Portis was the starter with Betts being used as a change of pace. However, in week seven, Portis went down with a season-ending injury, forcing Betts into the starting role. He took the role and gave the team a reason he was drafted so high all those years ago. In nine starts, Betts rushed for 869 yards and three touchdowns, while catching thirty passes for 252 yards and a touchdown. Combined with his production before Portis’s injury, Betts’s totals come to 1,154 rushing yards, 53 catches for 445 yards, and two kick returns for 27 yards, bringing his season total to 1,626 yards and five touchdowns. While those stats don’t seem like much, it’s important to note that he was third on the team in receptions and receiving yards.

Betts was a shining spot on an otherwise dim offensive year for the 2006 team. He filled in tremendously and did all he could and more for an already pessimistic team. Unfortunately for Betts, when the season ended, Portis was awarded his starting spot back with the team, and Betts never got a chance to start on a regular basis again in his career. He finished his career with 3,326 rushing yards and 1,646 receiving yards. Perhaps he could’ve been better had he been given a chance to start, but as it stands, he’s an average player who could never fight his way to the number one spot.

#4: Nathan Vasher – 2005

nathan vasher

Oh look. Another Bears corner from the mid-2000’s. Odd.

A fourth round pick in 2004, Vasher was thrust quickly into action on account of injuries to established starting corners. Starting in seven games, Vasher picked off five interceptions to end the season. The next year, Vasher was the permanent starter and had the greatest season of his career. He intercepted eight passes and was part of a stout Chicago defense that made up for its offense’s varying quality. He came up big in big moments, which helped make him an easy selection for the Pro Bowl and Second-Team All-Pro honors. The success would only last for so long.

I will admit that this choice was a little influenced by the quick rise and drop of his production due to injuries, but I felt he played enough to qualify for a spot this high. He started most of the 2006 season, only intercepting three passes and providing adequate coverage throughout. It wasn’t until 2007 when his injuries began to plague his availability. He played in only twelve games, starting nine, in the next two seasons. He snagged two interceptions in that time, along with a sack and thirty tackles. By 2009, his injuries affected his status on the team, as he was buried on the depth chart and released after the season. In five starts and fourteen games with the Detroit Lions, he had one interception. He was out of football soon after.

It was a promising start for Vasher, but his injuries led him into a downward spiral. After sixteen interceptions in 35 starts, he would only get four more in the next four seasons. There’s a part of me that wonders if he may have excelled due to the system he was in. Whatever the case, 2005 is a season worth remembering as Vasher’s crowning achievement.

#3: Charley Frazier – 1966

charley frazier

Ah, the ’60s. The rise of Pro Football as a national empire. The introduction of the Super Bowl and the AFL-NFL merger. It was a great time to be a fan. If only I was alive back then.

Meet Charley Frazier, an undrafted wide receiver for the Houston Oilers in the early days of the AFL. He spent varying amounts of time on the field without much importance thrown to him. As the years went by, his production became more and more apparent, and was eventually a familiar face for the offense. In 1965, his hard work paid off for him with a decent season: 38 catches for 717 yards and six touchdowns. In the mid-60’s, that’s like a 1,000 yard season today. Frazier would top that, though. In 1966.

If 717 yards is like a 1,000 yard season today, then a 1,129 yard season then is like a 1,600 yard season today. Frazier managed to rack up the yards along with 57 catches and twelve touchdowns. That’s an impressive feat for a league that was so keen on running the ball twenty-five times a game. The season earned him a Pro Bowl nod. Unfortunately, his offensive performance couldn’t help the team past a 3-11 overall record after starting quarterback George Blanda went down with an injury.

Unfortunately, Frazier’s days as an elite receiver were over by that point. After the ’66 season, he never eclipsed 23 catches, 306 receiving yards, or seven touchdowns. In 1969, he was signed by the Boston Patriots and had a semi-successful first season with the team before floundering his final season before retirement.

#2: Derek Anderson – 2007

derek anderson

This is a popular pick for “One-Hit Wonders.” It’s easy to see why.

Derek Anderson came into the league as a sixth round pick for the Baltimore Ravens, only to be released quickly after. He managed to sneak into the Browns’ roster and stuck out just enough for the team to give him a shot. In 2007, he led them to their first winning season since 2002… and in the last fourteen years.

With the help of a receiver by the name of Braylon Edwards (who almost made this list), Anderson managed up a Pro Bowl season with 29 touchdown passes with 19 interceptions and nearly 3,800 passing yards. This type of season had the fans in Cleveland running amok with fury. Their team was finally a winner again. Those poor souls.

Anderson quickly came back to Earth in 2008, going 3-6 in nine starts while throwing nine touchdowns and eight interceptions. As the seasons went on, his play only worsened. In 2009, he completed only 44% of his passes in seven starts, throwing three touchdowns to ten interceptions. He was signed by the Cardinals in 2010 and his poor play continued. He was released after a year.

However, his career didn’t end there. To this day, Anderson is now a back-up to Cam Newton in Carolina. In relief games, Anderson has played well enough in his stead to provide a comfortable quarterback situation should Newton ever go down with an injury… short-term, of course. Anderson has embraced his role as a back-up, doing nothing to try and challenge that role. And for that, I feel he’s redeemed himself for all the negativity that’s surrounded him prior to his Carolina venture. He’s certainly average, but he’s okay with that. After all, he can proudly brag that he’s the last person to lead Cleveland to a winning season.

#1: Erik Kramer – 1995

Erik Kramer

In the same year that Scott Mitchell was taking the league by storm, Erik Kramer was doing the same thing in the same division.

Erik Kramer was an undrafted player in 1987 who spent his rookie year with the Atlanta Falcons. He was released only a year later. What was Kramer to do with his life? Here’s an idea: Canadian Football! He spent three seasons with the Calgary Stampeders of the CFL before returning to the NFL as a back-up option with the Detroit Lions. He went 10-5 as a starter for the Lions in relief effort, which gave the Chicago Bears enough reason to sign him to a long-term deal. Much like Mitchell, Kramer’s first year with his new team provided little to think he’d make it big. Then, in 1995, it all changed.

Kramer threw for 3,838 yards, 29 touchdowns, and ten interceptions while leading the Bears to a 9-7 record, narrowly missing the playoffs. It would prove to be Kramer’s finest moment as a player and as a Bear, with his paw print still atop the Bears’ record books. No other player in Bears’ history has thrown for more yards and more touchdowns in a single season than Erik Kramer did in 1995. I’m not sure if that’s more an impressive feat for Kramer or embarrassing for the people to follow him. Step it up, Jay Cutler.

As the old story goes, the ’95 season came and went, with expectations high for the Bears’ new leading man. He was unable to match his record season in subsequent years. In the next 25 starts over a three year span, Kramer threw for 26 touchdowns and 27 interceptions, with a starting record of 8-17. He was released after the ’98 season. After one last year with the San Diego Chargers—where he threw zero touchdowns to nine interceptions in four starts—he called his NFL career quits.

His life after football hasn’t been great, but he’ll always be a part of Bears’ history with his terrific performance in 1995. So long as Chicago’s traditionally lackluster offenses continue to surge, he’ll hold onto that record he’s had for more than twenty years now. And for me, Erik Kramer is the most average player with the greatest outlier season in NFL history.

Honorable Mentions: Braylon Edwards – 2007, Josh Freeman – 2010, Todd Bell – 1984, Cortland Finnegan – 2008

Top 10 Worst Individual Quarterback Seasons

49ers vs. Cardinals

(Originally posted to my main blog on February 28th, 2016. Slightly edited.)

In today’s NFL, the quarterback is undeniably the most important position on a team. If the quarterback doesn’t perform well, it throws off the functioning of just about every other offensive position. Not to mention their inadequacy puts more pressure on the defense to perform at a higher level just so the team doesn’t fall behind. As the years go by and the passing attack of each team grows more and more vital, a quarterback’s worth has skyrocketed to levels of almost mythical proportions. This past year saw Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, and Nick Foles almost as detriments to their team’s success, despite a good core around them, whether offensively or defensively. This got me wondering: has there been anything worse than these three this year?

This list will take a look throughout NFL history for the quarterbacks that, for lack of a harsher word, “underwhelmed” when given the chance to perform. Of course, this list would be painfully hard to sort out if I were to look at quarterbacks with only one or two abysmal starts in their career. Therefore, I added a stipulation that a quarterback must have started at least six games in a single season to be eligible to compete for this list. There are a few people that definitely would have made it had it not been for this stipulation, but alas, they probably don’t care to re-live it.

#10: Vinny Testaverde – 1988

Vinny Testaverde

Statistics:

• W-L record: 5-10
• 47.6% completion rate; 3,240 passing yards
• 13 touchdown passes; 35 interceptions
• Total QBR: 48.8

Some would argue that Testaverde’s sophomore season wasn’t all that bad. He had three decent games that season against Indianapolis, New England, and Detroit, and otherwise kept his team within a score’s reach of leading the game. But there’s one factor about this season that made me want to put Vinny on this list out of sheer astonishment: number of interceptions.

35 interceptions in 15 games. That’s just insane. Even more so when you consider the era. This was 1988. This was well past when teams started passing the ball more. This was after Dan Fouts. This was after Terry Bradshaw. This was during the era where Joe Montana and Boomer Esiason were taking the league by storm with their innovative passing offenses. To throw 35 interceptions this close to the turn of the new millennium is worthy of being put on a list like this. It’s the second-most interceptions thrown in a single season (George Blanda owns the record with 42 in 1962) and no one has even thrown more than 29 in a season since then.

#9: Bob Lee – 1974

bob lee

Statistics:

• W-L record: 2-6
• 45.3% completion rate; 852 passing yards
• 3 touchdown passes; 14 interceptions
• Total QBR: 32.4

Now the list becomes really fun.

Meet Bob Lee. Fans of this era may remember him as the longtime back-up quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings. In 1973, he signed with the Atlanta Falcons and led them to an 8-2 record as a starter. Up to that point, he was 13-3 as a starter for both the Atlanta Falcons and Minnesota Vikings. Things were looking good for Atlanta leading up to the 1974 season. Until it actually happened.

In the first game of the 1974 NFL season against the Dallas Cowboys, Lee was 4 of 22 passing for 28 yards and an interception. They lost 0-24. It was only a sign of what was to come. The team put up two wins against New York (Giants) and Chicago in consecutive weeks, with Lee playing moderately well, to put their overall record with him as a starter at 2-2, but it all went downhill from there. With four more starts and another game participated in, the team went 0-5, with Lee only throwing a touchdown pass in one of those games, while accumulating 5 interceptions. They would finally bench him after a week 10 loss to Baltimore in favor of back-up Pat Sullivan, who didn’t perform much better.

Looking at his numbers on their own paints an ugly picture. Even for 1974, only 3 touchdown passes in almost nine games is unacceptable. His rock-bottom QBR might be the most telling part of his whole season. Absolutely nothing went right.

#8: John Skelton – 2012

john skelton

Statistics:

• W-L record: 1-5
• 54.2% completion rate; 1,132 passing yards
• 2 passing touchdowns; 9 interceptions
• Total QBR: 55.4

What a funny season it was for Arizona in 2012. They started the season 4-0 and even defeated the mighty New England Patriots in week two. They finished the season 5-11. Mr. Skelton was their starting quarterback for six of those games.

John Skelton lifted a struggling Cardinals team in 2011 in relief of starter Kevin Kolb by leading them to a 5-2 record. Going into the 2012 season, Skelton and Kolb had a quarterback controversy all throughout the preseason, with head coach Ken Whisenhunt finally picking Skelton as the starter just before the regular season debut. In his debut, Skelton won the game against Seattle, but had a mediocre game. Even worse, he sustained an injury during the game that kept him out of action until week six. And by week six, the Cardinals’ season was all but falling apart.

Skelton did not throw a touchdown pass until week seven in a losing effort against Minnesota, in what many would agree was his only good game of that season. Otherwise, it was like he wasn’t there at all. John’s placement on this list isn’t for how badly he played on a consistent basis—though he did anyway—but more for how little his assistance paid off. In his six starts, the most his offense put up in points was in his first game against Seattle, where they scored 20 points. However, Kevin Kolb threw a touchdown pass in that game after Skelton was injured, so one could argue that John only put up 13 in that game. Otherwise, his offense put up 19 points or fewer, with his offense failing to reach more than 14 points in three of those starts.

His season ended in week 13 when he threw four interceptions in a rematch against Seattle; he was benched for rookie Ryan Lindley. In roughly six full games on the season, John Skelton only managed to throw two touchdown passes. Two touchdown passes in six games… in 2012. In as pass-happy a league as the NFL is now, that’s just embarrassing. It’s not surprising to know he flamed out in the NFL soon after.

#7: Mike Taliaferro – 1968

mike taliaferro

Statistics:

• W-L record: 3-4
• 38.1% completion rate; 889 passing yards
• 4 passing touchdowns; 15 interceptions
• Total QBR: 26.9

The most amazing thing about Taliaferro’s worst season is that he won three games.

To some degree, Taliaferro may not deserve to be listed after Skelton or Lee, but there’s something special about the lowest total QBR in a single season I’ve ever seen. 26.9. Even for 1968, a monkey could do better. Even more ironically, Taliaferro would follow the worst season of his career with his best. He was selected to the Pro Bowl in 1969.

Similar to Lee’s situation, Taliaferro was a back-up for the New York Jets before signing with the Boston Patriots to become their starter. Unlike Lee, his first season with his new team wasn’t nearly as successful. The Patriots won their first game against Buffalo, but flip-flopped from there. Taliaferro would go on to have good games against Denver and his second round with Buffalo, but those were squished in-between games where he would throw 3, 4, and 5 interceptions in a single game. It’s not hard to imagine why his QBR was so low when he’s throwing so many errant balls. He was benched after his 5 interception performance against his old team.

Taliaferro’s season may not stack up with how consistently bad those before him were, but when he was at a low, he was far further down than anyone could imagine. It’s hard not to put him at least this high with that QBR of his for that season. 26.9. I still can’t believe it can even reach that low.

#6: Alex Smith – 2005

alex smith

Statistics:

• W-L record: 2-5
• 50.9% completion rate; 875 passing yards
• 1 passing touchdown; 11 interceptions
• Total QBR: 40.8

The only person on this list still on an NFL roster—and starting, for that matter— is Alex Smith, the first overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft.As with any first overall pick, Smith was expected to perform well almost immediately. He did not.

Keep in mind: this is 2005. Once again, far past the times when the focus of an offense is running the ball. The quarterback is essential and his malfunction could lead to a lot of disaster. Such is the case with Alex Smith, who was thrust into the starting role in week five. It didn’t do the offense any favors, as Smith was a turnover machine. He threw five interceptions in his first two games as a starter. He was benched until he was forced back into action in week twelve, and would finish out the season as the starter.

In his second phase of starting, Smith played marginally better, but still turned the ball over multiple times a game. He would not throw his first touchdown pass until the last game of the season, against the Houston Texans, in an ultimately pointless game for both teams.

To his credit, Alex Smith’s last two games of the season were by no means bad. He completed 12 of 16 passes for 131 yards against St. Louis and his performance against the aforementioned Texans wasn’t too bad. Unfortunately, his bad far outweighs the impact of his good in this case. Much like a combination of Skelton and Taliaferro, he was consistently bad and gave his team little chance to win, while his lowest lows were gravely so. His 40.8 QBR, for 2005 standards, is almost as bad as Taliaferro’s 26.9. His 1 touchdown pass in 9 participated games is the proverbial cherry on top of an otherwise nightmare season.

#5: Joe Namath – 1976

joe namath

Statistics:

• W-L record: 1-7
• 49.6% completion rate; 1,090 passing yards
• 4 passing touchdowns; 16 interceptions
• Total QBR: 39.9

There’s chatter among new-age NFL fans about the legitimacy of Joe Namath’s “greatness.” Ask anyone who watched him play during his era and they’ll tell you how amazing he was. Except maybe Colts fans. So, was he great or not? One thing’s for sure: he was not very great in 1976.

What’s intriguing about this year is that his numbers are interestingly deceptive. You compare them to the statistics that have been shown from guys earlier on in the list and they’re favorable by comparison. Once I reviewed his games individually for that season, placing him this high on the list was a no-brainer. How’s this for inefficiency: in six of his eight starts, Namath failed to put up more than 7 points. That’s astounding. Sure, you can’t blame all of this on him, but he didn’t help by throwing his first touchdown pass in week five.

Namath played so poorly that the team benched him after a two interception performance in a 0-20 loss against Baltimore. Here’s where things become interesting. Three weeks later, New York blows out Tampa Bay 34-0. Namath played during the latter half of that game, and played better than he did the entire season, going 7 for 12 for 94 yards and a touchdown. The next week, New England blows them out, leading to Namath coming in and taking charge… by throwing 5 interceptions. He was benched yet again and wouldn’t start again until the final game of the season, where he would throw 4 more interceptions in a 3-42 loss against Cincinnati. He started poorly and crashed to the finish.

Taking this into account, for the games Joe Namath actually started, he went 88 of 174 for 814 passing yards with 2 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions. This was through eight games. Ouch.

#4: JaMarcus Russell – 2009

jamarcus russell

Statistics:

• W-L record: 2-7
• 48.8% completion rate; 1,287 passing yards
• 3 touchdown passes; 11 interceptions
• Total QBR: 50.0

JaMarcus Russell is considered by many to be the biggest Draft bust of all time. He was selected first overall by the Oakland Raiders in 2007 and faced a mine field’s worth of behavioral problems and struggled with limiting his weight all throughout his career. All of these things eventually contributed to his downfall and outright release from Oakland, which was made possible by his 2009 season.

It began with a lackluster, but not excruciatingly terrible, outing in a loss against San Diego, where he would throw a touchdown pass and 2 picks. From that point, he would not throw another touchdown pass until week six. In between that, he threw another 2 picks and completed less than 40% of his passes in two games. His win over Philadelphia in week six would be the last touchdown pass he throws as a starter, as he went on to throw 3 more interceptions in 3 more games. He was finally benched for his inadequacy after going 8 of 23 for 64 yards in a loss against Kansas City. He finished the season with another touchdown pass and 2 more interceptions as a relief player.

Another thing to note is that through his 9 starts, Russell threw for 1,064 yards. Had that trend continued, he wouldn’t even reach 2,000 passing yards on the season. This is 2009. That is as bad a statistic as I’ve ever seen from someone who’s started over half of the season in the modern era. Not to mention the 2 touchdown passes and 9 interceptions. He’s not guilty of throwing a lot of picks, but he’s guilty of not doing hardly anything to get the offense going. Almost like an advanced type of John Skelton, JaMarcus Russell failed to amass 14 points in all but 2 of his starts. For Joe Namath in 1976, that’s bad. For JaMarcus Russell in 2009, that’s humiliating.

#3: Marty Domres – 1974

marty domres

Statistics:

• W-L record: 1-5
• 50.3% completion rate; 803 passing yards
• 0 passing touchdowns; 12 interceptions
• Total QBR: 33.2

You read that right: 0 touchdown passes.

Starting six games during the 1974 NFL season, Domres threw exactly 0 touchdown passes. He ran for two touchdowns, but he threw for exactly 0. The team knew he wasn’t worthy either, as they benched him twice throughout the season for back-up Bert Jones. Domres was so inadequate that they simply didn’t rely on him to throw it that often. He only had 136 attempts through the air in 6 starts. That’s between 22-23 attempts per game.

Amazingly enough, the one start he made where his team won was against none other than Bob Lee’s Atlanta Falcons. Even then, he went 4 of 11 for 74 yards and an interception. He ran for a touchdown, though. Otherwise, he had individual games where he threw 2, 3, and 4 interceptions. He didn’t throw an interception in only 1 of his starts. 11 interceptions and 0 passing touchdowns in 6 starts.

One could argue that for 1974, his statistics aren’t exactly worthy of being this high on the list for a 6 game stretch. But for me, it’s really an accumulation of his worth to the offense. With 0 passing touchdowns, 2 rushing touchdowns, and 720 passing yards in 6 games, he isn’t much of an asset on the practice squad as opposed to a starting offense.

#2: Matt Robinson – 1980

matt robinson

Statistics:

• W-L record: 4-3
• 48.1% completion rate; 942 passing yards
• 2 passing touchdowns; 12 interceptions
• Total QBR: 39.7

Another batch of statistics that are somewhat misleading. Matt Robinson was absolutely a detriment to his team. He was so much of a detriment that it’s amazing he managed to have a winning record as a starter! Matt Robinson’s production, as the season rolled on, slowed to that of a purr. It’s not that he played any better or worse, the team just put the reins on him.

In his first game as a starter, he went 18 of 41 for 178 yards and 2 interceptions. The team lost to Philadelphia 6-27. In his next game, he went 10 of 20 for 198 yards and ran for 2 touchdowns. His team won against Dallas 41-20. Notice something here? When the game falls behind, he falters. When he’s got a huge lead, he lets his defense do its job and settles down. It happens all throughout the season. In his next start, the team lost to San Diego 13-30. Robinson threw 4 interceptions in that game. From that point on, the team put a leash on Robinson’s control of the offense. In his next three starts, he had a combined 37 pass attempts for 183 yards… with 1 touchdown and 3 interceptions. He won two of those starts by a combined 6 points. Amazing how once he starts doing less, the team starts winning more.

Despite winning his sixth start, the team benched Robinson in favor of Craig Morton. It wouldn’t be until the final game of the season that he would start again. Even so, with a 7-8 record, going up against a 4-11 Seattle team, the results didn’t matter. They let him loose and he played okay in the sense that he didn’t turn it over. He also went 9 of 23 for 99 yards and a touchdown in the air and on the ground. A nice way to end the season, but it does little for his season overall. When he was expected to perform, he didn’t. He had his hand held for a majority of the season and he struggled without it. That’s why he’s this high on the list. Not because he had horrible stats, though that helps, but because they could have the same record with just about anyone. Even an aging and broken down Craig Morton.

#1: Ryan Leaf – 1998

ryan leaf

Statistics:

• W-L record: 3-6
• 45.3% completion rate; 1,289 passing yards
• 2 passing touchdowns; 15 interceptions
• Total QBR: 39.0

Some say JaMarcus Russell is the biggest Draft bust of all time. I say that honor belongs to Ryan Leaf, and his rookie campaign is the ultimate evidence to back up that claim.

It started off alright. His first two starts netted him a 2-0 record and he performed okay enough for a rookie. But his first start against Kansas City proved to be the point of no return. He went 1 of 15 for 4 yards and 2 interceptions as the team lost 7-23. The scene in the locker room afterwards was not pretty.

His performance on the field would not improve either. In the next 6 starts, he had a completion rate of over 50% once, threw for over 200 yards once, and passed for 1 touchdown and 9 interceptions. The year is 1998. Peyton Manning is about to terrorize the league for over a decade with his passing attack. To not be able to throw for more than 2 touchdowns in 9 starts is pathetic. Leaf was benched after week nine and came in one more time during the season as a relief player, where he threw 2 more interceptions to finish off the season. I’m not sure his 39.0 QBR has been matched since.

Leaf’s time in the NFL flamed out soon after and the Chargers suffered for their second overall pick greatly. I’m not sure anything could match his first game against Kansas City as an indicator of poor quality. They gave him a whole other season to improve upon himself and he didn’t. Though, frankly, after his 1998 season, I’m not sure how you could give him another chance, especially after his off-the-field antics and attitude. He may not have had otherwordly numbers, but his influence was enough to have me put him #1 on this list. He performed badly, he behaved badly. He was essentially the entire package of bad. He paid for it dearly, as his life after the NFL wasn’t too clean, either.

Top 10 NFL Players Never Elected to the Pro Bowl

NFL: San Diego Chargers at New York Jets

(Originally posted to my main blog on February 9th, 2016. Slightly edited.)

Fun fact before I start the list: this was originally written for Listverse.com, but they rejected it, stating it was “not something they think readers would be interested in.” Who the hell needs the NFL when you could read about… 10 Normal Things Accused of Causing Moral Panics? The fuck? My frustration aside, let’s venture on.

The NFL is full of impact players on every level. Superstars are typically honored with awards and accolades, but what of the players that may have been overlooked throughout their career? This is a list focusing on the players that made the most of their careers, but were never given the same recognition as their counterparts, for whatever reason.

#10: Jim Plunkett

jim plunkett

The quarterback leading the charge for the Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders’ two Super Bowl victories in the 80’s, Jim Plunkett was selected first overall in the 1971 NFL Draft by the New England Patriots. After a semi-successful rookie season, his career spiraled downwards, getting the boot from both New England and the San Francisco 49ers after failing to record a winning record with either of them. He signed with the Oakland Raiders in 1978 as a back-up and rode the bench for the next two years. It wasn’t until 1980 after starter Dan Pastorini was injured that Jim Plunkett, at the age of thirty-three, would lead his team to the Promised Land.

While his regular season performances are nothing to brag about, with only three seasons of more touchdowns than interceptions, it was his postseason heroics that put him on this list. With an 8-2 postseason record, two Super Bowl victories, and a Super Bowl MVP award, Plunkett did enough to win, without having to do too much.

#9: Kelly Gregg

kelly gregg

Much like Jim Plunkett, Kelly Gregg’s chance at NFL stardom came through replacing a starter due to injury. Once he assumed that position, he never gave it back. A sixth round pick in the 1999 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals, Gregg never made it off the practice squad, and was released soon after being drafted. After being signed by the Philadelphia Eagles to finish out his rookie year, he would be released from that team as well. Fast forward to 2002, Gregg is the Baltimore Ravens’ starting nose tackle after former starter Tony Siragusa retired from the NFL.

Known for his brute strength, Gregg became one of the more effective run-stopping defensive players in the NFL. When starting for a majority of the season, Baltimore’s rush defense was ranked within the top ten in the league for seven straight years. To top it off, he accumulated nearly 550 total tackles and 20.5 sacks in ten years with the Baltimore Ravens and a year with the Kansas City Chiefs. Not bad for a guy over 300 pounds.

#8: Keith Hamilton

keith hamilton

Speaking of guys hovering around 300 pounds, Keith Hamilton made an impact for the New York Giants as a defensive end and defensive tackle throughout the 90’s and early 2000’s. Affectionately referred to as “The Hammer,” Hamilton had the benefit of playing around hall of famers such as Lawrence Taylor and Michael Strahan, which may have attributed to his lack of recognition on the line. Nevertheless, his impact on the field was anything but lacking.

During a twelve-year career with New York, The Hammer recorded five years with six or more sacks and forty tackles, including two double-digit sack seasons. He is also one who has surpassed 500 career total tackles. Hamilton even made Second Team All-Pro in 2000. Hamilton’s contributions in the postseason also deserve recognition, recording four sacks in six career postseason starts. If not for the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, he may have a Super Bowl ring to show for his effort. Despite the loss, it does little for his impact upon the traditional strength of New York Giants defensive linemen.

#7: Johnnie Morton

johnnie morton

Before there was Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate, there was Herman Moore and Johnnie Morton.

A first round draft pick in 1994, Morton spent most of his twelve-year career with the Detroit Lions. While he doesn’t have many touchdowns to his name, his route running and skills after the catch have net him 624 receptions and 8,719 total receiving yards in his career. He’s third in Detroit Lions history in receptions (469), receiving yards (6,499), and tied for third in touchdown catches (35). He’s even responsible for a kick return touchdown during his rookie year.

What’s more impressive about his performance on the field is when taking into consideration the selection of quarterbacks throwing the ball to him. The two quarterbacks that threw the ball his way the most during his career in Detroit were Scott Mitchell, who was recently on The Biggest Loser, and Charlie Batch, Pittsburgh’s favorite back-up quarterback. To give Mitchell credit, he played moderately well during the regular season, but had a tendency to melt down during the postseason. This, in turn, affected Morton’s play, who’s only responsible for ten catches, 105 receiving yards, and a single touchdown in three postseason games with Detroit.

Even after Detroit, Morton played a valuable role with the Kansas City Chiefs during the 2003 season. His play would decrease soon after, ending his career with a forgettable season with San Francisco. With four seasons of over 1,000 receiving yards under his belt, it’s hard to imagine why this Lions receiver’s roar was never heard outside of Detroit. Touchdown receptions, maybe?

#6: Reggie Williams

reggie williams

Ever the model of consistency and toughness, Reggie Williams was one of the key defensive figures to the Cincinnati Bengals’ rise during the 80’s. A full fledged starter right out of the gate, Williams played well in every way, whether it be rushing the passer or stopping the run. His 206 games played is second in Bengals’ history behind only Ken Riley (207).

Officially listed with 41 career sacks, unofficial team records state he had 62.5 over his career, which would put him second in Bengals’ history behind Eddie Edwards (87.5). His durability, while not perfect, also showed in the later portion of his career, playing in 118 of 119 possible games to close out his playing days. And if you care for safeties, he has not one, but two recorded in his career. If not for the Joe Montana led San Francisco 49ers, he could have also added two Super Bowl rings to his resumé.

In the present, Reggie is fighting to save his leg from amputation with the same spirit and optimism that he had during his playing days. Like Toucan Sam, he followed his nose to the ball and striked whenever necessary, and did so for fourteen seasons. Hopefully his drive pays off for him with his health deteriorating, much in the way his play spoke for him on the field.

#5: Plaxico Burress

plaxico burress

Say what you may about his legal struggles and off the field attitude, Plaxico Burress was something else when his feet hit the turf. A first round talent out of Michigan State in 2000, his career began with a purr, providing little for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ passing game. Combining his second and third season numbers, he had 144 receptions, 2,333 receiving yards, and 13 touchdowns. His quarterbacks during that time were Kordell Stewart and Tommy Maddox.

Eventually fizzled out of Pittsburgh, Burress joined the New York Giants in 2005 and revitalized a dwindling career. If not for 988 receiving yards in 2006, Burress would’ve posted three consecutive 1,000 yard receiving seasons, along with double-digit touchdown receptions in 2006 and 2007. His final touchdown reception of the 2007 season proved to be the dagger in what is commonly considered the greatest upset in Super Bowl history, when the Giants defeated the then undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.

It wasn’t smooth sailing soon afterwards, when legal troubles and controversy chased Burress off the Giants’ roster and away from the NFL for two years after the 2008 season. It wasn’t until 2011 when the New York Jets gave him another shot that he was able to play again, but his ability was all but failing at the age of 34. He still managed to produce eight touchdown receptions, however. After two forgettable seasons back with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Burress would call it quits.

With all the numbers in place, it’s hard to imagine why Plaxico Burress never received a Pro Bowl nod. He was one of Eli Manning’s key targets in his early career and played well enough to be considered among the top group of wide receivers in his hey day. Some might say that his off-the-field issues and personality “triggered” his absence from the All-Star game. I’m sorry.

#4: Dave Edwards

dave edwards

I don’t need to tell any brazened Dallas fan how great the Cowboys were from the mid-60’s to the early 80’s. History shows they’ll do it for me. But for those wondering how great they really were, we can start with Dave Edwards.

Edwards doesn’t get a lot of credit for his work, but I’m sure in the big scheme of things, he gets a pat on the back from most people. His work as one of the original strongside linebackers in Tom Landry’s revolutionary system has warranted him respect from many players and Dallas fans, but perhaps not from anyone on the outside. He doesn’t have flashy numbers or a very “Cowboy” name, but his consistency is staggering.

Outside of his first two seasons, Dave Edwards started all but one game in the following eleven seasons. And when he began starting every game on the season, the Cowboys’ defense got much, much better. A rugged and consistent cog in Landry’s “Doomsday Defense,” Edwards has played in some of the biggest games in NFL history, such as the Ice Bowl and Super Bowls V, VI, and X. Flashy or not, he still had 13 interceptions and 17 fumble recoveries throughout his career.

It might be a little easier to understand why Edwards never made a Pro Bowl. He was one of many great defensive players on the early Cowboys squad. With names like Bob Lilly, Lee Roy Jordan, Chuck Howley, George Andrie, and Cornell Green playing around you, it’s hard not to get lost in the shuffle. Despite the packed selection, Edwards was a consistent and mighty force on a squad full of consistent and mighty forces.

#3: Don Shinnick

don shinnick

Curiously enough, you won’t find a lot about Don Shinnick online. Not even his Wikipedia page has a lot on him. One thing’s for sure though: he had quite the impact on the field.

The one shining statistic that Shinnick has in his favor is interceptions. Shinnick has 37 career interceptions. Doesn’t sound all that great, right? As a player, he was listed as a linebacker. Suddenly, 37 becomes a whole lot more impressive. In fact, that’s the record number of career interceptions by a linebacker, a mark cemented in 1968 that has yet to be broken to this day. One other statistic that he shares with most players on this list is longevity. He played in 159 of 174 possible games throughout his thirteen year career.

One thing individual numbers won’t say is the impact he had on the team. Before Shinnick arrived in Baltimore, their defense floated around the bottom two in the league. Once drafted, Baltimore’s defense was consistently within the middle or upper portions. Not to mention, with the help of Johnny Unitas on offense, brought Baltimore from a struggling franchise to a two-time NFL champion by 1960. His handiwork was televised to everyone in what is considered by many as “The Greatest Game Ever Played.”

#2: Jethro Pugh

NFL Historical Imagery

Remember Dave Edwards? You read about him two numbers before now. Meet Jethro Pugh, another teammate of his that was lost in the Doomsday chaos. An eleventh-round draft pick in 1965, Pugh played defensive tackle beside Bob Lilly and Randy White later on. What separates Pugh from, say, Dave Edwards, is his ability to produce numbers in addition to his longevity. According to unofficial team data, he produced 96.5 sacks, as well as two safeties, over his fourteen year career. As a defensive tackle.

He was a part of two championship teams in Dallas, with an additional two more championship appearances. While never achieving a Pro Bowl nod, Pugh did receive Second Team All-Pro in 1968. He’s missed more games than most on this list, but 183 games out of 194 is still impressive in of itself. And as disruptive as Bob Lilly was, Pugh is cited as leading the team in sacks for five straight seasons between 1968-1972. Only DeMarcus Ware did the same.

Like with Edwards, Pugh likely got lost in the shuffle of great Dallas defensive players during the 60’s and 70’s. His oversight may hurt some, but his results on the field were all that mattered in the long run. Two championships shine brighter than a Pro Bowl vacation.

#1: Ken Riley

ken riley

Ken Riley is so beloved that some people aren’t just steamed he never made a Pro Bowl, but that he hasn’t been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame! His body of work is similar to those already in, but one crucial stat definitely stands out: interceptions.

Ken Riley is responsible for 65 career interceptions throughout his fifteen year career. That’s tied for fifth all time in NFL history. He has seven seasons with five or more interceptions and two seasons with eight or more. He’s played 207 out of 222 possible games and has five defensive touchdowns. Like with Pugh before him, he has never reached a Pro Bowl, but has attained not just two Second Team All-Pros in 1975 and 1976, but a First Team All-Pro selection in the final year of his career.

He played in one Super Bowl and lost against San Francisco. He would see many one-and-done playoff trips for his team, but was never rewarded the championship he most likely deserved. So why was he never elected to a Pro Bowl, despite earning the respect of his peers and The Associated Press? Some might say he wasn’t popular enough. Perhaps the NFL had a vendetta for Cincinnati Bengals defensive players? Who’s to say? Whatever the case, he is, in my opinion, the best player to never be elected to a Pro Bowl.

Honorable Mentions: Tom Rafferty, Rubin Carter, Matt Lepsis, Joey Galloway, Carl Hairston.