There is nothing sadder in life than wasted talent. This quote often centers on athletes who don’t reach their potential by their own doing, but it also perfectly captures teams who waste talent.
Star players being wasted on bad teams is an emerging problem in the NFL. Whether it’s due to being utilized poorly by the coaching staff, suffering from a lack of surrounding talent or just being on a bad team, these players are too often wasted.
In many cases, it’s too little or no fault of the star player. They were drafted by their respective teams and found themselves in this situation. While they still maintain their star profile and can deliver jaw-dropping statistics, fans don’t get to see them reach their full potential.
Here are 10 NFL stars being wasted on awful teams.
Aaron Rodgers, quarterback, Green Bay Packers
Rodgers will go down in NFL history as arguably the most gifted quarterback to ever play the game. Unfortunately, his career won’t have nearly as much hardware to go along with it because of Green Bay’s coaching staff and the previous front office.
Injuries haven’t helped Green Bay’s offense this season. From the absence of Geronimo Allison and Randall Cobb to Rodgers’ knee injury, this team’s effectiveness is now limited because of it. However, the greatest issue is an offense that hasn’t changed in years and made adaptations to the modernizing NFL.
Imagine Rodgers working with one Sean McVay, Sean Payton or Doug Pederson. Brilliant offensive minds who would not only make the most of Rodgers’ skill set and provide him with a unique offense and great matchups to exploit, but also make him a better player. Instead, Rodgers is stuck with Mike McCarthy, a head coach he has carried for years.
LeSean McCoy, running back, Buffalo Bills
No player is in a worse position to achieve success than McCoy and the circumstances grew direr after Buffalo lost quarterback Josh Allen for a few weeks.
The 30-year-old is doing everything possible to try and make the situation work. He is the focal point of Buffalo’s offense and opposing defenses have to game plan exclusively for him and stack the box to stop him. McCoy is still averaging four yards per carry this season, but he also hasn’t found the end zone once this year.
McCoy desperately needs a trade to salvage the end of his career. If he is left in Buffalo, it will bring a bitterly cold end to the career of a former All-Pro running back.
Ezekiel Elliott, running back, Dallas Cowboys
Some of the blame for this situation falls on bad fortune. Dallas’ offensive line hasn’t been the same without center Travis Frederick and the offense, both from the perspective of communication and creating better running opportunities for Elliott, has suffered.
The finger must also be pointed at the play calling and quarterback Dak Prescott. We’ve seen this team go away from Elliott near the goal line far too often. Meanwhile, Prescott has regressed significantly and doesn’t offer the type of threat as a passer to prevent teams from stacking the box.
Elliott remains a phenomenal running back and is capable of destroying opponents in a number of ways. Unfortunately for football fans, they just don’t get to witness how great he can truly be. It’s something that likely won’t be realized until significant change is made in Dallas.
Odell Beckam Jr., wide receiver, New York Giants
OBJ is certainly the most controversial player on this list. It’s not because people believe he is being maximized in New York, but due to the belief he is largely responsible for the problems.
It’s true, Beckham Jr. draws attention upon himself and that is especially true when things aren’t going well. The theatrics draw attention and a star receiver losing control of his emotions after every bad drive draws criticism.
The biggest issue is quarterback Eli Manning. New York stuck with him far too long and ignored obvious signs of rapid decline. Now, its former star quarterback is dragging the team down. OBJ could be the best receiver in football and post 100-plus yards on a weekly basis, but Manning is the main culprit keeping him from that.
David Johnson, running back, Arizona Cardinals
This is perhaps one of the most frustrating situations to watch for fans. After seeing All-Pro running back explode in the 2016 season then miss most of 2017 season with an injury, this was meant to be the rebound year.
The most frustrating part is offensive coordinator Mike McCoy’s complete lack of understanding of how to use Johnson. An explosive runner who excels in open space and can be a dangerous weapon in the slot is being used as a ‘bruiser’ back.
According to Danny Kelly of The Ringer, Arizona ranks 28th in total rushing attempts in the NFL but leads the league in runs up the middle. Meanwhile, he ranks fourth in targets (27) and is not featured nearly enough in the passing game. Johnson is one of the most explosive running backs in the NFL, the Cardinals just don’t seem to understand what everyone else does.
Julio Jones, wide receiver, Atlanta Falcons
New year and the same story. Jones remains one of the best receivers in the NFL and he shows it on a weekly basis. Sadly, he finds himself on a team with the worst injury luck in the NFL and stars in an offense that doesn’t focus on him in the red zone.
The All-Pro receiver remains a machine at racking up receiving yards as he sits just behind Adam Thielen with 707 receiving yards. However, Jones is the only receiver with 300-plus receiving yards and zero touchdowns on the season.
Perhaps most concerning, he ranks outside the top 100 in red-zone targets this season. Jones is behind Taywan Taylor (four), Chester Rogers (five) and Jeff Heuerman (eight) in red-zone targets across the NFL. At this point, it feels criminal what is happening to Jones.
DeForest Buckner, defensive line, San Francisco 49ers
If Jimmy Garoppolo never tore his ACL, things could be so much different for San Francisco. It proved to be especially unfortunate for San Francisco’s offense, but also served as a blow for Buckner.
Now in the midst of a breakout season, the 24-year-old is overshadowed by a bad team. Buckner created havoc on Monday Night Football and is on pace for 12-plus sacks this season, yet few will notice.
The scary part is Buckner’s numbers could climb even higher if San Francisco’s secondary stepped up even more. A dominant pass rusher is blooming in San Francisco. He just picked the wrong year to do it.
Saquon Barkley, running back, New York Giants
It’s difficult to imagine Barkley landing in a more difficult situation as a rookie. Yet, the 21-year-old is doing everything possible to make things work.
New York passed on a quarterback with the No. 2 overall pick and took Barkley, which will forever linger over his career as long as he remains in New York. Of course, he also entered a backfield with one of the worst quarterbacks in football and a porous offensive line.
Despite all of this, Barkley is on pace to challenge Eric Dickerson’s rookie yardage record. This will go down as a phenomenal season for the rookie running back. It will just be less memorable because he played for the Giants.
Mike Evans, wide receiver, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Through all of the quarterback turmoil in Tampa Bay, Evans has found ways to produce. His chances of becoming more recognized and accomplished are just doomed by the Buccaneers.
It’s not even necessarily about the play of Jameis Winston. He can move the ball around and put the ball in range for Evans to make a play. One problem is Tampa Bay’s horrendous defense routinely puts this team behind in games, keeping the Buccaneers from gaining more national attention.
It would help Evans even more if he would consistently see nine-plus targets per game. He is a physically imposing receiver who can beat defensive backs in a number of ways. He just needs to start seeing more targets and even greater chances to make plays.
Andrew Luck, quarterback, Indianapolis Colts
Everyone knows the story at this point, fans just hope it will change. Even before Luck missed the entire 2017 season, he fell victim to a disastrous supporting cast and coaching staff.
Indianapolis might have changed some of that by hiring Frank Reich, who can hopefully help Luck turn this offense around. However, issues still remain along the offensive line and he needs more than Eric Ebron and Chester Rogers as go-to targets.
The return of T.Y. Hilton and eventual return of Jack Doyle will help. Even when they are back, this defense won’t allow Luck to compete for wins without attempting 40-plus passes per game and being extremely effective on his own.