In his third professional season, Spiller ran for 1,244 yards for the Buffalo Bills, notching a not-too-shabby per-attempt mark of 6.0 yards, to earn his first Pro Bowl nod. Unfortunately for Spiller (and the Bills), it was the last time he cracked the 1,000-yard mark. A broken collarbone interrupted his final season in Buffalo; since then, he's bounced from the Bills to the Saints, Jets and Seahawks, most recently floating in and out of the Chiefs' building last season.
Spiller's story -- along with those of Eddie Lacy, Robert Griffin III and countless others -- serves as a cautionary tale about players who excite in a limited sample size. One-season flashes of brilliance can spark hope that a durable star has emerged, only for the promise to fade over multiple years of exposure to the rest of the league. It's fun to get pumped about a potential player on the rise, but be wary that he could turn out to be a one-year wonder.
Below, I've identified six players who COULD conceivably become one-year wonders -- but who I am confident WILL NOT be. In other words, these are players -- arranged in alphabetical order -- who have played at a high level for a relatively brief window of time (either at the pro or college level) and who will continue to do so for the foreseeable future, preventing their careers from taking a left turn into obsolescence.
Derek Barnett, DE, Philadelphia Eagles: Barnett notched five sacks, the most by an Eagles rookie since Fletcher Cox in 2012 -- and, of course, he was a Super Bowl hero, recovering Tom Brady's fumble in the closing minutes of Philadelphia's win. He showed a penchant for making big plays, including a blocked field-goal try and a pair of additional regular-season fumble recoveries. Barnett, the 14th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, looks like a steady producer with a knack for being in the right place at the right time, whether he's rushing the passer or scooping up a loose ball. He should thrive with the addition of top-tier veteran Michael Bennett to the lineup; you'll be hearing Barnett's name plenty over the next few years.
Kevin Byard, S, Tennessee Titans: Byard burst onto the scene in his second NFL season, collecting eight picks -- tied for most in the NFL -- and an NFL-high 10 total takeaways in 2017. That interception total was the highest for the Titans franchise since Richard Johnson posted eight in 1990 -- and it's no coincidence. Byard has excellent range and has drawn praise from Tennessee coach Mike Vrabel for his preparation and communication. I could see him matching his interception figure from last year.
Kenyan Drake, RB, Miami Dolphins: Drake is entering Year 3 in the NFL, but he didn't really do anything of significance until December of last year, when he embarked on a five-game tear that accounted for 594 of his 883 yards from scrimmage. He ended up tied for second in the NFL last season with three gains of 40-plus yards -- and he logged just 133 carries. Drake is really an ascending player who will continue to rise. Not only can he run well, but he can return kicks and catch the ball.
Cooper Kupp, WR, Los Angeles Rams: Kupp finished 2017 with 62 catches for 869 yards and five touchdowns, all records for a Rams rookie. He also was targeted a team-high 94 times by Jared Goff. The targets will come down, now that Brandin Cooks is in the fold. But adding Cooks should actually make Kupp more dangerous overall. Ever since his days at Eastern Washington, it seems like people have been looking for reasons to say Kupp won't do well -- and he's never stopped proving his doubters wrong. He might not have blazing speed, but he works hard and has great receiving skills. I think he's firmly established himself as a top-end No. 2 pass catcher.
DeMarcus Lawrence, DE, Dallas Cowboys: Lawrence technically might not qualify as a one-year wonder -- he'd be more like a one-great-year-and-one-pretty-good-year wonder, given that he notched 8.0 sacks in 2015 before breaking out with 14.5 last season. Still, it's fair to ask if he's fully arrived. I think the answer is yes. In fact, with the Cowboys' secondary being a lot better than it was last season -- and with the extra motivation of trying to earn a lucrative new contract -- I could see Lawrence repeating his Pro Bowl-caliber effort from 2017. Beyond that, I think he'll be an impact pass rusher for years to come.
Denzel Ward, CB, Cleveland Browns: As a rookie, the one year that would qualify Ward for this list happened, of course, in his final season at Ohio State, when he piled up 15 pass break-ups and snagged a pair of picks. Selected with the fourth overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft by the Browns, Ward is going to have a really good year, because he has the talent and ability to take advantage of the position he'll be put in with the Browns. Cleveland has two good pass rushers in Myles Garrett and Emmanuel Ogbah, and with those guys rushing the passer, the opposing quarterbacks are going to be rushed into making throws. Thus, I think Ward has a shot to pick off six or seven passes this season, carrying his impressive showing from last year into his NFL career.