The best NFL players never to play in the postseason

By Sam Robinson

Sometimes quality play occurs for non-contending teams. Hall of Famers, at least one future Hall of Famer and select All-Pros never suited up for a playoff game. Here are the best talents since 1965 who either went their entire careers as regular-season-only players or have thus far done so.

(This list does not include players who were on playoff teams but were either injured or deactivated but only players who toiled on teams that never qualified for the postseason.)

James Laurinaitis

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A second-round pick out of Ohio State, Laurinaitis anchored seven Rams defenses from 2009-15. While this came during one of the worst periods in franchise history, the middle linebacker started all 112 games the Rams played in that span. He finished in the top 10 in NFL tackles in two seasons. During this stretch, only two other NFL defenders started all 112 regular-season games. Laurinaitis’ 654 solo stops remain a Rams record. The reliable St. Louis defender did not join them in Los Angeles; the team released him in 2016.

29. Eric Hill

Eric Hill

Jed Jacobsohn-Allsport

The Cardinals’ all-time solo tackles leader with 785, Hill endured some notably bad timing — even for men on a list themed around bad timing. His nine-season Cardinals run ended a year before their journey to the 1998 divisional round. Hill spent 1998 on the Rams, who cut him in the ’99 offseason — just before their Super Bowl title ascent. During Hill’s Arizona stay, he was one of the best players on woeful teams. The former No. 10 overall pick started 133 games for the Cards (top 20 in the franchise’s 99-year history) and finished his career as a 33-year-old starter with the ’99 Chargers.

28. Kellen Winslow Jr.

Kellen Winslow Jr.

Icon Sportswire

Regardless of the immense legal trouble Winslow has run into, the second-generation NFL tight end delivered a quality on-field stretch for a period earlier this century. Never a prolific touchdown scorer (25 in a 10-year career), the former first-round pick was fourth among tight ends in receiving yards during his prime (2006-11). His Pro Bowl showing came with the 2007 Browns, who won 10 games but missed the playoffs. Those 1,106 yards he amassed that year bested Ozzie Newsome’s single-season yardage mark for Browns tight ends. Winslow fared well during Josh Freeman’s Tampa Bay tenure too.

Ryan Fitzpatrick

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Fitzpatrick’s record as a starter is 55-84-1, but he has managed to play for many forgettable teams. The 37-year-old passer has been a regular starter for the Bengals, Bills, Dolphins, Jets, Titans and Texans. Fitz’s 2015 Jets work — when he broke their single-season touchdown pass standard with 31 — was a high point. So was his 2018 #Fitzmagic, when he led the NFL with 9.6 yards per attempt (eighth all time!) in Tampa. In December, he led a skeleton-crew Dolphins team to one of the 2010s’ biggest upsets — a Week 17 playoff bracket-reshaping win in New England. Now in Year 16, the Harvard grad has done well for himself.

26. Ben Hawkins

Ben Hawkins

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Hawkins came to Philadelphia in 1966 when the Eagles were amid a 17-season playoff drought. While he never made a Pro Bowl, despite leading the NFL with 1,265 receiving yards in 1967, the eight-year Eagle operated as one of the scariest deep threats of the late 1960s and early ’70s. Tom Landry once called Hawkins the NFL’s most dangerous receiver. The flashy performer still sits second in Eagles history with 18.3 yards per catch for his career, which a broken leg sidetracked. Another part of Hawkins’ legacy: his unbuttoned-chinstrap style forced a rule change.

T-24. Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson

T-24. Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson

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Cheating a bit here, but these defensive linemen’s careers do blend together. Both have played well in spurts and comprised one of the NFL’s top defensive end duos when with the Jets for four seasons. Used primarily as 3-4 ends, Wilkerson (44.5 sacks) and Richardson (26.5) have each made one Pro Bowl but also encountered off-field trouble. Richardson, the 2013 Defensive Rookie of the Year, has continued to get work. He is now on a three-year Browns deal. Injuries and recent arrests stalled Wilkerson, but he was one of the NFL’s best D-linemen for several years.

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