10 NFL Players Who Don't Deserve Their Bad Reputations

Adam LazarusSenior Analyst IJune 29, 2012

10 NFL Players Who Don't Deserve Their Bad Reputations

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    The NFL can be a cruel, cruel world.

    Even one mistake on the field can produce a goat, a choke artist, a loser, or words I am not allowed to use on this website. Double that fan/coach/media animosity for mistakes made off the field.

    Don't get me wrong. Plenty of players who have bad reps deserve them.

    Tony Romo's label for never winning the big game or in big spots is deserved. 

    Ndamukong Suh's penchant for stomping opponents or making late and illegal hits is deserved. 

    And Michael Vick's reputation as a convicted felon is also deserved, no matter if he served his time and apologized or not.

    But some players, for a variety of reasons, don't deserve the dim view people have of them. Or at the very least they don't deserve the white hot intensity of their bad reputations. 

    Here are 10 such cases. 

No. 10: Mark Sanchez, QB, New York Jets

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    Two years ago at this time, Mark Sanchez was the darling of the New York sports world. The rookie that had led the Jets to a remarkable berth in the AFC Championship Game was quickly dubbed The San-chise.

    And even though he followed up that 2009 performance with equally strong efforts in 2010, he's become one of the NFL's most maligned players as of late due to a terrible finish down the stretch by both him and the Jets. And the organization feeling a need to trade for Tim Tebow only hastened his apparent fall from grace.

    So Sanchez's reputation as a player/quarterback isn't very strong these days.

    But is that really deserved? The 25-year-old already has four road playoff wins under his belt despite not having an overwhelming collection of talent surrounding him on offense. 

    Off the field, however, is where his reputation has taken another turn for the worse. 

    In some ways, (especially that GQ pictorial from last year) he's really embraced the New York sports celebrity, something some of his colleagues didn't care for (via NBC Sports). And then there was that whole situation where he was allegedly involved with a 17-year-old high school student, but no charges were filed. He seemingly never broke any law, and there was no Ben Roethlisberger-type investigation. 

    In short, just because he doesn't hide from the media and is something of an anti-Eli Manning when it comes to the spotlight, it doesn't mean he's a bad guy. 

    And I bet if Brett Favre had been the one who ate a hot dog on the sidelines, not only would there have been zero outrage, but he would have been lauded for "just having fun." 

No. 9: Reggie Bush, RB, Miami Dolphins

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    Even though E!, US Weekly, and the tabloids might suggest otherwise (i.e. Kris Humphries), dating Kim Kardashian doesn't make you a bad guy. 

    So that's not the reason why Bush is on this list. 

    Like several of the entries here, performance on the field is one reason why people might be more likely to dislike Bush. He's struggled to stay healthy (2011 was the first time since his 2006 rookie season that he played in all 16 games), and he certainly hasn't lived up to the mega-hype that followed him from Southern California.

    He's not quite a bust, but for a No. 2 overall selection he's nowhere near a star, either.

    But Bush has plenty of additional haters who couldn't care less about his rushing yards or receptions. To them, he "tarnished the legacy" of both the Heisman trophy and USC. 

    According to the NCAA's investigation (via The Times-Picayune), Bush did plenty wrong as a member of the Trojans. Otherwise, he wouldn't have voluntarily given up his Heisman back in 2010. But he didn't admit any guilt and clearly wasn't the only player accused of these types of transgressions (see: O.J. Mayo). 

    So while Bush probably deserves some scorn for what took place during his time at USC, to hold him up as the symbol of all that is wrong with college football is a burden that no one player should have. 

No. 8: Kevin Kolb, QB, Arizona Cardinals

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    Not all of these entries are about players with bad reps for something they've done off the field. There are many players out there who, for many different reasons, fans love to hate. 

    And although it's only been one year, Kevin Kolb might be the newest member of that list. 

    In light of careers such as Rob Johnson's and Scott Mitchell's, I think it's fair to say that fans and front offices have a penchant for assuming a backup quarterback's short-term performance can be stretched out into a great career. 

    That's how Kevin Kolb ended up in Arizona, and it's how the Cardinals ended up dealing away a starter on defense (Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie) and a second-round pick just for the right to give Kolb a huge contract that included $12 million guaranteed.

    After all, he did have an impressive performance in a very short fill-in role for the Eagles. 

    But Kolb did not have a shining first year in Arizona (and is now engaged in a quarterback duel with the somewhat unheralded John Skelton), so there are fans out there who really deride Kolb as a bust or a symbol of all that is wrong with today's knee-jerk reaction NFL.

    Since he's only had one season with the Cards in which he had injury problems and couldn't even enjoy a preseason (i.e. OTAs, minicamp, full training camp) because of the the lockout, his detractors haven't given him a fair chance. Not even close. 

No. 7: Matt Leinart, QB, Oakland Raiders

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    As of June 2012, Matt Leinart—the former Heisman winner (two-time finalist) and tenth overall pick of the 2006 NFL Draft—is a bust.

    But whether or not Leinart becomes the second coming of Jim Plunkett out in Oakland or joins JaMarcus Russell, Tim Couch and Ryan Leaf as an all-time epic failure, I don't think the outlook many people have of him is entirely fair. 

    First, consider why people have started to label his play as bust-worthy: He lost his job as the Cardinals starting quarterback. But he didn't lose it to some no-name rookie or a mediocre journeyman. He lost it to Kurt Warner, who will soon have a place in Canton.

    Granted, his bust status is much more warranted since he was unable to reclaim a starter's role in Arizona after Warner's retirement and had to find work elsewhere.

    But there's more to the story of why people consider Leinart a failure of even greater proportions than much higher draft choices like the Rams' Jason Smith, the Jets' Vernon Gholston or the Jaguars' Derrick Harvey. 

    During his tumble from star status, Leinart was blasted for his work ethic, as pictures of him partying and drinking surfaced on the Internet on more than one occasion. 

    But is that really enough to entirely dismiss him as lazy and disinterested in being a great player? Remember when Ben Roethlisberger was photographed partying the week before the 2005 AFC Championship Game? He's managed to have pretty nice career, despite plenty of similar extra curricular activities. 

    The bottom line is that assuming a player is not a hard worker (or worse, doesn't care) just because of a few photographs is a real reach. 

No. 6: Billy Cundiff, K, Baltimore Ravens

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    This entry (along with the next one) relies heavily on an assumption—one that is definitely grounded in logic and NFL case law. 

    The last time we saw Baltimore Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff, he was attempting a seemingly easy 32-yard field goal that would have sent the AFC Championship Game into overtime. 

    But Cundiff missed, and as a result the Ravens' Super Bowl dreams were dashed. 

    There's no doubt about it: Cundiff is to blame for the miss, regardless of all that timeout nonsense that followed the loss.

    But that one kick shouldn't make him some sort of hated sports leper in the same vein as Joe Thomas (the Colts GM who traded away Johnny Unitas) or Robert Irsay, the Colts owner who infamously moved the franchise to Indianapolis in the middle of the night.

    Even if he ultimately does lose his starting job this summer to undrafted rookie Justin Tucker, Cundiff had a fine career in Baltimore and the NFL in general.

    Remember, he nailed a critical 39-yarder earlier in the loss to New England, hit a 44-yarder in their playoff win over Houston and was All-Pro the previous season. 

    It's not quite the same as Scott Norwood's "wide right" (which was in a Super Bowl and a much more difficult kick at 47 yards), but Cundiff is still in the same boat as Norwood as a universal goat for that miss. And unfairly so. 

No. 5: Wes Welker, WR, New England Patriots

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    On some level, I really don't believe that I'm making this entry. But on another level, it is warranted, and it speaks to both the momentous influence of the Super Bowl and the "What have you done for me lately?" nature of the NFL.

    Since 2007, Wes Welker has been one of the NFL's premier wide receivers. He's averaged 111 catches and 1,221 yards per season as the Patriots offense has become one of the greatest in NFL history. And last year's 122-catch effort was especially impressive considering he was only two years removed from a torn ACL and MCL. 

    But despite all his achievements and catching 19 passes during last year's run to the Super Bowl, all anyone wanted to talk about last February was Welker's drop late in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl loss to the Giants. 

    There's no excusing the drop, even if it was a tough grab to make (which it was).

    But, much like with Cundiff, it's absurd and unfair to let that one single play ruin a fantastic (in Welker's case arguably Hall-of-Fame-worthy) career. 

    Maybe your saying to yourself, "there's no way that one play can turn a once-respected, even beloved, New England sports figure into some sort of villain or pariah, no matter the stage."

    My response: Bill Buckner anyone?

No. 4: James Harrison, OLB, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    This very well may be the most difficult case to be made, but hear me out.

    Harrison is no saint. He's found himself in trouble with both the police and Roger Goodell. And he also has a way of sticking his foot in his mouth—refusing to go to the White House, threatening to retire and even calling out his team's star quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger (via Men's Journal).

    But when it comes to his on-the-field approach to the game, I don't think he's quite the dirty, evil player he's made out to be.

    Have some of his hits drawn fines? Yes. Have some of them knocked players out of the game or delivered concussions? Yes. And have some of them been of questionable legality? Yes.

    But (as far as we know) he's never stomped on a player like Albert Haynesworth or Ndamukong Suh did. 

    All of Harrison's transgressions have come by crossing that blurry line between late hits and hustle plays or between helmet-to-helmet and textbook tackles. 

    Clearly the NFL is having a very difficult time regulating these types of hits, and if fining and suspending players is the best way they can reduce violence, then so be it. But the more blatant matters of unregulated violence (i.e. Bountygate) should produce much worse reputations than the one James Harrison has been given. 

No. 3: Jay Cutler, QB, Chicago Bears

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    Cutler is a guy with another hybrid bad reputation.

    He's been labeled something of a jerk. CBS Sports' Mike Freeman recently tabbed him eighth on his Biggest NFL Jerks list. Cutler has definitely done some "jerky" things, including getting into that jarring episode with Phillip Rivers back in 2007. And flipping off a photographer while walking your dog isn't a wise move either. 

    But is that really enough to consider him a "jerk"? Maybe, maybe not.

    And despite an arm that most people think is among the best in the game, he hasn't taken the next step to stardom and has definitely struggled with turnovers. Since he's never taken his teams to the Super Bowl, many think he's overrated or even a bust as an 11th-overall selection.

    But remember, he's only 29; Peyton Manning was 30 before finally taking Indy to a Super Bowl.

    More to the point, there was that episode during the 2010 NFC Championship Game loss to the Packers which made for such a terrible conundrum. If he stayed in the game and was ineffective because of his knee injury, people would have said he was hurting the team and he had an obligation to come out. And when he did come out, people bashed him for it, questioning his desire, heart, and toughness.

    That was essentially a lose-lose situation for him. Therefore, he really shouldn't be taken to the shed for it. 

No. 2: Chad Ochocinco, WR, Miami Dolphins

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    Is Chad Ochocinco a model NFL citizen?

    No.

    Has he done and said some stupid things?

    Absolutely.

    Was his tenure in New England borderline disastrous?

    Yes.

    But I would hesitate to lump him in with some of the other big-time headache wide receivers of his generation. And I do think Ochocinco is mentioned in the same breath as Terrell Owens and Randy Moss, both of whom were seriously disruptive to their teams.  

    While his recent comments (from NFL.com) that he plans to "be a problem" for the commissioner might prove to invalidate this entry, Ochocinco has never been accused of taking plays off a la  Moss or throwing his quarterbacks under the bus the way T.O. perfected. 

    And for those who hate Ochocinco for his antics (the name change, the absurd celebrations): The NFL is filled to the brim with players who repeatedly engage in me-first publicity, so it's a bit unfair to single the former Mr. Johnson out. 

No. 1: Tim Tebow, QB, New York Jets

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    You might think this list concludes with a totally ludicrous entry: how could Tim Tebow, the darling of the sports media, have a bad reputation?

    But the reason why ESPN and all the media outlets love Tebow is because he is such a lightning rod, which means there has to be serious controversy, or at the very least debate, surrounding him. And that is certainly the case.

    Away from the gridiron, Tebow does have his detractors for his personal beliefs (or more specifically, his willingness to speak about them). But even if you believe that athletes have no business talking about their faith or abortion (an argument for another time), you have to admit that Tebow isn't the only one who does so.

    That alone would probably be enough to earn Tebow a prominent spot on this list. But what pushes him right up to the top is the murky status of his abilities as an NFL quarterback.

    Long before joining the NFL (and up until this very moment), Tebow has had his throwing motion and overall ceiling dismissed. But you cannot argue with the results he produced in Denver last season.

    Time and time again in 2011 he salvaged the Broncos' season, leading them to an improbable division title and then a miraculous playoff victory. Not many second-year quarterbacks can say that.