Take a trip with me if you would. A trip through past NFL Drafts. Through this series, we will take a look at some misses that have occurred through past NFL Drafts and examine some reasons why these players never worked out in the NFL.
There is a name that I haven’t been able to get out of my mind the past few days: Erik Ainge. Ainge was a quarterback for the Tennessee Volunteers. I remember him especially from pulling his rookie card out of a complete set from UpperDeck in 2008. He played for the Vols from 2004 to 2007 and was drafted in the 5th round of the 2008 NFL Draft by the Jets. His senior season was absolutely phenomenal: he threw for over 3,500 passing yards, 31 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. It was truly an unexpected season because Ainge had suffered a meniscus tear in March, which had put his entire season in question. He also struggled with injuries the entire 2007 season, so it really is remarkable that he was able to pull off the stats that he did.
In 2008, the Jets were dealing with a lot of uncertainty at the quarterback position. Brett Favre was 39 years old and Kellen Clemens was very much a question mark. It seemed that Ainge was a low-risk, good value pick at the QB position. He could sit and develop, learn from one of the greatest of all time, he had the tools and traits to work with…this could work out.
Spoiler alert…it did not. In May, Ainge had surgery on his pinky finger on his throwing hand. In July he signed his rookie contract. Fast forward to the middle of the 2008 season, and Ainge gets suspended for violating the league’s policies on steroids and PEDs. This would lead to a four-game suspension, who was already on the IR due to a foot injury. He would be banned from team facilities and activities until his suspension was lifted.
Fast forward some more to the 2010 season and finally, it seemed as though Ainge would get his shot to compete. Heading into the year he was expected to compete for a roster spot with Kellen Clemens and Kevin O’Connell. Soon, news came out that Ainge had entered a rehab facility for “recreational issues”. This would be the second time in his pro career that he had violated the NFL’s substance abuse policies. After all of this, the end finally came and Ainge made an announcement in June of 2011 that he would be retiring from the NFL due to injuries to his throwing shoulder and his right foot.
Ainge has had a rough past, to say the least. In an interview with ESPN, he admitted that he struggled with drug and alcohol abuse since he was twelve years old and he was addicted to pain killers his senior year. He even said he would have made Charlie Sheen look like Miss Daisy. In 2013, after his retirement, he was arrested for a DUI charge in Knoxville. He struggled with these issues all through his time in the NFL before he decided to seek help. Currently, Ainge is clean from his past issues, has a family, and has a successful talk show which airs every morning in Knoxville.
Ainge is unfortunately an example of spectacular talent with deep athletic bloodlines that faltered due to outside influences. He stood at 6′ 6″ and over 200 pounds. He was a mobile QB for his size and scouts drooled over the tools that he possessed. Ainge had the arm necessary to be a QB in the NFL. When he would get injured during his time at Tennessee, he would just take painkillers to avoid going to rehab. It seems over time this lifestyle had an impact on his body and left him unable to play.
While Ainge’s career did not amount to anything, he thankfully has a life outside of football and was able to get clean and straighten his life out. This is something worth celebrating because as we have seen recently, some NFL players are not so fortunate to carry on with a normal life.
Follow Austin on Twitter @ArmchairAustin.