The NFL lost another great player too young, as Rashaan Salaam passed away at age 42. Salaam was the 1994 Heisman Trophy winner as a junior at Colorado, and was drafted in the first round of the 1995 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears.
The son of a former NFL running back, Salaam grew up playing football in La Jolla, California. He then took his talents to Boulder, where he grew to become of the nation’s most electric running backs. He topped 2,000 yards rushing in his junior year, as he and QB Kordell Stewart led the Buffaloes to an 11-1 season. He finished the season averaging 6.9 yards per carry and totaling 24 touchdowns, enough to earn him a spot as a Heisman finalist.
Salaam won the Heisman in 1994, beating out Kerry Collins, Steve McNair, and Ki-Jana Carter. Salaam received 400 first place votes, blowing away a list of finalists that also included NFL Hall of Famer Warren Sapp. Salaam then decided to skip his senior season and head to the NFL, where he was drafted 21st overall by the Chicago Bears.
Once in the NFL, Salaam set a Bears rookie record by rushing for 1,074 in 11 games. But it wasn’t all success: a contract holdout delayed his arrival at training camp, and he fumbled nine times over the course of the season.
In a ProFootballWeekly piece from 2014, Salaam explained that he didn’t give his maximum effort towards being a great NFL running back. He cited a lack of discipline and too much partying were the reason for his professional struggles.
And he definitely struggled. After the solid rookie season, Salaam would top 80 yards rushing just once more in an NFL game. His career with the Bears ended after just 31 games, and was off the team by the end of 1997. He resurfaced in 1999 with the Browns, but played in just two games and had just one carry. His NFL career was over at 25 years old.
Salaam’s big comeback attempt was in the XFL, but his first season with the Memphis Maniax was cut short by injury. He is still the fourth-best rusher in XFL history with 528 career yards.
After football, Salaam dedicated most of his time to preventing kids from repeating his missteps. As part of the Rashaan Salaam SPIN (Supporting People In Need) Foundation, Salaam visited schools and helped kids aged 14-21 get to college.