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Top 10 Controversial NFL Players

Updated on February 25, 2015

These guys had much playing success in the league, but that made negative waves either on or off the field. Today, I rank the top 10 most controversial NFL stars in the history of the game.

10. Adrian Peterson

He quickly established himself as the best running back playing today but the recent off the field issues may tarnish his future.

As first round pick in 2007, Adrian Peterson quickly burst onto the NFL scene. In his rookie year, he broke the single game rushing record. After being named the NFL rookie of the year, Peterson was named MVP of the Pro Bowl. After tearing his ACL towards the end of 2011, Peterson bounced back the next year coming just nine yards shy of breaking the single season rushing record. He was named both comeback player of the year and league MVP in 2012 for his efforts. In his seven seasons, Peterson has amassed over 10,000 rushing yards, 86 touchdowns, has been named a pro bowler and All-Pro six times, and has lead the league in rushing twice.

In 2014, Peterson was indicted on charges of reckless or negligent injury to a child. He was accused of beating his four year-old son with a tree branch, causing severe welts and bleeding on the boy's body. He as initially suspended or one game, but was soon banned for the remainder of the season. With his Viking's future in doubt, it is unknown what comes next for the running back.

9. Ray Rice

He was the cornerstone of his offense, but let an assault case tarnish his future.

A second round pick in 2008, Ray Rice quickly proved to be a versatile threat of Raven's offense. Starting in 2009, he had four straight 1,000 yard rushing seasons and was always near the leagues top in total yards from year to year. In his seven years with the Ravens, he was a three time pro bowler, two time All-Pro, the 2011 AFC rushing touchdowns leader, and Super Bowl champion.

In 2014, Rice and his future wife Janay Palmer were arrested and charged with assault after a physical altercation in Atlantic City. TMZ posted a video online showing him dragging his unconscious fiancé out of an elevator. He was suspended two games by the NFL for the assault. A few months later, TMZ released another video from inside the elevator showing Rice punching Palmer and knocking her out. after the release of the second video, he as released by the Ravens. After this incident, it's hard to see a team taking a chance on him.

8. Ben Roethlisberger

He has had numerous off the field issues coinciding with his on the field success.

A first round pick in 2004, Ben Roethlisberger went 14-1 as a starter in his rookie year. The next year, he became the youngest quarterback in league history to win a Super Bowl. He went on to lead Pittsburgh to two more Super Bowl appearances including another victory in the 2008 season. He has been praised for his ability to stand in the pocket evading hits and refusing to be brought down. In his 11 seasons in Pittsburgh, he has been a three time pro bowler, two time Super Bowl champion, and is the Steelers all time leader in wins, passing touchdowns, attempts, completions, and passing yards.

In the 2006 offseason, Roethlisberger was in a motorcycle accident in which he wasn't wearing a helmet nor did he have a valid drivers license. The accident resulted in nearly fatal bleeding in his throat. From 2009-2010, he was involved in two separate sexual assault cases. Both cases were dropped due o lack of evidence, but he was suspended for four games prior to the 2010 season.

7. Adam Jones

Pacman's early controversies have followed him to this day.

A first round pick in 2005, Adam Jones was the top rated cornerback coming out of West Virginia. After stints in Tennessee, Dallas, and the CFL, he found success in Cincinnati in 2010. Jones excelled as both a shutdown cornerback and a return specialist. In his five years with the Bengals, he has recorded seven interceptions, 41 passes defended, an interception returned for a touchdown, and a punt return for a touchdown. In 2014, he was named an All-Pro return specialist.

Starting before he ever got on the NFL field, the Titans were concerned about signing Jones due to many off the field issues. While in college, he was on probation for assault and vandalism. After his rookie year, he was arrested for a misdemeanor drug possession. In 2007, he was arrested after an altercation in a Las Vegas strip club. The incident resulted in Jones being suspended for the entire 2007 season. After being reinstated in 2008 and signing with Dallas, he was involved with an altercation with his bodyguard at a Dallas hotel. The incident resulted in Jones being suspended for four games and ultimately ended up him being released by the Cowboys. Jones hasn't had any off the field issues since joining Cincinnati, so maybe it can be said he is on a brighter path.

6. Terrell Owens

He put up big numbers but is more remembered for all the other stuff.

A third round pick in 1996, Terrell Owens learned from one of the greatest ever in Jerry Rice. In a 16 year career across six teams, he was a big play presence wherever he was. In 1998 Wild Card game, Owens caught the game winning catch which has been immortalized as The Catch II. In his 16 year career, he was a six time pro bowler and All-Pro, three time receiving touchdowns leader, and a member of the 2000s All-Decade team.

Owens has issues on and off the field. during his time in Philadelphia, he had many on field arguments with teammates most notably quarterback Donovan McNabb. The incidents ultimately resulted in the Eagles deactivating him for much of the 2005 season. In 2006, he was believed to try to commit suicide by overdosing on hydrocodone. That same year in a game against Atlanta, Owens was accused of spitting in Falcons cornerback DeAngelo Hall's face. Not to mention his many controversial touchdown celebrations.

5. Chad Johnson

"Ochocinco" was one of the biggest personalities to ever set foot on the field.

A second round pick in 2001, Chad Johnson made a name for himself for his touchdown celebrations. By 2006, he was establishing himself as one of the leagues top receivers setting the league record for yardage in three consecutive games and finished the year leading the league in receiving yards. Johnson was the first Bengal ever to lead the NFL in receiving yards. He holds several franchise records including most receiving yards in a game, most receiving yards in a season, most all time receiving yards, most reception, most touchdown receptions, and most seasons with over 1,000 receiving yards. Johnson left Cincinnati after 2010 and has played with New England, Miami, and is currently in the CFL. He has been a six time pro bowler, three time All-Pro, three time AFC receiving yards leader, and 2006 NFL receiving yards leader.

Most of Johnson's controversies have been on the field. He has been fined numerous times for his many touchdown celebrations. His attitude and planning of the celebrations cause many to call him a selfish player. Then there's the incident while he was with the Dolphins. In 2012, Johnson was arrested on a charge of domestic battery after he reportedly head butted his wife following an argument. He was released by Miami the next day.

4. Lawrence Taylor

The original "L.T." changed the way the linebacker position was played in the NFL but was surrounded by a lot of issues.

The second overall pick in 1981, Lawrence Taylor made an instant impact on the Giants defense. He is the only rookie to win the NFL defensive player of the year award as a rookie. Taylor was a disruptive force at outside linebacker, and is credited with changing the pass rushing schemes, offensive line play, and offensive formations used in the NFL. Taylor produced double-digit sacks each season from 1984-1990. In 1986, he became only the second defensive player in history to be named league MVP and the only defensive player to be named the award unanimously. Taylor led the team to two Super Bowl victories in five seasons. Taylor retired after 1993 as a 10 time pro bowler and All-Pro, three time defensive player of the year, and a member of the 80's all decade team and the 75th anniversary team. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1999.

Taylor admitted to using drugs such as cocaine as early as his second year in the NFL, and was suspended several times by the league for failing drug tests. His drug abuse escalated after his retirement, and he was jailed three times for attempted drug possession. In 2010, he was arrested for having sex with an underage girl. He was charged with felony third-degree statutory rape and was also charged with third degree patronization for allegedly paying the underage girl $300 to have sex with him. He was sentenced to six years probation as part of a plea agreement and registered as a low-risk level one sex offender.

3. Michael Vick

He created a new breed of quarterback, but lost it due to his secret obsession.

The first overall pick in 2001, Michael Vick changed the way a quarterback was seen in the NFL. Never before had a quarterback had the speed and elusiveness to be the fastest player on the field. In 2006, he became the first quarterback in history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season. In 2010 with Philadelphia, Vick had his best season accounting for 30 touchdowns, over 3,600 total yards, and just six interceptions. In his 12 seasons, he was a four time pro bowler, the 2010 comeback player of the year, and is the all time leader in rushing yards by a quarterback.

Controversy for Vick started as early as 2004. He has had multiple incidents of drug possession from 2004 to 2007. In 2006, he was fined by the NFL for flipping of fans after a game. Then there's the dog fighting. In 2007 Vick was implicated in an illegal interstate dogfighting ring that had operated for five years. A federal judge noted that he had promoted, funded, and facilitated a dog fighting ring on his property, and had engaged in hanging and drowning dogs who did not perform well. He would go on to be sentenced to 23 months in prison and three years probation following his release. He also received a two year ban from the NFL.

2. Lyle Alzado

"Darth Raider" was one of the first athletes to admit to using steroids.

A fourth round pick in 1971, Lyle Alzado built a reputation for his intense and intimidating style of play. Whether he was playing defense end or defensive tackle, he was a force against the run and the pass. Over his career with Denver, Cleveland, and the Raiders, Alzado amassed 97 sacks, 20 fumble recoveries, and three safeties. In his 15 year career, he was a two time pro bowler, three time All-Pro, the 1982 comeback player of the year, and Super Bowl champion.

Alzado was one of the first major sports figures to admit to using anabolic steroids. In the last years of his life, as he battled against the brain tumor that eventually caused his death, He asserted that his steroid abuse directly led to his fatal illness. In an article of Sports Illustrated, he admitted to using steroids for much of his pro career. He died at age 43 after a battle with brain cancer in 1992.

1. O.J. Simpson

When people think about O.J. Simpson today, football isn't the first thing that comes to mind.

Simpson was arguably the most coveted player coming out of college ever and Buffalo was awarded the first pick. Early in his professional football career, Simpson struggled on poor Buffalo teams, averaging only 622 yards per season for his first three. In 1973, Simpson rushed for a record 2,003 yards, becoming the first player ever to pass the 2,000-yard mark, and scored 12 touchdowns. From 1972 to 1976, Simpson averaged 1,540 rushing yards per season, 5.1 yards per carry, and he won the NFL rushing title four times. Simpson had the best game of his career during the Thanksgiving game against the Detroit Lions when he rushed for a then record 273 yards on 29 attempts and scoring two touchdowns in a loss.He finished his career as a six time pro bowler, five time All-Pro, the 1973 NFL MVP, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1985.

It's impossible to look at O.J. Simpson the same way post playing career. In 1994, he was accused of the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman. The next year, Simpson was acquitted of the crime after a lengthy and internationally publicized criminal trial. In 2007, he was arrested in Las Vegas and charged with numerous felonies, including armed robbery and kidnapping. The next year, he was sentenced to 33 years in prison without the possibility of parole until 2017.

People' Poll

Who do you think is the most controversial NFL player?(Specify in comments)

See results


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    • Russ Teed profile image

      Russ Teed 

      4 years ago from Cape Cod, MA

      Agreed on OJ, he was a hero of mine as a kid.

      Randy Moss had a shot at this list.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      OJ killed two people. He shouldn't be anywhere but #1

    • Ty Tayzlor profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from Anywhere

      You're right on a lot of points Josh. He's lost a lot of the break away speed. And when you add the assault case into the equation, it's hard to see any franchise giving him a second chance.

    • Josh Ruga profile image

      Joshua Ruga 

      4 years ago from New Jersey

      I think its Ray Rice for two reasons. One has more than one part. Controversy over Rice's actions, and the initial inaction of the NFL. The second reason is controversy or debate among fans about how productive Ray Rice can be when he makes a return. Some fans think that because he missed all of last season, he will have fresh legs for the 2015 season if a team signs him. Other fans think that he fell off the production cliff in his last full season, and he no longer has the burst necessary to be a very productive running back in the NFL.


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