The NFL’s Greatest One-Hit-Wonders Of All-Time

football | 8/21/19

The NFL can be a harsh mistress for players looking to make their careers on between the hash marks. For every Tom Brady there are even more Derek Andersons; players who found one of two years of success before everything came crashing down.

These one-hit-wonders took the NFL by storm before disappearing like the clouds they rode in on. Only the best of the best one-year wonders players made this list. How many do you remember?

Larry Brown – MVP

larry brown nfl one hit wonders
Joseph Patronite/Getty Images
Joseph Patronite/Getty Images

Larry Brown played for the Dallas Cowboys for five seasons in the early ’90s. In one of those seasons, he made scouts league-wide turn heads, helping lead the team to Super Bowl XXX and being named the big game’s MVP when the final whistle blew.

The year that preceded Brown’s Super Bowl fame was pretty good, too. He intercepted six passes and scored two touchdowns. The performance was enough for the Oakland Raiders to sign him away from Dallas. In three years Brown started one game as a Raider and was released in 1998.

Mark Sanchez Butt Fumbled His Career Away

mark sanchez nfl one hit wonder
Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Mark Sanchez was a made man when he drafted by the New York Jets. The team had a lights out run game and a stifling defense. All he had to do was protect the ball. For a few years, he did that, and the Jets appeared in back to back AFC Championship games.

Then Thanksgiving 2012 against the New England Patriots happened. Sanchez took the snap and tried to run up the “gut.” He ended up running into the rear end of one of his offensive linemen and fumbling the ball in the process. At the same time, he fumbled his career away. Thanksgiving Day 2012 when he ran into his teammate’s rear end, and led to another touchdown for the Patriots.

Vince Young Never Aged

vince young nfl one hit wonders
Sporting News via Getty Images via Getty Images
Sporting News via Getty Images via Getty Images

Coming out of college, Vince Young was a lock to be a high draft pick with a long NFL career. The Tennessee Titans took a chance on him, believing he would rewrite the QB position with his unique skill set.

In a perfect world, Young would have unlocked his potential. In the real world, he fizzled. Maturity problems curbed what started as a promising career, including a season where he was named to the Pro Bowl after engineering several come from behind victories.

Derek Anderson Almost Made Cleveland Rock

derek anderson nfl one hit wonders
Chris McGrath/Getty Images
Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Now we present you with perhaps the greatest one-hit-wonder in NFL history. The man who led the hapless Cleveland Browns to their first playoff appearance in years. His name was Derek Anderson, and in 2006 he threw 29 touchdown passes and won ten games.

The next year he only threw nine touchdowns. The year after he managed three. You see where this is going. After one amazing year, Anderson settled into life as a back-up, officially hanging up his cleats in 2019.

Don Majkowski Was Supposed To Be Brett Favre

Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty Images
Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty Images

Before Brett Favre suited up in a Packers uniform, the team put Don Majkowski under center. The move was brilliant at first. He threw 27 touchdown passes in 1989 and finished second in league MVP voting to Joe Montana, earning the nickname “Magic Man.”

Like Ickey Shuffle, Majkowski’s career was undone by injuries. After too many broken years, Green Bay made the difficult but necessary decision to move on, trading the Falcons for Brett Favre. It turned out to be one of the best decision the franchise ever made.

RGIII Was A Golden God

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Robert Griffin III was not a prototypical quarterback when the Washington Redskins drafted him in 2012. Known more as a runner than a passer, Griffin III lit the league up his rookie season. He rushed for 815 yards while adding 3,2000 yards in the air.

Unfortunately, his rookie season was his only healthy one. The next year he started 13 of 16 games, threw a boatload of interceptions, and only ran for 489 yards. Injuries severely limited his play the next few seasons, leading him to sign in Baltimore in 2018 as a back-up quarterback.

Michael Clayton Found Fool’s Gold

Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Michael Clayton had a rookie season for the record books when he had 1,193 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. How could be bust the next year? No one really know what went wrong, but his numbers never reached the same heights.

After his rookie season, Clayton never finished a season with more than 50 receiving yards. When his tenure with the Bucs was done he signed with the New York Giants but didn’t last very long.

Steve Beuerlein Is Best Forgotten By Panthers Fans

The good news is that today the Carolina Panthers are led by MVP winning quarterback Cam Newton. The bad news is that at one point in their history they were led by Steve Beuerlein. In his first year as a starter the Panthers went 4-12.

In his second year under center full-time, Carolina barely missed the playoffs, and Beuerlein threw for over 4,300 yards and 36 touchdowns. He was named to his first and only Pro Bowl. It only took him 13 years in the league. The next season he was sacked 62 times.

Josh Gordon Couldn’t Stay On The Field

Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

If Josh Gordon could stay on the field, he might be a Hall of Fame worthy NFL player. When he plays, his talent is undeniable. When he doesn’t play, it’s usually because he is serving a suspension for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.

The one season Gordon stayed violation-free, he led the league in receiving yards and was a truly unstoppable force. Since then he has never played more than 11 games in a season and was recently reinstated from an indefinite suspension.

Victor Cruz’s Salsa Was A Short Serving

Al Bello/Getty Images
Al Bello/Getty Images

Before Odell Beckham (now a Brown) reinvented the wide receiver position in New York, Victor Cruz was the king. In 2011, he had 1,536 receiving yards. It was a stellar season, and one he would never repeat.

By the end of his injury-shortened career, Cruz was known more for his celebratory salsa dance than his production on the field. Today Cruz works as an NFL analyst for ESPN, leaving behind a career that never equaled the sum of its parts.

Lionel James Did It All For One Season

George Rose/Getty Images
George Rose/Getty Images

Lionel James was great for one season. And when we say great, we mean he led the NFL with 2,500 all-purpose yards. The year was 1985, and no one was more impressive on the gridiron than James was. He also scored eight touchdowns that year.

The rest of his career wasn’t so incredible. James retired after four seasons in the NFL. By the time he called it quits, he had only scored six more touchdowns and was no longer deserving of his “Little Train” nickname.

Icky Woods And That Dance

ickey woods nfl one hit wonder
Sylvia Allen/Getty Images
Sylvia Allen/Getty Images

Few rookies in NFL history fascinated the league the way Ickey Woods did. He ran for 1,005 yards and scored 15 touchdowns, leading the Bengals to the Super Bowl. At the end of the season, he was just as famous for his power run game as he was for his signature dance, the “Ickey Shuffle.”

Unfortunately for Ickey, his hard-nosed running style resulted in several injuries, including a torn ACL. For the rest of his career, we was limited to 19 total games. In 2015, Woods returned to the public eye after replicating his dance for a series of GEICO commercials.

Peyton Hillis – Cover Boy

peyton hillis cover to nobody
Rob Carr/Getty Images
Rob Carr/Getty Images

A victim of the famed “Madden Curse,” Peyton Hillis was everything the Cleveland Browns needed him to be for one year. The team traded the Denver Broncos to get him, and he rewarded the team by rushing for 1,177 yards. During the offseason was voted by fans to be the new Madden cover athlete.

The next season, cursed by being a cover boy, Hillis ran for 587 yards and only started nine games. Two years later he was given his ticket out of Cleveland for good. In 2013, Hillis was given a second chance by the New York Giants but failed to capitalize on the opportunity.

Tim Tebow’s Miracle

Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow celebrates his 80 yd touchdown
AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post via Getty Images
AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Statistically, we cannot put Tim Tebow on this list of one-hit-wonders. His numbers as an NFL quarterback were never good. The reason he makes this list is for one reason – a miraculous playoff run built on his faith and sheer determination.

In college, Tebow was regarded as one of the best athlete’s ever step on the grass. In the NFL, he was a bruising runner who couldn’t hit the blind side of a barn. Still, he managed to turn a disastrous 2-6 start a to Broncos season into a 6-2 finish and a playoff berth.

Do You Remember The Other Steve Smith?

Nick Laham/Getty Images
Nick Laham/Getty Images

When you hear the name Steve Smith, you probably think of the legendary Panthers’ wide receiver destined for the Hall of Fame. You definitely don’t think about the New York Giants’ wide receiver who finished his age-24 season with 1,200 yards over 100 receptions.

That year was special for Smith and proved impossible to replicate. The next year he only managed 529 yards, which he then followed with a 124-yard campaign. After entering the NFL in 2007, Smith retired in 2012.

Gary Barnidge Crashed

Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images
Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images

Another late bloomer in the NFL, Gary Barnidge proved to be one of the few shining lights for Browns fans during the 2015 season. After spending years not being used, he broke out big, catching 79 balls for 1,043 yards and scoring nine touchdowns.

The next season he numbers were cut nearly in half. He caught 55 passes for 612 yards. IN the offseason, Cleveland released the one-hit-wonder and he hasn’t played a down in the NFL since.

Nick Foles Might Be The Exception To The Rule

Elsa/Getty Images
Elsa/Getty Images

Nick Foles was supposed to be a backup in Philadelphia when he became the man in charge of Chip Kelly’s offense in 2013. Out of nowhere, he threw 27 touchdowns and only two interceptions. He led the team to the playoffs and was named to the Pro Bowl.

The next year he was run out of Philly and bounced around the league, even contemplating retirement, until he ended up back in the city of brotherly love in 2017. He was the backup until Carson Wentz tore his ACL. Foles took control and steamrolled his way through the postseason, ultimately going toe-to-toe with Tom Brady in the Super Bowl and winning.

Joe Senser Fizzled Out

Joe Senser might be more of a victim of circumstance then a one-hit-wonder, but that doesn’t make the downfall of his career any less impressive. He was in his sophomore season when, as a tight end, he caught79 passes for 1,004 yards.

The next year the NFL’s players went on strike. To make matters worse, Senser had a knee injury he struggled to recover from. When he retired, Senser only added 361 yards to his career. If the players had never gone on strike, who knows what have happened with his career.

Timmy Smith Came And Went

Focus on Sport/Getty Images
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Timmy Smith was not the starter for the Redskins during the 1987 season. But when he was asked to take over starting duties, he repaid the team by rushing for 204 yards in the Super Bowl – a 42-10 route of the Denver Broncos.

Convinced of his talent, Smith held out for a bigger contract during the offseason. The one thing he didn’t hold out on, however, was his diet. When he finally reported to camp, Smith was overweight. Nine weeks into the season he lost his starting job.

David Tyree Will Always Have His Helmet

Nick Laham/Getty Images
Nick Laham/Getty Images

David Tyree is the author of the most famous catch in NFL history. Playing for the Giants against the undefeated Patriots in the Super Bowl, Tyree caught a pass by Eli Manning by securing it with one hand against his helmet.

The “helmet catch” kept the Giants drive alive; a drive that wound up being the decisive one of the game. The Giants won, and David Tyree became a national icon. Sadly, the rest of his career failed to live up to his incredible catch.

Shane Olivea Got Paid For One Year

Getty Images
Getty Images

Shane Olivea was a tackle on the San Diego Chargers offensive line when he had his breakout season. He was so pivotal that season that the team rewarded him with a $20 million contract. Two years later he was released.

So what happened? Olivea got bunched early in his contract, then failed a drug test with the league. Willing to admit they made a mistake, the Chargers cut ties with the once-promising player.

Shawn Andrews Has Mental Health Issues

Hunter Martin/Getty Images
Hunter Martin/Getty Images

After being drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles, Shane Andrews immediately became the team’s starting guard. As un-luck would have it, he broke his leg in his first game and was forced to give his rookie season to the injured reserve.

The next he came back with a vengeance and earned Pro Bowl honors. He looked like he was everything the Eagles hoped he was when they drafted him. Then, before the start of his fourth season, Andrews said he was seeking professional help for depression. When he was healthy enough to rejoin the team, he suffered a devastating back injury and was forced to retire.

Odell Thurman Couldn’t Stay Clean

5825000-67239-42522.jpg
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Odell Thurman was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in the second round of the 2005 NFL Draft. That season he forced ten turnovers and was a finalist for the Defensive Rookie of the Years award. It’s safe to say there were high expectations for the young man heading into his second season.

Unfortunately, Thurman couldn’t stay out of off trouble off the field and failed various drug tests. After he came back from his first suspension and failed another drug test, the Bengals decided they had had enough and cut him. He never played in the NFL again.

Bob Sanders Body Fell Apart

Michael Hickey/Getty Images
Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Bob Sanders had more than one good year in the NFL. He had three solid, sometimes amazing years before his body gave up on him. At the conclusion of his third season, Sanders was named the league’s Defensive Player of the Years.

In the offseason, Sanders signed a $37.5 million extension, which made him the highest-paid safety in the league. Because of Sanders aggressive style of play, though, he began suffering injuries and only played in 11 games over the next four seasons.

An Infection To End It All

Getty Images
Getty Images

Drafted by the Saints, LeCharles Bentley was an instant star when he took his first snap. He earned All-Rookie Honors before being named to the Pro Bowl in just his second season. When his rookie contract was up, he took his talents to Cleveland, where everything went sideways.

Bentley tore his patellar tendon and sat out his first season in Cleveland. During his rehab, he got a staph infection in his knee. For two years as a Brown, he stayed sidelined and retired in 2009, suing the team on his way out.

Cleveland Elam Lasted Five Seasons

Untitled-1-55848-96766.jpg

Cleveland Elam was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in 1975 and proved to be worth the pick. In 1976 and 1977 he made the Pro Bowl while also earning All-Pro honors. Thanks to him, the 49ers defense of the era was nicknamed the “Gold Rush.” Get it?

After the 1978 season, Elam signed with the Detroit Lions, where his career fell apart. It wasn’t for a lack of talent though, it was because of injuries. Elam couldn’t stay healthy in Detroit and was ultimately forced to retire in 1979.

Jason Hatcher Cashed In On One Good Year

Rob Tringali/SportsChrome/Getty Images
Rob Tringali/SportsChrome/Getty Images

Jason Hatcher was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the third round of the 2006 NFL Draft. For the first few years of his career, he rode the bench. Then the Cowboys hired Rob Ryan as their defensive coordinator and he became a Pro Bowler.

Based off of that one good season, the Redskins signed Hatcher to a $27.5 million contract in the offseason. In Washington, he didn’t play up to the hype and struggled with injuries. Three years into his tenure he retired.

Johnny Manziel – Enough Said

Jason Miller/Getty Images
Jason Miller/Getty Images

Let’s be honest about this one, Johnny Manziel is kind of like Tim Tebow. He never really made a huge impact in the NFL, but still managed to steal the headlines during his short, injury-plagued career.

A revelation in college, the Browns moved up in the draft to take Manziel in a move they would come to regret. Despite being in the pros, Manziel couldn’t stop partying like he was still in college. Ultimately he partied his way out of the league and into rehab.

Jim O’Brien Couldn’t Kick It

You won’t see many kickers on this list, but we felt like Jim O’Brien earned his place. As a rookie for the Colts, he made only 56 percent of his field-goal attempts. The Colts managed to win the AFC that year, however, and O’Brien brought his best self to the Super Bowl.

With five seconds left and the game tied 13-13, O’Brien knocked a 32 yarder through the uprighting, winning the game. O’Brien played three more underwhelming seasons in the NFL before being “kicked” out of the league for good.

What Greg Cook Could Have Been

Coached in college by Bill Walsh, Greg Cook was a highly hyped rookie quarterback for the Bengals in 1969. His career began as expected, with him leading the team to a 3-0 record. In that third game, however, Cook tore his rotator cuff, an injury which went undiagnosed for the whole season.

Cook played through the pain, but his shoulder began deteriorating in the offseason and several surgeries to save his career failed. In 1973, Cook officially retired from the NFL and began working for the United Parcel Service.

Bob Grupp And The Injury Bug

Bob Grupp was a punter who drafted by the New York Jets and played for the Kansas City Chiefs from 1979 until 1981. During that small span, he was named to the Pro Bowl once, it what would be a career-defining year.

In that one amazing year, Grupp averaged 43.6 yards per punt and recorded a personal best 74-yard punt. The next year and undiagnosed injury destroyed his season. His final season was even worse, and he was out of the league after 1981.

A Coach Who Deserves To Be Here

Just like players can be one-hit-wonders, so can coaches, and none match the description more than Bill Callahan. When the Raiders traded head coach John Gruden to Tampa Bay in 2002, Callahan was handed the reigns to the franchise.

In his first season in Oakland, Callahan led the Raiders to the Super Bowl where they faced off against – wait for it – Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers dominated the Raiders, leading some to speculate Callahan blew the game on purpose. A 4-12 season followed and Callahan was fired.

Did Bill Callahan Lose On Purpose?

The story goes that Callahan was friends with Gruden, so when it came time to play against him, the head coach blew the game. He did it by changing his game plan from a run-heavy attack to a pass-happy attack at the minute.

The move confused players, who publicly came out in support of the conspiracy theory. Callahan denied the rumors, but the damage in the locker room was done. After being fired by Al David Callahan became the head coach at Nebraska.

Michael Lewis Waited Patiently For His One Good Year

It took Michael Lewis a decade to get his shot in the NFL. He graduated high school in 1990 but didn’t get any professional playing time until 2000. Lewis never played college football but did play semi-professionally throughout the ’90s, most noticeably in the Arena Football League.

In 2000 Lewis was finally given a shot by the Philadelphia Eagles. Despite giving the team his best effort, the Eagles cut him before the start of the season. Lewis didn’t let his failure deter him, though.

They Call Him The Beer Man

Being cut by the Eagles was a tough pill to swallow for sure, but Michael Lewis had a backup career as a beer delivery man. By chance, he was offered a spot on the New Orleans Saints. To prepare, he first played for the Rhein Fire of NFL Europe.

In New Orleans, Lewis became a return specialist. His inspirational story of never giving up caught the public eye and he became a national hero. The rest of his career in the NFL, however, never lived up to the hype.

Wayne Haddix Had His Career Intercepted

Wayne Haddix was a revelation in 1990 for the Buccaneers after spending the first three years of his career injured in New York. He was an integral member of the Bucs defense that powered the team to the Super Bowl.

Haddix intercepted seven passes, returning three for touchdowns. He was named to his first Pro Bowl and his future was looking bright. The light never shined, though, and Haddix never intercepted another pass.

The Fall Of Haddix

Even though he made the Pro Bowl and led the league in interceptions, the Bucs cut Haddix in the offseason. The move seemed baffling, but the truth was that he wasn’t strong enough in coverage to justify what he was being paid.

The Bengals signed him in free agency, only to cut him the next season. His career was over, but one highlight of his will always be remembered. In the Tecmo Bowl video game, his player had one of the most amazing touchdowns scored in video game Super Bowl history!

Mike Jones Historic Super Bowl

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Jones was a mostly forgettable player during his NFL career. He found a life as a special teams player and eventually signed with the Rams before the 1997 season. That year, he started most of the team’s games at linebacker.

For three years he stayed with St. Louis, never standing out, but never getting cut either. Them, in 2000, the team made the Super Bowl and Jones made history. Do you remember what he did to stand out from the crowd?

Mike Jones Big Tackle

Facing off against the Tennessee Titans, the Rams held the lead in the fourth quarter. The Titans were driving downfield with a chance for the last second upset. With six seconds left in the game, Tennessee stood less than ten yards from victory.

Mike Jones made sure that didn’t happen. Steve McNair threw the pass to Kevin Dyson, who needed to gain four yards on the ground to score. Jones grabbed him and pulled him to the ground a few feet short. The tackle saved the game for the Rams.

Chicago Almost Had A Quarterback

The Chicago Bears have a disappointing history of quarterbacks. The team won a Super Bowl with Jim McMahon in the ’80s, but have failed to strike gold under center since. In 2003, fans were hopeful that Rex Grossman would change the narrative.

Grossman had a stellar season, and the Bears made the Super Bowl, ultimately losing to Peyton Manning and the Colts. Grossman fizzled out immediately after. Today, the fans once again have hope with Mitchell Trubisky under center.