It takes a lot of sweat, hard work, and determination to make it in the NFL, even if it’s just for a short time. The average NFL career is only three years, so even if you do end up making it, it’s pretty unlikely you’ll stick around.
However, these NFL players were able to make a big splash, only to fizzle out a short time later. Whether they were a Super Bowl hero or a college star who couldn’t keep the momentum going, these NFL players are the one hit wonders lost to history.
The signal-caller threw 15 touchdown passes and compiled 1,854 passing yards in an impressive rookie season. In that same season, Cook tore his rotator cuff that went undiagnosed due to limited medical technology.
The injury proved to be more concerning than they initially feared. The rotator cuff began deteriorating after the season. During surgery, doctors discovered that Cook also had a partially detached biceps muscle. The fifth overall pick of the 1969 draft called it a career in 1973.
Woods rushed for 1,066 yards and 15 touchdowns in the 1988 season. After an amazing rookie season, the California native went down with a torn ACL in his sophomore season and a few other injuries which shortened his career.
The setback proved to be the beginning of the end for the running back. The UNLV alum’s last official carry was during the 1991 season. Luckily, fans everywhere will remember his “Ickey Shuffle” end zone dance.
The Jacksonville Jaguars took a chance on the wide receiver by selecting him in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft. He put up fairly impressive numbers during his rookie campaign but fell apart following his lackluster sophomore season.
Blackmon would be suspended for four games by the NFL for violating the league’s Policy and Program for Substance Abuse. But, the trouble continued from there. He was suspended indefinitely for another violation and hasn’t seen a down since 2013.
The wide receiver didn’t live up to expectations in his rookie season, even if he did post 80 receptions and found the end zone seven times. Following that, he wasn’t the most consistent performer on the field.
Eventually, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers let Clayton loose and he ended up playing in the United Football League for one season. Following that, Clayton signed with the New York Giants, where he would help the team win Super Bowl XLVI.
The backup quarterback found life with the Los Angeles Xtreme of the XFL. After becoming the league MVP, Maddox was rewarded with a contract from the Pittsburgh Steelers. He started 11 games for the black and gold in 2002, throwing for 20 touchdown passes.
It was the former XFLer’s most impressive NFL season, winning the Comeback Player of the Year Award. In 2004, he would be back on the bench after rookie Ben Roethlisberger took over the starting role.
Majkowski looked like a true franchise quarterback during the 1989 season. He would fall back to Earth the following season before a shoulder injury ended his season. After the setback, Majkowski started for the Packers before an ankle injury sidelined him again.
The injury would mark the beginning of the end for the quarterback. During this time, the team made a trade for another quarterback, which turned out to be Pro Football Hall of Famer Brett Favre.
Hillis was a running back unfamiliar to casual NFL fans at the start of the 2010 season. He became a star for the Browns when he rushed for 1,177 yards for 11 touchdowns. Plus, he was voted by the fans to be the cover boy of the Madden NFL game.
He is just another victim of the Madden curse that affects players who were featured on the cover. The Browns would let the running back walk before he retired for good in 2014.
The running back was well worth the first-round draft pick by the Chicago Bears. After rushing for 1,074 years and 10 touchdowns in his rookie season, his numbers declined after that.
His tenure with the Bears ended after the 1997 season, and his NFL career was over after the 1999 campaign. Following his retirement, Salaam came out in the open about personal issues that prevented him from becoming a star. He died in December 2016.
The quarterback’s relationship with Jeff Fisher may have derailed his career. Young never played as well as he did during his rookie season in the NFL, when he produced a Rookie of the Year season. During the 2008 season, Fisher decided to demote the aspiring star to the team’s backup, leading to his release in the summer of 2011.
He made some stops in Philadelphia and Green Bay, including a brief stint in the CFL. However, Young suffered a hamstring injury with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, and he was waived after that.
“Cadillac” produced the best numbers of his career during his first campaign. His rookie season proved to be his only good one after he rushed for 1,178 yards for six touchdowns.
He failed to reach the 1,000-yard mark after that, but following setbacks from a few injuries, he did have a career revival in 2009. He would finish the remainder of his career with the Rams, and eventually became the running backs coach for the Birmingham Iron of the Alliance of America Football.
Derek Anderson was the only hope the Browns had of making the playoffs in 2007. After a shocking 10-6 record, Anderson was the face of the team. That would be as good as things would get for the quarterback.
After throwing 29 touchdown passes, he eventually became a backup journeyman in the NFL. Following his stay with Cleveland, Anderson found himself in Carolina and in Buffalo. He’s made a start in every season since his rookie campaign in 2006.
Tyree put up numbers any team would want out of a number one wide receiver. He seemed to be on the horizon of becoming a pivotal figure on the New York Giants offense, especially after he caught a pass by using his helmet for one of the most iconic moments in Super Bowl history.
Unfortunately, the Pro Bowler never got back to that level, as a knee injury cost him a spot on the roster in 2008. He would play 10 games for the Baltimore Ravens before retiring in 2009.
The Giants second-round selection in the 2007 NFL Draft is not related to Steven Smith Sr. He’s remembered for an important third-down reception during Super Bowl XLII. Smith would become a primary target for Eli Manning when he caught 107 passes for seven touchdowns.
In 2010, he was unable to maintain his full-time status as a wide receiver, partly due to the fact that he sustained a knee injury. He went on to play for the Philadelphia Eagles and St. Louis Rams afterward.
In 2013, the Baylor alum put up Hall of Fame-like numbers. Gordon caught for 1,646 yards while scoring nine touchdowns, emerging as one of the best wideouts in the game. Personal issues and league suspensions would come back to haunt the wide receiver.
The Cleveland Brows finally put their foot down as they traded Gordon to the Patriots in September 2018. Despite playing well in New England, Gordon announced that he would step away from football to focus on his mental health.
Keenum is considered to be a journeyman quarterback. At the start of the 2017 season, he became the starter for the Vikings. Not only did Minnesota finish with the number two seed of the NFC East, but the team went all the way to the NFC Championship Game.
His efforts on the field earned him a contract with the Denver Broncos. Keenum didn’t replicate the success that he had the previous season, but maybe he could with a new coach calling the plays.
With the Carolina Panthers, Barnidge’s main impact came on special teams. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to cheer about his next team, the 2015 Cleveland Browns. Despite this, Barnidge had 79 catches and scored nine touchdowns, one of the most exceptional years ever by a Cleveland tight end.
Following his Pro Bowl season, the 2016 campaign was a dismal one, and the Browns would eventually part ways with the tight end in 2017.
Flynn managed to earn a huge contract despite not having a truly great season. The Texas native flashed some promise as a backup for the Green Bay Packers, and he produced single-game franchise records in a win over the Detroit Lions in January 2012.
He would find his way to Seattle where he was the team’s starter for less than half a year. He would lose his starting role to Russell Wilson.
Pryor was nothing more than a flop as a quarterback. He wisely made the decision to switch to the wide receiver position and played like a top-tier player for the Cleveland Browns.
The Browns and Pryor didn’t come to terms on a new contract and he signed with the Washington Redskins. Stops in DC, as well as New York, didn’t go as planned for Pryor. He may be out of time to revive his career in the NFL.
Tebow wasn’t an elite quarterback, but he did help the Denver Broncos make the playoffs in 2011. Tebow even threw a walk-off touchdown pass for a postseason win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Broncos traded him to the New York Jets in March 2012 after signing Peyton Manning. Tebow was released by that club following the season. Both the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles offered Tebow chances to play. Now, Tebow is hoping for a chance to play in MLB.
Robert Griffin III
The 2012 NFL Draft had plenty of hype, especially with Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III as the top two picks. RGIII ended up with the Redskins, who had a memorable rookie campaign, winning the NFC East division title.
After sustaining a bad knee injury against the Seahawks, RGIII was never the same. He would lose his job to Kirk Cousins and was released by the team in 2015. Following that, he had a brief stint in Cleveland and Baltimore, both as the backup quarterback.
Carolina fans might be haunted by the name of Steve Beuerlein. They thought he was the quarterback of the future, but he let them down. However, in 1999, he did give them a reason to believe he would perform. Beuerlein put up monstrous numbers: 4,436 passing yards and 36 touchdowns.
Like many of the other players on this list, the following season was not the same. He left Carolina for the Denver Broncos for two seasons but only started five games during that time. Beuerlein ended up retiring and becoming an NFL analyst.
Victor Cruz was once the pride and joy of the G-Men in New York. This was before Odell Beckham burst onto the scene there was the salsa dancing receiver. Cruz had three amazing seasons consecutively from 2011-2013. Then the 2014 season came around and an injury limited Cruz to six games.
He would also go on to miss the entire 2015 season (enter Beckham) and seemingly fell right off the map. In 2016, he played all but one game but only caught for half of the yards he caught during his time as the leading receiver on the Giants.
Lionel “Little Train” James
There are only a few players in NFL history who have been able to sustain being an all-purpose player. Lionel “Little Train” James was an all-purpose beast in 1985. He returned the ball, he rushed for over 500 yards and caught for over 1,000 yards. James would lead the NFL in all-purpose yards with over 2,500.
Eight of his 14 career touchdowns came from scrimmage that season. He also had as many yards that season as he would for the next three years combined. ‘One-hit wonder’ should have been his nickname.
Timmy Smith of the Redskins had himself a game in Super Bowl XXII. The Redskins starting running back was often injured during the ’87 season so Smith got the start. How did he thank them? He set a Super Bowl record with 204 yards and two touchdowns.
The Redskins won 42-10. Naturally, Smith held out on offseason duties in hopes of securing a bigger contract after his huge game. When he finally showed up, he was overweight. By week nine of that season, he had lost the starting job.
It wasn’t that that Shane
He went on to play two more seasons for the Chargers but got benched the year after his contract. He then got cut for missing a drug test after failing for painkillers. That contract was for not.
Shawn Andrews was drafted by the Eagles and was immediately put into the starting guard role. Unfortunately, he broke his leg in the first game. He came back the next season ready to play and became the anchor for the offensive line. He got Pro Bowl honors in 2006 and 2007.
Sadly, before the start of 2008, he didn’t show up to the start of training camp. He came out and said he was dealing with depression and that he was seeking professional help. When he came back he suffered a back injury that knocked him out for the year. That ended up being his last game.
The second-round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals from 2005 played better than a second-round pick. Odell Thurman would end the season with 10 forced turnovers and that propelled him to be a finalist for the Defensive Rookie of the Year. This set up high expectations for his following season.
One thing after another would happen next. Thurman ended up failing various drug tests and being suspended by the NFL. Once he came back from his first suspension he was cut and ended up failing another test. The NFL never would see him play again.
Bob Sanders was great at defense. He was a Pro Bowler, All-Pro athlete and a Defensive Player of the Year. In only his third season he was winning Super Bowls and making interceptions in the Super Bowl. But he only got better after that. In the 2007 season, he won the Defensive Player of the Year.
He ended up signing a $37.5 million contract that year making him the highest paid safety in NFL history at the time. but injuries would hit him because of his aggressive style of play that made him the player he is. He ended up only playing 11 more games in the next four years.
LeCharles Bentley found success right from the start once he was drafted by the Saints. He came in playing the right guard and would make NFL All-Rookie honors. His second season he would make the Pro Bowl. After 2005, he would leave the Saints and head to the Browns (probably his biggest mistake).
He ended up tearing his patellar tendon and he was forced to miss the whole season. He also suffered from a staph infection in the knee. Two years in Cleveland and he didn’t see the field once. He ended up retiring in 2009 but not without
For his pair of picks, Brown was named Super Bowl MVP, and the timing could not have been better, with the cornerback hitting the free-agent market. The Oakland Raiders would lock in Brown with a five-year $12.5 million deal. However, his tenure in the Bay Area was not well last.
In two seasons, the Miami native played in only 12 games. After being released, the cornerback sign with Minnesota before heading back to Dallas to finish his career in 1998.
For his first five years as a Dallas Cowboy, Jason Hatcher was just a backup defensive lineman. The third-round pick of the ’06 draft would see a new day after the Cowboys hired Rob Ryan as their defensive coordinator. Hatcher would shift into the starting role and have a breakout season in 2013.
He was named to the Pro Bowl and got a huge contract of $27.5 million with the Redskins. He had to battle through knee injuries for the following two seasons and that brought him back to mediocre. He ended up retiring in 2016.
The Texas A&M product was a sensational college athlete. He broke countless records while in college and was primed to excel in the NFL after winning the Heisman.
The Browns traded up to pick Manziel hoping to have their quarterback of the future. That was not the case. Manziel got to the pros and didn’t start. Whispers of him complaining were circulating around the league. He blew it and while Manziel had some good plays, he’s now playing with the Montreal Alouette’s in the CFL.
For Packers backup quarterback, one of his memorable starts came against the Detroit Lions. In a meaningless 2011 season finale game, Flynn threw for 480 yards and six touchdowns in a 45-41 win, setting new Packers team records. He broke franchise records for passing yards and touchdowns in a game.
It looked as though he had the potential to become a starting quarterback. But, Flynn remained a backup, even after winning the Super Bowl with the Seattle Seahawks.
Jim O’Brien was drafted by the Baltimore Colts in the third round of the ’70s draft and started his rookie season on a pretty lackluster note. As the Colts kicker, he was far below average and hit just 56 percent of his kicks. That season, however, the Colts won the AFC and made it to the Super Bowl against the Cowboys.
O’Brien showed up with his game face on at the right time because he hit a 32-yard field goal during a 13-13 game with just five seconds left. Talk about a huge win. Unfortunately, this would prove to be a career highlight for O’Brien who went on to kick for three more seasons kicking only a 55.6%.
Bob Grupp was picked by the New York Jets in the seventh round of the ’77 draft but wouldn’t make it onto the roster until 1979 for the Kansas City Chiefs. In his first NFL season, Grupp lead the NF with a gross punting average of 43.6 and the longest punt at 74 yards. These stats earned him a rightful spot on the Pro Bowl and NFL All-Rookie team lineup.
Things were on the up and up for newcomer Grupp, that is, until the following season. His performance saw a significant drop, mainly due to an injury that wasn’t diagnosed early on in the season. He went on to perform one more partial season until he was cut in 1981.
Michael Lewis has one of the more interesting NFL stories. Lewis graduated from high school in 1990 but wouldn’t see his first time on the field in an NFL game for nearly 11 years.
Although he didn’t play college football, he did play for semi-professional and arena football teams through the ’90s. It was in 2000 that he got his first chance to play in the NFL with the Eagles, but he was cut before the season even began. But Lewis proved he wasn’t done…
Wayne Haddix had an incredible season in 1990. After spending his first three seasons fighting against a slew of injuries while playing for the New York Giants, he finally got his time to shine.
His talents on the field took him all the way to the Super Bowl, playing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. During this shining season, he had some impressive stats including seven passes (three of which he returned for touchdowns). He even made the Pro Bowl. Unfortunately for Haddix, those would be the last interceptions of his career.
Mike Jones was an undrafted free agent with the Raiders and spent his early career as a special team and role player. He eventually signed with the St. Louis Rams in ’97 and started the majority of games at linebacker.
He played for the Rams for three seasons as he had a decent career in the NFL. His rise to prominence came in 2000 when St. Louis reached the Super Bowl.
Mike’s Super Bowl Triumph
During the 2000 Super Bowl with just 2:12 left in the game, the Tennessee Titans had just finished a 16-point comeback. This tied up the two teams leading the impending victory uncertain. The next drive daw Kurt Warner hit Isaac Bruce with a 73-yard touchdown pass.
As the Titans moved down the field, they got the ball within the 10-yard line and only six seconds to go. While Steve McNair hit Kevin Dyson, Mike Jones made a play that is now known as “The Tackle.” Jones took down Dyson with just one yard to go as he tried to stretch the ball over the line. He was unsuccessful, and Jones had his one-hit wonder moment.
In recent years, the Bears have had bad luck with quarterbacks. Rex Grossman was selected in the first round of the 2003 draft by the Chicago Bears. His first three years were spent on the bench practically, thanks to injuries.
In 2006, he led the Bears to the Super Bowl, losing to Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. However, the following season, he was benched after three poor games. and spent the rest of his career as a backup with Washington and Houston.