Life in the National Football League can be fleeting. It's been widely reported that the average length of an NFL career is about three years, although that's a statistic that the NFL disputed back in 2011, according to Stephanie Stradley of The Houston Chronicle.
Per the NFL's study, the average length of a first-round pick's career is 9.3 years. Assuming for a moment that the league's data is accurate, this begs a question.
What the heck happened to Sedrick Ellis?
Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com reports that the sixth-year defensive tackle, who was the seventh overall pick by the New Orleans Saints back in 2008, abruptly retired on Thursday after not showing up at training camp for the Chicago Bears.
The news came from left field. Ellis is only 28 years old and hasn't got a significant injury history, so the reason behind his retirement doesn't appear physical. It wouldn't seem to be financial either, as Ellis is walking away from a million dollars by retiring.
Of course, when your rookie deal paid you $30 million over five years money shouldn't be a real problem, although in hindsight the Saints certainly wish they hadn't laid out all that coin.
Back in 2008, though, it really didn't seem like such a terrible idea. Coming out of USC, the 6'1", 305-pound Ellis was one of the top defensive prospects in the draft. Sports Illustrated said at the time that "Ellis is poised to be a top-eight selection and should quickly break into a starting lineup at the next level." NFL.com wrote that Ellis "demonstrates the foot quickness, balance and agility to make plays on the move, showing above average change of direction agility and valid speed to pursue long distances."
It's not as if the Saints really reached in selecting Ellis when they did. The All-American was widely believed to be a top-10 pick, a sound selection for a New Orleans team in search of help along the interior of the defensive line.
His first two NFL seasons were something of a mixed bag. Injuries cost Ellis nine games, but when on the field Ellis was fairly effective, tallying 64 total tackles and six sacks. Ellis started for the Saints in Super Bowl XLIV, notching three tackles in the win over the Indianapolis Colts.
Then, in 2010, things really seemed to fall into place. Ellis played in all 16 games that year, racking up career-highs in tackles (44), sacks (six) and forced fumbles (2).
However, even in that season Ellis' robust stats belied an inescapable fact. Ellis just wasn't the player that the Saints thought they were getting.
Actually, despite what the stats said Ellis was actually getting worse, at least from an effectiveness standpoint.
Ellis' ranking among defensive tackles at Pro Football Focus (subscription required) steadily got worse in each of his first three seasons, and only once in the past three years has Ellis ranked inside the top 50 (at 50th, mind you).
Not only has Ellis not played like a top-10 draft pick, but he's been below average to this point in his career.
That's what led the Saints to wash their hands of him when Ellis' rookie deal expired. The Bears took a flier on Ellis as depth, but his abrupt retirement isn't any sort of real blow to Chicago.
At the end of the day, the fact of the matter is that Sedrick Ellis was a great college football player who turned out to be a so-so pro at best. It happens.
You can blame the scouts, but before you rake the Saints over the coals bear this in mind: That same year, The Kansas City Chiefs drafted defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey (who New Orleans wanted) fifth overall. With the next pick the New York Jets selected defensive end Vernon Gholston. That was followed by the Saints with Ellis, the Jacksonville Jaguars taking defensive end Derrick Harvey and the Cincinnati Bengals choosing linebacker Keith Rivers.
The Saints were caught in the middle of the worst run of defensive draft picks in recent memory. It was a maelstrom of missteps. A tornado of terrible.
Trying to blame someone is futile.
This sudden retirement makes one wonder if Ellis' heart was in the game anymore. Given how young he is, it makes you wonder if it ever really was.
This isn't said as any sort of indictment of Ellis. Many players get by on sheer talent in college, only to hit the wall in the NFL. The level of competition is exponentially higher. You have to work like a madman to go from good to great most times, and even then there's no guarantee.
Sedrick Ellis, for whatever reason, never took that step, and now he's apparently decided that $1 million and a reserve role isn't worth the rigors of training camp and the pounding of another season.
Granted, that will no doubt lead to the labeling of Ellis as a "bust" (if he wasn't already sporting the proverbial scarlet letter), but we may never know exactly why he was any more than we know why Ellis walked away in the manner he did.
"He just wasn't good enough," may seem like an overly simplistic epitaph for the career of a player who was as highly-touted as Sedrick Ellis. However, like many of the alumni of the class of '08, it may be the only explanation we get as to where things went wrong.
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