Less than two percent of all collegiate athletes go on to play their sport professionally. This means that truly the best of the best in each sport are the ones that make it to the top. In today’s world, people have become quick to call athletes “busts” or give up on professional athletes very soon. It sparks a question in the minds of many fans and front offices: are the struggles attributed towards player struggles or organizational struggles? In the sports world, it is being seen more commonly that a player that was labeled a bust has seen a revival to their career following a change of scenery.
A prime example of this can be seen in the Tennessee Titans’ quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Towards the end of his tenure in Miami, he was being considered a mediocre quarterback and had been traded to serve as the backup for the Titans.
Many had believed that Tannehill would be just another name in the league that comes and goes. After he was given a chance to start midway through the 2019 season, Tannehill put the league on notice and proved that all he needed was that second chance.
Ever since then, he has been one of the top players in the league in quarterback ratings and led the team to the playoffs each year, including beating New England in the playoffs.
His resurgence led many pundits to believe more in the idea that sometimes a new setting and system can change the entire complexion of an athlete’s career.
Another example of this idea from the NFL is former New York Jet and current Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold. He was considered one of the most talked-about prospects coming into the league in one of the most decorated quarterback classes. But he was unable to end the struggles for the Jets. During his three-year tenure in New York, he was turnover prone and ranked near the bottom of the league in multiple statistical categories. As a result, the Jets continued to have one of the worst records in the league during that time.
Through it all, Darnold was able to show glimpses of what made him so special. This past offseason Carolina believed in that potential and traded for him.
Four weeks into the season, he has limited his turnovers and has led them to one of the best starts in the league, sitting at 3-1. He is also leading the league in rushing touchdowns by a quarterback. Like Tannehill, Darnold showed that he was not yet a fluke, and he truly deserves to be a starting quarterback in the league. A new opportunity has been able to make a difference for him and change the path of his career.
In the NBA, this is seen in both young players as well as seasoned veterans. For the younger players, this was seen from Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell. Each of these players were drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers and performed mostly well, but were unable to put it together in Los Angeles.
When they switched organizations, they were able to become All-Star caliber players and focal points of their teams. Since moving to new teams, they have increased their scoring, become more efficient and made All-Star teams. Ingram and Randle have also been recipients of the Most Improved Player. Randle was one of the catalysts of the New York Knicks as they broke a playoff drought.
Many of the most decorated veterans of the game when entering a new phase of their career were being counted out by many pundits and teams. Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony both were considered two of the most elite players in their prime, albeit not in recent history. However, after they exited their prime they changed teams multiple times before finding places they helped them revitalize their careers.
Howard came off the bench as a stopgap when Anthony Davis was not on the floor; Anthony became a key offensive piece alongside Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum and helped them to stay as one of the top Western Conference offenses. These two proved to many people that each of these players still have a lot left in the tank.
Today, people can become quick to call out when one’s career is over or when one is out of their prime. But thanks to loosened free agency rules over time, players can find their footing again. These are the top two percent athletes, and while spots are limited and ever changing, they do find ways to contribute.