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5 NFL Players Who Retired In Their Prime

Barry Sanders retires
Barry Sanders was easily one of the best running backs to ever play the game and he retired super early.

5 NFL Players Who Retired In Their Prime

The NFL, just like every other sport, can be a very frustrating one. Sometimes people say it dictates how, where, and when to play for players. Sometimes fantastic players get caught up in unfavorable positions. The players who have entertained us over the years with skill and pure magic then decide it is time to move on to loftier ambitions. Hence they choose to leave their playing career early. Players don’t necessarily have to get old or injured to stop playing. It sometimes happens with even the young ones. Here are five players who retired from the NFL while still in their prime.  

  1. Barry Sanders

This name almost has to be the most prominent on the list. When this guy left the NFL, a lot of folks probably thought he was suspending his contract to return later in the year to contend. But when Barry Sanders left the NFL, he never looked back. At the time of filing this review, he has not stepped one foot onto the football pitch again. Walter Payton’s record was just about to be broken by Barry as he was only 1,500 yards away from making the record his. He was averaging 1,500 yards a season and still had a couple of years remaining on his contract when he left. According to inside sources, he just got tired of playing for the losing team. Later, he claimed that the franchise had not been managed efficiently, hence he felt the ripple effect.

  1. Robert Smith

Robert played for the Minnesota Vikings, a running back who took to his home early, perhaps too early. It was noted that he suffered many injuries while rising in his career, but once he fully got a grasp of the game, he never let go. It was also observed that he wasn’t exactly cool with Randy Moss. Robert played for seven years between 1993 and 2000, and he was mightily feared as a force during that period. In his final season, he acquired a total of about 1,600 yards, leading in rushing in the NFC. At the end of that season, when it was arguable that he was settling in and at his peak, he decided to call it quits. He was just 28 years old at the time, but he had had far more than needed contact with retired players. He had seen a lot of them struggle with life after the NFL, mainly with their physicality. He knew that his physical make-up was not excellent, so he decided to take that trip home earlier than had been expected.

  1. Jim Brown

Considering running backs, this name is one that needs to be mentioned in this review. This position is perhaps one of the most controversial on the pitch. Anytime Jim was playing, he looked like he was training his younger siblings. This was because of the way he schooled the NFL. He could be tackled, although it was a terrifying and challenging thing to ask of anyone at the time. Jointly with Lebron, Jim could be described as one of the best things to come out of Cleveland. He left the game when he was still rather hot and had his reasons for doing that. He claimed that his desire to act was higher than the one he had to play football. To think that he had the talent required to do so and already had a couple of offers and contracts flying in, it was still a decision that could not have come easily for the legend.

  1. Jake Locker

Jake Locker must have tried to give the NFL a shot and realized it didn’t fit well with his plans. In the 2011 draft, Jake was number 8, and by 2014, he was fully prepared to lead the Titans in Tennessee. This didn’t go according to his plan though, since, by the end of the 2014 season, Jake had sat long enough on the bench to consider another career path.  He had been benched almost all season by a rookie quarterback. By 2015, he had lost his will to play football again, and who wouldn’t have? Having to sit on the bench of a team that he could have easily changed before just drained his desire and hope to continue in the NFL, hence his retirement.

  1. Calvin Johnson

Calvin took the game by the scruff of the neck and was not beginning to wane in his playing abilities. He became popularly named after Megatron, a character in the widely-acclaimed movie. He was playing in Detroit but not so enigmatically. How many seasons of disappointment can a player endure in the NFL?  As of this moment, what drove him to retire, no one knows for sure. Whether he wanted to focus on another career path, or he wanted to switch cities, or whether he was concerned about his overall health, or maybe just to spend time at a trusted casino, we will never know for sure.

NFL Draft Diamonds was created to assist the underdogs playing the sport. We call them diamonds in the rough. My name is Damond Talbot, I have worked extremely hard to help hundreds of small school players over the past several years, and will continue my mission. We have several contributors on this site, and if they contribute their name and contact will be in the piece above. You can email me at

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