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Chris Borland and Playing Only One NFL Season

Late Monday night, 49ers linebacker and tackling machine Chris Borland announced that he was retiring due to concerns over the toll a longer career would have on his mind and body. Anyone can give a #hottake on this situation, but not everyone can come up with a list of the top players who played for exactly one season in the NFL.

My initial inclination was that the two best one-season careers came from Dieter Brock and Art Weiner, with former Vikings head coach Bud Grant getting an honorary nomination (you can read why, here). Brock was a great quarterback in Canada for 11 seasons who finally joined the NFL as a 34-year-old rookie in 1985. How did that happen?

The ’84 Rams were quarterbacked by Vince Ferragamo and Jeff Kemp, but they were essentially quarterbacked by Eric Dickerson.1 The team signed Brock in the off-season, and then traded an aging Ferragamo and a third round pick to Buffalo for tight end Tony Hunter.2 Kemp would lose the job in camp to Brock, who produced perfectly average numbers3 while playing with an insanely talented lineup (in addition to Dickerson, those Rams had Henry Ellard and sent four offensive linemen to the Pro Bowl: Kent Hill, Doug Smith, Dennis Harrah, and Jackie Slater. The fifth starter, Irv Pankey, was in the middle of a successful ten year run as the Rams left tackle.) In the playoffs, though, Brock struggled mightily, going 16/53 for 116 yards with 0 TDs and 2 INTs, which culminated in a shutout loss to the Bears in the NFC Championship Game. That would be enough for anyone to call it a career.

Art Weiner was a standout wide receiver at North Carolina, before joining the New York Yanks in 1950, a short-lived franchise with a complicated history.4 The ’50 Yanks were quarterbacked by George Ratterman, finished the year 7-5, and ranked 2nd in points and passing yards. That was in part due to Weiner and fellow wideout Dan Edwards, who were two of just six players in the NFL that year to top 700 receiving yards.  Weiner was the resident deep threat, and ranked 2nd in the NFL in yards per reception that year to Hugh Taylor (regular readers surely remember him) in yards per reception. Unfortunately for Weiner, a knee injury in a softball game in the offseason ended his pro career.

The table below shows every player from 1960 to 2013 who played exactly one NFL season and accumulated at least 5 points of AV.5 It’s fully sortable and searchable, but you may want to sort by year (instead of AV) to bring up the players you’re more likely to recall. If you’ve got fond memories of any of the below players, I’m sure we’d all love to read about it in the comments.

Dieter Brock1985ramQB15159
Bernard Williams1994phiLT16168
Odell Thurman2005cinMLB16157
Bob Olderman1985kanRG16147
Greg Johnson19772TMDT-NT-DE707
Jim Weatherford1969atlLS1407
Fred Cole1960sdgRG1407
Darnell Stapleton2008pitRG14126
Kenton Keith2007cltRB1616
Melvin Oliver2006sfoRDE16146
Will Whitticker2005gnbRG15146
Phil Bogle2003sdgRG15136
Sylvester Morris2000kanWR15146
Craig Patterson1991crdRDE16136
Melvin Jones1981wasRG11106
Leo Tierney19782TMC706
Greg Blankenship19762TMLB1006
Bill Reid1975sfoC13136
Bill Line1972chiRDT1386
Hap Farber19702TMLB806
Lucien Reeberg1963detRT1406
John Denvir1962denLG1106
George Fleming1961raiKR/K1406
Phil Nugent1961denLS1206
Bob Harrison1961cltRS1306
Charley Granger19612TMRT/1476
Paul Oglesby1960raiRT1406
Joe Schaffer1960bufRLB1406
Dan McGrew1960bufC1406
Phil Blazer1960bufLG1406
Don Manoukian1960raiLG1406
Fred Julian1960nyjLS1406
Roger Donnahoo1960nyjLCB1406
Don Deskins1960raiRDT1406
Carmen Cavalli1960raiLDE1406
Bill Brown1960nweMLB1406
Wali Lundy2006htxRB1485
Lawrence Smith2004buflg1685
Brandon Spoon2001bufMLB14145
Orlando Watters1994seaRCB1685
Tom Scott1993cinLT/lg13135
John Hendy1985sdgLCB16105
Anthony Young1985cltFS14125
Fletcher Jenkins1982cltRDE995
Randy Gill19782TMLB845
Doug Becker19782TMLB905
Andy Spiva1977atlLB1305
Randy Moore1976denrdt805
Ed Jones1975bufSS12115
Ken Grandberry1974chiRB1485
Mike Seifert1974cleRDE1205
Charles Anthony1974sdgMLB13105
Steve Conley19722TMLB-RB805
Dee Martin1971norLCB14145
Bruce Bergey19712TMDE705
Dennis Byrd1968nweLDE14145
George Wilson1966miaqb1475
Theophile Viltz1966otiLCB1405
Danny McIlhany1965ramRCB1005
Dick Leeuwenburg1965chiT905
Alex Kroll1962nyjLT1405
Norm Beal1962crdLS705
Bobby Bethune1962sdgRS1005
Pat Lamberti19612TMLB1205
Dave Rolle1960denFB1405
Corky Tharp1960nyjRS905
George McGee1960nweLT1405
Al Day1960denRLB1405
Jack Davis1960nweRG1405
Billy Brewer1960wasRS1105
Tony Discenzo19602TMT805
Bill Danenhauer19602TMDE705
  1. Los Angeles ranked last in pass attempts and second in rushing yards, as Dickerson set the single-season rushing record. []
  2. Who would finish second on the ’85 Rams in both receptions and receiving yards. []
  3. His ANY/A average of 4.9 matched the league average. []
  4. The team most notably allowed 554 passing yards to Norm Van Brocklin in 1951 []
  5. Because AV only goes back to ’60, Weiner and everyone else from that era is excluded. []
  • George Wilson (1966, Miami) is the only other QB on the list. I guess it helps when your father is the coach.

  • Brandon Magner

    I was wondering why Greg Cook was absent from this list until I saw he threw three passes four seasons after his rookie year. Would have otherwise come in first overall with 10 AV.

    • bobrulz

      It’s a shame Greg Cook. He had a great rookie year in an era when actually being good as a rookie QB was unheard of, if not borderline impossible. Nobody can ever know how good he would actually end up being, but it’s possible we lost the chance to watch a great QB due to sheer recklessness.

  • sacramento gold miners

    I wish Chris Borland well, and hope his “Plan B” is very successful. When you don’t have the passion anymore, for any reason, it’s time to go. Ditto for any career, and there’s no use wasting time otherwise. I’m reminded of the former excellent TE John Frank, also of the 49ers. Played several years, got out to become a doctor, and his story had a happy ending.

  • Ryan

    I was hoping to see Robert Edwards 1998 season, remembering that he had a career threatening injury playing flag football at the Pro Bowl…but he had 20 rushes in 2002…sad for your injury Robert, you were a sensation in 1998 from this guys perspective!

  • LouisDoench

    Wow. I remember Odell Thurman’s one year vividly. He was AMAZING. Then Goodell essentially blackballed him from the league.

  • Will Durham

    Too bad about Brock. They got him at the very end of his career, on the downside. If they’d have had him years earlier when his first name was Ralph not Dieter, maybe the stats would’ve been better.