The NFL offseason is the time for lists. They keep the stories flowing all year.
But when it comes to “all-time” lists and rankings, many are naturally weighted with a bias toward the current era. That seems to be the case the with Sporting News’ list of the “40 most hated NFL players of all time,” claiming “loudmouths, cheaters and criminals.”
Yet, while the list focused heavily on players who had issues with the law, writer Bill Bender claimed the list focused on “players who were hated while they were on the field.”
“That hate could be for any number of reasons. It could be a dirty player. A selfish player. A greedy player. A player who had off-field issues. Or a player who simply annoyed us,” the introduction to the list stated.
The Sporting News eliminated Aaron Hernandez, Rae Carruth, O.J. Simpson and Ray Rice, saying there was “no sense in debating those players’ place on this list.”
Here are the 13 current players that made the list, with selected commentary from their entries and then my take:
40. Rob Gronkowski – “Gronk is the ultimate frat boy. He drinks. He dances. He directs his own party-boy cruises. He gets away with all of it because, well, ‘Who doesn’t love Gronk?’”
My take: Wait, is Gronk loved or hated? If he’s hated, it’s likely mostly guilt by association from being on the successful New England Patriots.
36. Odell Beckham Jr. – “It’s not so much the fans; Beckham’s highlight-reel catches are always worth a second and third look. It’s his reputation within the league as a complainer and instigator that has heated up after battles within the NFC East and the wrestling match with former Panthers cornerback Josh Norman last season.”
My take: Beckham is a hard competitor that occasionally goes over the top. Would you rather have a player that doesn’t care or is in it just for the money?
33. Richard Sherman – “Sherman is consistent. He’ll go after Tom Brady on the field or Skip Bayless on national television. He’s honest and not afraid to express his opinions on football or social issues. That makes him an easy target for criticism.”
My take: Sherman simply knows how to market himself. By being brash he gets noticed more than most great cornerbacks. Whether that brashness is real or not, confidence is a necessary ingredient for a cornerback.
28. Vontaze Burfict – “Burfict haters came into focus when Steelers players accused him of celebrating Le’Veon Bell’s season-ending injury in 2015. From there, Burfict’s beef with Pittsburgh continued, and a personal foul for a hit on Antonio Brown led to a three-game suspension for Burfict heading into 2016.”
My take: Burfict deserves to be on the list. He hurt his team in the playoffs by letting his emotions get the better of him and he seemingly has the intent to injure.
20. Cam Newton – “He celebrates every first-down run, and that drives the old-school crowd crazy. The NFL MVP promises to be a lightning rod for both sides for years to come.”
My take: With success comes detractors and Newton is starting to live up to his promise. To date, his antics or celebrations haven’t been over the top, but the longer the Panthers are a contender, the more “hate” he will generate outside of the Carolinas region.
17. Richie Incognito – “Incognito already was a highly-penalized offensive lineman and widely-regarded as a dirty player before a scandal broke in 2013. Incognito played a role in harassing teammate Jonathan Martin and allegedly sent messages with racial slurs. Incognito did not play in 2014 before signing with the Bills the following season.”
My take: Incognito came into the NFL with red flags and those stayed attached to him as a “dirty” player. Of late, however, he seems to have decreased the dirty play and increased the high-end version.
15. James Harrison – “Harrison is one of the most talented (and nastiest) edge rushers to ever play the game. He was arrested in 2008 on simple assault charges, and in 2010, he was fined more than $100,000 for various dirty hits, the most-notable a body slam of Titans quarterback Vince Young. Harrison has always played with a nasty disposition, and he’s not afraid to speak his mind.”
My take: In the NFL, talent often overcomes on-field discretions and Harrison has proved to be a long-time, high-end producer.
12. Jay Cutler – “Cutler is the type of guy who might give you the bird while walking his dog down the street. Wait … that happened. Cutler’s body language and don’t-give-a-you-know-what attitude have been over-analyzed for a decade, but Smokin’ Jay is still out there slinging away for the Bears as part of a seven-year, $126.7 million contract. He’ll be around for a little while longer.”
My take: It can be dangerous to judge body language and translate that into thinking you know what is going through a player’s head, but in Cutler’s case it’s easy to come to the conclusion above. If the Bears had more success, he’d likely rise on this list.
10. Adrian Peterson – “Peterson faced charges of felony child abuse before he pleaded no contest to a reduced charge of misdemeanor reckless assault, and he was suspended for the remainder of the 2014 season as a result. Peterson returned in 2015 and rushed for 1,485 yards and 11 touchdowns, but the suspension is still fresh in mind.”
My take: It will be difficult for Peterson to ever overcome the lasting images of photos that were released before his case made it to “Judge Goodell,” but on the field there is little to hate about Peterson’s game and his effort.
9. Adam Jones – “Jones was involved in numerous off-field incidents early in his career, and he was suspended for the 2007 season as a result. Jones re-invented his career in Dallas and Cincinnati, but he still finds his way into the headlines. He drew a $35,000 fine for slamming Amari Cooper’s head into the turf last season and had a costly personal foul (and an even bigger reaction on Instagram) after the Bengals’ wild-card loss against Pittsburgh.”
My take: Jones seemed to turn the corner after serious trouble early in his career, but last year was not a good look for him or Burfict.
8. Ben Roethlisberger – “Roethlisberger faced sexual assault allegations in 2008 and 2010, the latter of which prompted NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to hand down a four-game suspension. As a result, Big Ben inherited another unsavory nickname (you know what it is), and this hasn’t gone away. Cincinnati revived all that with a radio spot that targeted Roethlisberger last year.”
My take: On-field success and off-the-field trouble don’t mix well in the NFL, especially in rival cities, and Roethlisberger will have to accept the barbs as part of his penance.
5. Tom Brady – “Brady could be on a list of most loved players, too, but there are more haters given the controversy surrounding the four-time Super Bowl winner. The “Tuck Rule,” SpyGate and Deflategate have all been part of his career, and he’s facing a four-game suspension for the second straight year heading into the 2016 season.”
My take: Yes, Deflategate might have put some doubt and hate in fans’ minds, but there is no denying Brady’s ability to win. If success breeds “haters,” then Brady will have them lined up for however much time he has left in the NFL.
3. Ndamukong Suh – “Suh can be dominant, but that’s overwhelmed by his reputation as a dirty player, and he has his own anthology of dirty plays. That includes kicking Green Bay’s Even Dietrich-Smith, stepping on Aaron Rodgers’ leg or flat-out body-slamming Jake Delhomme.”
My take: Yes, yes, and yes. Those were all dirty plays and should bring the ire of fans, but has Suh finally cleaned up his act? Last year, he led the Dolphins with 15 penalties, but none of them was for unsportsmanlike conduct and all of them were of the 5-yard variety.