The very thing which makes the NFL special is the same exact phenomenon which can convince fans, coaches, and general managers that certain players are better than they truly are. It is the fact that each game means so much and every Sunday people are glued to the television sets to watch what could happen. This gets raised to another level of late because highlights are given out so quickly that everyone wants to be the first person to see greatness take off. This level of amazement rises when the postseason is underway and each game continues to be more scrutinized.
There are players who have great seasons of success. There are those who have one year in which they accomplish more than they were believed to be capable of, or players who get the hype going for them after one year and it rises given their excellent play. Those seasons can be remembered because they took a team further than it should have, or were being talked about on all the national shows as the next big thing at their position.
While there are a lot of players who that’s the case for, there are many others who are remembered for one moment. Sometimes it might be a game in which they dominated for stretches and were ranked high in the record books for yards or touchdowns. In other cases, it could be a single play that defines their entire career and constitutes it as a success. Those one-hit wonders will forever be etched in our minds because of what they were able to do on one Sunday for two to three hours. And that is what makes the game of football special.
30 One Season Wonder: Tim Tebow
When Tim Tebow was drafted with the 25th pick in the NFL Draft, it surprised everyone. No one expected Tebow to be a first-round selection when the Broncos decided to make the move. The former Heisman trophy winner clearly had a lot to work on before going to the next level, with the biggest thing being his general throwing mechanics.
However, none of that stopped Tebow from joining the starting lineup in 2011 when he put together the most improbable run in NFL history. It seemed like every game the Broncos were winning came in come-from-behind fashion and people have never been that excited to watch bad football. Tebow-mania peaked when he threw the game-winning touchdown in overtime against the Steelers in the wild-card round. After that, they got blown out by the Patriots and Tebow’s career as a starter was over, but what a year it was.
29 One Hit Wonder: James White
James White was taken in the 4th round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Patriots. The running back from Wisconsin wasn’t considered the best prospect from the school but the Patriots thought that he could perfectly go with their system. White has always been a better receiver than running back out of the backfield. Over the last three years, White has gotten over 400 yards each year. But it was nothing compared to his shining moment in Super Bowl LI. White had an incredible game in Super Bowl LI, with 14 catches (a Super Bowl record) for 110 yards through the air, and he ran for two touchdowns as well.
28 One Season Wonder: Rex Grossman
The Bears defense had already been carrying the load of the entire roster for many years. With players like Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, they had become a slightly lesser version of what was built in Baltimore. But they never had the quarterback play to make a run, that is, until Rex Grossman finally emerged in 2006. Grossman was the 22nd overall pick in 2003, but it took him a while to crack the starting lineup. His “explosion” resulted in 3,193 passing yards, 23 TDs, and 20 INTs; not great numbers by any stretch. But all the Bears defense needed was competence and they were in the Super Bowl. There, they lost to the Colts and Grossman was never solid again, so the Bears' chances to contend quickly evaporated.
27 One Hit Wonder: David Tyree
David Tyree was taken in the sixth round of the 2003 draft. The wide receiver was a fringe player on the roster but because he proved that he could be solid for the team on the field and in practice, he played a key role for the Giants. Tyree had 650 yards in four total seasons with the team leading up to the 2007 postseason. However, in the Super Bowl against the Patriots, he made one of the most incredible catches in NFL history. On third-and-5 with the Giants down by five in the fourth quarter, quarterback Eli Manning threw up a pass that Tyree caught with his helmet. They went on to win the game and the "helmet catch" has gone down in history because of its impact.
26 One Season Wonder: Don Majkowski
Before Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, the Packers went through many years of mediocre QB play. That's what made Don Majkowski's emergence in 1989 that much more hyped. Majkowski was a 10th round pick in 1987 and so, he was mostly expected to be a third stringer. Well, Majkowski came out of nowhere to lead the Packers to a 10-6 record, throwing for 4,3178 yards and 27 touchdowns. Keep in mind, reaching 4,000 yards in the '80s was nearly impossible. While Majkowski also threw 20 interceptions, his big plays earned him the name "Magic Man".
Injuries would soon pile up on him though, and when an injury led to Brett Favre taking the starting job, that was all she wrote for the Magic Man in Green Bay.
25 One Hit Wonder: Jerome Harrison
Jerome Harrison was picked in the fifth round of the 2006 Draft by the Browns. He was a nice change of pace running back for the team, but was never someone who got serious playing time until 2009, when he started in 7 games. This ended up being his best NFL season with over 800 yards and 5 TDs but it was nothing compared to what he did in one game. In week 15 of the 2009 season, Harrison destroyed the Chiefs with 286 yards on the ground. That effort remains the third most in NFL history. For the rest of his career, Harrison never had as many yards for one team in a season.
24 One Season Wonder: Matt Cassel
One of the most interesting questions in the NFL last year was this: Who deserves more credit for the Patriots long-term success, quarterback Tom Brady or head coach Bill Belichick? Part of this debate has to go back to 2008. Brady went down in the first game of a season in which they had just gone 16-0 in the regular season but lost in the Super Bowl.
Matt Cassel came in as a starter after not even starting in college for USC and he did well. Cassell had 3,693 passing yards, 21 TDs, and 11 INTs and the Patriots won 11 games (in a fluke situation, they missed the playoffs). Cassell got a huge payday out of the deal but was never seen as quite as valuable outside of the Patriots system.
23 One Hit Wonder: Beanie Wells
Beanie Wells was a player who was extremely hyped coming out of college in 2009. The running back took the country by storm while at Ohio State, and people thought the Cardinals got a steal by taking him with the 31st pick in the draft. Wells was never quite able to reach up to the incredible hype he had. In 2011, he did have 1,000 yards rushing but most of that came behind one great performance. On November 27th against the Rams, the Cardinals running back went wild. He ended up with 228 yards, which remains a Cardinals record for rushing yards. Only two seasons after this game, Wells didn’t have a team and was out of the NFL.
22 One Season Wonder: Jason Campbell
When Jason Campbell was picked with the 25th pick in the 2005 NFL Draft the Redskins thought they had their quarterback of the future. Campbell had been a good player at Auburn and in the first couple of years, he seemed to be learning the system well. Then in 2008, it seemed to all start clicking for him and the Redskins. For about three-fourths of the season, Campbell looked like what a young Russell Wilson did. He could create with his legs but never made big mistakes to hurt the team.
He had the Redskins at 7-4 and eyeing the playoffs down until it all came crashing down in the last five games of the season. Campbell never looked the same or learned how to create big plays down the field and slowly transitioned into becoming a backup.
21 One Hit Wonder: Napoleon Kaufman
Napoleon Kaufman was another player who had an incredible college career. At the University of Washington, he broke school records as a running back for career yardage and touchdowns. With that pedigree, he ended up being the 18th pick in the 1995 Draft by the Raiders. Kaufman had a couple of solid years and even one season with 1,200 yards on the ground in 1997. But the reason he was able to crack 1,000 yards for the only time in his career was rushing for 227 against the Chiefs. He owns the single-game rushing record with the performance, which is incredible considering that they have had players like Marcus Allen and Bo Jackson wear the silver and black.
20 One Season Wonder: Mike Alstott
Mike Alstott was an old-school back if there ever was one. Right down to the fact that he rarely broke 4 yards a carry, but it didn’t really matter to anyone because he was so “big and tough." Alstott was one of the last fullbacks to be taken in the second round of the draft, but the Buccaneers liked how versatile he could be on offense. Then in 2001, it all took off. Alstott didn’t have the most yards of his career with 646, but the TDs were crucial. He had 10 that year, which led the NFL, but with Chris Berman leading the call of NFL, "Primetime Mike Alllllllstott" gained a popularity with fans that he wouldn’t have had otherwise.
19 One Hit Wonder: Flipper Anderson
Flipper Anderson was taken in the 2nd round of the 1988 draft by the Rams. He was going to be there as a good receiving threat and his career matched up pretty much as expected from that end. Anderson did have two years of over 1,000 yards, but that isn’t his crowning achievement in the NFL.
In 1989, Anderson went off against the Saints and broke an NFL record for receiving yards in one game with 336. That is a feat that only Calvin Johnson and Julio Jones have challenged since. Anderson did have a couple 1,000-yard seasons but never reached the heights of that incredible game again.
18 One Season Wonder: Jamal Anderson
Most people didn’t think Jamal Anderson would make it in the NFL. The running back went to Utah and most people didn’t think he had the speed to explode on the next level consistently. Anderson was picked in the seventh round in 1994 but never stopped working at making it in the NFL. He had a few 1,000-yard seasons but in 1998 Anderson looked like one of the best running backs in the NFL. He had 1,846 yards with 14 TDs in his incredible year. That, and the creation of the "dirty bird," led to the Falcons' quick turnaround and Super Bowl berth in 1998. Because of injuries, Anderson could never recapture the magic of 1998.
17 One Hit Wonder: Stephone Paige
Stephone Paige was an undrafted wide receiver out of Fresno St. In 1982, he signed with the Chiefs and they knew something was there immediately. Paige was never a great player throughout his career, but he was a consistent one with 500 receiving yards in each of his first eight seasons in the NFL. However, Paige did have a great game against the Chargers in 1985. Paige got 309 yards on the game, which, at the time, was an NFL record and has only been passed three times in the 33 years after. That’s incredible when you consider what kind of a passing league the game has become today, but Paige still lives on with that performance.
16 One Season Wonder: Ickey Woods
Ickey Woods was taken with a second-round pick in 1988, but no one could have expected what was coming next after the Bengals took the running back. Woods quickly burst onto the scene as a very good player but stood out for a very interesting post-touchdown dance. The Ickey Shuffle took NFL fans by storm, and there was a lot of it in 1988. Woods ran for 1,000 yards and 15 TDs in his rookie year for the Bengals. The team rode his success and went to the Super Bowl in 1988 before Joe Montana came from behind and won the game. It was supposed to be the beginning for Woods’ career but he never reached 300 yards again and was out of the NFL after 1991.
15 One Hit Wonder: Lee Evans
Lee Evans was a highly touted prospect in the 2004 draft at wide receiver. It was even more surprising that he was considered such a good player considering that he had just come out of the University of Wisconsin, a school that isn’t known for its players on the outside. In 2006, the hype for Evans reached its high point when he got 265 yards in one game through the air. The Bills made the choice and Evans ended up having a nice career but not one that would warrant his high draft status. He eclipsed 1,000 yards twice and never had more than 10 TDs.
14 One Season Wonder: Peyton Hillis
To understand just what Peyton Hillis did in 2010, we have complete context of the situation. Hillis was a seventh-round draft pick by the Broncos in 2008 as a fullback. Because the Broncos had a stacked backfield, Hillis didn’t really fit in. As a result, he went to football Siberia to find his way, or as fans know it, the Cleveland Browns. He walked in the door and had a starting job with the Browns, because that tends to happen. Then in 2010, Hillis ripped off 1,177 yards and 11 TDs for the team. The most amazing thing isn’t the numbers or the fact that Hillis was never able to reach 600 yards or 4 touchdowns again, but the fact that he made the cover of a video game. EA Sports put Hillis on the cover of Madden '12 because of his one season. Keep in mind there has never been a Cowboy on the cover, but a Browns player has been. That’s all thanks to Peyton Hillis.
13 One Hit Wonder: Qadry Ismail
Qadry Ismail was always known as the brother of Rocket Ismail. Rocket was a player for Notre Dame who had great success in college and was a high pick in the NFL. Meanwhile, Qadry went to Syracuse and was picked in the second round of the 1993 draft by the Vikings. Qadry was a solid wide receiver in the NFL and he had a couple of 1,000-yard seasons with the Ravens after he left Minnesota. His biggest game was in 1999 as a player for the Ravens. He broke their receiving yards record for one game with 258. What makes this more incredible is the fact that he did it within December, during an AFC North game. It was an impressive feat for Ismail to achieve.
12 One Season Wonder: Chris Johnson
The world knew that Chris Johnson was going to be a problem when he ran a 4.24 at the NFL combine. It was unheard of at the time and even more stunning that a running back could do it. He would have to put everything together first, but it was clear Johnson could be dominant in the league with that pure ability. Johnson had a couple of good seasons, but they were nothing like that 2009 year in which Johnson took the NFL by storm. He ran for 2,000 yards and set an NFL record for yards from scrimmage. Keep in mind they were starting an aging Kerry Collins and a struggling Vince Young at QB that year. Johnson never was able to replicate that ability again.
11 One Hit Wonder: Anthony Allen
Anthony Allen was taken in the sixth round of the 1983 draft by the Falcons. Allen was just a player who made the team but never was an impact wideout even when he quickly went to the Redskins. Allen had less than 800 receiving yards and only 8 TDs in his five-year career in the NFL. But one game still lives on as he holds the record for receiving yards in Redskins history. Allen had 255 yards against the Cardinals in 1987. What’s even more amazing than that is that one game he had more yards then he would for the rest of his career.
10 One Season Wonder: Josh Gordon
This has quickly become one of the sadder stories in the NFL. In college, everyone knew that Gordon had some red flags and because of that many teams ignored him as a prospect altogether. He was taken by the Browns in the second round of the supplementary draft in 2012. It seemed like the Browns hit gold when Gordon exploded in year two. He had 1,646 yards receiving and 9 TDs while looking like the best wideout in the NFL for long stretches. Oh, and he missed two games as well. But Gordon has dealt with off-field issues since that point and even though he's had somewhat of a resurgence in New England, no one has him in the discussion of the NFL's top receivers. It seems like that will be the only flash of greatness we get from his career.
9 One Hit Wonder: Malcolm Smith
Malcolm Smith was taken in the seventh round of the 2011 draft by the Seahawks. Not much was expected from Smith because at the time, the Seahawks defense was quickly becoming one of the best in the NFL at every spot. Smith played for the Seahawks for four seasons and was never really an impact player until he went to the Raiders in 2015 and had 100 tackles. Over time Smith has shown that he’s a starter in the NFL but that wasn’t the case in 2013.
In the Super Bowl, the Seahawks were facing the high-flying Broncos and they held them down most of the game. Smith got a 70-yard pick six to essentially bury the Broncos. Smith's Super Bowl MVP that game and it's clearly the stamp on his NFL career.
8 One Season Wonder: Braylon Edwards
Braylon Edwards was supposed to be the next great receiver when he was selected 3rd overall in 2005. However, the Browns didn’t get an immediate return on their investment as Edwards struggled for the first couple of years in his career. Everything clicked in 2007 when he had 1,289 yards and 16 TDs with a Browns team that won 10 games. With Derek Anderson throwing him the ball, Edwards finally built a chemistry with someone and showed the athletic ability he showed in college. The success didn’t last long, though, and Edwards never reached 1,000 yards or 8 TDs again after 2007.
7 One Hit Wonder: Vernon Perry
Vernon Perry was a defensive back at Jackson St. during the 1970s. He didn’t get picked in the draft but joined the Houston Oilers in 1979 at the age of 26. Of course, Perry didn’t have much time to prove his NFL career given his age and position but he was still a solid player for five seasons. Perry had a total of 11 interceptions in his career but in one game against the high-flying Chargers in 1979, he caught fire. Perry had four interceptions against Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts in the contest and that was the signature day of Perry’s NFL career.
6 One Season Wonder: Brandon Stokley
There is a rule that Spider-Man once taught people that should never get forgotten: “Everybody gets one.” This, of course, was in Family Guy, as Spider-Man explains how often he saves people. And that is the case with Peyton Manning in those years with the Colts. Everyone on the team got one amazing year, courtesy of Manning having the ability to make everyone great if they put in the work. Before 2004, Stokley was a nice slot receiver who never cracked 700 yards or 6 TDs. After 2004, Stokley was a nice slot receiver who regularly cracked 700 yards or 5 TDs. He played 14 successful years in the NFL, but in 2004, Stokley had 1,077 yards and 10 TDs for the Colts as Manning went bonkers. You’re welcome, Brandon Stokley.
5 One Hit Wonder: Dexter Jackson
Dexter Jackson was taken in the fourth round of the 1999 Draft by the Buccaneers. The free safety was an interesting pick for the team because they really didn’t have the need for him on the roster. The Bucs at the time had one of the strongest defenses in the league but Jackson ended up being a good fit for the team. Jackson didn’t start in his first two years, but in 2001 he had 4 interceptions and 3 more in 2002. But it wasn’t until 2002 that Jackson was etched in NFL history with a Super Bowl MVP for his two interceptions against the Raiders in the game.
4 One Season Wonder: David Boston
David Boston was supposed to help usher in the next stage of the NFL wide receiver. He was built a lot like Terrell Owens with incredible strength, but still had the speed to finish on every route. That combination made him a great player after the catch and a danger to the defensive backs trying to guard him. When the Cardinals selected Boston 8th overall in 1999 they were hoping for these things. In 2001 he delivered with 1,500 yards through the air and 8 TDs. But injuries caught up with Boston and a knee injury in 2004 pretty much ended his career. It was short-lived but he did reach the hype for a second.
3 One Hit Wonder: Antwan Odom
Antwan Odom was taken in the 2nd round of the 2004 draft by the Titans. Odom was seen as a good pass rusher in college and was solid in the NFL. He never had an explosive season but did get 23 sacks over a seven-year career playing for the Titans and the Bengals. But there was an explosive game for Odom when he broke a Bengals record for sacks in one game. Odom had five sacks against the Packers and quarterback Aaron Rodgers in 2009. This was a team in the Packers which was ready to win the Super Bowl and Odom took over the game single-handedly from the defensive line. That was easily the signature moment of his career.
2 One Season Wonder: Randall Cobb
Randall Cobb is a prime example of how a great quarterback can make a wideout's stats extremely inflated. Most people view Cobb as a very good receiver because the Packers are on TV all the time and he’s occasionally on the other end of Aaron Rodgers’ great passes. In reality, Cobb is a solid player who's had one great year in the NFL. That season was in 2014, and Cobb has been living off of it ever since. It was the only year he made a Pro Bowl, had over 1,000 yards receiving, and had over 10 TD receptions. Cobb had plenty of chances this year because the Packers didn't have Jordy Nelson but Cobb's regression has continued.
1 One Hit Wonder: Larry Brown
Larry Brown was taken in the 12th round of the draft in 1991 by the Cowboys. Yes, that’s right, a round which the NFL draft no longer reaches. Brown got selected as a cornerback from TCU. Brown way exceeded what people thought he could do in the NFL with a starting role on three Super Bowl winners. Ironically, the one issue that Brown did have was that he couldn’t catch the football. But all of that went out of the window when the Cowboys faced off against the Steelers in Super Bowl XXX.
Steelers QB Neil O’ Donnell threw Brown two of the easiest interceptions you’ll ever see and that ended up being the difference in the game. Brown won Super Bowl MVP honors and got a big payday from the Raiders that he could never live up to.