There have been several impressive rookies in the 2012 NFL season thus far, but how does their production compare with that of the greatest rookies in NFL history?
Looking at the quality of a rookie season retroactively is difficult to do.
For one it can be tempting to say, “Well, X-player had good numbers, but look at how bad his team did. If he was so great, his team would have won more than four games.” That’s not really fair for players selected at the top of the draft because a mid-round selection has, generally speaking, a better supporting cast and, therefore, an increased likelihood of advancing to the playoffs. Weaker teams should draft better players.
It can be also tempting to base the quality of a rookie campaign on what a player went on to do for the rest of his career. This is a list of “greatest rookie seasons,” not greatest future players.
And then there’s the unavoidable “comparing of eras”—something that really cannot be done, especially since players are thrown into the fire earlier and earlier each year. It also hurts that many of today’s valued statistics, like sacks, tackles and of course QBR, were not officially and uniformly recorded for many years.
With that spiel, here is my humble effort at identifying the best rookie season for every NFL team.
Note: A team’s history only goes back to the current name and location (i.e. players from the Los Angeles Rams and Houston Oilers are not considered).