New Orleans Saints v Carolina Panthers

NFL Players who retired too soon (Part 2 of 2)

This is a continued list of past NFL players who retired earlier than expected. These are five more popular names that each made their mark in the league, before stepping away for good.

NFL Players who retired too soon (Part 2)


Also read: NFL Players who retired too soon (Part 1 of 2)

#5 Earl Campbell - Houston Oilers (1978-84)/New Orleans Saints (1984-85)


Earl Campbell was a feared running back, due to his ferocious and brutal style of rushing. He ran hard through defenders, punishing anyone in front of him, but also punishing himself in the long run. Campbell led the NFL in rushing during his first 3 seasons, to go along with 3 Offensive Player of the Year awards.

He was also Rookie of the Year and MVP after his second year. After an amazing start to his career, the wear and tear over several seasons noticeably broke him down. His time in New Orleans wasn't even close to what fans saw down in Houston, as he only managed to score 5 total touchdowns over 2 seasons. He retired after 8 seasons, short of 10,000 career yards. In 1991, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, in just his first year of eligibilty.

#4 Terrell Davis - Denver Broncos (1995-2001)


Most players drafted in the sixth round don't usually end up with a career resume like Davis', or play as long (or short) as he did either. In just seven years, he won two championships back-to-back with the Broncos, being named the game's MVP in his first (Super Bowl XXXII), and grabbing another ring the very next season, along with a regular-season MVP award after rushing for 2,008 yards and also being named Offensive Player of the Year, for 1998.

Unfortunately for Davis, severe knee injuries had taken their toll over the next few seasons and forced him to retire at the age of 29. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2017.

#3 Gale Sayers - Chicago Bears (1965-1971)

Gale Sayers of the Chicago Bears

Sayers spent his entire seven-year career with the Bears, though he only was active for about five of those, due to several injuries. He exploded into the NFL with a record-setting season, scoring 22 total touchdowns. He got 14 of those rushing, with 6 receiving, and 2 by returns on special teams, helping him earn Rookie of the Year honors for that season.

Throughout his career, he was named to 4 Pro Bowls and made first-team All-Pro 5 times. Sayers also managed to win the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year award in 1969, after a knee injury shortened his previous season in '68. He later retired during the preseason of 1972. He was then immortalized in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977, at the age of 34, which is still recognized as the youngest age in which to be inducted.

#2 Luke Kuechly - Carolina Panthers (2012-2019)

Luke Kuechly of the Carolina Panthers

Simliar to Earl Campbell, a punishing playing style helped lead to an untimely exit for this linebacker. Kuechly quickly made a name for himself during his rookie season, leading the league in tackles (164) and earning Defensive Rookie of the Year Honors.


The very next year, he was named Defensive Player of the Year, still known currently as the youngest to win that award at age of 22. While his position often required hard hits, some have argued that concussions he suffered during his career might've led to him choosing an early retirement. He is still with the Panthers, currently working in the team's scouting department.

#1 Lynn Swann - Pittsburgh Steelers (1974-1982)

Lynn Swann of the Pittsburgh Steelers

Legendary wide receiver Lynn Swann made his early retirement after putting together the kind of a career that many players could only dream of. In just 9 seasons, he was able to win 4 Super Bowls, and also became the first WR to be named MVP of the championship game in Super Bowl X.

He made the Pro Bowl team 3 times, was first-team All-Pro in 1978, and was even named NFL Man of the Year in 1981. However, he like many other players, was plagued by concussions throughout his career. One notable instance placed him in the hospital after suffering a hard hit in the AFC Championship game, just prior to Super Bowl X. He retired after the '82 season and was eventually inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2001.

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