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223 voters

NFL Players Whose Careers Ended Too Soon

Updated January 15, 2020 2.7k votes 223 voters 1.8k 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.

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  • Bo Jackson
    Photo: NFL / YouTube

    NFL career years: 1987-1990
    Teams: Los Angeles Raiders

    Bo Jackson was a human highlight reel on the football and baseball fields until a hip injury ended his football career and set back his baseball career. 

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  • Barry Sanders
    Photo: NFL / YouTube

    NFL career years: 1989-1998
    Teams: Detroit Lions

    Barry Sanders was closing in on Walter Payton's all-time rushing record, but realizing that the Lions' franchise wasn't close to putting a winning product on the field, he chose to retire with his health intact rather than chase Payton. 

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  • NFL career years: 2004-2007
    Teams: Washington Redskins

    Sean Taylor was fatally shot in his Miami home during a burglary. He was posthumously selected to the 2007 first-team All-Pro and the 2007 Pro Bowl team, and he was inducted into the Washington Redskins Ring of Fame.

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  • NFL career years: 1998-2001
    Teams: Arizona Cardinals

    Pat Tillman left the Arizona Cardinals to enlist in the United States Army after 9/11. He was killed by friendly fire while deployed in Afghanistan. The Cardinals retired Tillman's No. 40 and inducted him into the franchise ring of honor.

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