Every NFL Team's Greatest Rookie Season of All Time
Great rookie seasons have played a big part in making up the rich history of the National Football League. From Cleveland Browns running back Jim Brown running to an NFL MVP award in 1957, to rookie quarterbacks Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson becoming immediate superstars in 2012, first-year players make a huge impact on seasons year in and year out.
Every NFL franchise has had rookie players who have come in and immediately made their respective teams better. The following 32 slides celebrate the best of the best in the history of each active NFL franchise.
All statistics, rankings and award information were found via Pro Football Reference unless otherwise noted.
Arizona Cardinals: RB Ottis Anderson (1979)
The No. 8 overall pick in 1979, Ottis Anderson immediately became one of the NFL's best running backs.
Playing for the team then known as the St. Louis Cardinals, he ran for 1,605 yards and eight touchdowns. He ranked third in the NFL in rushing yards that season, and was a first-team AP All-Pro selection.
Anderson had a great 14-year career, but never quite matched the success of his rookie season. He never ran for 1,400 yards or more in another season, and never earned another first-team All-Pro distinction.
Atlanta Falcons: QB Matt Ryan (2008)
The Atlanta Falcons were looking for a franchise quarterback who could get them to the playoffs when they used the No. 3 overall pick in 2008 on Boston College signal-caller Matt Ryan.
It only took Ryan one season to do that. He started all 16 games of his rookie season, and led the Falcons to an 11-5 record (a seven-win improvement from a 4-12 season in 2007) and a playoff berth. He became one of the first two rookie quarterbacks in NFL history to start every game and lead his team to the postseason.
Ryan won the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year Award in 2008. He completed 61.1 percent of his passes that season for 3,440 yards. He finished the year with a 16-to-11 touchdown-to-interception ratio and an 87.7 passer rating.
Baltimore Ravens: QB Joe Flacco (2008)
Matt Ryan wasn't the only rookie quarterback to start all 16 games and take his team to the playoffs in 2008. The other was No. 18 overall pick Joe Flacco, who did Ryan two better by becoming the first rookie quarterback in NFL history to win two playoff games.
Like the Falcons, the Ravens also went 11-5 in 2008. Flacco's numbers were slightly below Ryan's, as he completed 60 percent of his regular season passing attempts for 2,971 yards and 14 touchdowns while throwing 12 interceptions.
Flacco, however, proved himself as an immediate winner under center. Although he completed less than 50 percent of his passes that postseason, he did lead the Ravens to victories over the Miami Dolphins and Tennessee Titans in playoff games.
Flacco's string of playoff success didn't stop there. He has led the Ravens to five consecutive playoff berths, and most recently to the Ravens' Super Bowl championship last season.
Buffalo Bills: RB Cookie Gilchrist (1962)
Cookie Gilchrist immediately became one of the Buffalo Bills' first star players when he joined the team in 1962, their third year of existence as a member of the AFL.
Gilchrist won the AFL's AP Player of the Year Award as a rookie after leading the league in rushing yards (1,096), touchdowns (13) and yards per game (78.3). He also made eight of 20 field goals he attempted as the team's placekicker in his rookie season.
Gilchrist's career with the Buffalo Bills lasted only three seasons, but he made the Pro Bowl in all three of those years.
Carolina Panthers: QB Cam Newton (2011)
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft, Cam Newton immediately began living up to the hype in his rookie season. Newton broke the rookie record with 35 total touchdowns (21 passing, 14 rushing) in 2011.
Newton completed 60 percent of his passes for 4,051 yards, while he ran for 706 yards on 126 attempts. In doing so, he became the first rookie quarterback to pass for more than 4,000 yards. He also became the first player in NFL history to pass for more than 4,000 yards and rush for more than 500 yards in a single season.
Newton was the 2011 AP Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Chicago Bears: RB Gale Sayers (1965)
Few players have ever become bigger superstars in their rookie seasons than Chicago Bears running back Gale Sayers did in 1965. The No. 4 overall pick of the 1965 draft became an immediate phenom as one of the league's most dynamic players.
Sayers led the NFL with 2,272 all-purpose yards as a rookie. He also scored 22 total touchdowns, which still stands as a rookie record.
He rushed for 867 yards and 14 touchdowns on 166 carries. As a receiver out of the backfield, he caught 29 passes for 507 yards and six touchdowns.
As a returner, Sayers had 660 yards on 21 kickoff returns and 238 yards on 16 punt returns. He had a 96-yard kickoff return touchdown and an 85-yard punt return touchdown.
Sayers immediately proved that he could do it all on the football field, and was a first-team AP All-NFL player as a rookie.
Cincinnati Bengals: RB Ickey Woods (1988)
Ickey Woods' short-lived NFL career is best known for his iconic "Ickey Shuffle" dance, but the dance never would have become famous if not for his ability to find the end zone in his rookie season.
The No. 31 overall pick in the 1988 draft quickly became a sensation for the Cincinnati Bengals. He rushed for 1,066 yards on 203 attempts and finished the season with 15 rushing touchdowns, tied for the second-most by a rookie in NFL history. He also led the NFL with 5.3 rushing yards per attempt.
His stardom, however, was short-lived. Woods played only three more seasons in the NFL, in which he ran for only 459 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Cleveland Browns: FB Jim Brown (1957)
Jim Brown redefined the running back position during his legendary nine-year career with the Cleveland Browns. He immediately began that effort during his rookie season in 1957.
The No. 6 overall pick in the 1957 draft, Brown led the NFL with 942 yards and nine touchdowns as a rookie. He was named both the NFL MVP and a first-team All-NFL selection by the Associated Press.
Over the next eight seasons, Brown went on to win two more NFL MVP awards and lead the NFL in rushing yards seven more times.
Dallas Cowboys: RB Calvin Hill (1969)
Hall of Fame running backs Tony Dorsett and Emmitt Smith both won Offensive Rookie of the Year awards with the Dallas Cowboys, but another running back did them one better.
Calvin Hill, the No. 24 overall pick of the 1969 draft, was a first-team All-NFL selection in his rookie season in addition to winning the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year award. He ranked second in the NFL with 942 rushing yards and third in the NFL with eight rushing touchdowns.
Hill's career wasn't quite as legendary as those of Dorsett and Smith, but he did make three more consecutive Pro Bowl appearances from 1972-74.
Denver Broncos: RB Clinton Portis (2002)
The Denver Broncos found an immediate gem in 2002 with second-round pick running back Clinton Portis.
He broke the team's rookie rushing yards record, set by Mike Anderson just two years earlier, with 1,508 yards. He also tied Anderson's record with 15 rushing touchdowns. He was also an effective receiver out of the backfield, catching 33 passes for 364 yards and two touchdowns.
Portis won the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year award in 2002 and ranked fourth in the NFL in both rushing yards and touchdowns for the season.
Detroit Lions: RB Billy Sims (1980)
Before there was Barry Sanders running to greatness wearing No. 20 for the Detroit Lions, there was Billy Sims gracing the same number. The No. 1 overall pick in the 1980 draft, Sims immediately made the Lions' draft choice look smart.
Sims ran for 1,303 yards and led the NFL with 13 rushing touchdowns in his rookie season. He was also a very effective receiver out of the backfield, catching 51 passes for 621 yards and three touchdowns.
Sims ranked second in the NFL in yards from scrimmage as a rookie and was the AP's NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Green Bay Packers: RB John Brockington (1971)
The Green Bay Packers have only had one 1,000-yard rookie rusher and one first-team AP All-Pro rookie in their rich history. John Brockington, the 1971 AP Offensive Rookie of the Year, meets both of those criteria.
The No. 9 overall pick in the 1971 draft ran for 1,105 yards and four touchdowns in his rookie season. His rushing yardage total was the league's second-highest for the 1971 season.
Brockington is the Packers' No. 3 all-time rusher with 5,024 yards.
Houston Texans: LB Brian Cushing (2009)
Brian Cushing became an immediate standout on the Houston Texans defense in 2009. Playing alongside DeMeco Ryans at outside linebacker, Cushing became the team's second star linebacker and earned AP Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.
Cushing finished his rookie season with 133 total tackles, four sacks and 10 passes defended (four interceptions and two forced fumbles). He finished the season tied for fifth in the NFL in total tackles.
Cushing even scored two points in his rookie season when he took down Oakland Raiders running back Justin Fargas in his own end zone for a safety.
Indianapolis Colts: RB Edgerrin James (1999)
It's hard to leave Andrew Luck off of this list after he led the Indianapolis Colts to the playoffs last season, but Edgerrin James had one of the NFL's best rookie seasons ever in 1999.
The No. 4 overall pick immediately emerged as one of the NFL's star running backs in his rookie season. James led the NFL with 1,553 rushing yards on 369 attempts, and he ran for 13 touchdowns. He added 586 yards and four touchdowns on 62 receptions.
James led the NFL in 1999 with 17 total touchdowns. His 2,139 yards from scrimmage is the second-highest total for a rookie in NFL history. As a result of his spectacular season, James was the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year and a first-team All-Pro selection.
Jacksonville Jaguars: RB Fred Taylor (1998)
Fred Taylor was the No. 9 overall pick in 1998, the Jacksonville Jaguars' fourth season as an NFL franchise. He immediately became a workhorse running back for the Jaguars and one of the team's first star players.
Taylor ran the ball 264 times for 1,223 yards and 14 touchdowns as a rookie while also catching 44 passes out of the backfield for 421 yards and three touchdowns. He ranked seventh in the NFL in yards from scrimmage and tied for second with 17 touchdowns scored.
Taylor's marks for rushing attempts, rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, yards from scrimmage and touchdowns scored all still stand as Jaguars rookie records.
Kansas City Chiefs: RB Abner Haynes (1960)
Abner Haynes was truly the first star of the franchise now known as the Kansas City Chiefs. As the first running back for the team then known as the Dallas Texans, Haynes was the AFL's first MVP and Rookie of the Year in 1960, the league's inaugural season.
Haynes led the AFL in 1960 with 156 rushing attempts, 875 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns. He was also a productive receiver out of the backfield, catching 55 passes for 576 yards and three touchdowns.
Haynes was also the team's kickoff and punt returner. He led the league with 215 punt return yards on 14 attempts with a league-best 15.4 yards per punt return average. He finished the season with precisely 2,100 all-purpose yards, which also led the AFL.
Miami Dolphins: QB Dan Marino (1983)
Dan Marino entered the NFL in 1983, well before the modern trend toward first-round quarterbacks becoming immediate starters developed. As a result, the No. 27 overall pick only started nine games in his rookie season.
Remarkably, Marino still managed to make a big enough impression in only nine games to be named the second-team All-Pro quarterback by the Associated Press.
Marino immediately made a difference for the Miami Dolphins offense. He completed 58.4 percent of his passes for 2,210 yards and 20 touchdowns while throwing only six interceptions. He helped lead the Dolphins, who went 7-2 in his nine starts, to the playoffs.
Marino held the record for best rookie passer rating (96.0) in a season until 2004.
Minnesota Vikings: WR Randy Moss (1998)
Randy Moss had one of the greatest rookie seasons for a wide receiver of all time. On 69 receptions, Moss broke Billy Howton's NFL rookie records with 1,313 receiving yards (which was broken by Anquan Boldin in 2003) and 17 receiving touchdowns.
Moss immediately became the league's most dangerous deep-threat wide receiver in his rookie season. Even with one of the NFL's elite receivers opposite him in Cris Carter, he led the league in receiving touchdowns and finished third in receiving yards.
The No. 21 overall pick of the 1998 draft, Moss earned first-team All-Pro and Offensive Rookie of the Year honors from the Associated Press.
Only four receivers in NFL history have caught more than 17 touchdown passes in any season of their careers, and one of them is Moss, who holds the NFL record with a 23-touchdown season for the New England Patriots in 2007.
New England Patriots: CB Mike Haynes (1976)
The No. 5 overall pick of the 1976 draft, Mike Haynes became an immediate defensive and special teams superstar for the New England Patriots.
Haynes became an immediate starting cornerback for the Patriots. He forced 11 turnovers—eight interceptions, three forced fumbles—in his rookie season.
Haynes also had a spectacular rookie season as a punt returner. He returned 45 punts for 608 yards and two touchdowns.
He earned Defensive Rookie of the Year and second-team All-Pro recognition from the Associated Press and the first of nine career Pro Bowl berths.
New Orleans Saints: RB George Rogers (1981)
One year after Billy Sims went No. 1 overall and won Offensive Rookie of the Year, George Rogers followed in his footsteps.
The top pick in the 1981 draft was the NFL's best running back as a rookie, leading the NFL with 378 rushing attempts and 1,674 rushing yards. Both of those marks rank second all-time for a rookie running back.
Rogers also had 13 rushing touchdowns, which tied the rookie record at the time. He was named a first-team All-Pro by the Associated Press for his spectacular first season.
New York Giants: OLB Lawrence Taylor (1981)
In 1981, the top two picks both earned Rookie of the Year honors on their sides of the ball. After the New Orleans Saints selected George Rogers at the top of the draft, the New York Giants took Lawrence Taylor with the No. 2 overall pick.
Taylor redefined the outside linebacker position as one for pass-rushers and ended up becoming one of the NFL's all-time great defensive players.
Unfortunately, sacks and tackles were not yet recorded as statistics in the 1981 NFL season, but Taylor's immediate impact on the league was clear. Taylor was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year and a first-team All-Pro by the Associated Press in his rookie season.
New York Jets: FS Erik McMillan (1988)
A third-round pick in the 1988 draft, Erik McMillan immediately became one of the NFL's most dangerous defensive playmakers. McMillan intercepted eight passes in his rookie season and took two of them back for touchdowns.
McMillan tied for second league-wide in interceptions and was one of only two players to have two interception return touchdowns in 1988.
He was named the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year and was named to his first of two consecutive Pro Bowls.
Oakland Raiders: RB Marcus Allen (1982)
At first glance, Marcus Allen's statistics for his rookie season do not stand out. While gaining 1,098 yards from scrimmage and scoring 14 touchdowns is a very respectable season for a rookie, those are not spectacular numbers for a full season.
The 1982 season, however, was shortened to only nine games because of a strike. Thus, Allen's numbers were both league-leading marks.
The No. 10 overall pick carried the ball 160 times for 697 yards and another league-leading mark of 11 rushing touchdowns. He added 401 receiving yards and three touchdowns on 38 receptions.
Allen was named a first-team All-Pro and Offensive Rookie of the Year by the Associated Press.
Even though he only played nine games, Allen still holds Raiders rookie records for yards from scrimmage, rushing yards, rushing touchdowns and touchdowns scored.
Philadelphia Eagles: TE Charle Young (1973)
As a rookie in 1973, Charle Young led all NFL tight ends in receptions (55) and receiving yards (854). He also finished second among all NFL tight ends with six receiving touchdowns.
The No. 6 overall pick's numbers ranked fourth among all NFL players that season in receptions and receiving yards.
The Philadelphia Eagles have never had an AP Offensive or Defensive Rookie of the Year, but Young was named the 1973 NFC Rookie of the Year by United Press International. The AP did recognize Young as the NFL's best tight end in 1973 by naming him a first-team All-Pro.
Pittsburgh Steelers: QB Ben Roethlisberger (2004)
Ben Roethlisberger's rookie campaign in 2004 was arguably the best season by a rookie quarterback in NFL history. It was his stellar season as a rookie quarterback that set the modern trend of rookie quarterbacks becoming immediate starters into motion.
Roethlisberger started 13 games for the Steelers in 2004, and they won all of them. He completed 66.4 percent of his passes and threw for 2,621 yards and 17 touchdowns with 11 interceptions.
He broke the rookie record with a 98.1 passer rating (since broken by Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson). According to research by Pro Football Reference's Scott Kacsmar, Roethlisberger led the league in 2004 with five fourth-quarter comebacks and six game-winning drives.
Roethlisberger led the Pittsburgh Steelers to the AFC Championship Game, where they lost to the New England Patriots. He was named AP Offensive Rookie of the Year.
San Diego Chargers: RB Don Woods (1974)
A sixth-round pick out of New Mexico Highlands in the 1974 draft, Don Woods' rookie season may have been the most unexpected on this list.
Woods played in just 12 games and started only nine as a rookie, but managed 1,162 yards for the season, the NFL's second-highest total that year. He averaged 5.1 yards per carry and scored seven rushing touchdowns.
Woods was also effective as a receiver out of the backfield, catching 26 passes for 349 yards and three touchdowns. He earned the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year award.
San Francisco 49ers: CB Ronnie Lott (1981)
Lawrence Taylor wasn't the only top-10 pick from the 1981 draft to become one of the game's all-time great defensive players. The other was No. 8 overall pick Ronnie Lott, one of the greatest defensive backs in NFL history, whose rookie performance would have earned him Defensive Rookie of the Year honors if not for Taylor.
Lott intercepted seven passes as a rookie and tied the rookie record by returning three of them for touchdowns.
Lott was credited with 89 tackles for his rookie season. He also occasionally returned punts as a rookie, doing so seven times for 111 total yards. He earned first-team All-Pro recognition from the Associated Press.
Seattle Seahawks: QB Russell Wilson (2012)
It came as no surprise that rookie quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III became instant superstars last season, as they were the top two picks in the 2012 draft. They were joined in stardom, however, by Russell Wilson, who may have turned in the greatest rookie campaign ever by a rookie quarterback drafted outside of Round 1.
The Seattle Seahawks third-round pick started all 16 games under center last season, leading them to an 11-5 record and a playoff berth. He also led the Seahawks to a postseason victory over the Washington Redskins.
Wilson completed 64.1 percent of his passes for 3,118 yards. He tied Peyton Manning's rookie record with 26 touchdowns while only throwing 10 interceptions (Manning threw 28 in his rookie season).
Along with Griffin, Wilson became one of the first two rookie quarterbacks in NFL history to finish the season with a passer rating of 100 or better (Wilson's rating was exactly 100).
St. Louis Rams: RB Eric Dickerson (1983)
While there are many running backs on this list who had great rookie season, Eric Dickerson's in 1983 remains the greatest ever at the position.
Playing for the team then known as the Los Angeles Rams, the No. 2 overall pick set still-standing rookie records with 1,808 rushing yards, 18 rushing touchdowns, 390 rushing attempts and 2,212 yards from scrimmage. Dickerson scored 20 total touchdowns, the second-highest rookie total of all time and the second-most in the NFL in 1983.
Dickerson was a first-team All-Pro selection and the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: RB Doug Martin (2012)
Warrick Dunn and Cadillac Williams had great rookie seasons as Tampa Bay Buccaneers running backs, but Doug Martin blew their numbers away with his outstanding rookie season last year.
The No. 31 overall pick got his NFL career off to a great start. Martin ran for 1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns on 319 carries and added 472 yards and one touchdown on 49 receptions.
Martin ranked third in the NFL last season with 1,926 yards from scrimmage, which is also the third-highest total ever for a rookie.
Tennessee Titans: RB Earl Campbell (1978)
Earl Campbell is another example of a running back selected No. 1 overall who made his team's pick look very smart in his rookie season.
Campbell wasn't just the Offensive Rookie of the Year in 1978; he was also named Offensive Player of the Year and first-team All-Pro. Playing for the team then known as the Houston Oilers, Campbell led the NFL with 1,450 rushing yards.
On 302 carries, Campbell also ran for 13 touchdowns, the second-highest total in the NFL that season. He still holds franchise rookie records for rushing yards and touchdowns scored.
Washington Redskins: QB Robert Griffin III (2012)
Redskins legends Sammy Baugh and Charley Taylor made this a more difficult choice than it may seem, but Robert Griffin III's performance last season undoubtedly ranks as one of the greatest seasons by an NFL rookie of all time.
The No. 2 overall pick put up absolutely spectacular numbers as a dual-threat rookie quarterback. Griffin completed 65.6 percent of his passes for 3,200 yards and 20 touchdowns and threw only five interceptions.
As a result of his spectacular passing season, Griffin set NFL rookie records with a 102.4 passer rating and an interceptions per passing attempts percentage of 1.3. He also led the NFL with 8.1 yards per passing attempt.
Griffin didn't just do damage to opposing defenses through the air. He set a rookie quarterback record with 815 rushing yards and also had seven rushing touchdowns on 120 total rushing attempts. Griffin compiled 3,798 yards of total offense, the third-highest total all-time for a rookie quarterback.
The Redskins went 9-6 in the 15 games Griffin started last season, and he led the Redskins to an NFC East title and playoff berth. Unfortunately, Griffin suffered torn knee ligaments in the Redskins' first-round playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
Dan Hope is an NFL draft featured columnist for Bleacher Report.