Every so often, a player bursts onto the NFL scene with flashes of greatest, leaving fans and coaches wondering if they’ve found the next perennial All-Pro. Then as quickly as they came, they fade into the pages of NFL lore. Sometimes it’s a single season, sometimes it is just a single game, but either way, these players showed signs of potential that never played out. This is a position by position breakdown of the greatest one-hit wonders in NFL history.
Robert Griffin III
The 2011 Heisman Trophy winner came into the league to very high expectations after the Redskins trade their 1st round picks in 2012, 2013, & 2014 and their 2nd round pick in 2012 for the 2nd overall pick in 2012. But RG3 immediately began living up to expectation, earning NFC offensive player of the week honors for his debut game against the Saints. He went on to throw for 3200 yards with a 65.6% completion percentage, as well as 102.4 passing rating and a 4:1 TD:INT ratio (both rookie records at the time). These stats led to him being named Offensive Rookie of the Year, and named to the 2013 Pro Bowl. However, it is what happened before the end of the season that led to his demise. In the Week 14 matchup against the Ravens, he twisted knee, spraining his LCL. He continued to play, despite not being cleared by the doctors. He sat out the next week’s game, and returned in Week 16. The next week in the Wild Card matchup against the Seahawks, he re-injured the knee, this time tearing both his LCL and ACL. Soon after his reconstructive surgery, RG3, with his shoe sponsor Adidas, launched an “All in for Week 1” ad campaign. Some people view this campaign (besides the fact he shouldn’t have started the playoff game against Seattle) as his ultimately downfall. He never returned to the Rookie of the Year form he had, and was ultimately replaced in Week 14 by Kirk Cousins, for fear of further injury. In 2015, RG3 returned, this time with a full offseason under his belt. But in week 2, he suffered another season ending injury, fracturing his ankle. This string of injuries would continue throughout his career, and now leaves him waiting in free agency for a team to give him another chance.
Greg Cook was drafted 5th overall in the 1969 draft by Paul Brown and the Cincinnati Bengals and was expected to be the next Otto Graham. Bill Walsh, the Bengals wide receiver coach at the time, said he was the most talented quarterback he’d ever coached. Cook was thrown into the starting roll his rookie season, and led the team to a 2-0 start. In the 3rd game, against the AFL West champion Kansas City Chiefs, Cook was driven into the ground by Hall of Famer Bobby Bell and felt a pop in his shoulder. Cook went on to miss only 3 games in the season, and finished with 1,854 passing yards and 15 TDs. He did all of this playing with an undiagnosed torn rotator cuff. During the offseason, Cook had surgery where it was found he also had a partially detached bicep muscle. Cook would go on to have 2 more surgeries, but would only end up playing in only one more game in his career. With modern medicine, he may have been able to recover (similarly to Drew Brees in 2005), but that is why Cook is considered one of the ultimate “What-if” stories in NFL history.
Other notables: Don Majikowski, Nick Foles, Matt Flynn, Steve Beuerlein, Tim Tebow, Derek Anderson, Scott Mitchell, Mark Rypien, Tommy Maddox, Elivs Grbac
Timmy Smith is the ultimate one game wonder and he did it on the biggest stage, Super Bowl XXII. The Redskins starting running back throughout the ‘87 season, George Rogers, was limited due to injuries, so seldom used backup, Timmy Smith, got the start in his place. Smith went on to rush for a Super Bowl record 204 yards and 2 TDs in the Redskins 42-10 routing of the Broncos. If it wasn’t for Doug Williams’ 340 yards and 4 TDs (all TDs in the second quarter), Smith would have ended up as MVP. Smith held out of offseason workouts and training camp in hopes of a better contract, as he looked to go into the season as the Redskins starting back. When he finally reported, Smith showed up overweight and out of shape. By week 9, he had lost the starting job. Rumors of cocaine use and associating with suspected drug dealers helped lead to his departure from the NFL. He played in one more game for the Cowboys in 1990, but was released shortly after. Smith will forever go down as one of the greatest Super Bowl one hit wonders.
Ickey Woods was drafted in the second round of the ’88 draft by the Cincinnati Bengals. He stormed onto the scene as a rookie, rushing for a then rookie NFL record 1,066 yards and a 5.3 yards per carry average. Woods was poised for a breakout sophomore season, but torn his ACL in Week 2; sidelining him for over a year. An injury to his other knee before the 1991 season left him sidelined for half the season. He would return in Week 9, but was unable to return to his rookie form. This would be the last season Woods would play. Woods will forever be remembered for his touchdown celebration, the Ickey Shuffle, and for being one of the greatest one season wonders in NFL history.
Other notables: Barry Foster, Peyton Hillis, Steve Slaton, Samkon Gado
Just like Timmy Smith, David Tyree is a Super Bowl one hit wonder, but unlike Smith, his one hit is one iconic play. In 2007, Tyree had 4 receptions for 35 yards and 0 TDs for the New York Giants. With 1:15 left in Super Bowl XLII, trailing 14-10, Eli Manning miraculously avoided getting sacked and tossed up a 32-yard floater to Tyree. Tyree extended up for the ball, ultimately pinning it with his right hand against his helmet as Safety Rodney Harrison dragged him to the ground. Tyree managed to get his other hand up to the ball and secured the catch. This led to a game winning, 13-yard TD catch by Plaxico Burress with 35 seconds to go. The “Helmet Catch” will go down as one of the greatest plays in NFL history. It would also be the last reception of Tyree’s career. He suffered a knee injury before the ’08 season, landing him on the PUP list, and was cut prior to the ’09 season.
Josh Gordon is a sad combination of addiction and a league that refuses to be on the forefront of changing drug policies. Gordon was taken in the 2nd round of the 2012 supplementary draft by the Cleveland Browns. He led all rookie receivers with 50 catches for 805 yards and 5 TDs. Going into his sophomore season, Gordon was suspended for the first two games for violation of the league’s substance-abuse policy (a sign of things to come). Once he returned, he tore the league apart. Gordon finished the season with 87 receptions for 1,646 (a 117.6 yard per game average) and 9 TDs, earning him Pro Bowl and 1st team All-Pro honors. In August of the next year, it was announced Gordon would be suspended for the year for violation of the league’s substance abuse policy; that suspension was later reduced to 10 games. He would catch 24 passes for 303 yards and 0 TDs before being suspended by the Browns for the final two games for violation of team rules. In February of 2015, Gordon was suspended again, this time for the entire 2015 season, again for violation of the league’s substance-abuse policy. In January of 2016, Gordon filed for reinstatement, but was denied, reportedly for failing a drug test. Gordon was eventually reinstated (with a four-game suspension to start the season) and allowed to participate in offseason workouts for the Browns. However, before finishing his four-game suspension, Gordon checked himself into an in-patient rehab facility. In March of 2017, Gordon again applied for reinstatement, but was denied. The story of Josh Gordon isn’t fully over yet, but the thought of what could have been after that one magical season will forever haunt Cleveland fans.
Other notables: David Boston, Flipper Anderson, Michael Clayton, Percy Howard, Javon Walker, Marcus Robinson, Sidney Rice, Drew Bennett
Joe Senser was a sixth-round pick by the Minnesota Vikings in the ’79 draft. Senser saw his first playing time in 1980 with 42 receptions for 447 yards and 7 TDs. This earned Senser the starting job for the 1981 season and he did not disappoint. He finished with 79 receptions for 1,004 yards and 8 TDs, earning him Pro Bowl Honors. Senser did not see the same success in the strike shortened 1982 season, finishing with only 261 yards on 29 receptions and 1 TD, dealing with a bum knee. Senser would have surgery on his right knee before the 1983 season, keeping him out for the year. He would return to start one game in 1984, but was out of the league the following year. Senser is third in Vikings history for receptions and TDs by a tight end.
Other notables: Aaron Hernandez
Tackle was one of the hardest positions to find a one hit wonder for, but Olivea fits as a one-contract wonder. Olivea was drafted by the San Diego Chargers in the seventh round of the 2004 draft. He was considered a higher round talent, but had torn his pec muscle a week before the draft. Olivea started from day one at right tackle, only missing one game in his first two season. The Chargers rewarded him with a big 6 year, $20 million extension before the 2006 season. He went on to play two more seasons for the Chargers, but was benched late in the 2007 season. He was then cut after the season for missing a drug test after previously failing a drug test for pain killers. Olivea signed with the Giants before the 2008 season, but was ultimately placed on IR with a back injury, then cut shortly after. Olivea would later open up about his pain killer addiction, saying that at its height, he was taking 125 Vicodin a day.
Other notables: Karl Nelson
Shawn Andrews was the first-round pick by the Philadelphia Eagles in the ‘04 draft. He was immediately put into the starting right guard role, but in his first game against the Giants, he broke his leg. Andrews returned to starting form for the 2005 season. He became an anchor for the offensive line, earning Pro Bowl Honors in 2006 & 2007. However, before the start of the 2008 training camp, Andrews disappeared, citing “personal reasons” for not reporting to camp. He later revealed he was dealing with depression and was trying to get professional help. He would eventually report to camp, but in week 2, suffered a back injury that would knock him out for the rest of the season. That would be the last game he would play as an Eagle. In 2013, Andrews would come out and say he felt he was bullied by teammates, specifically calling out QB Donovan McNabb. “It just felt like I was in a living hell.”
Other notables: Calton Haselrig, Tre’ Johnson, Carl Nicks
LeCharles Bentley was the second round pick of the New Orleans Saints and started his rookie year at right guard. He shined from the start, making the NFL All-Rookie team his first year and the Pro Bowl in his second. His third year, the Saints moved him back to his college position, Center, and he continued to excel. He was a Pro Bowl alternate in his first year at Center, and earned Pro Bowl honors in 2005. Bentley left the Saints after the 2005 season and signed with the Cleveland Browns, being looked at as one of the top free agent signings of 2006. During training camp, he suffered a torn patellar tendon that sidelined him for the season, and later revealed he suffered a staph infection in the knee that caused further damage to the tendon. He would spend 2 more seasons with the Browns, never seeing the field. After being granted his release from the Browns, he sat out the 2008 season and ultimately announced his retirement in 2009. Bentley went on to sue the Browns for being one of multiple players to get staph infections at their rehab facility. They reached a closed settlement in 2012.
Jason Hatcher spent the first 5 years of his Dallas Cowboys career as a backup defensive lineman after being picked in the third round of the ’06 draft. He earned a starting role at defensive end when new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan joined the Cowboys. He then moved in to play the 3 tech defensive line spot for the 2013 season. This would be Hatcher’s breakout season. He tallied 11 sacks (most for a Cowboys defensive tackle since 1984) and was named to the Pro Bowl. This breakout season led to a big 4 year $27.5 million contract with the rival Washington Redskins. He battled through knee injuries over the next two season and returned to his mediocre form. He ultimately retired in 2016.
Other notables: Anthony Spencer, Jason Pierre-Paul
Cleveland Elam was a two-hit wonder with the San Francisco 49ers. He was drafted in the fourth round of the ’75 draft. He had two breakouts seasons as a member of the 49ers “Gold Rush” defense, finishing (unofficially) with 14.5 and 17.5 sacks in 1976 and 1977. He earned Pro Bowl honors in ‘76 and ’77 and first team All-Pro honors in ’77. Unfortunately, injuries would plague Elam over the next two years, ending in his retirement in 1979.
Other notables: Henry Melton, Keith Millard
Odell Thurman was a second-round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals in the ’05 draft. Thurman made an immediate impact a linebacker, finishing the season with 10 forced turnovers (5 INTs and 5 FFs). This left him as a finalist for Defensive Rookie of the Year and set high expectations for the 2006 season. However, Thurman was suspended for four games by the NFL for violation of the league’s substance abuse policy. The suspension was extended from four games to the whole season after a drunk driving arrest. The offseason before the 2007 season, ESPN reported Thurman was wanted for assault in Georgia. Charges were eventually dropped, but the ongoing bad decisions led to his reinstatement being denied by Roger Goodell, forcing him out of the 2007 season. In January of 2008, Thurman was cleared to return to the Bengals, and in April, was reinstated by Goodell. However, the Bengals waived Thurman before the start of training camp. After being cut, SI reported Thurman had failed another drug test, causing him to be suspended indefinitely by the NFL. This would be the last of Thurman in the NFL.
Other notables: Daryl Washington, Kendrell Bell
Aldon Smith, like Odell Thurman, is another victim of addiction and bad decisions. Smith was the seventh overall pick by the San Francisco 49ers in the ’11 draft. While Smith didn’t start right away, he made an immediate impact. He finished the season with 14 sacks and finished second, to Von Miller, in Defensive Rookie of the Year voting. However, his off the field problems would begin after this first season. In January of 2012, Smith was arrested for DUI in Miami. That June, he would also suffer stab wounds when trying to break up a fight at his house; he would later be charged with illegal possession of an assault weapon related to that incident. With all of that, 2012 would prove to be his breakthrough season on the field. Smith started all 16 games at OLB and finished with 19.5 sacks. This earned him Pro bowl and 1st team All-Pro honors. Smith was being looked at as one of the most dominate pass rushers in the league going into the 2013 season. He started the next season out strong, getting 4.5 sacks in the first 3 games. However, he would be charged with DUI and possession of marijuana after a single car accident. After this incident, he voluntarily entered a rehab facility and was place on indefinite leave. He would return after week 10 and finish the rest of the season. Smith’s problems and bad decisions would continue into the offseason. In April of 2014, he was arrested following an incident at LAX where he allegedly became uncooperative with TSA and made comments indicating he may be carrying a bomb. These off the field issues led to Smith being suspended for 9 games of the 2014 season. Just before the start of the 2015 season, Smith was again arrested for DUI after an alleged hit and run. This led to him and the 49ers parting ways. He signed a one year contract with the Oakland Raiders and started 9 games before being suspended for one year by the league for the hit and run incident. It doesn’t look like Smith is anywhere near close to being reinstated, as he continues to make questionable decision, so this may be the last we have seen of him in the league
Mike Jones is the defensive version of David Tyree (just with a longer career). Jones is known for one play on the world’s biggest stage. Jones was an UDFA with the Raiders and was a special teams and role player for the early parts of his career. In 1997, Jones signed with the St. Louis Rams. He started every game at linebacker during his time with the Rams (1997-2000), but it was one play in the 2000 Super Bowl that will have him forever living in NFL lore. With 2:12 left, the Tennessee Titans finished a 16-point comeback, tying the game. On the next drive, Kurt Warner hit Isaac Bruce for a 73-yard TD pass. The Titans then drove down the field and got the ball to the 10-yard line with 6 seconds to go, time for one more play. Steve McNair hit Kevin Dyson on a quick slant; this is where Mike Jones made a play that with forever go down as simply “The Tackle.” Jones took Dyson down at the 1-yard line, with Dyson trying to stretch the ball over the goal line, but ultimately coming up short. Jones finished his 13-year career with 500 tackles in 183 games played, but will forever be remember for just one.
Other notables: Malcolm Smith, Shawne Merriman
Like many others on this list, Larry Brown did his best work on the biggest stage. Brown won MVP of Super Bowl XXX after intercepting Steelers QB Neil O’Donnell twice. Brown leveraged that performance in free agency the following offseason. The Oakland Raiders signed Brown to a 5 year, $12.5 million contract. Unfortunately for the Raiders, Brown never lived up to the performance he put on in the Super Bowl. He was cut after playing in just 12 games over 2 years.
Wayne Haddix might be best known for being one of the best players from the game Techmo Super Bowl. His high attributes in the game were in large part due to his monster 1990 season. Haddix spent his first 3 seasons battling injuries for the New York Giants. He got his first chance at a starting role in 1990 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He put up some big numbers, Intercepting 7 passes, returning 3 of them for touchdowns, and made the Pro Bowl. Those would wind up being the only interceptions of Haddix’s career, and he would be cut by the Bucs during the following season. The interception numbers from that seson covered up the fact that, in the end, Haddix was not a very good cover corner. He would wind up with the Cincinnati Bengals, only to be cut at the end of the 1991 season, but he will forever have that one season that left him as the interception king of Techmo Super Bowl.
Other notables: Nathan Vasher, Audray McMillian, Kyle Arrington, Brandon Browner
Bob Sanders is more of a two hit wonder that fell victim to the injury bug time and time again. In his second season with the Indianapolis Colts, Sanders won Pro Bowl and 1st Team All-Pro honors, playing in 14 games. The next season, in which the Colts won the Super Bowl, Sanders played in only four regular season games; however he returned to have a role in the post-season, forcing a fumble and intercepting Rex Grossman in the Super Bowl. The 2007 season would be Sanders’ best; again being named to the Pro Bowl, 1st Team All-Pro, and ultimately being named Defensive Player of the Year. During the season, he signed a 5 year, $37.5 million contract, making him the highest paid safety in NFL history, at the time. However, repeated injuries, due in large part to the aggressive and reckless playing style that made him so dominant, would leave Sanders to only play in 11 more games over the next 4 seasons.
Other notables: Ken Hamlin, Dexter Jackson, Todd Bell
Jim O’Brien was drafted in the 3rd round by the Baltimore Colts in the ‘70 draft. He started his rookie season as the Colts kicker and was far below average, hitting on only 56% of his kicks. But that season, the Colts won the AFC and faced off against the Cowboys in the Super Bowl. With 5 seconds to go in a 13-13 game, O’Brien hit a 32 yard field goal to seal the victory for the Colts. That one kick would be O’Brien’s shining moment of his career. He went on to kick for 3 more season, 2 with the Colts and 1 with the Detroit Lions, posting a dismal career kicking percentage of 55.6%.
Bob Grupp was a 7th round pick by the New York Jets in the ‘77 draft. However, Grupp would not see an NFL roster till making the 1979 Kansas City Chiefs. That season, Grupp would lead the NFL in gross punting average (43.6), net average (37.2), and longest punt (74) on the way to making the Pro Bowl and the NFL All-Rookie Team. That Pro Bowl selection would knock Hall of Famer Ray Guy out of the Pro Bowl for the first time in 6 years. The follow season, Grupp’s performance would drop, in part due to an injury that wasn’t diagnosed until late in the season. He would have one more partial season with the Chiefs before being cut after the 1981 season. He returned to football for one season in 1984 for Donald Trump’s New Jersey Generals of the USFL and averaged 38 yards per punt.
Michael Lewis has a very interesting NFL Story. Lewis graduated from Grace King High School in Louisiana in 1990, but he didn’t see his first NFL playing time until 2001. Lewis did not play college football, but did play on a few semi-professional and arena football teams through the 90s, including the Louisiana Bayou Beast and the New Orleans Thunder. He got his first chance in the NFL in 2000 with the Eagles, but was ultimately cut before the season. The follow year, Lewis returned home to continue his day job (beer delivery man) and was given a chance by his hometown team, the New Orleans Saints. They initially sent him overseas to play for the Rhein Fire in NFL Europe, but in 2002 he became the primary return specialist for the Saints and, at 30 years old, took the league by storm. Lewis set the NFL record for most combined return yards in a season with 2,432 (a record that still stands today). This would earn him Pro Bowl and 1st team All-Pro honors. Lewis would spend the next few years as the primary returner for the Saints, non-comparing to the magic of that first season. Lewis is currently the Saints “Team Ambassador,” a position he’s held since 2009.
Bill Callahan was, and is, known as a great offensive line coach and offensive mind. He spent 1998-2001 as the Oakland Raiders Offensive Coordinator before being named Head Coach in 2002, after the Raiders traded then head coach John Gruden to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for 4 draft picks and $8 million. Callahan would take that 2002 Raiders team all the way to the Super Bowl, with a high powered offense lead by veteran quarterback Rich Gannon. Callahan and the Raiders would wind up facing off with Gruden and the Bucs in the Super Bowl. Reports of Callahan leaving Gruden’s playbook mostly intact lead to, in part, a dominating defensive performance by the Bucs. Gannon would be picked off 5 times (a Super Bowl record), 3 of which were returned for touchdowns. The following season, Callahan and the Raiders fell apart. Rumors from the Raiders’ locker room were that Callahan was purposefully trying to tank the season, as he felt the team was too old. This lead to a dismal 4-12 season, prompting owner Al Davis to fire Callahan after the season. This would be the only NFL head coaching gig, so far, for Callahan. He is currently the offensive line coach for the Washington Redskins.
Other notables: Chip Kelly, Dutch Bergman, Lou Rymkus
Submitted June 16, 2017 at 10:52AM by BKKoach
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