20 Athletes Who Tricked Us into Thinking They Were Good
You know the type. Athletes who have had one or two good seasons, a highly noteworthy stretch of time, or just one phenomenal game, and suddenly they're one of the hottest commodities in sports.
Not exactly an adequate performance sampling size, but these days everyone is on the lookout for the next big thing. Sometimes a small sample is all that's necessary to identify greatness—don't act fast and you'll miss it.
After all, opportunity rarely knocks twice.
Everyone knows that sports is a multi-billion dollar a year business, so teams are constantly on the hunt for new talent. Some are so desperate that they'll keep paying an athlete who has never proved himself, even in a short burst.
Potential alone is often all that's required to convince enough people of talent. Although "convince" might be too generous an assessment, "trick" is more like it. And today it happens all the time.
Here are 20 athletes who tricked us into thinking they were good.
20. Cadillac Williams
The last thing I want to do is pile on former NFL running back Cadillac Williams, whose career was plagued by what seemed like an endless series of unfortunate injuries. But injuries or no, he does fit the parameters of this list.
Williams was selected No. 5 overall by the Buccaneers in the 2005 NFL Draft and had one helluva a rookie season in Tampa. He rushed for 1,178 yards, averaging 4.1 yards per carry and scored six touchdowns. Williams was named the Offensive Rookie of the Year.
And then, as the stupidly overused phrase goes, the wheels fell off the Cadillac. Over the 2007 and 2008 seasons Williams played just 10 total games and only got within 300 yards of his rookie total twice before being forced into retirement in 2012.
19. Rick Ankiel
There were about three seasons in free agent outfielder Rick Ankiel's career in which it looked like he was maybe on the verge of something. While with the Cardinals in 2008, his first full season in MLB, he built impressively on the solid stats he put up in 47 games played the year before.
Ankiel hit 25 home runs, had 71 RBIs and a batting average of .264. In 2009 he played two more games with substantially less to show for his efforts. Having played for five teams in three years, Ankiel will be looking for a new home this offseason.
Of course, at 34-years-old, he's not certain to find one.
18. Matt Schaub
For much of his career as the starter in Houston, Texans quarterback Matt Schaub managed to fly below the radar. Generally considered a good, not great, starter who wasn't likely to win a game on his arm alone, but wasn't likely to lose it either.
After a stunningly bad start to the 2013 season, many are starting to reassess Schaub's abilities and look at his past performance with a more critical eye. Despite a good pass completion percentage and a high QB rating, Schaub has always been prone to fumbling and has struggled with injuries.
Those are two things that a "game manager" can't do. Schaub isn't dynamic enough a player to overcome critical mistakes, which have been constant dating back to the end of last season.
17. Rashard Lewis
Rashard Lewis was selected by the SuperSonics No. 32 overall in 1998. He played seven largely mediocre seasons in Seattle before turning it on for two seasons—2005-06 and 2006-07 remain the best of his career to date.
Lewis was richly rewarded for his efforts by the Magic, who offered him a six-year contract worth $118 million. And he rewarded Orlando by beginning a very steady decline the year he signed, which continues to this day.
His performance is in decline, but his life is still an embarrassment of riches. Lewis signed with the Heat last season and let some real ballers win a championship for him.
16. Dustin Johnson
Dustin Johnson was supposed to be the next big thing when he joined the PGA Tour back in 2007. Supposedly the best athlete on the tour, that athleticism has yet to translate into any major success. It hasn't even translated to much minor success.
His 13th place finish at the 2013 Masters was Johnson's best showing since The Open Championship in 2011. Overall he's been a non-factor everywhere except internet gossip sites, which care more about his engagement to Paulina Gretzky than anything Johnson has ever done on the golf course.
This guy needs to do less bragging about his athletic prowess—perhaps get out of the gym and try winning a Major.
15. Josh Freeman
Considering the obvious toxic environment fostered by coach Greg Schiano in Tampa Bay, I'd be remiss in saying the final chapter in former Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman has already been written. Having recently been acquired by the Vikings, he'll have the chance to write his own ending.
That being said, there's no question that Freeman was able to catch lightning in a bottle back in 2010, his first full season as a starter. He threw for just under 3,500 yards with 25 touchdowns, just six interceptions and a QB rating of 96. Freeman didn't even get close to matching that success the last two years.
We'll see if he can play his way off this list in Minnesota—I hope he does.
14. Alexander Semin
After three serviceable seasons with the Capitals, it looked like forward Alexander Semin had finally broken out. He had career seasons in 2008-09 and 2009-10 and looked to be a very formidable foe paired with fellow Russian Alex Ovechkin.
Despite averaging 82 points for the Caps those years, Washington signed him to just a one-year extension in January 2011, as if they had a crystal ball. Semin's production has declined sharply since 2010 and at age 29, it's hard to imagine he'll ever get back there.
Of course, that didn't stop the Hurricanes from ridiculously overcommitting to Semin last March.
13. Mark Sanchez
I know that there will be more than a few people who will angrily reject the notion that Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez ever fooled them into believing he was good. Gold star for all of you, now please let it go.
That being said, while Sanchez never really lit up the stat sheet, he did quarterback the Jets to two straight AFC Championship games his first two seasons in New York. And in that time convinced more than a few people that he might develop into a legit franchise Sanchize.
Obviously that didn't happen, but he had a few good moments…most of them as a model.
12. Jeremy Lin
After a brief stint with the Warriors the year before, undrafted Harvard point guard Jeremy Lin found a home with the Knicks for the 2011-12 season. He emerged as a global superstar in the absence of Carmelo Anthony, before falling back to earth six weeks later when his season was ended by injury.
Once the haze from Linsanity lifted, there were a lot of unanswered questions about what he really brought to the table. His meteoric rise was greatly boosted by a slew of terrible opponents in February and early March. Lin largely feasted on losers, which the exception of the Lakers, who he saved his best game for.
Despite his success, when Lin became a free agent in the offseason, the Knicks had no problem letting him leave for Houston. The Rockets signed him to a three-year deal worth $25 million, which Lin has struggled to live up to.
11. Roy Williams
Former NFL wide receiver Roy Williams parlayed his position as a first round draft pick into a very lucrative career with the Lions, Cowboys and later the Bears. That despite having just one 1,000+ yard season in eight years.
Compare that to another Detroit first rounder, Calvin Johnson, who has gone over 1,000 in four of six years and nearly 2,000 in 2012. Despite the early promise he showed, Williams was a stone cold bust.
He has not been, and will not be, missed.
10. Daisuke Matsuzaka
It cost the Red Sox over $50 million for the rights to Daisuke Matsuzaka and another $52 million over six years to bring the Japanese pitcher to Boston in 2007. With over $100 million on the line, the hype machine went into overdrive on this guy.
His first two seasons with the Sox it looked like Matsuzaka might just live up to it. He was particularly good in 2008, with 18 wins, three losses and an ERA of 2.90. And then came the plague of injuries, which allowed him to play more than 12 games just once in the next five years.
The Red Sox and Matsuzaka mercifully parted ways after last season, when he officially became the Mets underachiever.
9. Brian Cushing
Linebacker Brian Cushing was selected No. 15 overall by the Texans in the 2009 NFL Draft. That year he was named to the Pro Bowl and chosen as the AP NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
It was pretty easy for Cushing to attract those kinds of accolades when he was chowing down steroids. He was suspended for the first four games of the 2010 season and had been suspected of using PEDs prior to being drafted.
Cushing rebounded in 2011, but played just five games in 2012, having sustained a season-ending knee injury. So far, however, he has failed to match the success he enjoyed his rookie year.
8. Ilya Bryzgalov
After seven years of serviceable goaltending, first with the Ducks and then with the Coytoes, in 2011 Ilya Bryzgalov had convinced the Flyers he was good enough to sign to a nine-year contract worth $51 million. A pretty big commitment, for sure.
Then 18 months later the Flyers decided to eat the remaining seven years and tens of millions left on the deal and released Bryzgalov following the lockout shortened 2012-13 season, in which he posted the worse save percentage of his NHL career.
He may be considered an complete disappointment in Philadelphia, but Bryzgalov's career as a hockey goalie is actually quite impressive, considering he's afraid of hockey pucks.
7. Eddy Curry
At just 30-years-old, former first round draft pick Eddy Curry—he was selected No. 4 overall by the Bulls in 2001—is already out of the NBA and playing in China. Although he was technically under contract the last few years, he hasn't really played in about five years.
Curry had a few solid years in Chicago, showing marginal improvement in each of his four seasons. Which is all the Knicks needed to see in order to sign him (and his weight problem) to a six year deal worth $56 million—largely considered one of the worst contracts of all time.
He gave them one good season in 2006-07—good by his standards—before eating himself out of New York. Curry eventually ate himself out of the league.
6. Matt Cassel
Quarterback Matt Cassel was selected by the Patriots in the seventh round of the 2005 NFL Draft. He spent three years backing up Tom Brady until he went down with a season-ending injury in Week 1 of the 2008 season, making Cassel the starter.
Although 10-6 New England failed to make the playoffs that year, Cassel certainly made the most of his time in the spotlight. He threw for just under 3,700 yards, completing 63 percent of his passes, with 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
Cassel was signed by the Chiefs the following offseason, where he largely disappointed. He did show in 2010, but that was pretty much it. Cassel is set to start at least two or three games for the Vikings this year, but signing Josh Freeman suggests they don't have much confidence in him.
5. J.D. Drew
Recently retired right fielder J.D. Drew came into MLB as one of the most highly touted college prospects in history. Among his countless collegiate honors, he was named the 1997 Collegiate Baseball Player of the Year, the Sporting News Player of the Year and was a consensus All-American.
Drew was drafted by the Phillies that year, but refused to sign for anything less than $10 million. The next year he was drafted by the Cardinals, who paid him $7 million. He played just 14 games in St. Louis that season, but with 15 hits, five home runs and an average of .417, boy were they productive.
That was basically the peak of his career. Although Drew had a few decent seasons (2001 and 2004, specifically) he's widely considered a massive disappointment. Of course his October heroics in 2007 will always be remembered fondly by Red Sox fans.
4. Kwame Brown
Underachieving center Kwame Brown the biggest NBA Draft bust of all time? Well…if he isn't, he's certainly damn near. Selected No. 1 overall by the terrible decision making Wizards in 2001, his career been seriously underwhelming—which is the nicest possible way to describe it.
The highlight has to be his 2003-04 season in Washington, but even that isn't all that impressive.
Had Brown been a later pick, he probably wouldn't even be in the league anymore. It's that No. 1 overall potential that has convinced the Lakers and the Grizzlies and the Pistons and the Bobcats and the Warriors and most recently the 76ers to take a chance on him since 2005.
That's an awful lot of fans in an awful lot of cities who were more than happy to watch Brown walk away.
3. Matt Flynn
Has there ever been a case of a player earning more with less than newly unemployed quarterback Matt Flynn? He carried a clipboard for the Packers' Aaron Rodgers for four years before getting the start in a meaningless game against the Lions in January 2012.
There's no doubt Flynn was impressive that day, gaining 480 total offensive yards, with six touchdowns and just one interception—his QB rating was an epic 136.4. That offseason the Seahawks signed him to a three-year contract worth $20.5 million, with $9 million guaranteed.
Widely considered the obvious starter in Seattle, Flynn failed to win the job from rookie Russell Wilson, a surprise third round draft selection by Pete Carroll that year. He was released this past offseason and signed by the Raiders…who recently released him.
It looks like the well on that one game has finally run dry for Flynn. The Packers aren't even interested in re-signing him at this point.
2. Barry Zito
In his third season in MLB pitcher Barry Zito, then with the A's, was named the 2002 AL Cy Young Award winner and the AL TSN Pitcher of the Year. He was selected as an All-Star in 2002-03 and again in 2006.
The following season the Giants gave him a ridiculously bloated seven-year contract worth $126 million. Zito has been under constant fire ever since, which hasn't been entirely fair—was he supposed to turn down the money?
The fact of the matter is that San Francisco overpaid for a pitcher who has been largely in decline since 2004, three full years before they signed him. That's what happens in baseball, teams overpay for barely above mediocre players.
Although there has been some recent interest in trying to paint Zito's tenure with the Giants in a less harsh light, it's a very hard sell trying to re-brand what has long been considered one of the worst contracts in the history of sports.
1. Peyton Hillis
After two seasons of being completely useless with the Broncos, running back Peyton Hillis was traded to the Browns in 2010 and had one of the most surprisingly successful breakout performances in recent memory.
Hillis averaged 4.4 yards per carry while rushing for 1,177 yards—he added another 477 receiving—and 13 touchdowns in his first year in Cleveland. He became an instant sensation in the league and even ended up on the cover of Madden 12.
And in true Madden Curse tradition, he was never heard from again. Just kidding! Hillis stuck around for two more seasons, slowly descending back to Earth…and it wasn't a smooth landing. He is currently unemployed.
**I'm sure you're seething with rage about this whole list, follow me on Twitter and we'll work out our issues. Follow @blamberr