Top 10 NFL Players Who Have Earned a Championship, but Probably Won’t Get One (2019 Edition)

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About five years ago, I wrote a piece on then-current NFL players who most deserved a championship win on their resume based on their on-field performance, but were unlikely to get one due to their team’s success or their current age. Since then, seven of the ten players I included onto the list have retired—only one of them ended up getting a Super Bowl ring. With an ongoing game such as the NFL, revisions are necessary in order to keep lists interesting and current, honoring players for their craft while also instilling a sense of history. Four seasons and seven retired players seem adequate enough to update this list.

Like with the last list, this is a Top 10 dedicated to players who have been phenomenal at their positions for a suitable amount of time (the original list said five years in the NFL), but likely won’t ever get to hoist the Lombardi trophy. The less likely I feel their chances are, the higher they will be on this list. At the same time, their domination in the league will also play a factor in their spot on this list, with timely veterans still good at their craft likely finding a decent spot, as well. With that said, let’s get started.

#10: Matt Ryan

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Credentials:

  • 4x Pro Bowler
  • 1x First-Team All-Pro
  • 1x Offensive Player of the Year
  • 1x NFL MVP
  • 2008 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year
  • 166 career approximate value (via Pro-Football-Reference).

This might be somewhat of an odd choice considering the Atlanta Falcons are only two years removed from a Super Bowl berth. The only thing is, the Falcons severely underwhelmed in 2018, posting a losing record despite a large amount of offensive talent. One can credit a rash of injuries on the defense for this skid, but the offense also didn’t do enough to get the job done.

At this moment, this Falcons team reminds me of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers prior to the 2017 season, when many were predicting this offensive powerhouse with the likes of DeSean Jackson, Jameis Winston, O.J. Howard, and Mike Evans. Like the 2018 Falcons, the 2017 Buccaneers couldn’t get it going all throughout the season despite the heavy amount of ammunition. Whatever the reason may be, the Buccaneers still have yet to recover from it. Will the Falcons?

Question marks around the team aside, Matt Ryan’s play has been consistently within the caliber of elite company for many years now. If he isn’t within your top ten list of quarterbacks starting in the NFL, I think you’re severely underrating him. He was robbed of a Pro Bowl berth last year despite putting up way better numbers than those who eventually went, which may be indicative of the expectations he’s garnered after having a phenomenal year in 2016. He’s been with the team ever since his rookie year in 2008 and hasn’t missed a start since 2009. He’s also within the top twelve in every major statistical category for a quarterback.

When the season opens, there’s no doubt he’s the starter, and he’ll likely be the starter for a few years longer. By the start of next season, he’ll be 34; still somewhat young for a quarterback in this era, but the window is beginning to shut.

#9: Luke Kuechly

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Credentials:

  • 6x Pro Bowler
  • 5x First-Team All-Pro
  • 1x Second-Team All-Pro
  • 1x Defensive Player of the Year
  • 2012 Defensive Rookie of the Year
  • 96 career approximate value (via Pro-Football-Reference).

Like the last choice, this may seem odd considering the Carolina Panthers are just three years removed from a Super Bowl berth. And again, like the last choice, the Carolina Panthers took a dip in quality in 2018. With a 7-9 record after starting 6-2(!), the Panthers may have spiraled into a rut that they may not be able to pull themselves out of. Sure, Cam Newton’s shoulder hindered the team’s offense near the final few weeks, but even prior to that, the Panthers just couldn’t seem to win anything, occasionally losing in dramatic fashion. It leaves a big question mark around the team heading into 2019… along with their NFC South buddies in the Atlanta Falcons.

However, there’s one aspect to Kuechly making this list that’s questionable: He’ll be 28 by the 2019 season. That’s tremendously young, and unless he plans to retire early like some recent stars have, he’ll probably be playing for a good ten years or so. Ten years is quite a ways into the future to be predicting, especially in the unpredictable world of the NFL. What gives Kuechly a spot on this list is his credentials.

The only season he missed the Pro Bowl was his rookie year, where he won Defensive Rookie of the Year, regardless. He’s made First-Team All-Pro in five of the seven seasons he’s played as a pro, and when he didn’t make the first team, he made the second (sans rookie year). Kuechly, in a word, is a monster. His consistency and skill level is mind-boggling; someone could make a case for him being a Hall of Famer if he retired tomorrow. No one in the NFL is playing middle linebacker the way Luke Kuechly is, and I don’t think many would disagree if others placed him in their top three current middle linebackers, if not the top one.

He has a lot of time left, should he choose to continue as long as he can. Whether the team can pick up the slack will be the timely determinant to him achieving Super Bowl immortality.

#8: J.J. Watt

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Credentials:

I don’t want to repeat this a third time, but J.J. Watt deserves to be on this list, even if it may seem strange. The Houston Texans have made the playoffs more often than not in the past five years, with varying results. They have a young quarterback who looks to be the real deal in Deshaun Watson. Their defense is generally pretty good. Am I so mistrusting of this team that I don’t see them winning a Super Bowl anytime soon?

In short, yes.

True, they’re generally good more than they’re bad, but in the time that Bill O’Brien has been head coach of the Texans, I’ve yet to see them be consistently dominant. They lose games that they should win, and come playoff time, I’m often picking against them, with fate proving me correct most often. They certainly have a chance if they keep performing well enough to reach the playoffs, but until this team gets past the hump from “pretty good” to “really good,” I’m skeptical.

In the meantime, J.J. Watt is one of the best players I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching. He is a sack machine, a force of nature, and one mean dude. Even against double teams, he’s getting to the quarterback at a pretty high rate. Defensive Player of the Year three times in his career? No one has ever done that before. Watt is a once-in-a-generation talent. His 2015 season is one that will be shown on highlight reels until the ends of time, where he dominated basically everywhere he was on the field.

He will be 30 by the 2019 season, and based on the two-year stretch in which his season was cut severely short by injury, he’s certainly not unbreakable. If he doesn’t retire at the end of his thirties, I suspect it’ll be because of injury concerns. Like Kuechly before him, however, one can make a strong case that’s he’s already achieved Hall of Fame status after only eight seasons in the league, two of which were basically missed due to injury. Will Watt help this team over the hump?

#7: Julio Jones

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Credentials:

Seeing as Jones and Matt Ryan are teammates, one could assume that my reasoning for his place on this list, aside from his skills, is the same as Ryan’s. The Falcons have a question mark around them heading into the future, especially after a disappointing 2018 season. Will they recover from it? Time will tell.

One difference between Matt Ryan and Julio Jones is that I think Jones is a better player than Ryan is. With a physical make-up similar to that of Calvin Johnson, Jones has staked his claim as the best wide receiver in the NFL, if not for perhaps Antonio Brown or DeAndre Hopkins. He has one of the top receiving seasons in NFL history with 1,871 yards in 2015, and while his touchdown total is somewhat lacking, he’s a major headache for opposing defenses trying to gameplan around him.

It’s hard to say definitively that Jones is a better receiver than Antonio Brown, but Jones has always been a top-three receiver in the league, and his chemistry with Matt Ryan is one for the record books. His play is one that puts him pretty high on this list, along with the questionable quality of his current team. At 30-years-old, wide receivers don’t normally last as long as quarterbacks, so the window seems to be closing for him, as well.

#6: Geno Atkins

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Credentials:

Alright, now we’re getting into teams that are less likely to ever even sniff a Super Bowl.

True, the Cincinnati Bengals used to be a perennial playoff team once Andy Dalton took the reigns. However, their record in the playoffs since 1990 is 0-Infinity. After two losing seasons and a head coaching change, this team looks to be in rebuild mode, and who’s to say if it’ll change anything?

Geno Atkins is a bright spot for Cincinnati’s defense. Five-straight years as a Pro Bowl defensive tackle, he’s made a notable name for himself throughout the league as a pass-rusher and defensive weapon. I almost think he’s underrated within the league, as I hear almost nothing about him outside of the year-end awards that he claims. With three double-digit sack seasons, he’s showcasing what I’ve known since 2012.

Unfortunately, Atkins plays for the Bengals, who are a moderate threat at most for any high-tier team. They seem to lose whenever they play in primetime, and they’re, as stated before, 0-Infinity in the playoffs since 1990. Perhaps “the next Sean McVay” will be able to coach them to high pastures, though I find it doubtful, at least for now when he hasn’t coached a single game yet. Things aren’t looking too hot for Cincinnati.

Atkins will be 31 by the start of the 2019 season, which is somewhat high for a defensive tackle. Unless his play declines at a gradual pace, I don’t foresee him playing for more than five years, of which I don’t suspect the Bengals will be contenders. I’m hoping I’m wrong.

#5: LeSean McCoy

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Credentials:

This is kind of a package of bad deals for Mr. McCoy being on this list. He’ll be 31 during the 2019 season, which is ancient by running back standards. He’s on a bad team, though optimists could state that Josh Allen could be the real deal after pulling off some impressive wins and close games last year. And he’s coming off a bad year, one where he only posted 3.4 rushing yards per attempt. It doesn’t bode well for his future.

For now, let’s look to the past. LeSean McCoy has always been known as an explosive player known for his shiftiness. His skill as a rusher is only aided by his skill as a pass-catcher. Back in the days when I was a diehard Eagles fan, McCoy was my favorite player. I know full well how good he is (or was). Shadows of Barry Sanders would only be a slight exaggeration.

However, his age and his team do not bode well whatsoever for his chances at a championship. Even now, his skills are as much of a question mark as the Atlanta Falcons as a team is. His 2018 campaign puts doubt into McCoy’s place on the team, especially with how much money he commands and how dime-a-dozen running backs in the NFL are. Is he in decline? Hard to say.

At his best, McCoy is definitely within the top ten at his position, even at his age. His team, though, is coming off a year where Nathan Peterman was their starter for too many games (more than zero). How can they recover from that stench? Probably not quickly.

#4: Philip Rivers

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Credentials:

One of three players from the original list that didn’t retire from the time between that list and this one. While Rivers was only #10 on that list, he’s getting older in age and his performance has been improving, too.

Philip Rivers has gone on record stating that he doesn’t want to play into his forties like Drew Brees and Tom Brady. By the 2019 season, he will be pushing 38. That leaves a very tight window for him to finally get his ring.

At the same time, the Los Angeles Chargers have gone back-to-back years with a winning record, making it probably that they will be back to the postseason in the coming years to give it another couple shots. Whether they’ll be able to outduel the likes of Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, who destroyed them this last postseason, remains to be seen.

In the meantime, Rivers has had an astoundingly underrated career. While he’s never made the All-Pro list, his quarterback skills have never been brought into question, as he’s often referred to as a top-ten quarterback, if not top five. Even in recent years, when age is supposed to catch up to him, he’s played at an elite level, debatably better (at least in the regular season) than Tom Brady. And hey, can we blame Associated Press? Peyton Manning and Tom Brady were at their prime while Rivers was, and those are two bonafide legends.

It’s a long shot, but Rivers could get there if the team around him plays to his level. The window is very close to closing, at least in the words of the Chargers’ all-time leading passer.

#3: Patrick Peterson

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Credentials:

Writing the first iteration of this list, Patrick Peterson was not qualified to make it, seeing as he only played four seasons. I almost wanted to include him in spite of that, as he’s been making NFL history with his play. Now, it’s almost five years later, and he’s more than qualified now. He only added to his loaded resume.

Following in Joe Thomas’s footsteps, Patrick Peterson has been voted to the Pro Bowl in every year of his career thus far. His play, while not as great as other corners lately, is a consistent force that puts him among elite company at his position. Yet again, one could make a case that Patrick Peterson is already a Hall of Famer, playing only to add to his trophy case, particularly a championship trophy.

Here’s the key thing: he plays for the Arizona Cardinals. They were the worst team in the league last year, and have just added a head coach who had a losing record as a head coach in college. That doesn’t necessarily mean it will translate to failure in the NFL, but all signs point to a bad end. At the same time, the jury is still out on quarterback Josh Rosen, who the Cardinals drafted last season as their quarterback of the future. In my opinion, he didn’t play very well, and I’m unsure if Kingsbury will do anything to add to that.

For the moment, Peterson is stuck in Arizona, and despite some frustration last season and a near-trade to the New Orleans Saints, Peterson says he’s there to stay. Will that end up being a good choice? He isn’t 30 yet; plenty of time to find out.

#2: Adrian Peterson

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Credentials:

  • 7x Pro Bowler
  • 4x First-Team All-Pro
  • 3x Second-Team All-Pro
  • 1x Offensive Player of the Year
  • 1x NFL MVP
  • 111 career approximate value (via Pro-Football-Reference).

#4 on the original list, #2 on this one. Adrian Peterson is nearly five-years older, and will be 34 during the 2019 season. Frank Gore has shown he can still be effective at that age, so why can’t Peterson?

I think Peterson is a borderline Hall of Famer. His skillset is astounding, and his early-career success is unquestionable. However, after 2015, he’s been awfully inconsistent. The MVP year and the replay-worthy runs will likely get him in, but I wonder about the later years and whether those will play a part. Regardless, Peterson has recently stated that he wants to play “two or three more years.” Two or three more years (presumably) for the Washington Redskins, who have a starting quarterback on I.R.—questionable to even participate in the 2019 season—and are coming off a losing season. Chances aren’t great.

Like I said, Adrian Peterson’s skillset is amazing. At one point, he was unquestionably the best running back in the league. His years with the Minnesota Vikings are some of the best years a running back has ever had, especially in an era where offenses are more apt to throw the football. Recently, however, he’s been a solid edition in spurts for the Redskins and Cardinals. He’ll either have a good game or disappear, nothing in-between. Age has definitely caught up with him, and he’s not the same player as he was once. He is still, however, at least decent.

Him being this high on the list is based a lot on his past accomplishments. Many Pro Bowls, an MVP trophy, and First-Team All-Pros give him a huge step up on many on this list. Most importantly, though, is that he’s only got “two or three years” left on a team that probably won’t get there in that time. I would be genuinely shocked if the Redskins even made the playoffs in 2019; anything after is up in the air. By that point, though, will Peterson even be in the NFL?

#1: Larry Fitzgerald

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Credentials:

The final brick to build upon the players from the initial list, Fitzgerald gets to be #1 for a multitude of reasons, but first, a humorous anecdote.

In the first list, I said straight-out that Larry Fitzgerald was in decline. His place on that Top 10 was a product of his declining numbers, of which I expected to stay declining all the way until he retired. After publishing my thoughts, Fitzgerald goes out a produces three-straight 1,000-yard seasons and Pro Bowl berths. Shows what I know.

Now, however, I’m pretty confident that this is the end. In truth, this is kind of an easy pick for #1, because this is likely Fitzgerald’s final year. He’s been pondering retirement for the last few seasons, only being brought back by the promise of a good team in waiting. I really, really, really don’t think the Arizona Cardinals will do anything in 2019, as they’re rebuilding and will likely still be a bad team. Fitzgerald will be 36 during the 2019 season, which is plenty old for a wide receiver. I would be floored if he came back for 2020. But who knows?

And if he does retire after 2019, it would be a career to fawn over. Third all-time in career receptions, second all-time in receiving yards, and sixth all-time in receiving touchdowns. He’s likely a lock as a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and his production on the field in spite of the quarterbacks he’s played with throughout his career is remarkable, to say the least. He’s an amazing talent that’s played tremendously well in the biggest games, notably in the only Super Bowl he’s ever played and the 2015 NFC Divisional Game against the Green Bay Packers.

His team won’t make it next year, that I’m fairly certain. If this is his last year, it almost makes this the choice for this Top 10 topic. It’d be great if he got one, but it looks like it wasn’t so. Arizona will always consider him a legend, and perhaps that’s all that matters. For now, he’s the most deserving of a ring, but probably won’t get one.

Honorable Mentions: DeAndre Hopkins, A.J. Green, Frank Gore, Antonio Gates, Calais Campbell

For more Top 10’s on this topic, feel free to look through the accompanying archive!

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