Former Oklahoma State wide-receiver and current Jacksonville Jaguar Justin Blackmon was arrested and charged with marijuana possession Wednesday night in Edmund, Oklahoma.
As a former first-round pick by the Jaguars, you would think this would have severe ramifications for his current team. However, that is not the case with college All-American because Blackmon was already suspended indefinitely by the NFL before this altercation for other off-field problems relating to alcohol-use.
Now, he likely will find himself without a team with other teams apprehensive of giving the talented receiver a chance. He also could very well be facing further suspensions under the NFL’s renewed focus on off-field issues.
So, that got me thinking about other players who, despite being immensely talented, saw their careers derailed due to off-field issues as opposed to a lack of promise or success on the field.
This list covers players over the past ten years and is nowhere near extensive. The main criteria is that these players showed promise early in their NFL careers as potential star players, but saw their careers cut short, or clearly hindered, by suspensions, arrests… etc. For example, a player such as Ricky Williams could arguably fit this criteria, but I left him off because he made the decision to retire from the game, coinciding with a NFL suspension. While his career could have certainly gone to greater heights if he had not retired/been suspended, I want to focus here on players who we only scratched the surface of their potential when they were young and then they were removed from the game due to suspensions. Other players who have dealt with long NFL suspensions can be found here.
– Justin Blackmon
Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver – 24 years old
Blackmon, when on the field, is a player. His size and speed make him a matchup nightmare on secondaries and after only 20 career games, he shows the potential to be a breakout, game-changing player for years. However, with the most current arrest, he faces an uphill climb back to being favored in media circles, much less the even more valuable league circles. He is an honorable mention because he could “right the ship”, but the direction he is heading is troubling for a player who has so much more to give.
Career Stats: 20 games (18 started), 93 receptions, 1,280 receiving yards, six touchdowns.
- April 20, 2013 – Four-game suspension for violating NFL’s Policy and Program for Substance of Abuse. Missed first four games of 2013 regular season.
- November 1, 2013 – Indefinite suspension for violating same Substance Abuse policy. Eligible for reinstatement prior to 2014 season.
- July 23, 2014 – Arrested for possession of marijuana.
– Aldon Smith
San Francisco 49ers defensive end – 24 years old
Smith is another player who seems to be walking a tightrope here. His talent is really indescribable as he is one of the premier pass rushers in the game now with the potential to become one of the greatest ever. He is the fastest player to ever reach 30 sacks in a career (sacks weren’t recorded as a statistic until 1982… but still), doing it faster than the “Minister of Defense” Reggie White. Take a second to let Smith’s career numbers set in… he has 42 sacks in three seasons. At that, he was a situational pass rusher as a rookie (2011), but still accumulated 14.5 sacks, and played sparingly in 2013 because of off field issues, but earned 8.5. He stays in the game and keeps his head on straight, we could be watching one of the greatest ever at the position.
Career Stats: 43 games (24 started), 137 tackles (110 solo), 42 sacks, five forced fumbles, one interception.
- January 28, 2012 – Arrested for driving under the influence
- June 30, 2012 – Believed to have suffered stab wounds when breaking up a fight during a party at his residence. Was charged with three felony counts of illegal possession of an assault weapon.
- September 20, 2013 – Involved in single vehicle accident and was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence and possession of marijuana. He voluntarily entered a rehabilitation facility following incident.
- Detained and arrested for acting belligerent and uncooperative with a TSA agent at Los Angeles International Airport. He then falsely claimed he was carrying a bomb.
– Josh Gordon
Cleveland Browns wide receiver – 23 years old
Gordon is young enough to come back from his mistakes, but his laundry list runs a little longer than the others as his off-field incidents run back through his college days at Baylor. As a player, Gordon is a big, physical receiver possessing strong hands and top-flight speed. He truly epitomizes the “ideal” number one receiver in today’s NFL following Calvin Johnson’ emergence as… well… unstoppable (plenty more credit goes out to other guys like Randy Moss and Terrell Owens as well). Last season, he out-gunned Johnson and led the NFL in receiving yards, despite playing in Cleveland with whichever quarterback was able to play that day. The impressive feat had many excited to see what he would do this season, but now he will be sitting out the entirety of the 2014 NFL season. Time away from the team can be very detrimental for some people. You have to hope Gordon, who sat out a year before being selected in the Supplemental draft by Cleveland in 2012, will stay focused so we can see where this intriguing talent can go. As of July 24, 2014, Gordon has reportedly admitted himself to rehab.
Career Stats: 30 games (27 started), 137 receptions, 2,451 receiving yards, 14 touchdowns.
- October 2010 – Suspended for marijuana possession when police found him and his teammate, Willie Jefferson, asleep in Jefferson’s car at a Taco Bell. Jefferson was kicked off the team because it was his second offense.
- July 2011 – Suspended indefinitely for failing a drug test and testing positive for marijuana.
- August 2011 – Sat out 2011 season after transferring to Utah.
- June 7, 2013 – Suspended for the first two games of the 2013 season due to violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.
- May 9, 2014 – Announced Gordon could be facing season-long suspension over 2014 season due to second failed drug test.
- July 5, 2014 – Arrested for driving while impaired. Suspended for whole year.
5. Adam “Pacman” Jones
Former Tennessee Titans, Dallas Cowboys cornerback – Currently with Cincinnati Bengals – 30 years old
We begin the list with a player who is beginning his decline at 30 years old. Looking back on Jones’ career, you see a person who just didn’t seem to pull things together when he needed to. A former first round pick in 2005, Jones was dynamic for the Titans over the first two years of his career, but he essentially lost all of that through a season-long suspension of his own in 2007 and had to work his way back to any semblance of a valuable player to any team. After a rocky start, he has pulled together a couple solid seasons in Cincinnati, but this was a player with loads of potential that you could sense got lost in the shuffle. He has to be a guy to consider for a list such as this.
Career Stats: 84 games (60 starts), 284 tackles (234 solo), 55 passes defensed, eight interception, two defensive touchdowns, five forced fumbles, five punt returns for touchdowns (three in 2006).
- February 19, 2007 – Alleged altercation involving an exotic dancer at a Las Vegas strip club. A man returned to the club following the altercation and shot into the crowd hitting three people, including a security guard involved in the original altercation. The gun shots also paralyzed a man from the waist down (former professional wrestler Tommy Urbanski).
- April 10, 2007 – Suspended for 2007 season
- April 21, 2007 – A document revealed Jones had paid $15,000 to various people in the Las Vegas shooting.
- October 8, 2008 – Suspended a minimum of four games by the NFL for altercation with his bodyguard in a Dallas hotel when playing for the Cowboys. He was suspended two more (a total of six) by the Dallas Cowboys.
4. Odell Thurman
Former Cincinnati Bengals inside linebacker – 31 years old
Thurman may be a little unknown to some, but the former Cincinnati linebacker once looked like he could be a very promising player for years to come. He only played his rookie season (2005) in the NFL due to off-field issues, but used the limited time to make a significant impact. He nearly earned the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year distinction, but lost to then-Chargers rookie Shawne Merriman. Thurman is the perfect example of how off-field problems can derail a career in a heartbeat. Nobody knows if Thurman would have continued his impressive rookie success or if he was a “one-year wonder”, but we do know we saw a promising player briefly before he was suddenly out of the league.
Career Stats: 16 games (15 starts), 98 tackles (64 solo), 1.5 sacks, five interceptions, four forced fumbles, one touchdown.
- 2006 – Suspended first four games of 2006 regular season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. He reportedly failed to take the test because he was late getting back to Cincinnati.
- September 27, 2006 – The suspension was extended for the entirety of the 2006 season due to an arrest for drunk driving.
- June 5, 2007 – He was wanted for assault in Georgia for allegedly kicking and hitting two men. He was eligible for reinstatement on July 11, 2007. His request for reinstatement was denied on July 25, 2007 and he was unable to play during the 2007 season.
- July 12, 2008 – Indicted by grand jury for breaking another man’s jaw at a Waterpark.
- June 2, 2008 – It was reported that Thurman failed second drug test in three seasons. He was suspended indefinitely.
3. Chris Henry
Former Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver – Died at 26 years old (Dec. 17, 2009)
Henry had an interesting story. His entire career was plagued by off-field issues, but on the field, he showed immense promise even in a limited role. He was another receiver with size and speed that just didn’t seem fair. While playing as a third receiver in Cincinnati’s high-powered offensive attack (2005-), Henry was a terrific deep threat who seemed to have plenty of room to develop, but the issues off the field held him back. The off-field issues ultimately were too much for Henry to overcome, despite his success on the field.
Career Stats: 55 games (12 started), 119 receptions, 1,826 receiving yards, 21 touchdowns.
- December 15, 2005 – Pulled over for speeding and police found marijuana in his shoes. He also was driving without a valid driver’s license or valid insurance.
- January 30, 2006 – Arrested for multiple gun charges including concealment and aggravated assault with a firearm.
- April 29, 2006 – Allowed three underage females to consume alcohol at a hotel.
- June 3, 2006 – Pulled over for drunk driving.
- October 6, 2006 – Suspended for two games for violating substance abuse and personal conduct policies.
- April 2007 – Suspended first eight games of 2007 season for violations of the NFL’s personal conduct policy.
- November 6, 2007 – Allegedly assaulted a valet attendant.
- December 3, 2007 – Arrested for violating probation (from Jan. 30, 2006 arrest).
- March 31, 2008 – Arrested for punching a man and throwing a beer bottle through the window of his car. Waived by Cincinnati the next day.
- December 16, 2009 – Fell out of a moving truck driven by his fiancee while engaged in a domestic dispute. Henry suffered grave injuries and died on December 17, 2009.
2. Michael Vick
Former Atlanta Falcons, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback – Currently with New York Jets – 34 years old
Vick was once one of the most feared athletes in the NFL. His speed was unprecedented, especially for a quarterback, and his ability to make plays was jaw-dropping. While he did struggle figuring out the whole “throwing accurately” thing, the early part of Vick’s career was electric and wildly fun to watch. This is sort of “Vick’s list”. Crazy talented players who do something very wrong and ruin their lives over it. Vick has been the poster child for this message for years. I greatly appreciate the more humble Vick we see today, but as a fan, you have to wonder what would have been if Vick had never been involved with the dog fighting ring and had instead played out the prime of his career.
Career Stats: 128 games, 56.2% completion percentage, 21,489 passing yards, 128 passing touchdowns, 85 interceptions, 5,857 rushing yards, 36 rushing touchdowns.
- Pre-Jail: 74 games, 52.23% completion percentage, 11,505 passing yards, 71 passing touchdowns, 52 interceptions, 3,859 rushing yards, 21 rushing touchdowns.
- Post-Jail: 54 games, 56.26% completion percentage, 9,984 passing yards, 57 passing touchdowns, 33 interceptions, 1,998 rushing yards, 15 rushing touchdowns.
- There were a number of early controversies that didn’t result in much in the of suspensions…etc.
- August 2007 – Pleaded guilty to federal charges in the Bad Newz Kennels dog fighting investigation. He was suspended indefinitely without pay for violating its player conduct policy. He served 23-months in prison.
- August 13, 2009 – Signed one-year contract with Philadelphia Eagles.
1. Aaron Hernandez
Former New England Patriots tight end – 24 years old
What can you say about Hernandez? On the football-side of things, he was a tremendous talent with exceptional speed and athleticism for a tight end and he was utilized to perfection in the Patriots offense with Rob Gronkowski. The sky was the limit for a guy with his physical gifts, but there were always characters concerns about him. Not many thought he would be implicated in something as significant and as severe as a murder case though. His tale is so much more than football statistics, but he is one of the more terrifying accounts of a talented athlete losing it all from off the field issues and has to top this list.
Career Stats: 38 games (29 starts), 175 receptions, 1,956 receiving yards, 18 touchdowns.
- June 13, 2013 – A lawsuit was filed against Hernandez by Alexander S. Bradley claiming Hernandez shot him while their were riding in a car together causing Bradley to lose his right eye as a result.
- June 18, 2013 – Hernandez’s house was searched by police in connection with an investigation into the shooting death of Odin Lloyd.
- June 26, 2013 – Arrested and then released by New England. He was charged with first-degree murder, in addition to five gun-related charges. If convicted, Hernandez faces life in prison.
- June 27, 2013 – Law enforcement told media Hernandez was being investigated in connection with a double murder that took place on July 16, 2012. He was indicted on murder charges for those killings on May 15, 2014.