There are generally three types of NFL players. The first are the stars, the guys who get the mega-bucks, the MVPs and champions, the ones everyone pays attention two. Then there are the supporting guys, not as famous but still there and enjoying good long careers. And then there’s the rest, guys who have some skill but overall, nowhere near star or even starting status, just in it for the money and not much else to do while stuck on horrible teams. Sure, every player drams of hoisting a Super Bowl trophy but most are aware that a few minutes of playing time may be the best they can get. It’s tricky as so many times, it’s sheer luck that leads to stardom. If not for an injury to Drew Bledsoe, Tom Brady would never have become a legend. Throw in how injuries can hit and keeping a star career going is tougher.
Which is why it’s notable how some guys can look for all the world like stars but can’t pay it off. Some cases are infamous like Johnny Manziel or Ryan Leaf, drafted high then self-destructed. Many a rookie has shown amazing promise in his first year but can never achieve that again. Some guys can actually be around for a while then suddenly erupt with a great year only to have it turn out to be a fluke. Injuries and personal issues can take their toll but some cases are just guys who oddly can’t do more than one good year. Amazingly, a few still can boast championship rings but not the same status to make them a Hall of Famer. Here are 20 NFL players who were merely stars for a season and how difficult sustaining a full career is.
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20 Patrick Jeffers
A walk-on at the University of Virginia, Jeffers had shown good skills. He started his career with the Broncos, part of their Super Bowl-winning team of 1997 but his time was limited on special teams. He moved onto the Cowboys for a brief stint, then the Panthers. In his first year in Carolina, he recorded 63 receptions for 1,082 yards and 12 touchdowns, a fantastic breakout year. But an injury the next year meant Jeffers was never the same, slowed down and had to sit out an entire year. He did return but not at the same form, finishing with the 49ers before retiring. It’s a shame, as Jeffers looked ready to take off before that injury.
19 Larry Johnson
Technically, it’s more two years but still has to rank as an amazing breakout and more amazing collapse. An All-American in college, Larry Johnson was drafted by the Chiefs. His first two seasons were nothing of note but he exploded in 2005. Over the next two years, Johnson ran for a combined 4,292 yards from scrimmage and 37 touchdowns. But this fame seemed to go to Johnson’s head as he began getting in trouble off the field, earning several suspensions from the team. He's since encountered more adversity, as Johnson believes he has CTE, but of course, that can't be diagnosed without an autopsy.
18 Brandon Lloyd
Overcoming a leg injury, Brandon Lloyd was a star at Illinois, leading them to a 10-2 season and a BCS berth. After lackluster seasons in San Francisco, Washington and Chicago, there wasn’t much expected of him when he joined the Broncos as part of the trade with Kyle Orton for Jay Cutler.
In 2010, Lloyd suddenly broke out majorly, leading the entire league with 1,448 yards receiving and 11 touchdowns.
But after being traded to the Rams the next season, Lloyd sunk back to his old ways, never recording more than 900 yards a season and inconsistent play. Even a year with the Patriots couldn’t make him a winner and he retired as a case of a man who had the promise of being something great but never the payoff.
17 Robert Edwards
The Pats had drafted Robert Edwards in the first round in 1998, impressed by his running skills at Georgia. At first, it looked like Edwards was going to click, rushing for 1,115 yards as the Patriots finished 9-7 and a wild card spot. Edwards might have improved more except for suffering one of the dumbest and most bizarre injuries ever. Right before he was to appear in the Pro Bowl, Edwards broke his leg in, of all things, a flag football game. The injury was so severe that he was close to having it amputated below the knee. Obviously, he was never the same after that, doing a single season in Miami with barely over a hundred yards before spending some time in Canada. A truly bizarre piece of bad luck to happen to a promising athlete.
16 Rex Grossman
In 2006, the Bears started out hot, winning their first seven games. Grossman was in top form, throwing 3,193 yards and 21 touchdowns. Of course, he also threw 20 interceptions, but overall, his success was far greater. The Bears went 13-3 and to the Super Bowl with Grossman managing games well. However, they couldn’t close it out with Grossman throwing a key pick six that helped the Colts achieve victory.
The next year, Grossman committed 10 turnovers in his first three games and was benched for Ben Griese. He regained his spot but a knee injury forced Kyle Orton to take over. Grossman soon was bouncing around the league and the closest he came to his old form was in 2011 in Washington which, ironically, ended up being his last season. Like the Bears themselves, Grossman was so close to being a champion but fell short.
15 Tommy Maddox
For one brief year, Tommy Maddox was the feel-good story of the NFL. He’d been drafted by the Broncos in 1992 with the idea of becoming the successor to John Elway. Elway wasn’t happy with that and worse when Maddox was soon known for sacks and fumbles more than touchdown passes. He was soon bouncing around with various teams and even a hiatus from football before a stint in the infamous XFL.
Returning with the Steelers, Maddox burst out in 2002, with some top notch play in key games that led the Steelers to a 10-5-1 record and the playoffs.
He was given the Comeback of the Year award. But in 2003, Maddox’s skills declined, committing more turnovers then TDs as the Steelers dropped to 6-10. In 2004, he suffered an elbow sprain that led to Ben Roethlisberger starting and the rest is history. Maddox was still with the Steelers when they won Super Bowl XL so he has a ring but his comeback was short-lived.
14 Marcus Robinson
The 1990s were not a pleasant time for the Chicago Bears. Despite so many good players and promise, they just couldn’t make it all click. Marcus Robinson joined the team in 1997, drafted in the fourth round from South Carolina. He soon showed major promise, recording 1,400 receiving yards in 1999. Even with the Bears bad that year, Robinson showcased a great skill and drive with team records not broken until Brandon Marshall joined the team a decade later. But somehow, he couldn’t make it work for the next season, his status soon falling to journeyman.
He had a tenure with the Ravens and the Vikings who cut him on Christmas Eve 2006 after her bad-mouthed their record. He retired with the Bears and is currently a youth coach.
13 Olandis Gary
In 1999, the Broncos were coming off back-to-back Super Bowl wins, but were in tough after John Elway's retirement. They still had Terrell Davis, one of the best rushers of his time but in an early game, he was taken out by injury. In stepped rookie Olandis Gary who’d had a fair, but not sensational, career at Georgia. Gary beat out any doubters, rushing for 1159 yards on 276 attempts, a 4.2 yards per carry ratio.
Sadly, the Broncos were suffering without Elway, going from two-time World Champions to 6-10 although Gary was a bright spot.
The next year, he suffered a severe leg injury and never fully recovered, ending his career just four years later with the Lions. Yet another example of a promising star cut short by injury.
12 Steve Beuerlein
In 1991, the Dallas Cowboys were rising up when Troy Aikman suffered a severe leg injury in Week 13 against the undefeated Redskins. Coming off the bench was Steve Beuerelin who helped Dallas win the game. He led them to victory in the last four games of the season, reaching the playoffs. Beuerelin backed Aikman up the next year when the Cowboys won the Super Bowl.
Thanks to his status as a great backup, Beuerelin was highly sought and got a big contract with the Cardinals. But he never got into that same great form. He was the QB for the Jaguars in their inaugural season, but struggled. However, in 1999, Beuerelin had a great stint with the Panthers. His 4,436 passing yards beat out everyone, including MVP Kurt Warner.
Sadly, the next year, he set a record for suffering the most sacks and ended his career with the Broncos. Beuerelin admitted that “I was in the wrong place at the wrong time a lot”.
11 Peyton Hillis
Everyone knows of the “Madden Curse". Peyton Hillis is definitely a case of a terrible curse thanks to how right after being put on the cover of the 2012 version. After a few years of decent play in Denver, Hillis joined the Browns in 2010 and quickly took off with fans who loved his bruising style. He was doing great with at least 100 yards a game and several touchdowns and it looked like the Browns finally had the great hope to lead them to playoff glory. But the next year, Hillis slumped badly, his career faltering with injuries and bouncing around the league.
He became known for dropping 1,654 yards from scrimmage and 13 total touchdowns in a single season. Hillis himself blames the “Madden Curse” for making him one of the most unique flashes-in-the-pan in NFL history.
10 Michael Clayton
Clayton had been sensational as part of the National Champion LSU Tigers squad, setting a record for TD receptions for the school. Thus, he was a good pick for the Bucs in 2004 and it looked like he was fitting in great.
He took off in his rookie year with 80 receptions for 1,193 yards and seven touchdowns.
Sadly, injuries curtailed his progress in 2005 but also not helping was his rep for partying that would get him into some trouble. He had his ups and downs and caused some controversy when, after signing a new deal, he remarked “the check is in the bank” to make it sound like he didn’t care about the game, just the money. He ended his career with the Giants to show yet another example of a great college star who couldn’t cut it in the NFL.
9 Robert Griffin III
Here’s a classic case of a man who had the skills and charisma to be a great NFL star but somehow, hasn’t been able to live up to his promise. The Redskins got him after a major trade with the Rams and the hype was on. In that first year, he threw for 3,200 yards with 20 touchdowns and immediately became a media darling. But during the Redskins’ playoff loss to the Seahawks, Griffin suffered a leg injury that would end up being a serious hindrance to him. He was still strong in 2013 with another 3,200 yards but the injuries would hamper him more. In 2014, he was 2-5 as a starter as the Redskins dropped to a horrible 4-12.
After sitting out most of 2015, Griffin was let go and signed with Cleveland where he hasn’t quite set things on fire. RGIII is set to back up Joe Flacco in Baltimore this year but most believe his best shot at glory is long past him.
8 Ickey Woods
Ah, the Ickey Shuffle. In 1988, it looked like the Bengals could finally rise up as champions thanks to Ickey Woods. After a good career at UNLV, Woods was drafted by the Bengals and erupted in his rookie year. He ran for 1,066 yards on 203 carries, an impressive 5.3 yards a carry. He also became a Cincinnati icon thanks to what some still call the greatest touchdown celebration dance the NFL has ever seen. Fans were emulating it and it even had a music video as the Bengals won the AFC title and got close to a Super Bowl. But after that rookie year, Woods fell majorly, mostly due to tearing out a ligament in his knee and forced to sit out the 1989 season. He eventually retired in 1991 to show how the “Shuffle” was a true one-year wonder.
7 Don Majkowski
Drafted in 1987 by the Packers, Don Majkowski’s career wasn’t exactly noteworthy in his rookie year or the next. In 1989, he burst out majorly. He threw for 4,318 yards, 27 touchdowns, and seven game-winning drives. True, he had 20 interceptions but his playmaking more than balanced it out as the Packers went 10-6.
Fans were soon buying shirts for the “Majik Man” and it looked like he would be the next great QB of the league.
The next year, Majkowski suffered a torn rotator cuff which devastated his progress majorly. He spent more time on the bench than on the field and another injury in 1992 forced him out. That pushed the Packers to start a rookie by the name of Brett Favre. Majkowski ended his career as a backup for the Lions while Favre led the Packers to glory as “Majik” time was over.
6 David Boston
His 191 receptions at Ohio State remain a Buckeyes record and thus, David Boston got attention in the NFL draft. He was the eighth overall pick in 1998 by Arizona. In that first year, he caught 98 passes for 1,598 yards and eight touchdowns, making the Pro Bowl. He looked quite impressive but behind the scenes, was getting some extra help from banned substances. In 2003, he signed a huge contract with the Chargers. However, Boston was soon known better for his off-field actions. It got so bad that the Chargers were willing to eat most of the $47 million contract to trade Boston to Miami. There, he was suspended use and suffered a leg injury. Boston ended his career in Canada.
5 Derek Anderson
The 2007 Cleveland Browns were the last team of the franchise to actually show potential as a playoff contender. That was due to Derek Anderson. He was drafted by the Ravens but waived before playing a game and being picked up by the Browns. In 2007, after time as a backup, Anderson erupted, throwing 3,787 yards and 29 touchdowns. Thanks to him, the Browns went 10-6, just missing the playoffs. In retrospect, there should have been red flags in that Anderson threw 19 interceptions and a 56% completion percentage but Browns fans were too enamored of his potential to notice. After getting a big contract, Anderson was hit by a concussion in the preseason and had to sit out some of 2008. Afterward, he never achieved anything close to that first year, his overall win-loss record after 2007 dropping to 10-25. Even by Cleveland sports standards, this was a huge heartbreak.
4 Tracy Porter
His career wasn't that notable but Tracy Porter cracks that he never has to buy his own drink in New Orleans. Porter had a record number of interceptions at Indiana, a precursor to his famous moment in the NFL. He was drafted in the second round in 2008 but had to sit out much of the season following a wrist injury.
He first got attention in the 2009 NFC Championship game, making a key pick off of Brett Favre to help the Saints win. Then came the famous moment in Super Bowl XLIV as Porter made an epic pick off of Peyton Manning and ran it back for a touchdown.
It sealed the Saints’ victory and made Porter a New Orleans hero. However, issues involving a past seizure hampered Porter’s career as he bounced around the league, last playing for the Bears in 2016. He never got that full hit career but Porter still pulled off one of the greatest Saints moments ever.
3 Rashaan Salaam
Throughout the '90s, the Bears were a team packed with amazing potential in players but somehow not quite able to get over the hump. Rashaan Salaam was a standout in college, winning the Heisman Trophy after time in Colorado where he ran 2000 yards a season. The Bears must have thought they hit the jackpot drafting him in 1995 and for one year, it seemed to have serious promise. Salaam broke out huge, rushing for 1,074 yards and 10 touchdowns. The Bears seemed good for the playoffs that year but sadly couldn’t close it out in the long run.
Unfortunately, Salaam turned into yet another case of a guy who couldn’t handle the high life well. He was soon getting in trouble. In his last two years in Chicago, he ran for a combined 608 yards so they traded him to the Dolphins. Salaam bounced around the league, never close to that great rookie year.
2 David Tyree
One catch was enough to put David Tyree on the list of the greatest New York Giants heroes ever. Going into Super Bowl XLII, everyone assumed the Patriots were going to win and close out their perfect season. But the Giants played tougher than expected. Tyree’s tenure on the team hadn’t been much although he had caught a TD pass earlier in the game to put the Giants ahead. After avoiding what looked to be a sure sack, Eli Manning fired off a 34-yard pass that Tyree managed to catch off his helmet. It set up the go-ahead touchdown to give the Giants the shocking upset win. Tyree was hailed for it, still one of the greatest moments in Super Bowl history. However, an injury cut his career short as he finished with the Ravens before drifting to retirement. It’s still remarkable how his one moment of glory was fleeting but still making Tyree a Giants hero.
1 Timmy Smith
One season is one thing. But in this case, we have a wonder for one GAME. Timmy Smith had been taken in the fifth round of the 1987 draft by the Washington Redskins and saw limited playing time during the year. He showed his stuff in the NFC title game against the Vikings, his 72 rushing yards helping the Redskins win. In Super Bowl XXII, Smith stunned everyone (including his own team) by putting on an amazing performance.
In his first ever career start, he ran for 204 yards and 2 touchdowns, records that held for years.
It was a major contribution to the Redskins’ dominant victory and Smith seemed ready to take off. Sadly, he was soon hit with issues, cut a year later and bounced around the league and eventually turned to arena football. But for one amazing day, Smith was an incredible rusher with one of the greatest Super Bowl performances ever.
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