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Time To Hang It Up: Five NFL Defensive Players Who Should Retire Right Now

Aaron Donald - Fantasy Football Rankings, IDP Draft Sleepers, Defense (DST)

Sometimes when you are late into a Sunday afternoon watching the Red Zone Network, you see a random player on your screen you didn't think played anymore. He's wearing an unfamiliar uniform. Maybe you only catch a glimpse of him when the camera pans the sideline bench. And you think, "Wait. He's still playing?!"

J.J. Watt retired this offseason at just the right time. He played all sixteen games and recorded 12.5 sacks, his first double-digit season since 2018. He made two sacks in his final game ever, and Red Zone shifted coverage to Arizona to show the crowd giving him a standing ovation at the two-minute warning. That is the way to go.

As a fan, you don't want to see players try to stay around for too long and embarrass themselves like Cam Newton is now begging teams (but only some teams) to give him a shot as a backup quarterback. But I'm going to be talking about defensive players in this article. Here are five once-great gridiron warriors who ought to hang it up right now.

Editor's Note: Our incredible team of writers received 13 award nominations by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association including Baseball Writer of the Year, Football Writers of the Year, Golf Writer of the Year and many more! Be sure to follow their analysis, rankings and advice all year long, and win big with RotoBaller! Read More!


#1. Aaron Donald, DT/DE, Age 31

2022 Stats: 11 games, 49 tackles, 5.0 sacks, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery

Actually, Donald should have followed Andrew Whitworth and retired after the 2022 Super Bowl rather than suffer through the 2022 Rams season. He had his ring. He just turned thirty. He had been selected to the All-Pro first team for seven straight years. He had nothing left to prove.

But maybe he (like the NFL schedule-makers) overestimated the Rams' chances of repeating. Well, the season quickly went downhill. The Rams went 5-12. Like many of the Rams' starters, Donald got injured and missed six games toward the end of the year.

He had an alright season, making 5.0 sacks and 49 combined tackles in 11 games, but it wasn't close to his previous seasons. He missed being selected to the All-Pro team for the first time since his rookie season. It won't get much better for the Rams this season.


#2. Ndamukong Suh, DT, Age 36

2022 Stats: eight games, ten combined tackles, 1.0 sack

In his 20s, Suh won Defensive Rookie of the Year and made the All-Pro team five times. He made over 60 combined tackles three times as a defensive tackle, setting a career-high with 72 at age 29. But his production started to trail off as soon as he hit 30. That year, he only made 48 tackles, his lowest total in four years, and he never again would be the same force crashing on running backs behind the line of scrimmage.

After three wanting years with the Buccaneers, no team wanted him heading into the 2022 season, but the Eagles eventually added him when Jordan Davis suffered a late-season injury. In eight games as a rotational player, Suh made 10 tackles, two QB hits, and one sack.


#3. Bruce Irvin, DE, Age 36

2022 Stats: 11 games, 28 tackles, 3.5 sacks

The 36-year-old edge rusher says we shouldn't assume he's done. He should be done. If 2022 is his last season, he will have gone out on a high note.

Selected by the Seattle Seahawks No. 15 overall in 2012, he was a fearsome player who routinely knocked balls loose and approached double-digit sack totals. He didn't play up to his first-round status, but he was a quality starter and a part of the Legion of Boom that allowed the fewest points in each of his first four years in the league. Irvin made history in Super Bowl XLIX, sacking Tom Brady and punching Rob Gronkowski in the closing seconds, making him the only player to ever get ejected from a Super Bowl.

After the Seahawks, he spent three seasons with the Raiders, but he's been bouncing around ever since, rejoining the Seahawks for two games in 2020, making seven tackles for the Bears in 2021. In 2022, he once again joined the Seahawks practice squad and was elevated to the starting lineup for ten games, during which time he made 28 sacks and 3.5 sacks, which is 3.5 more than he did in the preceding two years. To return to the team that drafted him and have the best season he's likely ever going to have again is a good way to go.


#4. Josh Norman, CB, Age 37

2022 Stats: two games, eight tackles, four receptions (one TD) allowed on six targets

Josh Norman took some time to build up to the status of shutdown corner. After rising and then falling in the run-up to the 2012 Draft, the Coastal Carolina product was drafted in the fifth round by Carolina. He played so poorly that he was benched in 2013, but by the second half of 2014, he was put on the opposing team's number-one receiver.

In 2015, he held DeAndre Hopkins to 53 yards, T.Y. Hilton to 15 yards, Dez Bryant to 6 yards, and Julio Jones to 33 yards. He was an epic trash talker and physical nuisance. He got into Odell Beckham Jr's head and caused him to commit three personal fouls, including a punch that resulted in a one-game suspension. In 2014, 2015, and 2016, Normal allowed fewer than 54% of the passes thrown in his direction to be completed.

But by 2018, his coverage skills and tackling ability both began to decline precipitously. Opposing quarterbacks went after him, and he allowed completions over 67% of the time in each of his past five seasons. He was back with the Panthers for the final two games of the 2022 season after injuries were piling up, and he looked done.


#5. Anthony Barr, LB, Age 31

2022 Stats: 14 games, 58 tackles, 1.0 sack, zero forced fumbles, zero fumble recoveries

The last of Barr's four Pro Bowls was five years ago. The former No. 9 overall pick was solid across the board early in his stint with the Vikings. He could create a couple of turnovers, put hits on the quarterback, and make five combined tackles a game.

Later, his seasons would always be disrupted by injury. He has missed two or more games every year since 2018, including missing 14 games in 2020 with a torn pec.

He was a depth piece on the Cowboys in 2022, his first season apart from the Vikings, and he wasn't making the grade. Now he's a free agent. He shouldn't look for a new home.

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