Looking back on the best NFL rookie seasons is a reminder of how many great players took the league by storm.
Whether under the microscope of being an early first round selection or a more surprising rookie season star, many of the game’s iconic names immediately had an impact in the NFL.
Best NFL Rookie Seasons:
The last three NFL first round picks – Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray, Joe Burrow – have all attracted plenty of headlines, quickly becoming sports betting stalwarts.
Mayfield and Murray are showing promise of contention in 2020, but none of the three make it onto our top 10 rookie seasons in NFL history. Some Hall of Famers, some legends from decade’s past. These are the best NFL rookie seasons ever…
This wasn’t just impressive for a rookie. It was, and perhaps still is, among the best individual seasons in league history.
Playing for the Chicago Bears in 1965, Gale Sayers recorded a then-record 22 touchdowns, 14 coming on the ground and six in the air. The other two were punt and kick returns.
A whopping 2272 all-purpose yards set a record at the time, too. An epic campaign included an extraordinary game against the Niners – Sayers scored six touchdowns on 335 total yards.
Despite the brilliance of Sayers, the Bears missed out on the playoffs in 1965. He had a short, but phenomenal, career.
The Vikings were a score from a Super Bowl berth in Randy Moss’ rookie year.
The fact they got so close was largely down to Moss, who recorded 17 touchdowns and over 1300 yards, as he picked up an immediate chemistry with quarterback Randall Cunningham.
It was no beginner’s luck for Moss either. He built a Hall of Fame career with four All-Pro selections, and is recognised as one of the best wide receivers in the history of the game.
Night Train Lane
After striding into the Rams’ facility and asking for a try out as a wide receiver, Night Train Lane became an elite cornerback.
Los Angeles had a couple of Hall of Fame receivers at the time, blocking his path to the team.
The pace of a wide receiver who had shined in his junior year in college, and the anticipation to predict quarterbacks and pass-catchers, made him a defensive menace.
In just 12 games, Night Train Lane registered 14 interceptions, which he returned for just shy of 300 yards and a couple of touchdowns.
Has any linebacker arrived in the NFL with the same level of hype as Lawrence Taylor?
Selected second overall by the New York Giants, Taylor took no time living up to expectations – harassing quarterbacks all year long on his way to 9.5 sacks for the year.
He’s the first player to win Defensive Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year in the same campaign, a season which finished with the Niners’ elite offensive linemen restricting Taylor in the playoffs.
Even then, he registered a sack and three tackles.
The Pittsburgh Steelers, led by a rookie Ben Roethlisberger, became NFL betting candidates to win it all.
Only the New England Patriots could stop them in the AFC Championship game after Big Ben guided them to an incredible regular season.
Pittsburgh had gone just 6-10 the year before, earning the 11th pick. They used that selection on Roethlisberger, who won his first 13 NFL starts (which is, unsurprisingly, a record).
Awarded with NFL Rookie of the Year and AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, Roethlisberger took no time to settle into the big time. It set the perfect foundation for what has been a Hall of Fame career.
Sammy Baugh changed the sport. The 1930s quarterback position was incomparable to today’s game.
Baugh revolutionised quarterback play, leading the league in pretty much every passing category in his 1937 rookie year. And for good measure, he slotted in at defensive back and punted when required, too.
The Redskins were NFL champions on the back of Baugh’s play. He registered 335 passing yards to win the title, a long-time rookie postseason record.
One of the best ever running backs produced an historic rookie year.
Barry Sanders came into the league under pressure to succeed after winning the Heisman Trophy in 1988, and he did just that.
Sanders earned All-Pro honours in his rookie year, having registered just under 1,500 yards and 14 touchdowns. It was just the beginning of a Hall of Fame career.
Rushing yards leader, rushing touchdown leader, MVP. That was Jim Brown’s rookie season in 1957, arguably the worst of his professional career.
Brown was an unstoppable force. The 942 rushing yards of 1957 soon were dwarfed by his achievements over the following years.
Two more MVPs followed, as Brown cemented himself as an all-time great. He was subsequently named to the NFL 50th, 75th, and 100th anniversary All-time teams.
It’s fair to call Jevon Kearse a Tennessee legend. Kearse exploded onto the scene, posting the best rookie defensive end season ever.
The Titans made their first ever Super Bowl, in large part thanks to Kearse’s terrifying defensive play.
The 14.5 sacks is a gaudy enough number alone, but he also forced eight fumbles, one of which was returned for a touchdown. We can add another three sacks in the postseason for good measure.
The first round of the 1983 draft was a belter.
Alongside John Elway, Dan Marino and others, Eric Dickerson was taken second overall by the Rams. The league had no answer for the rookie running back in his first year.
Dickerson led the NFL in yards, longest rush, carries and yards per game. He had his problems with fumbles, but they were more than outweighed by his ability as both as a rusher and a pass catcher.
*Credit for the main photo belongs to Steve Mitchell / AP Photo*