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NFL stars whose careers were cut short

Profile Picture: Robert Criscola

April 16th, 2020

These five NFL players were brilliant but disappeared too soon. Here are the five best football players whose careers were shortened by injury.

5. Greg Cook

Cook started just 12 games at quarterback during his 1969 rookie season for the Cincinnati Bengals and only one game after that, in 1973, but he had the potential to do so much more.

Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh, then the offensive coordinator of the Bengals, once told NFL Films, “(Cook) could very well have been remembered or noted as the greatest quarterback of all time.”

Cook, who suffered an undiagnosed torn rotator cuff in Week 3 of his rookie campaign, "took cortisone shots and played in pain" just to get to 12 games played out of 14. He was later diagnosed with a partly detached biceps muscle and underwent numerous surgeries but was never the same.

The AFL Rookie of the Year posted 9.4 yards per pass attempt and 17.5 yards per completion, rookie records that stand to this day.

4. Kenny Easley

Although Easley played just seven seasons in the NFL, the Seahawks safety is enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

He quickly established his presence and won 1981 AFC Defensive Rookie of the Year. He was then voted AFC Defensive Player of the Year in 1983 and NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1984.

But by 1987 Easley started to wear out his welcome in Seattle, at least in part because of his involvement in that year’s player strike.

The Seahawks dealt him to the Cardinals in 1988, but Easley failed his physical because of a severe kidney disease, which Easley attributed to an overdose of Advil by team doctors. He sued the team and settled out of court, but not before he filed retirement papers at age 29.

Player and organization have since mended fences.

3. Sterling Sharpe

During Brett Favre’s prime, Sharpe was his greatest weapon.

The brother of Hall of Fame tight end Shannon Sharpe, Sterling was a five-time Pro Bowler over his seven-year career. He led the NFL in receptions three times, touchdowns twice, and reception yards once. He completed that “Triple Crown” in 1992.

Unfortunately, at the end of the 1994 season, Sharpe suffered a spine injury on a block and was forced to retire at age 28. 

2. Terrell Davis

Davis burst onto the scene as a sixth-round draft pick in 1995, when he rushed for 1,117 yards and seven touchdowns as a rookie for the Denver Broncos.

Two years later, he led the NFL in rushing touchdowns (15) and ran for 1,750 yards. He added another eight touchdowns and 581 yards in the playoffs and was the MVP of Super Bowl XXXII.

Davis was even better in 1998, when he rushed for a league-leading 2,008 yards and 21 touchdowns during the regular season. He added 468 yards and three touchdowns in the postseason, en route to a second straight Super Bowl victory.

Davis tore his ACL and MCL in Week 4 of the 1999 season and was never the same. He suited up just 13 times between the 2000 and 2001 seasons and endured several additional knee surgeries before he retired at age 29.

1. Gale Sayers

Before Walter Payton came to Chicago, “the Kansas Comet” could do it all.

Sayers was named Rookie of the Year in 1965, on the strength of his 2,267 all-purpose yards — which included 867 rushing, 507 receiving, and 898 on returns — along with 22 touchdowns.

Sayers led the NFL in all-purpose yards again in 1966 and 1967 and led the league in rushing in 1966 and 1969.

However, by 1970, Sayers both of his knees and was struggling just to stay off the operating table. He played only two games each in 1970 and 1971, then retired just before the 1972 season began.


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