245 voters

NFL Players Whose Careers Ended Too Soon

Updated January 15, 2020 2.9k votes 245 voters 1.9k views26 items

List RulesVote up the athletes you wish had played longer.

Football is one of the most dangerous sports for players and one of the hardest on atheltes' bodies, meaning the list of NFL players whose careers ended too soon is long and unfortunate. While some players made their mark in the short time they had before injuries or tragedy took them out of the game, some were not around in the league long enough to showcase the full extent of their talents.

Perhaps the most famous NFL player to have his career cut short is Pat Tillman, who famously left the NFL after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 to join the military and died as a result of friendly fire. Other popular players like Troy Aikman and Gale Sayers, while they did not suffer the same tragic end as Tillman, were forced to retire after multiple injuries made the game impossible to play.

So check out this list of the top football players whose short careers left fans wondering what might have been if not for injuries or tragedies or just not wanting to put their bodies through the pain anymore. Vote up the players you wish you could have seen take another snap and the ones you think retired too early.

  • NFL career years: 2012-2019
    Teams: Carolina Panthers

    Luke Kuechly was a seven-time Pro Bowler and five-time first-team All-Pro who was the 2012 Defensive Rookie of the Year and the 2013 Defensive Player of the Year. Nicknamed "Captain America," Kuechly was a fan-favorite who left the game at the age of 28. Though he did not specify his exact reasons for retiring, he suffered numerous concussions throughout his career and had missed multiple games as a result of those injuries.

    Gone too soon?
  • NFL career years: 1995-2001
    Teams: Denver Broncos

    Terrell Davis was just 29 when his career ended as a result of multiple leg injuries. Despite playing just seven seasons, Davis won two Super Bowls, earned the 1998 NFL MVP award, and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

    Gone too soon?
  • NFL career years: 1965-1971 
    Teams: Chicago Bears

    Gale Sayers, nicknamed the "Kansas Comet," entered the NFL with much hype and was immediately recognized as the NFL Rookie of the Year in 1965. After suffering a serious knee injury in 1968, he returned and won Comeback Player of the Year in 1969. But a subsequent knee injury ended his career at age 28.

    Gone too soon?
  • NFL career years: 2012-2018
    Teams: Indianapolis Colts

    Andrew Luck shockingly retired right before the 2019 NFL season. Luck explained that the constant rehabilitation from multiple injuries throughout his career was too much of a grind and prohibited him from living life the way he wanted.   

    Gone too soon?

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