If there is one professional sports league that has no patience for a dip in production, it's the National Football League.
In the NBA, a coach might put a slumping star in a different role or scale back the player's minutes to give him some rest. Major League Baseball managers might give a star a day off or put him in to pinch-hit in a situation that could help him regain his form in confidence. Hockey coaches might give their dormant stars a swift kick in the rear and straight into the press box, to give the guy a chance to clear the cobwebs and wake up from his on-ice slumber.
In the NFL, you'll find a permanent spot on the bench - right before you're asked to turn in your playbook and clear your locker. Football is as cutthroat as it gets. In a much shorter regular season compared to the other major North American sports, the room for error is smaller than the window between two defenders double covering a receiver.
Because of this, we've seen time and time again that a good start to your NFL career - or a breakout year midway through it - does not guarantee tenure. It does not guarantee anything, really, other than another chance to prove your worth. Rarely is anyone immune to the NFL chopping block, and flash in the pan players are the best example of that. Players on this list made a sustained impact at some point in the careers, only to fade out of the league and eventually out of our football memories.
Not only did Tim Tebow fade in a hurry, he's made a habit of it. First he exploded on the scene one seemingly normal Sunday, taking down an albeit weak Miami Dolphins team to mark his entrance into pro football before leading the Denver Broncos to a playoff win. He quickly faded in Denver once Peyton Manning was brought in. He couldn't catch on in New York, on a Jets roster that may as well have had a scarecrow playing quarterback over the past couple of seasons.
He completed the trifecta this summer after getting cut by the Eagles. He went from ESPN's top story to ESPN's top young college football analyst within a matter of days.
If you wanted to hear about a weird, unconventional, roller-coaster ride to the top (and back down to reality), you came to right place, because Tommy Maddox's story is as good as it gets.
In short, Maddox went from first-round bust, to insurance salesman, to XFL MVP, to NFL backup. As Kordell's Stewart's No.2, Maddox likely wasn't expecting much playing time, but he came in for a struggling Stewart in a 2002 game and didn't look back. He led the Steelers to the playoffs in 2002, but that's when the roller coaster began to head back down the tracks at breakneck speed. Maddox began to fade away in 2003 and his future was sealed when the Steelers took Ben Roethlisberger in 2004. Maddox went from Steel City hero to being a mere footnote in Steelers history within a matter of two years.
Remember when running backs were the kings of the NFL? For a time, Charles White was king, a draft bust turned superstar overnight, a redemption story for the ages - and one that lasted about as long as it took White to run the 40-yard dash.
After a Triple Crown season - he led the league in carries (324), rushing yards (1,374) and TD's (11) - White was usurped by his younger backup, Greg Bell. A common occurrence in the NFL, but a surprising one considering the season White had just had. White was out of the NFL by the end of the following season.
When you think of Green Bay Packers quarterbacks, three names come to mind: Bart Starr, Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, and rightfully so. However, you might be surprised to hear that one of the greatest single seasons by a Packers quarterback was orchestrated by Don Majkowski. Majkowski was a 1989 Pro Bowler and finished second behind Joe Montana in the MVP voting race. Within a few seasons, though, the Packers traded for Favre and the Magic Man's ineffective play, combined with injuries, opened the door for Favre and signaled the end for Majkowski.
The Houston Texans have had a reputation of hitting gold with their running backs over the past decade, and it all started with Steve Slaton back in 2008. He burst onto the scene as a rookie, running rampant for nearly 1,300 yards and catching 50 passes out of the backfield.
Before long, though, Slaton was an afterthought and Arian Foster was becoming a star. He bounced around the NFL, but his star had faded long ago and a stint in the CFL did nothing to resurrect his career.
Timmy Smith is the NFL poster boy for not letting fleeting successes get to one's head, but alas, Smith was unable to resist. After a remarkable performance in Super Bowl XXII, Smith got it into his head that he was good enough to skirt through the offseason, show up to training camp unprepared to play, all while asking for a fat new contract. Compounding his problems was a reported drug issue, which eventually culminated in his career ending and a 30-year sentence behind bars for selling cocaine to an undercover officer.
Michael Clayton is the cautionary tale for those who witnessed the incredible rookie seasons orchestrated by the likes of Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans and others over the past couple of seasons. He flew out of the gates, snagging 80 balls and nearly 1,200 yards. While he lasted for another seven seasons, it was clear that his fleeting stardom had faded. There was no going back to the "rookie Clayton" and there was seemingly no reason why, making his "fading" all that much more painful to watch.
One of the hardest things for any athlete to do is to step into the shoes of a legend. That's exactly what Olandis Gary was forced to do in 1999 after Broncos back Terrell Davis went down with an injury, opening the door for Gary to thrive - and thrive he did. Gary went off for nearly 1,200 yards in just 12 games, a seemingly surefire sign of great things to come.
Unfortunately, it was as good it was going to get for Gary. He never came close to that year's production again and was out of the league within four seasons.
The Cleveland Browns are used to getting their hopes up for nothing, and Derek Anderson was no different. Anderson went from Ohio legend, the first man in a long time to lead the Browns to a double-digit win season, to being banished from the Dawg Pound for good two years after his magical 2007 season. Anderson faded into obscurity once he left Cleveland, re-appearing as nothing more than a blip on the radar for the rest of his career.
You knew RG3 was going to land on this list somewhere. You just weren't quite sure where.
Griffin has had a rough enough summer without us bashing him any more, so we'll slide him in around the middle of the list. After an incredible rookie season, the former Baylor standout ran into injury troubles and saw his play take a dip practically unlike anything we've ever seen before. To use the word sophomore slump would be a gross understatement, and his career tailspin has culminated in him working as a safety on the Redskins scout team early in the 2015 season.
A lot of people were reminded of Vince Young when they saw what had happened to RG3, although Young's fall from grace had more to do with problems off the field than anything else. After a solid start to his NFL career, Young's numbers began to dip while his issues off the field began to pile up. "Lack of character" and "immature" were terms that were used to describe him, all while his money issues became public and further muddied his situation. Young actually finished his tenure in Tennessee with a 30-17 record, but it was the off-field distractions that saw his star fade out of the NFL picture.
Ickey Woods, as an "entity," is still very visible, for a lack of better term. For one thing, he's a big guy. For another, his trademark Ickey Shuffle celebration dance has kept him relevant even years after his career ended with a whimper, and not the bang that usually got him into the end-zone. His 15 touchdowns in 1988 were supposed to be a sign of things to come, but the big man only lasted three more seasons in the NFL before packing it in, the only legacy left behind being a quirky dance that no NFLer in their right mind would do after a touchdown in this day and age (and not because they would be flagged for it).
David Boston was a coaches dream in terms of his abilities and his size. Six-foot-one, 215 pounds, and a 4.47 40-yard dash (keep in mind this was 15 years ago). No wonder he went so high in the draft. In his second and third NFL seasons, Boston tore up the league, catching 169 passes for 2,754 yards and 15 touchdowns. He signed a huge contract with San Diego in 2003, but was shipped off the Miami after a less-than-stellar showing. He caught a grand total of 4 balls over five games in Miami, just two seasons removed from his best season. Boston went from being considered one of the best in the league to becoming an afterthought on a Miami team that hasn't exactly been loaded with firepower of the past 15 seasons.
Larry Brown is an interesting case because like Timmy Smith, Brown made a name for himself with a legendary Super Bowl performance. Two picks in the biggest game of the year earned him a big contract with Oakland Raiders, but his time in the spotlight didn't last very long when people started to realize that he wasn't going to become the player people were envisioning following his Super Bowl showing. He played only 12 of a possible 32 games with the Raiders before landing back in Dallas for one final season, before fading away into oblivion - although the argument here is that he started fading well before his farewell tour in Big D.
Peyton Hillis just might be the most baffling player in NFL history. There's nothing about his game that stands out and there wasn't much there in terms of flashiness or marketability. Hillis managed to make his mark in 2010, when he rushed for nearly 1,200 yards and tacked on 61 catches for 477 yards, along with 13 total touchdowns. He inexplicably ended up on the cover of Madden - how does a Brown end up on the cover of Madden?! - but the Madden curse did its job and laid waste to the rest of Hillis' career, where he faded into a deep reserve role, and is now remembered only when exasperated Madden fans are reminded of the cursed 2012 version of the game.