1. Calvin Johnson, Wide Receiver, Detroit Lions, 2007
From a physical standpoint, Calvin Johnson is unquestionably the most gifted wide receiver to ever play the game. His incredible combination of size, speed, strength and leaping ability has produced dozens of highlight-reel catches, many of them in double or even triple coverage.
From a numbers standpoint, Johnson has the chance to challenge all of Jerry Rice’s career receiving records. In 2012, he broke Rice’s single-season record with 1,964 receiving yards. He recorded 329 yards in a game against the Dallas Cowboys in 2013 and has averaged 101 catches, 1,712 yards and 11 touchdowns per year since 2011. He will be worth every penny of the eight-year, $132 million contract he signed before the 2012 season.
2. Von Miller, Linebacker, Denver Broncos, 2011
Von Miller has been flying under the radar ever since he joined the NFL. In 2011, Tim Tebow stole headlines from Miller, who collected 11.5 sacks and earned Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. In 2012, JJ Watt stole headlines from Miller, who collected 18.5 sacks and forced six fumbles, finishing second in voting for Defensive Player of the Year. In 2013, Peyton Manning stole headlines from Miller, who performed at his usual dominant level for nine games, sandwiched between a PED suspension and an ACL tear.
The game’s best 4-3 outside linebacker for each of the past three seasons, via Pro Football Focus, Miller is as dominant against the run as he is a pass-rusher. If he can stay out of trouble and return from his injury completely healthy, he has a chance to be one of the best ever.
3. Ndamukong Suh, Defensive Tackle, Detroit Lions, 2010
Ndamukong Suh took the NFL by storm during a tremendous rookie season in which he collected 10 sacks and earned Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. The best pass-rushing defensive tackle in the NFL, he earned three All-Pro selections during his four years in the league. A Sporting News poll named Suh the dirtiest player in the NFL, as he’s been suspended once (for two games) and earned more than $200,000 in fines.
4. Robert Griffin III, Quarterback, Washington Redskins, 2012
RGIII turned in one of the most memorable seasons by a rookie quarterback in NFL history, becoming the first player to lead the league in yards per attempt as both a passer and a runner. He took the Redskins into the postseason but suffered a torn ACL in the Wild Card Game.
RGIII, who had also suffered a concussion and LCL sprain earlier in the season, struggled through the entire 2013 season. He was benched for the final three games due to a feud with head coach Mike Shanahan.
5. Chris Long, Defensive End, St. Louis Rams, 2008
When his career is finished, Chris Long might be a better defensive end than his father, Hall of Famer Howie Long. During his six seasons with the St. Louis Rams, Chris Long has collected 50.5 sacks, including two seasons in the double digits. Over the past four seasons, he’s ranked fourth, first, first and second in quarterback hurries, per Pro Football Focus.
6. Reggie Bush, Running Back, New Orleans Saints, 2006
One of the most impressive careers in college football history did not translate the way most expected it to in the National Football League. Reggie Bush’s incredible speed has provided a few highlight-reel punt returns (four career touchdowns), but he’s never lived up to expectations as a feature running back.
He averaged just 108 carries per year during five seasons in New Orleans before reviving his career with the Miami Dolphins. He’s now the starter in Detroit, where it appears likely that Bush will end his career without a single Pro Bowl selection.
7. Ronnie Brown, Running Back, Miami Dolphins, 2005
Like in college, Ronnie Brown was much better suited as part of a backfield tandem instead of serving as the feature back. He never carried more than 241 times in a season and topped 1000 yards just once. He earned his lone Pro Bowl selection in 2008, thanks in part to an incredible performance against the New England Patriots in Week 3 (five total touchdowns) that helped trigger the NFL’s popular, yet short-lived, Wildcat formation.
He signed with the Eagles as a free agent before the 2011 season, where he committed this infamous blunder. Over the last two seasons, he’s enjoyed moderate success as a third-down running back for the San Diego Chargers.
8. Robert Gallery, Offensive Tackle, Oakland Raiders, 2004
Considered one of the best draft prospects in years, Robert Gallery struggled for three years at right tackle, allowing a ridiculous 10.5 sacks in 13 games in 2006. He switched to left guard, where he played with considerable success over the next five years.
9. Luke Joeckel, Offensive Tackle, Jacksonville Jaguars, 2013
It was a very disappointing rookie season for Joeckel, who opened the season at right tackle before switching to the left side of the line when Eugene Monroe was traded. Joeckel graded negatively, per Pro Football Focus, in all five games he played before a season-ending ankle injury in Week 5.
10. Jason Smith, Offensive Tackle, St. Louis Rams, 2009
One of the biggest draft busts in recent history, Jason Smith is the epitome of the St. Louis Rams’ failures. His failure directly led to slowed production for quarterback Sam Bradford, taken first overall in the 2010 draft. Smith played three injury-plagued seasons for the Rams before he was traded to the New York Jets, where he finished out his career as a backup in 2012. Just 27 years old, he’s already out of football.