Remembering 10 recent NFL Draft Picks diagnosed with CTE

The Boston University CTE Center has diagnosed CTE in 345 of 376 (91.7%) NFL players studied at the UNITE Brain Bank since it was co-founded in 2008 by Boston University, the VA Boston Healthcare System, and the Concussion Legacy Foundation. Below are 10 NFL draft picks from the last 20 years who went on to suffer, and later be diagnosed, with the neurodegenerative brain disease.


1. Max Tuerk – 2016 NFL Draft, Round 6, Pick 3

Max Tuerk CLF photo
The San Diego Chargers selected USC center Max Tuerk with the third pick of the third round in 2016. Shortly after the draft, Tuerk began isolating himself and stopped communicating with his family. He grew increasingly paranoid and struggled with hallucinations, psychosis, and extreme depression. By the middle of the 2017 season, Tuerk was out of football, and his symptoms made it difficult to maintain a job. In 2020, he collapsed on a hiking trail in his hometown, where he died at 26 from an enlarged heart. Diagnosis: Stage 1 CTE
Photo credit: Gregory Bull/Associated Press


2. Daniel Te'o-Nesheim – 2012 NFL Draft, Round 3, Pick 22

Daniel Teo Nesheim CLF 10
The Philadelphia Eagles drafted Washington Huskies pass rusher Daniel Te’o-Nesheim in Round 3 of the 2010 NFL Draft. He played two seasons with Philadelphia and two with Tampa Bay. He suffered approximately 100 concussions throughout his football career. By 2015, Te’o-Nesheim experienced daily headaches and became increasingly forgetful and paranoid. In October 2017, he died in his sleep at a friend’s house at age 30. Daniel’s sister Marie Aiona said loved ones remember him as a respected leader who took great pride in inspiring young student-athletes. Diagnosis: Stage 2 CTE
Photo credit: Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images


3. Tyler Sash – 2011 NFL Draft, Round 6, Pick 33

Tyler Sash CLF 10
The New York Giants selected Tyler Sash in the sixth round of the 2011 NFL Draft after a record-breaking career at the University of Iowa. Sash played two seasons for the Giants and was a member of the Super Bowl XLVI championship team. Sash suffered multiple concussions during his NFL career and struggled with confusion, memory loss, and rage following his release by the Giants in 2013. His mother said his behavior changed to the point that she didn’t recognize him. Sash passed away in September 2015 from an accidental overdose at age 27. Diagnosis: Stage 2 CTE
Photo credit: USA Today Sports Images


4. Demaryius Thomas – 2010 NFL Draft, Round 1, Pick 22

Demaryius Thomas CLF 10
The Denver Broncos drafted Demaryius Thomas with the 22nd overall pick, making the Georgia Tech star the first receiver taken in the 2010 NFL Draft. The big-play threat spent 10 seasons in the NFL, setting many Denver franchise receiving records. On December 9, 2021, Thomas passed away in his Georgia home at age 33. Family and friends said in his final year, Thomas experienced memory loss, paranoia, self-isolation, and behavioral changes closely associated with CTE. Diagnosis: Stage 2 CTE
Photo credit: NFL


5. Aaron Hernandez – 2010 NFL Draft, Round 4, Pick 14

Aaron Hernandez Concussion Legacy Foundation
The New England Patriots selected All-American Florida tight end Aaron Hernandez in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft. In three NFL seasons, he emerged as one of the most talented players at his position. In June 2013, Hernandez was arrested in Connecticut and later convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. In 2017, Hernandez died by suicide in his prison cell. Dr. Ann McKee later concluded Hernandez, at 27, had the most severe case of CTE found to date in a person his age. Diagnosis: Stage 3 CTE
Photo credit: Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images


6. Phillip Adams – 2010 NFL Draft, Round 7, Pick 17

Phillip Adams Concussion Legacy Foundation
The San Francisco 49ers chose South Carolina State safety Phillip Adams in the final round of the 2010 NFL Draft. He played for six teams over six NFL seasons. In the years following his football career, Adams’ family said he had difficulty sleeping and had issues with memory, missing key medical appointments as he sought help from the NFL. In April 2021, Adams shot and killed six people in a Rock Hill, S.C. home before taking his own life a day later at the age of 32. Diagnosis: Stage 2 CTE
Photo credit: John Korduner/Icon Sportswire


7. Kevin Ellison – 2009 NFL Draft, Round 6, Pick 15

Kevin Ellison sized Concussion Legacy Foundation
Kevin Ellison was selected by the San Diego Chargers in the sixth round of the NFL Draft after a college career as a hard-hitting defensive back and team captain at USC. He went on to play one season for the Chargers, and later a brief stint in the Arena Football League. Ellison’s family believes he started to decline in 2012. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia and struggled with substance abuse and paranoia. He had difficulty holding a job because of his cognitive symptoms. Ellison died in October 2018 at age 31 after wandering onto a California freeway. Diagnosis: Stage 2 CTE
Photo credit: Denis Poroy/Associated Press


8. Paul Oliver – 2007 NFL Supplemental Draft

Paul Oliver Concussion Legacy Foundation
The San Diego Chargers selected safety Paul Oliver in the fourth round of the supplemental draft in 2007 after an All-SEC career at Georgia. Oliver played for the Chargers for five seasons before retiring in 2011. After retirement, he battled depression and complained of constant headaches. Oliver’s wife said his behavior became violent, and he felt like he couldn’t control his actions. Oliver took his own life in September 2013 at age 29. Diagnosis: Stage 2 CTE


9. Chris Henry – 2005 NFL Draft, Round 3, Pick 19

Chris Henry sized Concussion Legacy Foundation
Chris Henry was drafted in the third round by the Cincinnati Bengals out of West Virginia. The wide receiver played five seasons with the Bengals before his death in 2009. Henry was still an active player when he passed away at age 26 after he either jumped or fell from the back of a moving pickup truck being driven by his fiancée. Henry suffered from mood swings and headaches before his death and was arrested five times and suspended for half of a season during his career. His family asked for a detailed examination of his brain, where researchers found CTE. Diagnosis: CTE


10. Vincent Jackson – 2005 NFL Draft, Round 2, Pick 29

Vincent Jackson 10 Concussion Legacy Foundation
Vincent Jackson was the highest draft pick ever out of Northern Colorado when the San Diego Chargers selected him in the second round. He went on to play six seasons with the Chargers before moving to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he finished his career. Jackson was a three-time Pro-Bowl wide receiver and four-time nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award. In his mid-30s, Jackson became depressed, with progressive memory loss, problem-solving difficulties, paranoia, and, eventually, extreme social isolation. He passed away in February 2021 at age 38. Diagnosis: Stage 2 CTE
Photo credit: Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images


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