Staying on top in the NFL is far from a safe bet, especially with today's "What have you done for me lately?" attitude. There are players who extend their dominance over 20 years, like Brett Favre and Tom Brady, but the opposite is much more abundant. Flash-in-the-pans are all too prevalent, causing power shifts in a league where teams have a precarious perch among the elite.
Greatness is far from common, but one-hit wonders have been a part of NFL since its inception. This boosts the expectation of fans, team executives, and the players themselves, much to their disappointment. Promising prospects have been derailed after a massive campaign far too many times to count, crushing dreams of the next great face-of-the-franchise for an entire organization.
Almost the entirety of the 2007 Cleveland Browns could be guilty of this dubious title, but there have been plenty of offenders in the lengthy history of the league. Working to become the best often winds up in a single, glorious stretch from September to January that can never be repeated because of injury, roster changes, or flat-out luck. No team is immune from playing into the hype game, and these 15 anomalies will stand in eternal infamy.
15 Billy Volek
While filling in for an injured Steve McNair, Billy Volek took the league by storm. In 10 games, the backup quarterback's stats were astronomical compared to the rest of his career numbers. He chucked the pigskin 375 times that year, connecting on 61.1% of them for 2,486 yards and 18 touchdowns. That was only good enough for a 5-11 record under head coach Steve Fisher, but earned Volek plenty of recognition throughout the NFL.
McNair was traded to the Baltimore Ravens after the 2005 season, opening up the possibility for Volek to take over the Titans under center, but he and Fisher could not see eye to eye. Tennessee shipped Billy to the San Diego Chargers, where he would play backup for the remainder of his days behind Philip Rivers. He would get one final glimpse of glory, leading the Chargers to a playoff victory against Peyton Manning's Colts.
Having LaDainian Tomlinson in the backfield certainly helped his cause, but in a career shrouded in hype and anonymity, Volek had just one claim to fame.
14 Derek Anderson
As a member of the infamous 2007 Cleveland Browns team that won 10 games and missed the playoffs, Anderson is the prototype for one and done. After an incredible season that put him on the map, the disappointing quarterback scored a hefty contract that looked progressively worse as his career continued. In that standout campaign, Derek threw for 3,787 yards and 29 touchdowns on 527 attempts. This was in addition to 19 interceptions and a 56% completion percentage, two red flags that went unnoticed.
What followed was reality crashing down on top of the QB and the Browns. Anderson would never play a full season again in his career, and Cleveland would never have another winning season. His combined win-loss outside of the 2007 campaign sits at a dubious 10-25.
While currently backing up Cam Newton in Carolina, the one-time Pro Bowler is content to ride out the rest of his career as a role player on a Super Bowl-caliber squad.
13 Laurent Robinson
As a member of the Dallas Cowboys, the former unknown wide receiver was thrust into the spotlight after catching an eye-popping 11 touchdowns in 2011. Tony Romo's favorite targets Miles Austin and Dez Bryant garnered the defensive attention, freeing up Robinson for plenty of red-zone opportunities. In addition to scoring at will, Laurent racked up 858 receiving yards, the most since his rookie season.
The free agency period after his monster fifth-year in the league saw plenty of suitors come calling on the reestablished wideout. Unfortunately for the Jacksonville Jaguars, they won that auction, shelling out a five-year, $32 million contract for the oft-injured pass catcher. Robinson managed to only fulfill one year of that deal, appearing in only seven games and hauling in a sub-par 252 yards.
This tale of caution is one that more teams need to pay heed to. Overpaying for one year of production is a sucker move, no matter how impressive it may be.
12 Brandon Lloyd
No wide receiver gained more benefit of the doubt than Brandon Lloyd in the 2000s. A supreme athlete that could blow past defenses, Lloyd was one of the most underwhelming forces in the league until he began his short stint in Denver in 2009. After a year in which he sat out 14 games, the journeyman deep-threat rebounded with an immaculate campaign, snagging 77 balls for 1,448 yards and 11 trips to paydirt. He was Kyle Orton's favorite target while a young Demaryius Thomas was just getting used to life in the NFL.
This high-point in Lloyd's career was also the mark of his descent. After being traded to the St. Louis Rams in the following season, he never eclipsed 970 yards in a season. The 11-year veteran that was erupting with potential never found consistency, and retired with much to be desired. Had he been able to corral that skill and hone it, perhaps the story might have been different for Lloyd.
For a mostly healthy player, the lack of dominance from such a physically-gifted talent leaves many scratching their heads.
11 Larry Johnson
Buried on the depth chart behind Priest Holmes, Johnson was finally able to show off his impressive skillset in his third season. That two-year stretch was one of the premier outputs by any running back in league history. What followed that was a husk of the former Nittany Lion, never reaching the 900-yard mark again. His 4,292 yards from scrimmage and 37 touchdowns from the 2005-06 and 2006-07 crusades tower over anything else he could compile.
The five seasons beyond those monstrous periods saw Johnson shrink into anonymity. He suddenly became more famous for his exploits in night clubs than for anything Larry could accomplish on the gridiron. As the veteran's career fizzled out in Miami, staying out of trouble became a difficult task. After several arrests that range from crimes that include aggravated assault and domestic violence, the league began to shun the troubled halfback.
Those two incredible seasons will exist in infamy due to the despicable nature of the athlete who punctuated them.
10 Ickey Woods
The Ickey Shuffle is one of the greatest touchdown celebrations in history. Ickey Woods, interestingly enough, did not have the same kind of staying power. After a phenomenal rookie season that saw Woods rack up 1,066 yards on 203 carries, an impressive 5.3 yards per carry, the talented Cincinnati Bengals ball carrier fizzled out of the NFL after four years. With 15 scores to pair with that production, it seemed Ickey was due for an incredible career. Part of this was due to an ACL tear, sidelining the UNLV grad for 13 months.
When Woods did return to the backfield, Harold Green had already usurped him as the starting back on the Bengals. While he may be the league's supreme case of what could have been, the Ickey Shuffle paved the way for some of the most entertaining end-zone dances from the like of Chad Johnson and Terrell Owens. The former UNLV Runnin' Rebel will always be one of the most beloved one-shot wonders to touch the field.
9 Steve Smith
No, not the standout receiver for the Carolina Panthers and Baltimore Ravens. This Steve Smith played for the New York Giants from 2007-2010, but only had one season of any relevance. The 2009 rendition of Smith was unbelievable for Eli Manning's squad, compiling 107 catches for 1,220 yards and seven stops in the endzone. Not only did he lead the team in all significant pass-catching statistics that year, he blew his teammates out of the water.
The former Buckeye looked the part of a wideout that could lead a team for years to come, but the up-and-comer could never regain that mojo of 2009. After fading into obscurity with his own team, not even a fresh start with Philadelphia or St. Louis could get the train back on the tracks. With all momentum lost and injuries beginning to rack up, the once-promising player called it quits in 2012. Eli and crew would go on to win the 2011 Super Bowl without him, although Smith managed to capture a ring with New York in 2007.
8 Zac Stacy
When St. Louis drafted Zac Stacy in the fifth-round in 2013, nobody expected this back to replace the production from Steven Jackson, but the Vanderbilt product did exactly that. With a shade under 1,000 yards in his rookie season to go along with seven touchdowns, it appeared that the Rams had their running back of the future. Little did he know that 2013 would be his final season of relevance, as he was displaced by rookie Tre Mason the next year.
Once Todd Gurley was brought onto the team, it was lights out for Stacy in the Missouri, prompting his departure to the New York Jets. As he has faded into obscurity on a Jets squad that has playoff aspirations, the end may be coming soon for the Vanderbilt graduate. In his latest string of poor luck, he has been released and is now a free agent with a surgically repaired ankle. Those types of injuries are typically a death-knell for those that call the backfield their home.
7 Marcus Robinson
The wideout for the Chicago Bears caught 84 balls for a total of 1,400 yards and nine TDs in 1999. A sophomore slump was not in the cards for Robinson, as he set team records for Chicago that would not be broken until Brandon Marshall came to town to reunite with his former quarterback Jay Cutler. Once Marcus finished that legendary season with Chi-Town, he would never be the same. The next-highest yardage total for the pass-catcher would be 738, a number he reached in the 2000 campaign and would never come close to again in his career.
He began to turn it around in 2004 with the Baltimore Ravens, but would be let go to allow for more talented receivers to be signed. That was Robinson's final productive output, and his final season in Minnesota would be cut short. On Christmas, the organization let him go after he expressed displeasure in the team's performance.
6 Rashaan Salaam
Another late 1990s Chicago Bear joins the list of one-and-dones in the form of running back Rashaan Salaam. The 21st overall pick out of Colorado had a massive rookie season, rambling for 1,074 yards on 296 carries and 10 touchdowns. That haughty line for a first-year player would never be seen again in the next three years of his career. Marijuana use is cited by the running back as a major contributor to his fumbling issues, a key factor in his disappearance from relevance.
The former Heisman Trophy winner never regained the form he had with Colorado or his initial campaign with the Bears. He washed out of the league at 23 years old, citing that his drug use changed him. With the hype surrounding the ball carrier from an college, it became difficult for Salaam to cope with success at an early stage.
5 David Boston
Boston's highest profile season came with the Arizona Cardinals in 20o1, when he made the Pro Bowl and was a First-Team All-Pro. What cemented those honors was his incredible production, racking up 100 yards per game receiving, en rout to 1,600 yards and eight touchdowns on 98 catches. The only trouble that came with the 8th overall pick in the 1999 draft was his nutritional supplements. A nice way of saying the man was spending more than $200,000 on steroids per year.
After that phenomenal season, Boston was not in the NFL for long. He parlayed the monster season he had into a huge contract with the San Diego Chargers, but was nowhere near the player he had been in 2001. Injuries and drugs had slowed down the receiver's body, and he was soon traded to the Miami Dolphins. Ultimately, he wound up being suspended for four games with Miami because of steroid use and was subsequently cut in 2004 and 2005 by the organization.
4 Patrick Jeffers
The walk on receiver at Virginia was an underdog through his entire football career. As he turned the page from Dallas to Carolina heading into his fourth-year and third team, it seemed this player on the rise was primed to breakout. Under George Seifert's Panthers offense, he did just that. Jeffers' 1,082 yards and 12 touchdowns are more than double what he was able to produce in every other season combined. There was no hint of the explosive wideout slowing down until everything fell apart for the Panthers' leafing man.
An ACL injury forced Jeffers out of the league, sidelining him for the 2000 campaign and half of 2001. Carolina released him, knowing that it would be wiser to move on from the damaged pass-catcher. The two parties then got involved in legal issues, as Jeffers decided that the surgeries in late August of 2000 were the cause of his career coming to a screeching halt. That lawsuit continued until the court decided the matter would be settled in an arbitration hearing.
3 Don Majkowski
Three years prior to Brett Favre arriving in northern Wisconsin, Don Majkowski was the gunslinger for the middling late-80s, early-90s Green Bay Packers. Although he was generally terrible for the Pack, everything came together in 1989, and Majik Man was born. To go along with a 10-6 record, Majkowski dazzled with 4,318 yards, 27 touchdowns, and seven game-winning drives. There were also 20 interceptions the third-year veteran was accountable for, but everything seemed to be going well for the cheeseheads.
That would be the only complete schedule the QB played. Maj was never the same after that fairytale season, battling off injuries and skeptics alike. Once Favre hit the scene in 1992, it was curtains for Majik Man, as he served as a backup in Indianapolis and Detroit for four more seasons before calling it quits. Despite channeling some unbelievable mojo in '89, Don could not replicate that output.
2 Michael Clayton
The next rookie to go from beast to bust is Michael Clayton, a 1,200 yard receiver one year, to a struggling fringe player the next. Reaching the end zone seven times and hauling in 80 passes, Clayton was everyone's lock to be a powerhouse for quite some time, but the LSU Tiger could never reach those heights again in the NFL. His next highest receiving yardage total would come in 2008, a lowly 484. Contributing to the receiver's downfall was a penchant for partying, often causing him to be unprepared for the rigors of the league.
With the anomaly of that initial season raising the expectations of everyone paying attention to football, Clayton had perhaps the most disappointing career of anyone on this list. It was actually a surprise to see the wideout last as long as he did, a total of eight seasons, as his true form revealed itself in greater detail.
1 Peyton Hillis
By far the craziest one-hit-wonder of all time, Peyton Hillis turned heads in 2010 with the Cleveland Browns. His bruising style was a fan favorite, and he quickly became a popular figure in the league. The momentum picked up so rapidly that Hillis was thrown on the cover of Madden the following offseason. That selection is often mocked as the worst in franchise history. Every Madden cover athlete has found himself in one or more Pro Bowl, except for the Browns running back.
No one saw that the bruising back who spelled Darren McFadden in college would be capable of dropping 1,654 yards from scrimmage and 13 total touchdowns in a single season. In seven seasons, very few players had the same ups and downs that Hillis encountered. He will forever be ingrained in football fans' minds as the most bizarre flash-in-the-pan to ever touch a field in the NFL.