The 10 Most Snakebitten Careers in NFL History

Ryan WinnAnalyst IAugust 13, 2009

2 Oct 1988: Running back Ickey Woods of the Cincinnati Bengals looks on during a game against the Los Angeles Raiders at the Coliseum in Los Angeles, California. The Bengals won the game, 45-21.

To be snakebitten is to run into misfortune or bad luck, leading to failure or reduction in production. In the history of football, countless players have run into bad luck one way or another and have since fallen of the map.

For many professional football players, their careers end before they even begin. First-round picks get paid unthinkable amounts of money before touching the field, and before they can prove themselves, their careers abruptly end.

For those men, their misfortune pushes them under the "bust" label.

For these 10 men, football seemed to be giving them an avenue for the rest of their lives, until the proverbial snakebite nipped their careers and, subsequently, any future records, in the bud.

10. WR Warren Wells—Detroit Lions, Oakland Raiders

Breakout season: 1969—47 rec., 1,260 yards, 14 TD

Drafted in the 12th round out of Texas Southern by the Detroit Lions in 1964, Warren Wells was never expected to become a No. 1 receiver, which may be why they were not nearly as affected as Wells himself by the next turn of events.

Wells got his first taste of luck's dark side when he became one of only two football players drafted by the Selective Service to join the Army at the height of the Vietnam War in 1966. After serving two years, he was given an honorable discharge and shifted his focus back to football.

He signed with the 1967 Oakland Raiders, joining a crop with the likes of George Blanda and Fred Biletnikoff.

Wells worked well in Oakland as a deep threat, averaging 21.5 yards per reception his second year back in football, and was named to the 1968 AFL All-Star team. He upped that average to 26.8 in his career-best 1969 season, starting in all 14 games.

Wells accumulated 11 TD in 1969, but his career was ended when his alcohol and women problems led to legal problems and charges, capping off a bad luck career for the electrifying wideout.

9. RB Christian Okoye—Kansas City Chiefs

Breakout season: 1989—370 car., 1,480 yards, 12 TD

Dubbed the "Nigerian Nightmare," Christian Okoye never even played football until 1984, and three years later, he was drafted out of Azusa Pacific University in California in the second-round.

Okoye's first two years in the league were productive (1,133 yards in two seasons) but injury plagued, as he missed 11 total games with multiple injuries.

In the healthiest season of his career, Okoye broke through in 1989, leading the league in carries and yards, earning him selections to the Pro Bowl and the All-Pro first team.

The next season, a reoccurring knee injury limited him to 3.3 yards per carry, and the rest of his career was limited due to his knee injury, delegating the bruising back to goal-line duty in 1992.

Okoye called it quits after the '92 season when practice took a toll on him and he no longer found joy in the game.

Despite playing only six seasons with 1,000-plus yards only twice, Okoye was elected to the Chiefs' Hall of Fame in 2000.

8. DL Keith Millard—Minnesota Vikings, Green Bay Packers, Philadelphia Eagles, Seattle Seahawks

Breakout season: 1989—18 sacks, one INT, one fumble recovered

Coming out of Washington State, Keith Millard couldn't find an NFL team that wanted his talents, so he joined the Jacksonville Bulls of the USFL to start his football career.

Millard ranked second in the league in sacks (12) and was named to the All-USFL team. His superb performance, which fell just half a sack shy of Reggie White's totals, led him to first-round pick status, and the Minnesota Vikings scooped him up at No. 13 in the 1984 draft.

He started at defensive end, where he led the team with 11 sacks his rookie year and took the quarterback down 10.5 times his next year. He made his biggest contribution, however, at defensive tackle.

In 1989, he set an NFL record for most sacks by a defensive tackle, with 18, winning the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award and his second Pro Bowl nomination.

The next season, just four games in, Millard tore his ACL trying to sack Vinny Testaverde, cutting him down at the prime age of 28. Missing the rest of that season and the following year, Millard was picked up by Green Bay, played just two games, and then set sail for Seattle.

After his record-setting '89 season, Millard went on to record seven total sacks over the remaining three years of his career before his knee got the best of him, and he retired from the NFL.

Since retiring, Millard served as a coach in the since-folded XFL and is currently the defensive line coach on the Oakland Raiders.

7. QB Neil Lomax—St. Louis/Phoenix Cardinals

Breakout season: 1984—4,614 yards, 28 TD, 16 INT

Owning 90 NCAA records by the time he was done at Portland State University, Neil Lomax was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals early in the second-round of the 1981 draft with the hopes of becoming a franchise quarterback.

It took Lomax four years to get the full-time starting gig, but when he got it, he shined with it.

In 1984, Lomax completed 61.2 percent of his passes, good for 4,614 yards, currently No. 12 on the all-time list of single-season passing yards. His performance, leading the downtrodden Cardinals to a 9-7 record, earned him his first Pro Bowl appearance.

The next season, Lomax's production took a small hit, throwing for 3,214 yards and 18 TD, but what was worse was his team's 5-11 record.

After the '85 season, Lomax developed a nagging hip injury that would force him to be a spectator for some portion of time the remainder of his career.

Despite having one more Pro Bowl season in 1987, Lomax was forced into early retirement due to an extremely arthritic hip. He played one more season in 1988, but quit the game in 1990 and had hip replacement surgery in 1991.

With his career limited and cut short, Lomax was never able to reach his full NFL potential, but his collegiate accomplishments were honored when he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1996.

6. RB Robert Edwards—New England Patriots

Breakout season: 1998—291 car., 1,115 yards, 9 TD

When Pro Bowl running back Curtis Martin split for the New York Jets, the New England Patriots found themselves searching for a replacement.

Drafted No. 18 overall out of Georgia, Robert Edwards was expected to be the running back of the future in New England, and he didn't waste much time introducing himself to the league.

In his rookie season, Edwards burst onto the scene with a 1,000-plus yard season on the ground, while also collecting over 300 yards through the air.

Following his inaugural season, Edwards blew out his knee at a rookie flag football game in Hawaii, barely escaping a leg amputation below the knee. Due to the severity of the injury, doctors told Edwards he may never walk again, much less play football.

Despite the harsh news, Edwards worked to get back to the playing field in 2002, joining the Miami Dolphins' depth chart. In his first game back from injury, Edwards scored two touchdowns against the Detroit Lions. However, the rest of his year wasn't as glamorous, and he was cut after the season.

His days in the NFL over, Edwards played surprisingly well in the Canadian Football League, rushing for over 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons. In 2008, Edwards was cut by the Toronto Argonauts, and he is still looking for work.

5. RB Ickey Woods—Cincinnati Bengals

Breakout season: 1988—203 car., 1,066 yards, 15 TD

When Ickey Woods ran in for a touchdown and did his patented Ickey Shuffle, certain people would rehash the old saying, "Act like you've been there before." Unfortunately, in Woods' case, those visitations would be limited.

Drafted out of UNLV in the second-round by the Cincinnati Bengals, Woods announced himself with authority in his rookie season.

Woods ran for 1,066 yards with 15 scores his first year in the NFL, including 228 yards and three more trips to the endzone in the playoffs, as Woods carried his team to Super Bowl XXIII.

It seemed all roses for Woods in the future, but his second-year took a downward spiral when he tore his ACL in the second game of the season. He would miss the rest of that year and most of next season, but seemed poised for a classic comeback tale going into the 1991 season.

However, the injury bug got him again, this time injuring his other knee during the preseason, and he was forced into retirement at 26-years-old.

Now, Woods is the head coach of the Cincinnati Sizzle of the Women's Football Alliance.

That snakebite must really hurt.

4. LB Dan Morgan—Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints

Breakout season: 2004—109 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 INT

Leaving the University of Miami with the school and conference records for most career tackles, Dan Morgan looked like a sure thing at the linebacker position. In need of a defensive game-changer, the Carolina Panthers rolled the dice on Morgan with the 11th overall pick in the 2001 draft.

In his rookie year, he started 11 games for the dreadful, 1-15 Panthers, and he missed half of the season in his sophomore campaign to injury.

His third season highlighted a trip to Super Bowl XXXVIII, where he recorded 18 tackles—a preview of things to come in the following season.

In 2004, Morgan finally broke through as the talent Carolina had thought he would be, and despite playing only 12 games, he collected over 100 tackles on his way to his first and only Pro Bowl.

Morgan had one more productive season in him (78 tackles in 2005) before the wheels came off on his career.

Morgan missed 15 games in 2006, and was placed on injured reserve in 2007 with a torn Achilles heel. The multitude of injuries led to his release from Carolina after the '07 season, but another team still had faith in him—the New Orleans Saints.

However, frustrated by the slow recovery from his ankle injury, Morgan retired before the 2008 season kicked off.

Completely healthy and ready to play, Morgan came out of retirement to give it another shot. However, he strained his calf muscle in the team's mini camp, and with the injuries piled up, Morgan called it quits for good on June 8, 2009.

3. RB Chuck Foreman—Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots

Breakout season: 1975—280 car., 1,070 yards, 13 TD; 73 rec., 691 yards, 9 TD

For most snakebitten players, injuries or self-deprecation did away with hopes and dreams of NFL glory. For Chuck Foreman, the perfect aim of a Buffalo fan blew his chance at setting history.

Foreman entered the league with high expectations, being drafted No. 12 overall by the Minnesota Vikings in the 1973 NFL Draft. He made an immediate impact with his pass-catching skills out of the backfield, collecting over 1,000 all-purpose yards and being named to the Pro Bowl in each of his first five seasons.

In December of 1975, Foreman ran out of luck. Having his best year in his career, Foreman and his Vikings entered the final game of the regular season against OJ Simpson and the Buffalo Bills.

Both Simpson and Foreman were chasing Gale Sayers' record of 22 total touchdowns, and the harsh elements paved the way for a ground attack.

Late in the third quarter, the Vikings leading 28-6, and Foreman with three touchdowns already to put him at 21 total, the Vikings were hellbent on getting their man into the history books.

However, Buffalo fans wanted to see their hometown hero Simpson get the record.

As a pass toward him was thrown out of the endzone, Foreman was pelted in the eye by a snowball, sidelining him for a few plays.

Dazed and confused, Foreman did return to score his record-tying touchdown, but he was pulled for the rest of the game with blurred vision.

The very next drive, Simpson scored his 23rd TD of the season on a 54-yard reception, earning him the record.

To add insult to injury, Foreman saw his conference rushing yards lead vanish the next day when Jim Otis ran for 69 yards—a whole six yards more than Foreman.

One more Pro Bowl season was all Foreman had left in the tank, and he was traded to New England in 1980, where he retired following the season.

2. SS Sean Taylor—Washington Redskins

Breakout season: 2006—114 tackles, 1 INT, 3 FF

The saddest and arguably most unlucky player of them all has to go to former Washington defensive force Sean Taylor.

Taylor was drafted No. 5 overall in the 2004 draft by the Redskins out of the University of Miami, and his hard-hitting style of play was expected to make an immediate impact.

He started 13 games his rookie season, racking up 61 tackles, and four interceptions, giving fans something to be excited about for the future.

However, his play was surrounded by off-field issues. Taylor was arrested for DUI in 2004 and armed assault in 2005 before he let his play make up for his character issues.

In 2006, he broke onto the scene with 89 of his patented vicious hits, earning him a spot on his first Pro Bowl team.

In 2007, he was on his way to another Pro Bowl year, having five interceptions through nine games of the regular season. He had his first taste of bad luck when he had been injured for two weeks, and he went back home to Miami to rehabilitate.

While at home, he was fatally gunned down by intruders, thought of to have no intent for killing Taylor other than malicious harm during a break-in.

Following his murder, the Redskins' defense honored him by playing their first play since the tragic incident with 10 men instead of the usual 11, and Taylor was posthumously elected to his second Pro Bowl.

Had it not been for the cruel twist of fate that cut him down in the prime of his life, Taylor may have become one of the best safeties in the NFL.

1. RB Billy Sims—Detroit Lions

Breakout season: 1980—313 car., 1,303 yards, 13 TD

When it comes to bad luck, no one took, and continues to take, the brunt of it like Heisman Award winner and No. 1 overall pick in the 1980 draft—running back Billy Sims.

Sims shed the bust label before anyone could try and pin it on him by exploding for 1,303 yards and 13 TD on the ground and 621 yards and three TD through the air. He was elected to the Pro Bowl his rookie year—and also won NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year—and followed suit the next two seasons.

In 1983, he took a small dip in production due to his absence in a few games, but he still ran for over 1,000 yards and scored seven times. It was expected to be a mere bump in the road of a glorious collegiate career, but that career was about to be cut short.

After completing half of the 1984 season with 687 yards, Sims had his knee blown out in a game against the Minnesota Vikings, effectively ending his NFL career at 29-years-old.

As if his luck hadn't already worn out, Sims lost millions of dollars through bad business deals and investments and had a divorce from his wife.

Any hopes of holding on to a legacy and having people remember him for his playing days came to a screeching halt in 1989, when the Lions set out to replace Sims with another Heisman-winning running back.

They drafted Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders, donning Sims' No. 20 and all but extinguishing any memory of the last promising talent in Detroit's backfield.


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