Big Lead Sports Bar

11/23/2008

THE TOP 10 NFL REDEMPTION STORIES

As you're probably aware of, I love to talk about legacies on this site, with ongoing series like "Know Your Elders" (a guide to the athletic wildmen of years gone by, such as Joe Namath), and "The Legacy Of...", in which we take a look at how you remember the careers of athletes whose legacies are highly debatable (think Kordell Stewart). And as recently as a few weeks ago, I presented the top 10 altered legacies, featuring the most memorable falls from sporting grace.

This time around, I felt like accentuating the positive. There happens to be a lot of good stories among the 1,696 NFL players in the league this year. And this group of ten has managed to turn around careers that were, to say the least, questioned at some point along the road. Unlike other lists, this is not of the "all-time variety", it's limited to players who are active in the game in 2008. So check it out, and feel free to add anyone I missed in the comments section.

THE TOP 10 NFL REDEMPTION STORIES

10. JEFF GARCIA

He's been cruising along during his time at the helm of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but Garcia's roller-coaster ride of a career has seen its share of peaks and valleys, lest we forget the disaster of a season he knew as "2004" with the Cleveland Browns, and the sequel, a 2005 spent racking up a passer rating of 65 in Detroit.

Luckily for Garcia, he was able to parlay a 2006 relief role with Philadelphia into his current starting gig under Jon Gruden, and despite Terrell Owens' accusations, he's married to Carmella Dicesare, who he met during his time in Cleveland. So I guess all's well that ends well in the Garcia household.



9. THOMAS JONES

The brother of Seattle's Julius Jones was actually the seventh overall pick in the 2000 NFL draft. He would play just three injury-plagued seasons with the Arizona Cardinals, rushing for no more than 511 yards in any of them, and quickly found himself a Tampa Bay Buc and on the fast track to Top Draft Bust lists by 2003.

A move to Chicago in 2004 turned out to be a career-saver, and to thank him, the Bears drafted Cedric Benson with the fourth overall pick in 2005. In 2007, he was dealt to the New York Jets, where he's currently leading the AFC in rushing. It was a rather circuitous route, but it's safe to say that Jones has established himself as an NFL back. And like Garcia, he too has a celebrity on his shoulder (actress Meagan Good).



8. ANTONIO BRYANT

As a Pitt Panther fan, I was treated to an up-close-and-personal perspective on Bryant, and I can say without a doubt that he was one of the most amazing wide receivers I've ever seen, winning the Biletnikoff Award for the nation's top wide receiver as a sophomore (which was only done two other times in history: Randy Moss in '97 and Larry Fitzgerald in '03).

Unfortunately, an uninspiring attitude dropped Bryant to a second-round pick in the 2002 draft, passed on by my own Steelers in favor of Antwaan Randle-El, who wasn't even a college wide receiver. Unsurprisingly drafted by Father Flanagan Jones in Dallas, the Steelers (and every NFL team) looked like they made the right move the day that Bryant lived out many players' dream and threw his jersey in the face of Bill Parcells.

After playing in the NFL's Last Chance Saloon (Cleveland) in 2004 and 2005, Bryant signed with Last Chance Saloon II, San Francisco, in 2006. After clashing with coach Mike Nolan (shocking, I know), Bryant was out of the game altogether in 2007 because of a failed drug test.

Back in the league with Tampa in 2008, Bryant has responded with 50 catches, 625 yards, and 2 TDs to this point in the season. Not too shabby for a guy who was watching all the games like you and I last year.



7. DREW BREES

Sure, everyone loves Drew Brees now, and for good reason. But where were all the Drew Brees fans when the Chargers were busy acquiring Philip Rivers just three years after spending a second-round pick on Brees? They were deservedly silent, since no one usually shows much love to a quarterback with a passer rating of 67, which Brees had in 2003.



6. MARIO WILLIAMS

Just a short while ago, Bill Simmons was casually tossing around conspiracy theories about Paul Tagliabue forcing Houston to pass on Reggie Bush for the sake of Katrina-battered New Orleans (it's #12 on his list).

But no one is crying conspiracy any more, with Bush becoming more famous due to his reality-TV star girlfriend than for his on-field play. Meanwhile, Williams is racking up the accolades in Houston, where he totaled 14 sacks in 2007 and has added eight more in 2008. about Paul Tagliabue forcing Houston to pass on Reggie Bush for the sake of Katrina-battered New Orleans (it's #12 on his list).



5. JOEY PORTER

The Pittsburgh Steelers have let many a prized linebacker walk away during his career, and rarely has it come back to bite them. Jason Gildon. Levon Kirkland. Greg Lloyd. Kendrell Bell. The list goes on and on. And while Porter's absence has not hurt the Steelers (who feature sack machines James Harrison and Lamarr Woodley on the outside), no one saw this performance coming from "J-Peezy" in 2008.

After surviving a colon-cleansing of the Dolphin franchise following a 1-15 season in 2007, Porter's responded by leading the NFL with 13.5 sacks this season while being the usual voice of reason and definition of calmness in the locker room that he's become known for. OK, I made that part up. But he does have 13.5 sacks. And he used to drive a customized golf cart around Steeler camp.



4. KERRY COLLINS

If you'd tell a fan in 1995 that Kerry Collins would be at the helm of the NFL's top team in 2008, it wouldn't seem so unreal. He had an amazing college career and was the fifth overall pick of the 1995 draft, sporting the size (6'5", 245) and strength that scouts drool over.

His pro career was on the fast track, leading the expansion Carolina Panthers to an unlikely appearance in the NFC Championship in only their (and his) second season. But alcoholism crept into Collins' career in 1997, and he was an ex-Panther by 1998. Following a lost 1999 season with New Orleans, he found redemption with the New York Giants, leading them into the Super Bowl in 2000. After a few years at the helm of the Giants, the team opted to get into the Eli Manning business in 2004, and Collins found himself in the Black Hole known as the Oakland Raiders organization.

Collins was released by Oakland in March of '06 and did not sign with an NFL team until the eve of the 2006 regular season, when Jeff Fisher and Co. signed him as a mentor to Vince Young. In this instance, the pupil never really surpassed the teacher, and Collins got the starting nod after a bizarre injury and incident involving Young early in the 2008 season. I doubt Tennessee has many regrets at this point, unless their expectations were having less than one loss to this point in the season.



3. BRETT FAVRE

Many of you will see this and wonder if I've lost my mind. This is Brett Favre, one of the all-time greats, we're talking about! But I will then wonder if you were part of the angry mob consistently hurling "washed up" taunts in the direction of the gunslinger during his 29-interception season in 2005, or the 72.7-rated, 8-8 picture of mediocrity that was his 2006 season.

But Brett Favre is back, and in a big way. After an ugly divorce from the Packers, Favre hooked up with the Mangenius in New York and has the Jets sitting pretty at 8-3 and atop the AFC East, with 20 touchdowns and a QB rating of 93 to this point in the season. Equally as important is the joy this undoubtedly brings to John Madden and Peter King each week.



2. RANDY MOSS

Never before has an NFL player come with an actual on/off switch, but Randy Moss, as it's been said many times, is a one-of-a-kind. After his men among boys rookie season of 1998, Moss settled in as the face of the Minnesota Vikings and their high-powered offensive attack.

After his production took a nosedive in 2004, it was time for a change of scenery. And for some strange reason, all parties involved thought that Oakland would be the proper backdrop. After failing to make sparks happen with our #4 subject in 2005 and with Andrew Walter (who?) in 2006, Moss looked all but done, unless 42 catches and 553 yards over 13 games sounds acceptable for a guy who had 111 for 1,632 just three years earlier.

The Raiders traded Moss to the New England Patriots for a sack of magic beans and the 110th overall pick in the 2007 draft, University of Cincinnati cornerback John Bowie, who will miss the entire 2008 season due to a knee injury. That's right, Randy Moss, the man who had 98 catches, 1,493 yards, and 23 touchdowns in 2007, was traded for John Bowie. And don't forget, he was also once traded for Napoleon Harris. So what's the moral of the story? Put a championship QB, coach, and team around him, and you'll have nothing to worry about. If not, you might be able to trade him for Paul Ernster, and you'd probably have to throw in a draft pick to make the Steelers take the deal.



1. KURT WARNER

Who has redeemed themselves more times in a career than Kurt Warner? The grocery-store employee-turned two-time NFL MVP is first in line to win the award for a third time in 2008. The former Northern Iowa Panther, Green Bay Packer, Iowa Barnstormer, and Amsterdam Admiral became one of the all-time feel-good stories in sports history in leading the St. Louis Rams to the NFL title in 1999 (and almost to a second in 2001).

But his time with the Rams would end on a down note, losing his gig as starter to Marc Bulger after fumbling six times in the 2003 opener. Cut loose by the Rams in 2004, he signed on to be the mentor to rookie Eli Manning with the Giants (making two QBs affected by Eli Manning on this list). That experiment lasted just one season, and finding himself unemployed yet again, Warner signed with Arizona in 2005, eventually losing his job to journeyman Josh McCown. The Cards' drafting of Matt Leinart in 2006 signaled the direction of the franchise, but a few internet photos later, it's starting to look like that might not pan out as planned.

Once again the starter in 2008, Warner has responded with 20 touchdowns, over 3000 yards passing, and the unprecedented result of leading the Cardinals to some degree of prominence.





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5 comments:

HotDog_Zanzabar said...

Who is that guy cuddling with Kurt Warner?

Ernster will be on this list next year when he gets his putting average up 10 yards....to 30

Broke But Still Drinking said...

What about Ryan Leaf? Didn't the newspapers mention his name this year? Something about bribing players for pain killers. Oh, and they also mentioned how bad he sucks. Even bad publicity is good publicity, so congrats to Ryan Leaf.

Thejim said...

Thomas Jones must be the worst character guy in the world. It seems like he continually puts up big numbers and then gets discarded almost immediately afterwards.

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