The 20 Biggest Underachievers in Sports
Fans of all sports must accept the cruel reality that for every athlete that exceeds our wildest expectations, there are ten more that fail to deliver on incredible promise.
While it’s easy to lament your favorite team’s latest bust, a player that completely flames out before their career even gets going, of greater consternation is the underachiever.
Every sport, whether individual or team oriented, has them. The underachiever teases us by showing occasional flashes of brilliance, giving us hope that they are right on the cusp of greatness. But far more frequently, they wallow in mediocrity, leaving fans with more questions than answers.
It’s time to recognize the 20 current athletes that cause the greatest amount of grief for their fans by being the consummate underachievers.
Reggie Bush, RB, Miami Dolphins: Bush was on his way to a top five appearance before he finally had a breakout season for the Dolphins in 2011, putting to rest the idea that he can't be a franchise running back.
Maria Sharapova, Women's Tennis: Another promising star that seemed destined to fall short of her considerable potential. Sharapova battled back from two injury-plagued years to win last week's French Open, completing the career Grand Slam and recapturing the WTA's No. 1 ranking.
Alex Smith, QB, San Francisco 49ers: The former No. 1 overall pick was this close to spending the rest of his career as a back up. But first-year head coach, and former NFL QB Jim Harbaugh finally instilled confidence in the young signal-caller, quickly turning him into one of the league's most efficient quarterbacks while leading the team to last season's NFC Championship game.
Phil Kessel, RW, Toronto Maple Leafs: Kessel was expected to be the next savior of Bruins hockey when Boston selected 18-year old with the fifth overall pick in the 2006 NHL draft. He never quite lived up to expectations in Beantown, but has since gone on to post three straight 30-goal seasons in Toronto, including a career high 37 this past season.
20. Howie Kendrick, 2B, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim second baseman was hailed as a future batting champion, and the franchise’s best hitter since Rod Carew, when he debuted in 2006.
Instead, Kendrick has had a solid, but injury-plagued career thus far. While he is a career .290 hitter, he has yet to hit better than .285 in either of the two seasons in which he received enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title.
19. Chad Billingsley, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
Chad Billingsley teased Dodger fans by showing incredible promise during his first two seasons as a starter in 2008 and 2009, providing hope that he and top prospect Clayton Kershaw would form a dynamic one-two punch at the front of the starting rotation.
While Kershaw went on to win his first National League Cy Young award last year, Billingsley has yet to become the complete pitcher that Dodgers fans hoped for.
18. Matt Cassel, QB, Kansas City Chiefs
When the Kansas City Chiefs signed free agent quarterback Matt Cassel prior to the 2009 season, they thought they were getting the next Tom Brady, or at least a close approximation.
New general manager Scott Pioli had every reason to be high on Cassel, as he too had come over from the New England Patriots, and was in fact responsible for drafting Cassel a few years earlier. But other than a promising 2010 season, Brady’s former understudy has been mostly a disappointment in Kansas City.
Will this be the year that he puts it all together and out-shoots Peyton Manning for another AFC West crown?
17. JR Smith, G, New York Knicks
When people complain about the NBA being full of rich, spoiled, self-centered athletes, they usually point to J.R. Smith as Exhibits A, B, and C.
The uber-talented guard has as much skill and athleticism as any player in the league, and could easily be the NBA’s top sixth man. Unfortunately, Smith has been involved in countless incidents, both on and off the court, that point to an incredible lack of maturity.
He might be one of the NBA's leaders in tattoos though, no small feat in itself.
16. Darren McFadden, RB, Oakland Raiders
Darren McFadden may have the most frustrating profile of all underachievers. He appears to be a hard-working, humble kid who legitimately cares about the team’s success. Unfortunately for the Oakland Raiders and their fans, he can’t stay healthy often enough to help the team.
Given his tall stature and upright running style, many questioned his durability before he was drafted in 2008. But his immense talent was too great to have him fall out of the top five.
So far the doubters have been proven right, as McFadden has never played more than 13, games or had more than 223 carries, in any of his four seasons as a Raider.
15. Tyreke Evans, G, Sacramento Kings
Coming out of Memphis, many scouts doubted whether Tyreke Evans could actually run a team as a point guard at the NBA level. He temporarily silenced many of the haters with a Rookie of the Year campaign during the 2009-2010 season, duplicating the first-year feat of his Memphis predecessor Derrek Rose.
Just two years later, Evans is quickly becoming the anti-Rose, and Sacramento may need to move him for a true point guard to take advantage of all the front-court talent on their roster, and finally return to building a winning culture.
14. Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas Cowboys
In his first two seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, Dez Bryant has done plenty to inspire his supporters and his detractors. Unfortunately, he’s done more to support the latter group, making him one of the NFL’s greatest enigmas.
Bryant has struggled to stay healthy, but the bigger issue has been his inconsistent effort during games. If the Cowboys hope to shake the team's image as underachievers, Bryant will have to lead the charge.
13. Roy Williams, WR, Chicago Bears
Continuing with the theme of disappointing Cowboys wide receivers, former Cowboy Roy Williams seemed to be in desperate need of a change of scenery after three lackluster seasons with Dallas.
Dallas gave up two first-round draft picks and a ton of cash (in the form of a massive contract extension) to acquire Williams from the Detroit Lions. But a return home (Williams is a native of Odessa, TX and had a standout career at the University of Texas) proved to be a disaster, and he was cut prior to the 2011 season.
Being reunited with Mike Martz in Chicago (they were together in Detroit during Williams’ best years) did nothing to revive his career, as Williams has shown no signs of returning to his 2006, Pro-Bowl form.
12. Luke Donald, Men’s Golf
Luke Donald may have regained the No. 1 spot in the World Golf Rankings with last weekend's win in the BMW PGA Championship, but that simply added greater credentials to his best-golfer-not-to-win-a-major resume.
11. Caroline Wozniacki, Women's Tennis
Caroline Wozniacki appeared to be the next big thing in women's tennis when she rose to No. 1 in the WTA rankings early in 2011. In less than eighteen months, she has fallen all the way back to No. 7, and has failed to win a Grand Slam event yet.
Not quite 22-years old, Wozniacki still has plenty of time to turn it around. But with her boyfriend Rory McIlroy also struggling to deal with heightened expectations, they may do well to seek some couple's counseling to get their respective mojos back.
10. Michael Crabtree, WR, San Francisco 49ers
Michael Crabtree came into the 2009 NFL draft with all kinds of buzz after a record-breaking career at Texas Tech that included back-to-back Biletnikoff awards as the nations best wide receiver.
Almost immediately after the draft, Crabtree began making waves, holding out for top-five money, even though he fell to San Francisco with the tenth overall pick.
After missing the first five games of his rookie season with a foot injury, Crabtree has been solid his two full seasons since, but he’s come nowhere close to justifying his pre-draft hype, nor his lofty impressions of his own talent.
9. Phil Hughes, RHP, New York Yankees
Phil Hughes has long been expected to be the future ace of the New York Yankees. More than what he was expected to do on the field, Hughes was also a symbol to the rest of the baseball world that the Yankees could still produce top pitching talent organically, and didn't always need to rely on their unmatched financial power to "buy titles."
Though his development has been slowed by injuries, he's rarely demonstrated the potential as a starter that once made him the one guy that New York absolutely would not include in trade discussions.
He has looked good in his last four starts, and at only 25, there's still hope that he'll put it all together soon.
8. Alex Gordon, OF, Kansas City Royals
Alex Gordon was the No. 2 pick in the now famous 2005 MLB Draft class that included current major league standouts like Justin Upton, Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Braun, Ricky Romero, Troy Tulowitzki, Andrew McCutcheon, Jay Bruce, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Matt Garza. And that;s just within the first 25 picks.
Gordon, unfairly burdened with being the “next George Brett” by Kansas City faithful, was well on his way to bust status until a breakout 2011 season revived hope that he was finally on his way to stardom. He’s regressed a bit this year, but at 28, there’s still hope for a long and productive career for the outfielder.
7. Delmon Young, OF, Detroit Tigers
Delmon Young was the No. 1 pick of the 2003 draft, and along with B.J. Upton and Elijah Dukes, was expected to lead the Tampa Bay Rays to years of AL East dominance.
Maturity and anger management issues have largely been responsible for Young's inability to maximize his unlimited talent. Including an incident in New York earlier this year during which he reportedly got in a small altercation with a group of tourists.
6. Albert Haynesworth, DL, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Talk about taking the money and running!
Albert Haynesworth became the NFL's first defensive lineman to ink a nine-figure contract when Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snider backed the Brinks truck up to his door in 2009, signing him to a seven-year deal worth $100 million.
Haynesworth promptly rewarded the owner by abandoning his commitment to conditioning and repeatedly butting heads with head coach Mike Shanahan over his desire to play a different defensive scheme among other things.
Once considered the best interior linemen in football, Haynesworth seems determined to pout his way out of the league faster than Terrel Owens.
5. Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons
When Matt Ryan was selected by the Atlanta Falcons with the third pick of the 2008 NFL Draft, he was instantly billed as the anti-Michael Vick and the savior who would lead the team to its first Super Bowl title.
Ryan started off hot, leading the Falcons to the playoffs during his rookie season. But after setting the bar so high, the Falcons have failed to make it out the first round in either of their two postseason trips since, suffering a 24-2 loss to the New York Giants this past season.
In addition to the postseason failures, Ryan has failed to develop as a passer, despite being surrounded by superior receiving talent in Roddy White and Julio Jones.
4. Michelle Wie, Women’s Golf, LPGA
After Tiger Woods took the golf world by storm, winning his first major at the age of 20, Michelle Wie never had a chance.
The most celebrated golfer since Woods, Wie struggled mightily as she attempted to take on the LPGA’s elite while still figuring out how to be a teenager, a move that proved horrible for her game and her personal development.
College seems to have helped Wie with both, giving her a new sense of normalcy and taking much of the attention off of her career.
Still just 22, she still has time to blossom into a star, but the expectations for her have also been drastically reduced.
3. Carmelo Anthony, F, New York Knicks
Don’t laugh when I say this, but there was a time not so long ago when the question “Who’s better, Carmelo Anthony or LeBron James?” was a legitimate question.
When Anthony and James entered the NBA in 2003, James was a high school phenom, while Anthony was coming fresh off of a NCAA Championship during his lone season at Syracuse. Anthony beat James to the playoffs to, leading the Nuggets there in his rookie season while James and the Cavaliers missed out.
Fast forward to 2012, where James’ Heat eliminated Anthony’s Knicks in the first round on their way to a second straight NBA Finals appearance, while New York seemed relieved to end a 10-game postseason losing streak.
Carmelo is still considered one of the NBA’s ten best players, maybe top three as far as pure scorers. But his inability to commit to the other aspects of the game, like defense and passing, keep him from being considered in the discussion of the game’s elite stars like James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, and Kobe Bryant.
2. Rick DiPietro, G, New York Islanders
Who? Exactly. Now take a look at his contract, and why many consider it the worst contract in NHL history.
1. Randy Moss, WR, San Francisco
- Most people agree that Moss should be No. 1 on the list.
- Name another player who has sabotaged three different teams in one NFL season, all three teams that he played for.
How can a player that is a sure fire Hall of Famer, and arguably the second best wide receiver to ever play in the NFL, considered an underachiever?