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Friday, April 10, 2020

10 AAF players who could resurrect their football careers

Trent Richardson

The Alliance of American Football officially debuted last weekend, and did so to unexpected success. Not only was the football more crisp than most anticipated, but the league scored big in the ratings, out-drawing the NBA on ABC head-to-head.

The fan interest not only stems from the desire to see quality offseason football, but because there are a plethora of big names dotted throughout the league itself — players many are familiar with from their time in college or their time in the NFL.

For many of the young players, the AAF represents an opportunity to put their play on film and to develop under legitimate quality coaching. For others, it represents a final opportunity to revitalize their careers and possibly make it back to the NFL one final time.

Here’s a look at 10 players who could resurrect their football careers in the AAF.

10. Will Sutton, DT, Arizona Hotshots

If you watched Will Sutton play during his time at Arizona State, you undoubtedly understand why he’s making an appearance on this list. A two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the year (2012, 2013) and consensus All-American (2012), Sutton was among the country’s most elite over a three-year span. It was enough to get himself selected in the third-round of the 2014 NFL Draft, where he joined the legendary Chicago Bears. Unfortunately for Sutton, an ankle injury would end his rookie campaign early and he would not be able to re-gain his footing. Sutton would have a cup of coffee with both the Minnesota Vikings and San Francisco 49ers after his time with the Bears, but he failed to catch on at either location. Now in the AAF, a healthy Sutton can ideally rekindle his college success and make one final push for an NFL return.

9. Brad Wing, P, Memphis Express

Only a few short years ago, Brad Wing led the NFL in punts and was considered top tier at his position. However, after an unusually poor 2017 campaign, Wing found himself released by the New York Giants and out of football in 2018. But with an emphasis on special teams returning in the NFL, Wing has a very real opportunity to put his strong leg and coffin corner skills on display in the AAF. Over his five-year NFL career, Wing downed nearly one-third of his punts inside the 20 while still managing to carry an average of 44.7 yards per punt and a net average of 40.4.

8. Denard Robinson, RB, Atlanta Legends

Denard Robinson was a standout at Michigan, earning First-Team All-Big Ten, First-Team All-American and Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year honors in 2010. Beyond that, he set countless NCAA and school records, and was considered one of the most electrifying players in the country. However, because of an uncertainty about his position going into the NFL, Robinson fell down the draft board and was eventually selected in fifth-round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars and moved to “offensive weapon,” which encompasses everything from receiver to return man. For three years, Robinson filled that role and played multiple positions to relative success before hitting the open market. Despite a few tryouts, Robinson couldn’t stick and hasn’t played in the NFL since 2016. Now playing running back for the Legends, the 28-year-old Robinson intends to show the NFL what they’re missing out on.

7. Matt Asiata, RB, Salt Lake Stallions

Matt Asiata was an All-Conference running back in college, but didn’t otherwise have much on his resume that blew away NFL teams. For that reason, he went undrafted in 2011 before signing with the Minnesota Vikings to back up Adrian Peterson. It was an unenviable position for a running back to be in, but Asiata made the best of sitting behind a future Hall of Famer, putting up 1,259 yards over six seasons, including a team-leading 570 yards in 2014 after Peterson got hurt. It wouldn’t be enough to earn him a starting job however, and after a brief stay with the Detroit Lions in 2017, Asiata found himself out of football. In the AAF, Asiata will have one final opportunity with the Stallions as he hopes to return to the NFL level.

6. Zac Stacy, RB, Memphis Express

A 2013 fifth-round pick of the then-St. Louis Rams, Zac Stacy gained over 1,100 yards from scrimmage and scored eight touchdowns as a rookie, but saw his playing time drastically decrease in the following year and then again with the New York Jets in 2015. A broken ankle and a desire to take of his brother led Stacy to announce his early retirement, but he now finds himself healthy, back on the field and with renewed motivation. In the AAF, Stacy can remind everyone why he was considered such a quality back during his rookie season and prove to those in the NFL that not only does he still have it, but he can also be an asset to a team in need.

5. Tre Jackson, OG, Orlando Apollos

After an impressive college career that featured First-Team All-ACC (2013, 2014) and Unanimous All-American (2014) honors, Tre Jackson was considered one of the best interior offensive linemen coming out in the 2015 NFL Draft. He was eventually taken off the board in the fourth-round by the New England Patriots, where he went on to appear in 13 games with nine starts. However, a knee injury essentially shut down his NFL career after that. In 2016, he began the season on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list and never came off. He was later waived by the Patriots and claimed by the Los Angeles Rams, but failed his physical. After taking a year off, Jackson now returns to the field in the AAF healthy and ready to prove he’s still a more than capable guard.

4. Trent Richardson, RB, Birmingham Iron

Trent Richardson is arguably the most recognizable player in the AAF, joining the league after his highly-touted NFL career fizzled. A former No. 3 overall pick, Richardson dominated at Alabama behind Mark Ingram for two years and then really took off in 2011 after being named the starter. His talent was clear to all, which is why the Cleveland Browns were more than willing to gamble on him so high in the first round. But after a solid rookie season, Richardson was traded to the Indianapolis Colts and it was all downhill from there. He averaged just over 3.0 yards per carry in two seasons with the Colts, ultimately finding himself suspended and released. Richardson would make stops with the Oakland Raiders and Baltimore Ravens, but didn’t stick. He later spent a season in the CFL before sitting out in 2018. He has acknowledged that he got lazy in the NFL and may be out to prove his work ethic has changed.

3. Damontre Moore, DE, San Diego Fleet

Damontre Moore was a third-round pick of the Giants in the 2013 NFL Draft, and many believed with a little development, he could become their next great pass rusher. Instead, Moore struggled early on and then established himself as a bit of a locker-room cancer. An altercation with teammate Cullen Jenkins was the last straw, and the Giants waived Moore for violating team rules. He went on to have five additional stints with four other NFL teams, but a suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy once again led to a change of scenery. In 2018, Moore had a cup of coffee with the Raiders after a stint at Home Depot and then later joined the AAF. In Week 1, Moore had an impressive sack and appears poised to earn one final shot in the NFL.

2. Will Hill, SS/LB, Orlando Apollos

Will Hill was on his way to becoming a Pro Bowl safety in the NFL when drugs and off-field issues completely derailed him. And despite multiple opportunities given to him by the Giants, Hill simply couldn’t stay out of trouble in the Northeast, so the team ultimately released him and wished him well. Seizing upon Hill’s potential, the Baltimore Ravens were quick to scoop him up, but again, off-field issues and a third suspension for a failed drug test did him in. Hill went on to play a season in the CFL in 2017, but sat out of football in 2018. At 28 years of age, Hill still has some good football left in him so long as he can stay healthy, clean and out of trouble. Should he take The Alliance by storm — something he’s completely capable of — perhaps someone in the NFL would be willing to give him on more chance.

1. Christian Hackenberg, QB, Memphis Express

Once upon a time, Christian Hackenberg was a second-round pick of the New York Jets and many believed he had the potential to become something substantial at the NFL level. However, he struggled out of the gate and his NFL career was short-lived as a result. After stops with three separate teams in 2018, the Penn State alumni found his way to the AAF, where he earned a starting job with the Express. And despite a less-than-stellar debut — Hackenberg graded out as the 9th-best quarterback in Week 1 — there is a belief that he’s fixed a mechanical issue that held him back in the NFL, and that this stop in the AAF will be a springboard to his eventual NFL return. It’s an uphill battle, but few have more to gain in the AAF than Hackenberg.

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