You can consider the following football players a combination of the Right Said Fred, Vanilla Ice, and/or the Sir Mix-a-Lot of the NFL: the greatest one-hit wonders the league has ever seen. They flashed enormous potential for one season, and then never came anywhere close to that afterwards. Here’s our list of the 15 biggest one-year “flashes in the pan” in NFL history:
One-Hit Wonder #1: Robert Griffin III
There was a brief moment in time that the most powerful man in the nation’s capital was none other than Robert Griffin III, better known by fans as “RG3.” In his rookie season, Griffin burst onto the NFL scene by winning NFC Offensive Player of the Week after his first NFL game, and NFL Rookie of the Month after his first month in the NFL. By the end of the year, he had led the Washington Redskins to an NFC East title.
But after suffering a catastrophic knee injury in the Redskins playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks, a combination of egotism, squabbles with head coach Mike Shanahan, and a greater focus on promoting his brand (versus playing quarterback) led to him being benched in 2014, in favor of quarterback Kirk Cousins. Griffin was out of the NFL for all of the 2017 season before landing as a backup with the Baltimore Ravens in 2018.
One-Hit Wonder #2: Vince Young
After his transcendent performance in the 2006 Rose Bowl, in which he won the MVP award in what many consider to be the greatest college football game ever played, Vince Young followed it up with a brilliant rookie season in the NFL, winning the rookie of the year award and being named to the Pro Bowl.
But all that fame eventually got to Young’s head, and thanks to a combination of immaturity, too much partying, too little focus on football, and the continued coaching negligence of Jeff Fisher, Young never really built on his stellar rookie season nor fulfilled all the promise we believed he held.
One-Hit Wonder #3: Peyton Hillis
When Peyton Hillis arrived in Cleveland prior to the 2010 season, after playing two seasons at fullback for the Denver Broncos, he found himself buried deep on the depth chart behind a hodgepodge of running backs the Browns had collected on their roster. But after a string of injuries to the guys ahead of him, Hills got to start early in the season, and finished the year with 1,177 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns (tied for 6th in the NFL).
But Hills then fell victim to the “Madden Curse,” after he was featured on the cover of the 2012 edition of the popular video game, amidst a string of injuries and squabbles over his contract in 2011. He left Cleveland after the 2011 season, and by the end of the 2014 season, he was out of football.
One-Hit Wonder #4: David Tyree
David Tyree is a name that will forever live in Boston sports infamy. The backup wide receiver and Special Teams ace became immortalized in NFL history after the famous “helmet catch” in Super Bowl XLII, which put the New York Giants in position for what was eventually the game-clinching touchdown.
That catch was easily the one shining moment of Tyree’s otherwise highly unspectacular NFL career; he never caught more than 20 passes in a single season, and finished his six-year NFL career with a total of four touchdown catches.
One-Hit Wonder #5: Gary Barnidge
Barnridge spent several seasons in Carolina and Cleveland as a special teams contributor before coming out of nowhere in 2015 as a pass-catching tight end. For a few weeks that season, he looked like the best tight end in football, ultimately catching 79 balls for 1,043 yards and nine touchdowns on his way to receiving a Pro-Bowl invitation.
That production was nearly cut in half the following season after undergoing surgery for a sports hernia over the offseason. In the spring of 2017, Barnridge was released by the Browns and hasn’t played in an NFL game since.
One-Hit Wonder #6: Steve Slaton
A third round pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, rookie running back Steve Slaton burst onto the NFL scene by finishing with 1,282 rushing yards and nine touchdowns, good for sixth in the NFL and tops among all other rookies (in a draft that saw five running backs taken in the first round).
But one year later, Slaton had the mother of all “sophomore slumps,” fumbling the ball seven times that year, which led to him getting benched late in the year. By the end of the 2011 season, Slaton was already out of the NFL, and headed north to play in the Canadian Football League.
One-Hit Wonder #7: Steve Beuerlein
Most football fans would think of Kurt Warner when looking back at the top performance by a quarterback in the 1999 NFL season. Which would be fair, considering he won the MVP award that year and led the (then St. Louis) Rams to a Super Bowl win. But how many people realize that NFL journeyman Steve Beuerlein, then the quarterback of the Carolina Panthers, led the NFL in passing yards?
After never throwing for more than 3,200 yards in any of his 10 previous years in the NFL, Beuerlein threw for a league-high 4,436 yards that year. Ironically, just over one season later, the Panthers released Beuerlein, and he retired after the 2003 NFL season.
One-Hit Wonder#8: Michael Clayton
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected wide receiver Michael Clayton out of LSU with the 15th selection in the 2004 NFL Draft. Even with the revolving door of quarterbacks throwing him the ball, Clayton finished with 80 receptions for 1,193 yards and seven touchdowns as a rookie. But after that promising first year in the NFL, he was never the same player afterwards, thanks to a string of injuries and further inconsistencies from Tampa Bay’s quarterbacks.
By 2010, Clayton found himself joining the Omaha Nighthawks of the United Football league. His pro football career ended after the 2011 season, after his final comeback attempt with the New York Giants ended just a few games into the season.
One-Hit Wonder #9: Ickey Woods
Younger fans will know of Elbert L. “Ickey” Woods for his hilarious cameo in the GEICO commercial in 2014, singing about how he was going to “get some cold cuts” while performing his famous “Ickey Shuffle.” But longtime football fans will remember Woods as the first round draft pick by the Cincinnati Bengals, who set the Bengals franchise rookie records for rushing with 1,066 yards yards, was selected for the Pro Bowl, and named First-team All-Pro after his first year in the NFL.
Sadly, Woods suffered a torn ACL in his second game of his sophomore year in the NFL, which altered the course of his promising NFL career. After just two more years, Woods was out of football at age 26.
One-Hit Wonder #10: Jonas Gray
Calling Jonas Gray a “one-year wonder” would be an extremely generous statement, because in reality, Gray was nothing more than a “one-game wonder.” Little more than an afterthought in the MASH unit that was the running back group for the New England Patriots during the 2014 season, Gray led the team in rushing by year’s end… with a paltry 412 yards. To make matters worse, he accumulated almost half of those yards (201) in one Sunday night game against the Indianapolis Colts.
From that game on, Gray had a total of just 260 rushing yards — including the postseason — for the remainder of his NFL career. New England thought so little of Gray that they let him go after the 2014 season, and after brief stints with the Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars, Gray was out of football by the end of 2015.
One-Hit Wonder #11: Derek Anderson
Over the last two decades, the Cleveland Browns have had exactly one season in which they won double-digit games. In 2007, they finished with a 10-6 record, thanks to the efforts of quarterback Derek Anderson, who had a career year throwing to (fellow one-hit wonder) wide receiver Braylon Edwards.
Anderson threw the fifth most touchdown passes in the league that year (29) and finished in the top 10 in passing yards. But he then endured two injury-plagued seasons after that, before leaving Cleveland. In the 11 seasons since his magical 2007 season in which he threw 29 touchdown passes, Anderson has thrown a combined total of just 26 touchdowns.
One-Hit Wonder #12: Robert Edwards
Running back Robert Edwards is perhaps the biggest reason why the NFL is so reluctant to hold any type of skills competition events leading up to the Pro Bowl, like other professional sports host in the days leading up to their respective All-Star games. The New England Patriots drafted Edwards with the 18th overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft. Edwards was sensational in his rookie season, rushing for 1,115 yards and nine touchdowns, plus an additional 331 yards receiving and three more scores.
Unfortunately, Edwards suffered a freak knee injury in a rookie flag football game on the beaches of Hawaii, prior to the Pro Bowl. The injury was so gruesome that Edwards almost had to have his leg amputated below the knee, and was told that he may never walk again. He shockingly made a return to the NFL over three years later, but was a shell of his former self. Edwards owns one of the strangest “what could have been” stories of all time.
One-Hit Wonder#13: Olandis Gary
Olandis Gary was one of the string of players who helped perpetuate the the theory of “Mike Shanahan can get a thousand yards rushing from any running back.” After (now Hall of Fame) running back Terrell Davis went down with an injury in 1999, Gary came in and ran for 1159 yards on 276 attempts, with seven touchdowns. But after hurting his knee the following year, he was never the same player. After the 2004 season, Gary was already out of the NFL.
One-Hit Wonder #14: Don Majkowski
Before the legend of Brett Favre even began in Green Bay, there was another star quarterback in northeast Wisconsin; that would Don Majkowski, “the Majik Man” himself. In 1989, Majkowski threw for 4,318 yards, leading the NFL en route to a Pro Bowl selection and being named Second-team All-Pro. But just 10 games into the ensuing season, the “Majik” was gone.
He suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in 1991, and eventually replaced as the starter. And when he did make an appearance in the 1992 season, he suffered another season-ending injury that made way for Favre to take over the job, and not give it back for quite some time after that.
One-Hit Wonder #15: Drew Bennett
In his first three seasons in the NFL, between 2001 and 2003, wide receiver Drew Bennett of the Tennessee Titans never had more than 504 yards receiving or four touchdowns. And then, in 2004, he had a monstrous breakout season, catching 80 passes for 1,247 yards (good for 8th in the NFL) and 11 touchdowns (tied for 8th in the NFL also).
And then, after that, everything went “back to normal” for him, as he failed to reach more than 738 yards receiving or four touchdown catches during his final four years in the NFL.