Charles Rogers, former Detroit Lions receiver, dies at 38

After two fantastic years at Michigan State, Mr. Rogers was the second pick in the 2003 NFL draft, taken by Detroit.
After two fantastic years at Michigan State, Mr. Rogers was the second pick in the 2003 NFL draft, taken by Detroit.Duane Burleson/Associated Press/File 2005/Associated Press

NEW YORK — Charles Rogers, a former Detroit Lions receiver whose promising NFL career was derailed by injuries and drug use, died on Monday in Fort Myers, Fla. He was 38.

The cause of death was liver failure, said his mother, Cathy Rogers.

Mr. Rogers was considered the best receiver in the 2003 NFL draft and was selected by the Detroit Lions with the second overall pick.

His career stalled after he suffered two collarbone injuries in his first two seasons and began to take painkillers, to which he became addicted, Cathy Rogers said.

The Lions suspended him for substance abuse in 2005 and released him the following year, ending his career after three seasons with only 36 receptions, 440 receiving yards and four touchdowns.


“It put me in a depression,” Mr. Rogers told NBC2, a Fort Myers NBC affiliate, in 2017. “That medium put me in a depression, man.”

Charles Rogers was born on May 23, 1981, in Saginaw, Mich., to Cathy Rogers, a single mother.

“Charles was very happy-go-lucky; that smile would light up a room,” his cousin Ali Smith said on Monday. “Everyone knew Charles was special.”

Mr. Rogers starred at Saginaw High School.

“He is the best athlete that ever came through Saginaw, period,” Don Durrett, his former high school coach, said on Monday.

“He was the hardest-working kid, committed and well-mannered.”

Mr. Rogers was considered the nation’s top-rated high school player in the early 2000s. He proudly wore a tattoo that read “Sag-Nasty” on his left forearm.

“Saginaw got me where I am now, Saginaw got me ready for the world,” he said in 2003.

After graduating from high school, he went to Michigan State but did not academically qualify to play during his first year.

He played on the team during his sophomore and junior years.


In those two years, he had 27 touchdown receptions, a record for Michigan State. His short but explosive career at Michigan State culminated with the Biletnikoff Award, given annually to the best receiver in college football.

“Just from watching him, I thought he was the second coming of Randy Moss,” said Sam Sword, a former NFL linebacker from Saginaw who met Mr. Rogers when he was in high school.

“It is rare that a kid from Saginaw becomes the No. 2 draft pick,” Sword said Monday. “He was electric.”

Before he was drafted, Mr. Rogers had big goals for his NFL career.

“I don’t see why I can’t be a 1,000-yard receiver and make the Pro Bowl in my first year,” he said in 2003.

He added: “I want people to go home from games and say: ‘Did you see that boy? I’m coming back to see some more.’”

Four years after he was released from his contract with the Lions, the team sued Mr. Rogers in an effort to recoup part of his $9.1 million signing bonus.

The court ruled that the former player had to repay the team $6.1 million.

On Monday, the Lions expressed their condolences in a statement.

“We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Charles Rogers,” the team said. “From Saginaw, to East Lansing, to Detroit, Charles’ connection to the state of Michigan and its football community was felt by many during the course of his life.”

In addition to his mother, Mr. Rogers leaves eight children; his brother, Mike Afford; and his sisters, Keisha Afford and Savannah Brown.


In his 2017 interview with NBC2, Mr. Rogers contemplated his time in the NFL.

“How many people been the No. 2 draft pick?” he asked.

“I got there, I did that, I earned that,” he continued. “It’s just the next chapter in life, and I’m trying to find the next chapter.”