The 26 Most Impressive Rookie Seasons in NFL History

Dan Van Wie@@DanVanWieContributor IIIApril 4, 2012

The 26 Most Impressive Rookie Seasons in NFL History

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    For the vast majority of NFL players, their rookie seasons could be chalked up as a major learning experience, with the end result being a humbling experience. As players evolve from high school to college and then eventually to the pros, they learn that the professional game is much faster and the majority of athletes they face are as good or better than they are.

    We included some of the best rookies from the 2011 class in this presentation. Will any of the new crop of 2012 NFL rookies wind up with a season that will be worthy of being included in future versions ?

    For some NFL rookies, they are able to break through the infamous rookie wall, and put together a complete season that separates them from the vast masses. Those are the players that we want to talk about today, the players that have gone on to have the 26 most impressive rookie seasons in NFL history.

NFL Rookies of the Year

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    Starting out with NFL Rookies of the Year, here is a link to the list of AP NFL Offensive Rookies of the Year by CBS from 1967 - 2010. For some reason the list doesn't include the 2011 winner, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. The link for the AP NFL Defensive Rookies of the Year can be found right here. That list also covers 1967 - 2010. The 2011 Defensive Rookie of the Year went to Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller.

    The UPI Rookie of the Year covers the years of 1955 - 1996, and the Wikipedia link to that list can be found here.

    The AP Rookie winners from a positional view, are broken down as follows: on defense, linebackers have won the award 24 times, compared to defensive ends (8), defensive tackles (6), corners (6) and safeties (2). On offense, the most common winner was running backs (31), quarterbacks (6), wide receivers (7). Those are the only three positions on offense that won the AP award from 1967 - present. 

    In this article by Scott Fowler of the Charlotte, he writes that Cam Newton had the "NFL Best Rookie Season Ever". With all of the records that Newton set, and the way that he breezed through his rookie season, he might be right.

    As Fowler wrote, there are five other serious contenders to the throne of "Best NFL Rookie Year Ever" . They are:

    Lawrence Taylor, who started redefining the position of outside linebacker as a rookie out of North Carolina in 1981 and ended up being named AP Defensive Player of the Year? Not just rookie of the year, mind you - best defensive player in the league.

    Eric Dickerson, who led the entire league in rushing with 1,808 yards in 1983 and scored 18 rushing touchdowns?

    Dick "Night Train" Lane, who set an NFL record as a rookie in 1952 with 14 interceptions that still stands 60 years later - in a 12-game season?

    Randy Moss, who in 1998 led the NFL with 17 receiving TDs as a rookie and had 1,313 receiving yards?

    Ben Roethlisberger, who in 2004 went 14-1 as a rookie starting quarterback, including 13-0 in the regular season?


Best Rookies of All Time List

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    To add another point of view, back in 2003, Jeff Merron of, wrote a story about the "Best NFL Rookies of All-Time". His list contained a Top-10 list, with some honorable mentions. Here are the results, keeping in mind that this article was written nine seasons ago.

    Top-10 All-Time Rookies: Lawrence Taylor (New York Giants, 1981), Eric Dickerson (Los Angeles Rams, 1983), Dick "Night Train" Lane (Los Angeles Rams, 1952), Barry Sanders (Detroit Lions, 1989), Ronnie Lott (San Francisco 49ers, 1981), Edgerrin James (Indianapolis Colts, 1999), Bob Hayes (Dallas Cowboys, 1965), Dan Marino (Miami Dolphins, 1983), Gale Sayers (Chicago Bears, 1965) and Randy Moss (Minnesota Vikings, 1998).

    Merron's honorable mention list includes: Kevin Butler (Chicago Bears, 1985), Clinton Portis (Denver Broncos, 2002), Earl Campbell (Houston Oilers, 1978), Mike Anderson (Denver Broncos, 2000), Jevon Kearse (Tennessee Titans, 1999), Curt Warner (Seattle Seahawks, 1983) and Ottis Anderson (St. Louis Cardinals, 1979).

    Interesting that Merron included only one quarterback on his list, and that despite all of the passing records that Peyton Manning established, that he didn't make either of the above lists.

    On to our presentation of 26 great rookie seasons. Please note that the source of our statistics that we use throughout the presentation are courtesy of Pro Football

Running Back Mike Anderson (2000)

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    The Denver Broncos drafted running back Mike Anderson in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL draft. Little did they know when they made their selection with the overall No. 189 pick that they had just selected the 2000 AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year winner.

    In his rookie year, Anderson rushed 297 times for 1,487 yards and 15 touchdowns. He averaged 5.0 yards per rush. In addition, Anderson caught 23 passes for 169 yards and no touchdowns.

Running Back Ottis Anderson (1979)

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    Ottis Anderson was the No. 8 overall draft pick in the 1979 draft by the St Louis Cardinals.

    In his rookie season, Anderson rushed the ball 331 times for 1,605 yards and eight touchdowns. Anderson averaged 4.8 yards per rush. A dual threat, Anderson caught 41 passes for 308 yards and scored on two receptions. He averaged 7.5 yards per rush.

    Anderson went on to have a total of five seasons where he topped 1,000 rushing yards, but he never ran for more yards than he did as a rookie in the league.

    Anderson was voted as the 1979 AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year winner.

    Photo Courtesy of Sports

Kicker Kevin Butler (1985)

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    Chicago Bears kicker Kevin Butler holds the NFL all-time rookie record for most points scored in NFL history by a rookie with 144 points.

    It turns out that Butler holds the record because he kicked three more extra points than did Green Bay Packers rookie kicker Mason Crosby, as they both kicked 31 field goals in their rookie seasons.

    For what it is worth the most points ever scored by a rookie that wasn't a kicker was by Gale Sayers, who scored 132 points for the Chicago Bears in 1965.

    In 1985, Butler nailed all 51 of his PAT attempts and hit 31 of 37 field-goal attempts. He led the NFL in scoring in 1985 with 144 points.

    While we are on the subject of NFL rookie kickers, another Packers rookie kicker, Chester Marcol, holds the NFL rookie record for most field goals attempted in his rookie season with 48 attempts. The year was 1972.

Safety Jairus Byrd (2009)

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    In the 2009 NFL campaign, there was a rookie that was tied for the NFL lead in interceptions with nine. His name is Jairus Byrd, and he is the son of ex-San Diego Chargers star Gil Byrd. Byrd was a second-round draft pick of the Bills, who took him at No. 42 overall.

    Jairus Byrd plays safety for the Buffalo Bills. In the 2009 campaign, he wound up tied for the league lead with three other players, safety Darren Sharper (New Orleans), corner Charles Woodson (Green Bay) and corner Asante Samuel (Philadelphia).

    Byrd had a stretch in his rookie season where he intercepted two passes in three consecutive games. That tied an NFL record which was originally made by Dave Baker.

    Byrd also contributed 45 tackles and 11 passes defended in his rookie season.

    For his efforts, Byrd wound up in second place in the AP NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award, losing out to linebacker Brian Cushing. In an article from New, it was later revealed that Cushing was found to be in violation of the NFL policies of steroids abuse. The AP wound up taking a second vote for the award. Cushing won on that ballot as well.

    Byrd was voted to the Pro Bowl, which was the first Bills rookie to be so honored since Greg Bell made the Pro Bowl team as a rookie in 1984. 

Running Back Earl Campbell (1978)

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    The Houston Oilers owned the first-overall draft pick in the 1978 draft, and they selected running back Earl Campbell.

    In his rookie year, Campbell wound up leading the entire NFL in rushing, as he ran the ball 302 times for 1,450 yards and scored 13 rushing touchdowns. Campbell averaged 4.8 yards per rush.

    The Oilers didn't view him as much of a threat to catch passes out of the backfield, as he only had 12 catches for 48 yards for the entire 1978 season.

    Campbell began his career with four-straight 1,000 plus rushing yard seasons. He won the 1978 AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award. Campbell was rated as the No. 55 NFL Player of all-time by

Running Back: Eric Dickerson (1983)

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    The 1983 NFL draft was known as the year of the quarterback, but for the Los Angeles Rams they were delighted with how their running back selection with the second-overall pick turned out.

    The Rams drafted Eric Dickerson, who wound up in 1983 as the AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and the UPI NFC Offensive Player of the Year. In his rookie season, Dickerson was the NFL rushing champion, made the Pro Bowl and the All-Pro team.

    Dickerson proved to be a workhorse for the Rams, rushing the ball 390 times for 1,808 yards and 18 rushing touchdowns. On top of that, Dickerson caught 51 passes for 404 yards and two more touchdowns. He is easily the most well rounded of the running backs on our list to date.

    The NFL rookie records that Dickerson set included: most rushing attempts (390), most rushing yards gained (1,808), and most touchdowns rushing (18).

Defensive End Charles Haley (1986)

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    The San Francisco 49ers did some mining in the fourth round of the 1986 draft, and they struck gold with the No. 96 overall selection when they drafted defensive end Charles Haley.

    Charles Haley put the NFL on notice that he would be causing grief for quarterbacks around the league when he set a new rookie record for the 49ers with his 12 sacks for the year.

    Haley went on to have 100 career sacks, in addition to playing for five winning Super Bowl teams.

Wide Receiver Bob Hayes (1965)

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    Bob Hayes was a seventh-round draft pick of the Dallas Cowboys, when he was selected with the No. 88 overall pick in the 1964 draft. In the 1964 Olympic Games, Hayes emerged as a gold medal winner due to his blazing speed. During his track career, Hayes set world records in the 60-yard, 100-yard, 220-yard, and Olympic 100-meter dashes. Hayes was referred to as the world's fastest man.

    Hayes did not debut for the Cowboys until 1965.

    In his rookie year, Hayes led the Cowboys in receptions and in reception yards. He caught 46 passes for 1,003 yards, averaging an amazing 21.8 yards per catch, and caught 12 touchdown passes. As a result, Hayes made both the Pro Bowl and All-Pro teams in his rookie year.

    According to his Wikipedia entry, it is because of Hayes that the NFL created zone coverage in the secondary, along with the invention of the bump and run, all in the attempt to contain and slow down the "Bullet", Bob Hayes. He is also the only NFL player to have won an Olympic gold medal and a Super Bowl ring.

    Hayes set a Cowboys franchise record with the 12 touchdown catches in his rookie year.

    Photo courtesy of Rattler

Running Back: Edgerrin James (1999)

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    In the 1999 NFL draft, the Indianapolis Colts selected running back Edgerrin James with the No. 4 overall draft pick.

    In return, James led the NFL in rushing in each of his first two years in the league. In his rookie season, James ran the ball 369 times for 1,553 yards and 13 rushing touchdowns. He averaged 4.2 yards per rush. In addition, James caught 62 passes for 586 yards, scoring another four touchdowns via the passing game. He averaged 9.5 yards per catch, proving that he really was a dual threat.

    James won the AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award in 1999. In his rookie season, he also was named to the All-Pro and Pro Bowl teams.

    One of the records that James set in his rookie season, was rushing for over 100 yards in 10 games that season. Looks like the Colts didn't miss Marshall Faulk that badly after all.

Defensive End Jevon Kearse (1999)

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    Jevon Kearse was drafted with the No. 16 overall draft pick in the 1999 draft by the Tennessee Titans.

    Kearse proved to be too much of a physical freak for opposing linemen to contain, as he wound up setting an NFL rookie record with 14.5 sacks.

    Kearse wasn't just causing damage with his sacks alone. He also was very adept at creating turnovers as a rookie, as he wound up with eight forced fumbles in his rookie year. He recovered one fumble and scored a touchdown on the play. He was credited with 48 tackles in his rookie campaign.

    Without a doubt, Kearse had a banner year in 1999. In his rookie season, he was named as the AP NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and was also named as the AFC Defensive Player of the Year. He was named to both the All-Pro and the Pro-Bowl teams.

Cornerback: Dick "Night Train" Lane (1952)

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    On an earlier slide we talked about rookie safety Jairus Byrd tying for the league lead in interceptions in 2009 with nine. Well, that mark falls way short of the NFL rookie record from a historical perspective. That honor belongs to Dick "Night Train" Lane.

    Lane joined the Detroit Lions in 1952 because he wanted a different job. At the time he had been working in a aircraft factory. He was never drafted and wasn't on any NFL team's radar.

    Lane was inserted in the Lions defensive backfield and the rest is history. He came up with 14 interceptions that season and now, 60 years later, no other rookie has been able to beat his record. What is even more amazing about his accomplishment is that the NFL only played a 12 game season in 1952.

    The career total of 68 interceptions, ranks Lane as No. 4 all-time in NFL history.


Cornerback Ronnie Lott (1981)

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    Some rookies just excel right away as if they belonged and never looked back. Ronnie Lott was one of those special players.

    Lott was the No. 8 overall draft selection in 1981, made by the San Francisco 49ers. During his rookie season, Lott intercepted seven passes, returning three of them for touchdowns. He recovered two fumbles and made 89 tackles.The three touchdown returns tied Lott for a NFL rookie record.

    The 49ers won the Super Bowl in Lott's rookie year, and Lott played a key role in the 49ers defense. He would have been an easy winner of the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award, but he was joined by one other outstanding defensive rookie in 1981, linebacker Lawrence Taylor.

    Lott was voted to the Pro Bowl and All-Pro teams as a rookie.

Quarterback Peyton Manning (1998)

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    In the 1998 NFL draft, the Indianapolis Colts held the rights to the first-overall draft pick and they had to decide which franchise quarterback they needed to draft, Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf. Interesting that 14 years later, the Colts find themselves in the same boat, trying to decide between Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III.

    In Manning's rookie season of 1998, he passed for 3,739 yards and threw 26 touchdown passes. On the downside he threw 28 interceptions and completed only 56.7 percent of his passes. His QB Passer Rating was 71.2, and he averaged 6.50 yards per pass.

    Manning wound up setting NFL rookie records that season, which included: most touchdown passes (26), most consecutive games with a touchdown pass (13), most games with at least one touchdown pass (15) and most games in a season with 300 plus yards passing (4).

    Manning didn't win the AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award, because that honor went to Randy Moss, who also had a monster rookie year. He was elected to the NFL All-Rookie team.

    He also set a number of Colts rookie records like: most touchdown passes in a season (26), passing attempts in a season (575), single game passing completions (30), single season completions (326), and passing yards (3,739).

Quarterback Dan Marino (1983)

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    As we detailed in the Eric Dickerson slide, the 1983 draft was known as the year of the quarterback. Dan Marino was patiently waiting his turn, and he waited and waited to hear his name called out. Finally, the Miami Dolphins drafted Marino with the No. 27 overall pick in the first round, and the rest was history.

    Marino was drafted after John Elway, Todd Blackledge, Jim Kelly, Tony Eason and Ken O'Brien.

    The Dolphins let Marino watch the first five games from the sidelines, and then they threw him into the fire. Marino only played in 11 games in his rookie year, starting nine of them. That season, Marino completed 173 of 296 passes (58.4 completion percentage) for 2,210 yards. Marino threw 20 touchdown passes to only six interceptions, which is a great ratio, especially for a rookie. Peyton Manning's ratio was 26 touchdowns to 28 interceptions.

    Marino set an NFL record for the highest passer rating for a rookie at 96.0, as well as establishing another rookie record for pass completion percentage (58.4 percent). He also became the first NFL rookie quarterback to start in the Pro Bowl game.

Wide Receiver Randy Moss (1998)

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    Randy Moss was drafted No. 21 overall by the Minnesota Vikings in the 1998 draft. Moss only started in 11 games as a rookie, according to his stats at Pro Football As a rookie, Moss caught 69 passes for 1,313 yards and a whopping 17 touchdowns. His average yardage per catch was 19.0 yards.

    Moss set an NFL rookie record with the 17 touchdowns for a receiver. Moss won the AP NFL Rookie of the Year award, along with being voted to the Pro Bowl and the All-Pro team.

    Moss went on to have six-straight 1,000-plus yard receiving campaigns to start out his career.

Quarterback Cam Newton (2011)

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    Cam Newton had an unbelievable year playing quarterback in Auburn in 2010, leading his team to the national championship. In 2011, Newton had an even more impressive NFL rookie season, breaking numerous team and NFL rookie records.

    Newton was of course the No. 1 overall draft pick for the Carolina Panthers in the 2011 NFL draft. We prefaced this presentation with a slide about Newton, which delved into the possibility that Newton had the best rookie season of all-time in NFL history.

    To give you the magnitude of his great year, here is the complete rundown of records that Newton set in 2011, courtesy of his Wikipedia entry.

    NFL records

     Rookie Records

    • Most passing yards by a rookie in a game (432), September 18, 2011 vs. Green Bay Packers
    • Most passing yards by a rookie in a season (4,051), 2011
    • First rookie in NFL history to pass for more than 400 yards in back to back games, September 11, 2011 vs. Arizona Cardinals and September 18, 2011 vs. Green Bay Packers
    • First rookie in NFL history to throw for 10 touchdowns and run for 10 touchdowns in a season.
    • Fourth rookie quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards in a season.
    • Third most touchdown passes (21) in a rookie season.
    • Most total touchdowns by a rookie NFL player: 35 (21 pass, 14 rush).
    • Most rushing yards by a rookie quarterback: 706
    • Most rushing touchdowns by a rookie quarterback: 14
    • Along with Andy Dalton, the two make the first pair of rookie QB's to make the Pro Bowl

    NFL Records

    • Most passing yards by a quarterback in debut game (422), September 11, 2011 vs. Arizona Cardinals
    • Most passing yards by a quarterback in first two games (854), September 11, 2011 vs. Arizona Cardinals and September 18, 2011 vs Green Bay Packers
    • First quarterback in NFL history to pass for more than 400 yards in first career start, September 11, 2011 vs. Arizona Cardinals
    • Sixth quarterback to throw for 400+ yards in back to back games
    • First quarterback in NFL history to pass for more than 400 yards in first two career starts, September 11, 2011 vs. Arizona Cardinals and September 18, 2011 vs. Green Bay Packers
    • Fastest player to throw for 1,000 yards (at Arizona Cardinals, vs Green Bay Packers, and vs Jacksonville Jaguars).
    • First player in NFL history with at least five rushing touchdowns and five passing touchdowns in his first five games
    • Most rushing touchdowns in single season by a quarterback (14), achieved on December 4, 2011 vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
    • Second player in NFL history with 20+ pass TDs and 10+ rush TDs in a season, Joining Kordell Stewart ('97).
    • First player in NFL history with 4,000+ pass yards and 10+ rush TDs in a season.
    • First player in NFL history with 4,000+ pass yards and 500+ rush yards in a season.
    • Had a passing touchdown and a rushing touchdown in the same game eight times, tying the NFL single-season record - previously. accomplished by Steve Grogan of the New England Patriots in 1976 and Daunte Culpepper of the Minnesota Vikings in 2002.

     Carolina Panthers franchise records

    • Rookie quarterback records: completions (310), yards (4,051), passing touchdowns (21), completion percentage (60%), passer rating (84.5).
    • Franchise rushing record with an average of 5.60 yards per carry.
    • Longest offensive scoring play (91) to Brandon LaFell, December 24, 2011 vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
    • Second rookie to make Pro Bowl, Steve Smith in '01
    • First Panther to win AP Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Running Back Adrian Peterson (2007)

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    Despite playing in only 14 games in his rookie season, running back Adrian Peterson still managed to gain 1,341 rushing yards on 238 carries. That comes out to a 5.6 average yards per rush. He scored 12 rushing touchdowns in his rookie season.

    In addition to that, Peterson caught 19 passes for 268 yards, averaging a very strong 14.1 yards per receptions and scored one touchdown on a reception.

    Peterson just missed out on winning the rushing title that year due to missing two games. LaDainian Tomlinson beat out Peterson by just 133 yards, but Tomlinson also had an additional 77 carries more than Peterson. While Tomlinson averaged 4.7 yards per rush, it was Peterson with the 5.6 yards per rush that was actually the more productive back in the league that year.

    Besides leading the NFC in rushing as a rookie, Peterson was voted as the 2007 AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. He was also voted to the Pro Bowl and to the All-Pro team.

Corner Patrick Peterson (2011)

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    Patrick Peterson was the No. 5 overall draft pick for the Arizona Cardinals in 2011.

    Although some of Peterson's value was hurt by the NFL rule change of moving kickoffs up five yards closer, there was still one aspect of the game that Peterson would be allowed to thrive in. Punt returns.

    The new NFL records that Peterson established in 2011 included: the longest game-winning punt return touchdown in overtime: (99 yards) and he tied the record for most punt returns in a season for touchdown (4). Peterson also set a NFL rookie record with the most punt return yards by a rookie in a season: (699 yards).

    In addition to the return game, Peterson also contributed with two interceptions and two fumble recoveries to go along with 59 tackles. Peterson was voted to the Pro Bowl game and to the All-Pro team.

Running Back Clinton Portis (2002)

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    Clinton Portis was still available on the big board of the Denver Broncos when they were on the clock with the No. 51 overall pick in the 2002 NFL draft. The Broncos selected Portis, who in turn rewarded the Broncos by becoming the AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

    Portis rushed the ball 273 times for 1,508 yards and averaging a very impressive 5.5 yards per rush. He scored 17 rushing touchdowns. In addition, Portis caught 33 passes for 364 yards, averaging 11 yards per catch. He scored two touchdowns on pass receptions.

    He wound up reeling off four-straight 1,000-plus yard rushing seasons.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (2004)

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    Ben Roethlisberger was a first-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2004, selected with the No. 11 overall draft pick.

    Roethlisberger had a very solid rookie season. According to his stats at Pro Football, his record as a starting quarterback that year was 13-0. Not only that, but Big Ben set a new NFL rookie record by coming up with a QB Passer Rating of 98.1, which beat Dan Marino's old mark of 96.0.

    On the surface, it is hard to imagine Roethlisberger being better than a legend like Dan Marino, but when you look at his rookie stats, you understand why he was rated so highly.

    Roethlisberger completed 196 of 295 passes for a completion percentage of 66.4 percent. He passed for 2,621 yards and averaged 8.9 yards per pass attempt. He threw 17 touchdown passes to just 11 interceptions.

    Even as a rookie, Roethlisberger took his share of sacks, as he was sacked 30 times.

    He was elected as the AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Running Back George Rogers (1981)

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    The 1981 NFL Draft started out with running back George Rogers going first overall to the New Orleans Saints and then linebacker Lawrence Taylor went second overall to the New York Giants. Looks like they were seeded properly, as Taylor won the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year award, while Rogers took home the AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award.

    For what it is worth, the account of the 1981 draft in Wikipedia states that 26 of the 28 NFL general managers that were polled before the draft said they would have selected Taylor first, ahead of Rogers.

    Rogers wound up leading the NFL in rushing as a rookie with 1,647 yards. Not only that, but he also led the NFL in rushes (378) and average yards rushing per game with (104.6).  He scored 13 rushing touchdowns.

    The 1,647 rushing yards established Rogers as the all-time best rookie total in NFL history, at that time.

    Rogers was elected to the Pro Bowl game as a rookie.

Running Back Barry Sanders (1989)

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    Barry Sanders was selected by the Detroit Lions with the No. 3 overall draft selection in the 1989 draft.

    Sanders had just won the Heisman Trophy the year before, and he didn't disappoint as a pro. In his rookie year, Sanders started 13 games. He rushed the ball 280 times for 1,470 yards, gaining 5.3 yards per rush. He scored 14 rushing touchdowns. Sanders also caught 24 passes for 282 yards, averaging 11.8 yards per catch.

    Sanders won the 1989 AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award. He was also voted to the Pro Bowl game, as well as to the All-Pro team.

    That rookie season began an unbelievable streak of 10-straight years of rushing for over 1,000 yards, which was every year that Sanders played in the NFL.

Running Back Gale Sayers (1965)

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    Gale Sayers was the No. 4 overall draft pick in the 1965 draft by the Chicago Bears. Sayers went on to have a splendid rookie season, as he exploded on the NFL scene by scoring 22 touchdowns.

    When you look at everything that Sayers did in his rookie year, you have to be in awe of his talent. In rushing the ball, he ran the ball 166 times for 867 yards, averaging 5.2 yards per rush. He scored 14 rushing touchdowns. As a receiver out of the backfield, Sayers caught 29 passes for 507 yards, averaging 17.5 yards per catch. He caught six touchdown passes.

    Then you factor in the special teams play. As a return man, Sayers scored on both a kick return and on a punt return as a rookie. He averaged 14.9 yards per punt return and 31.4 yards as a kick returner. During that 1965 season, Sayers had a punt return of 85 yards, a kick return of 96 yards, a pass reception of 81 yards and a rush of 60 yards.

    In his 1965 rookie season, Gale Sayers scored 22 total touchdowns. The 132 points that he scored still stands as the most points ever scored by a rookie (excluding kickers). That record still remains 47 years later.

    Most Points, Rookie Season
    144 Kevin Butler, Chicago, 1985 (51-pat, 31-fg)
    141 Mason Crosby, Green Bay, 2007 (48-pat, 31-fg)
    132 Gale Sayers, Chicago, 1965 (22-td)

    Other rookie records that Sayers set was scoring six touchdowns in a game against the San Francisco 49ers and he also set a new record by amassing 2,272 all-purpose yards.

    Sayers won the AP NFL Rookie of the Year award, and was voted to the Pro Bowl game and as All-Pro.

Linebacker Aldon Smith (2011)

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    San Francisco 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith didn't win the AP NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award, but he easily could have. The honor went instead to another linebacker, Von Miller of the Denver Broncos.

    Smith wound up tied for No. 5 in the NFL in sacks with 14, just finishing one half of a sack shy of tying the all-time rookie sack record of 14.5 sacks set by Jevon Kearse.

    Von Miller did come up 11.5 sacks of his own, but it was Smith that led all NFL rookies in 2011 in that category.

Linebacker Lawrence Taylor (1981)

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    Lawrence Taylor was drafted by the New York Giants with the second pick overall in the 1981 NFL Draft, thanks to the New Orleans Saints passing him over for running back George Rogers.

    Taylor had a remarkable rookie season in 1981 as he came up with 9.5 sacks to demonstrate how disruptive he could be. He made such an impression around the NFL as a rookie, that not only did he win the AP NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award, but he was also voted as the NFL Defensive Player of the Year. That honor, as a rookie, has never been equaled. 

    He was voted to the Pro Bowl game as well as to the All-Pro team.

Running Back Curt Warner (1983)

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    Running back Curt Warner was the No. 3 overall draft pick of the Seattle Seahawks in 1983. Warner played a key role in his rookie season, as he helped lead the Seahawks to appear in the AFC Championship game.

    In his rookie season, Warner rushed 335 times for 1,449 yards and 13 rushing touchdowns. He averaged 4.3 yards per rush. In addition, he caught 42 passes for 325 yards, averaging 7.7 yards per catch. He had one touchdown catch.

    Warner was voted to both the Pro Bowl game and to the All-Pro team as a rookie. Unfortunately, he didn't win the AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award, as he was up against Eric Dickerson.

    Photo courtesy of

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