It’s hard to come by great rookie performances that someday wind up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and better yet to see the NFL’s Rookie of the Year to find his way to Canton.
In 42 years of old school muddy fields to the new age of turf, the Associated Press has been voting Rookies of the Year to the NFL.
Since 1967, the Associated Press has given out two annual Rookie of the Year Awards to NFL American football players: one for an offensive player and one for a defensive player. These two are often regarded as the "official" Rookie of the Year Awards.
A number of players could be on this list some day. Guys like Marshall Faulk, Charles Woodson, maybe Leslie O’Neal, Jerome Bettis, Curtis Martin, Randy Moss, and Brian Urlacher. Some of the early birds may include guys like Patrick Willis, Julius Peppers, and Adrian Peterson.
Robert Brazile, one of the all-time great pass-rushing linebackers to play is the only linebacker from the 1970s All-Decade Team not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He is considered to be the one who first made the 3-4 popular for sending an outside linebacker to rush the quarterback.
Here are some quick hits for you on the history of the Rookies of the Year.
Players from the University of Miami have won the award the most times (six): Chuck Foreman, Ottis Anderson, Eddie Brown, Edgerrin James, Clinton Portis, and Jonathan Vilma.
The Detroit Lions and the Pittsburgh Steelers have both won a total of six Rookie of the Year awards. Detroit has won four Offensive ROTYs and two Defensive ROTYs; Pittsburgh has three of each.
Running backs have won 30 out of 43 Offensive ROTY awards or 70%, and linebackers have won half of the Defensive ROTY awards (21 out of 42).
Time will only tell which ex-NFL Offensive/Defensive Rookie of the Year will make it into the Hall of Fame.
Here is a look at the 13 NFL Rookies of the Year who have found their way into the Hall of Fame.
Franco Harris lived in the shadow of Lydell Mitchell, primarily as a blocker, at Penn State. In the 1972 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers chose him in the first round, 13th overall.
When Pittsburgh drafted Franco it was considered controversial at the time, as many thought the team would select his Penn State teammate, Lydell Mitchell. (The Baltimore Colts later drafted Mitchell (Second round, 48th overall)).
In his first season with the Steelers (1972), Harris was named the league's Rookie of the Year.
He gained 1,055 yards on 188 carries, with 5.6 yards per carry average. He also rushed for 10 touchdowns and caught one touchdown pass. Franco was also named to the 1972 Pro Bowl in his rookie season.
After Franco Harris’ rookie season he went on to earn eight straight Pro Bowl selections from 1973-1980 (including his rookie season) making nine total Pro Bowls. Franco was one of the best in the league throughout the 1970s and was elected the NFL’s 1970s All-Decade Team.
Franco was a huge workhorse for the Pittsburgh Steelers, helping the franchise to four Super Bowl wins in just six years. Franco was named the Most Valuable Player in Super Bowl IX. Harris ran for a Super Bowl record 158 yards (more than the entire Minnesota offense) and recorded a touchdown.
Harris was the first African American as well as the first Italian-American to be named Super Bowl MVP. His Super Bowl career totals of 101 carries for 354 yards are records and his four career rushing touchdowns are tied for the second most in Super Bowl history.
In his 13 professional seasons, Harris gained 12,120 yards on 2,949 carries, 4.1 yards per carry average, and scored 91 rushing touchdowns. He caught 307 passes for 2,287 yards, 7.4 yards per reception average, and nine receiving touchdowns.
Harris's 12,120 career-rushing yards rank him 13th all time in the NFL, while his 91 career rushing touchdowns rank him 10th all time tied with Jerome Bettis.
While the Steelers no longer officially retire uniform numbers, they have not reissued his No. 32 since he left the team.
Harris was a key player in one of the NFL's most famous plays, nicknamed "The Immaculate Reception." Terry Bradshaw’s pass was deflected away by Jack Tatum; Harris snatched the ball just before it hit the ground and ran it in to win the game.
He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990.
Lem Barney was a three-time All-Southwestern Conference star at Jackson State University where he recorded 26 career interceptions.
The Detroit Lions selected Barney in the 2nd round, 34th overall in 1967. 1967 was the first year the Associated Press has given two annual Rookie of the Year Awards to the NFL.
He also tied the NFL interception lead with 10 along with four other defensive backs. Three of his interceptions were returned back for touchdowns. He fell short of the then all-time single-season record, but did get it for a rookie record now tied by Ronnie Lott.
After a magnificent rookie season, he was selected defensive rookie of the year and to the Pro Bowl. His 1967 selection would be his first of seven Pro Bowl selections (1967-1969, 1972, 1973, 1975, and 1976).
Lem Barney was selected to the NFL’s 1960s All-Decade Team; I am surprised that he wasn't selected to the 1970s instead.
Highly feared by the league as a big time threat the Lions tried Barney as a return specialist finishing his career with 2,631 all-purpose yards with three touchdowns. He is third all-time in Lions history with 1,360 punt return yards.
His career totals include 56 interceptions for 1,077 yards, 143 punt returns for 1,312 yards and 50 kick returns for 1,274 yards, 11 touchdowns on seven interceptions, two punt returns, and one kick return.
In 1999, he was ranked No. 97 on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Football Players.
The Lions retired his number, 20, which was also worn by future Detroit star running backs Billy Sims and Barry Sanders.
Lem Barney was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1992.
Marcus Allen became the first player in NCAA history to rush for over 2,000 yards in one season. He did it his last year at the University of Southern California. While recording one of the most spectacular seasons, he ran for 2,342 yards.
He led the nation in rushing and scoring earning him a first round selection to the Los Angeles Raiders, 10th overall in the 1982 NFL Draft.
In a season that was shortened to a league strike, Allen ran for 697 yards for a league leading 11 touchdowns. He also caught 38 balls for 401 yards scoring three touchdowns. He led the league with 14 total touchdowns and yards from scrimmage with 1,098 yards. This was done in a nine game season.
Throughout Allen’s career he would ear six total Pro Bowl selections (1982, 1984-1987, and 1993).
In 1985, Allen rushed for 1,759 yards and ran for 11 touchdowns on 380 carries. He also caught 67 balls for 555 yards and three touchdowns He led the league in all-purpose yards with 2,314 total yards; in addition, Allen was named the NFL MVP.
Allen was the first player ever to gain more than 10,000 rushing yards and 5,000 receiving yards during his career.
Allen is also considered as one of the greatest goal line and short-yardage runners in the history of the NFL, a then league record 123 rushing touchdowns.
Allen ran for 12,243 yards for 123 touchdowns and caught 587 passes for 5,412 yards for 21 touchdowns during his career (145 total).
Allen may be best remembered for his heroics in Super Bowl XVIII as he ran for 191 yards leading to two touchdowns and his amazing 74 yard touchdown run with 12 seconds left on the clock.
Originally trying to run the clock out, it became a broken play and was the longest run in Super Bowl history until Super Bowl XL when Willie Parker of the Pittsburgh Steelers broke the record by a single yard.
Allen joined Hall of Famer Roger Staubach as the only two Hall of Famers to win both the Heisman Trophy and the Super Bowl MVP.
Allen was named the NFL Comeback Player of the Year even though he only ran for 764 yards he led the league in rushing touchdowns with 12.
Allen was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2003.
In 1976, Tony Dorsett continued to display his greatness in the college ranks and was awarded as the Heisman Trophy winner. He ran for 1,948 rushing yards.
Dorsett played for the University of Pittsburgh. He finished his college career with 6,082 total rushing yards, then an NCAA record. This would stand as the record until Ricky Williams surpassed it in 1998.
Dorsett was considered one of the greatest running backs in college football history and when the Dallas Cowboys were sitting at the second overall pick in the first round they couldn’t help but draft him in 1977.
In 1977, Dorsett’s rookie year, he ran for 1,007 yards for 12 touchdowns and caught 29 balls for 273 yards and another touchdown for a total of 1,280 yards from scrimmage and 13 touchdowns.
Dorsett was the first player to win the college football championship one year, then win the Super Bowl (XII) in his rookie season and then lose the Super Bowl (XIII) in his sophomore year.
Dorsett made the Pro Bowl four times during his career (1978, 1981-1983).
In Dorsett’s 12-year career he racked up 12,739 yards and 77 touchdowns (second in the franchise) and caught 398 balls for 3,554 yards and 13 touchdowns. He totaled 16,393 (10th all-time) yards and 90 touchdowns.
He may be best known for his wide-open eyes when carrying the football and his 99-yard touchdown scamper against the Minnesota Vikings, which is the longest run from scrimmage in NFL history.
I always thought Tony should have been given a spot on the 1980s All-Decade Team.
He is the only player in history who has won the Heisman Trophy, won the Super Bowl, won the College National Championship, been enshrined in the College Hall of Fame, and been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall Of Fame.
Tony Dorsett was enshrined in the Texas Stadium Ring of Honor the same year he was selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the College Football Hall of Fame in 1994.
A pro scout said, "He's tough and mean and comes to hit people. He has good killer instincts. He's mobile and hostile."
He got his nickname when the Pittsburgh fan base mistakenly assumed that the North Texas team nickname of "Mean Green" was Joe Greene's nickname; however, Coach Rust's wife wanted to give a nickname to the team's outstanding defense. Since green is the school's main color, she gave the defense the name "Mean Green."
In 1969, Greene was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers with the fourth pick of the NFL draft and later became the NFL's Rookie of the Year.
From his rookie season and on, Joe became one of the meanest players to ever step foot on a football field.
Greene was elected to 10 Pro Bowls (1969-1976, 1978, and 1979) through his 13-year career with Pittsburgh.
Throughout the early 1970s, he was the most dominant defensive player in the NFL. He is considered by many to be the greatest defensive lineman ever, and was the cornerstone of the legendary “Steel Curtain” defense that anchored four Super Bowl (IX, X, XIII, and XIV) wins in just six years.
Greene was also named to the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year Award in 1972 and 1974.
Greene was selected to the NFL’s 75th Anniversary All-Time Team and the NFL’s 1970s All-Decade Team.
Greene unofficially totaled 181 games, 78.5 sacks (unofficially, as sacks were not an official statistic until 1982), and 16 fumble recoveries.
Although the Steelers do not officially retire jersey numbers, Greene's No. 75 has not been issued since his retirement, and is "unofficially retired."
"Mean Joe" Greene was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987.
Eric Dickerson played for the Southern Methodist University in college where he put on 4,450 yards on 790 carries to breach Earl Campbell’s Southwest Conference record for yards and attempts. Dickerson finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting.
The Los Angeles Rams selected Dickerson in the first round, second overall in the 1983 NFL Draft.
In his rookie season, Dickerson eclipsed rushing records of most rushing attempts (390); most rushing yards gained (1,808), and the most rushing touchdowns (18). He also caught 51 balls for 404 yards and adding another two touchdowns to total 20 for the year.
While making a huge impact his rookie season, Dickerson was named to his first Pro Bowl of six (1983, 1984, 1986-1989) and named the NFL’s Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year.
Usually a sophomore jinx would take place after your rookie season, but Dickerson continued to ambush his opponents, running for an NFL record 2,105 rushing yards. That year, he led the league in rushing, rushing touchdowns (14), and yards from scrimmage with 2,244 yards.
Throughout Dickerson’s career he managed to surpass the 1,200 rushing yard mark in his first seven seasons in the NFL. 1989 was the year that he gained over 10,000 yards rushing, and was the fastest player ever to do so (91 games), accomplishing the feat faster than greats like Jim Brown (98 games), Barry Sanders (103), Emmitt Smith (106), and LaDainian Tomlinson (106).
Dickerson was an obvious choice for the NFL’s 1980s All-Decade Team.
He ended his career with 13,259 yards rushing, which was second all-time at the time of his retirement, and rushed for 90 touchdowns. He gained another 2,137 yards and six touchdowns on 281 pass receptions.
Dickerson had one of the most graceful running styles of all-time, thought by many as Gazelle like.
After a great deal of success with the Rams they retired his jersey, No. 29.
In 1999, Eric Dickerson was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Mike Haynes was an All-American cornerback out of Arizona State University.
Haynes was drafted by the New England Patriots in the first round, fifth pick overall in the 1976 NFL Draft, being one of the earliest defensive backs chosen in the first round in the history of the NFL Draft.
During his rookie season, Haynes put on a magnificent performance with eight interceptions and led the AFC with 608 yards on 45 punt returns and scoring two touchdowns.
In favor of his remarkable play, he was awarded to his first Pro Bowl of nine (1976-1980, 1982, 1984-1986) total in 14 years. He was also named to the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year.
After seven seasons with the New England Patriots, he recorded 28 interceptions, which is third on the all-time franchise list. His No. 40 jersey has been retired by the New England Patriots.
During his time with the Raiders, he picked off 18 balls for one touchdown that was a 97-yard scamper for a team record.
Haynes was honored to be selected to the NFL’s 75th Anniversary All-Time Team and to the NFL’s 1980s All-Decade Team.
He accomplished those honors for his great success in his 14-year NFL career. His 46 interceptions land’s him 47th on the all-time interceptions list.
In 1999, he was ranked No. 93 on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Football Players.
In 1997, he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Barry Sanders is best known as one of the most prolific running backs in NFL history, and left the game just short of the all-time rushing record. He could have easily overstepped his way passed the 20,000 rushing yard mark baring injuries.
Barry has been credited for the greatest season in college football history. He set college football season records with 2,628 yards rushing, 3,249 total yards, 39 touchdowns, of which 37 were rushing (also a record). For his magnificent year he was named the Heisman Trophy winner in 1988.
The Detroit Lions drafted him in 1989 with the third pick of the first round. He is one of those players teams wish they never passed on.
In Barry’s rookie season, he was second to the “Nigerian Nightmare” Christian Okoye with 1,470 rushing yards along with 14 rushing touchdowns.
He would then earn the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year honors and make his first Pro Bowl of 10 straight (1989-1998).
Throughout the rest of his career, he would be widely regarded as one of the greatest running backs ever to play the game, if not the best to ever step foot on the field.
Sanders would go on to be selected as the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year in 1994 and in 1997. At 29, Barry Sanders had the best year of his career in 1997, earning the NFL’s Most Valuable Player Award, rushing for 2,053 yards with 6.1 yards per carry for 14 rushing touchdowns.
Barry was a surefire pick for the NFL’s 1990s All-Decade Team.
Paul Zimmerman once said, “Sanders' finest runs often occur when he takes the handoff and, with a couple of moves, turns the line of scrimmage into a broken field...Nobody has ever created such turmoil at the point of attack as Sanders has...Knock on wood, he seems indestructible..."
When Sanders retired before the 1999 season, he gained 15,269 (third all-time) rushing yards, 2,921 receiving yards, and 109 touchdowns (99 rushing and 10 receiving).
My favorite running back of all-time is Emmitt Smith, but I have always wondered would Barry have been even better in a Cowboys uniform.
Sanders finally admitted that the culture of losing in the Lions' organization was too much to deal with even though he said that he could still play. He said it robbed him of his competitive spirit.
Barry Sanders was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2004.
Hall of Fame defensive tackle Joe Greene claimed that Campbell could inflict more damage on a team than any other back he ever faced.
Earl Campbell played at the University of Texas where he became a standout running back winning the Heisman Trophy Award in 1977. He then led the nation in rushing with 1,744 yards.
Campbell was drafted with the first pick in the 1978 NFL Draft by the Houston Oilers, and in that year he was named the Offensive Rookie of the Year and the Most Valuable Player.
He led the league that year in rushing yards with 1,450 yards. He also recorded 13 touchdowns and had the longest run of 81 yards.
Campbell was one of the scariest runners to come across. His rare combination of speed and power made him one of the most respected and feared runners of all time.
Earl averaged over 1,600 rushing yards in his first four seasons, which back then was almost unheard of.
Throughout his career he was selected to five Pro Bowls (1977-1980, and 1983), three-time NFL Offensive Player of the Year rushing for 1,450 in 1978, 1,697 in 1979, and 1,934 in 1980.
Described as a "one-man demolition team", Campbell was a punishing runner. His 34-inch (860 mm) thighs, 5'11", 244-pound frame, coupled with 4.5 speed; made him the most feared runner of his time.
In 1999, he was ranked No. 33 on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Football Players and the highest ranked player for the Houston Oilers franchise.
Barry Switzer, who unsuccessfully recruited Campbell, said in his 1989 book: “Campbell was the only player he ever saw who could have gone straight from high school to the NFL and immediately been a star."
Franco Harris was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1991.
Derrick Thomas was a premier football player throughout the 1990s and is considered one of the best pass rushers of all-time.
Thomas was awarded the Butkus Award in 1988 after a season that saw him record 27 sacks along with finishing 10th in Heisman Trophy balloting.
The Kansas City Chiefs selected outside linebacker Derrick Thomas with the fourth overall pick in the 1989 NFL Draft.
In Thomas’ rookie year, he was the first Chiefs linebacker selected to the Pro Bowl since Bobby Bell did it in 1972. He had a stellar rookie season earning the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year recording 10 sacks and 75 tackles.
His sophomore year was the best he had. He scored an NFL record with seven sacks in one game against the Seattle Seahawks. That year he also led the league with a career high 20 sacks.
Thomas was selected to the Pro Bowl in nine of his 11 seasons in the NFL and was named to the NFL’s 1990s All-Decade Team. After the great success Thomas had with the Chiefs they retired his jersey, No. 58.
Thomas played 11 NFL seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs and was by far one of the best linebackers to play the game of football. He still had a lot left in his tank, but his career and life was cut short due to a car accident in a snowstorm in 2000.
Thomas established Chiefs career records for sacks (126.5), safeties (3), fumble recoveries (19), and forced fumbles (45). His 45 forced fumbles are also an NFL career record.
In my opinion, Derrick Thomas was the best outside linebacker to have played the game.
Thomas was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009.
When it comes to stats, no other running back can touch Emmitt Smith, who not only holds the NFL's all-time rushing mark with 18,355 yards, but he's also the all-time leader with 164 rushing touchdowns.
His 175 total touchdowns rank second all-time to Jerry Rice (207).
Smith finished his campaign with the Florida Gators and gained records for rushing yards in a season (1,599), rushing yards in a single game (316), longest rushing play (96), career rushing yards (3,928), and career rushing touchdowns (36). At the time of his retirement, he owned 58 records for the Gators.
He rushed for 937 yards and 11 touchdowns, earning him NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.
From then on, Smith would be a 1,000-yard back, eclipsing that mark 11 straight years, including four seasons when he led the NFL.
In 1995, Smith rushed for a then-NFL record 25 touchdowns in a season, along with 1,773 yards.
In three Super Bowl appearances, Smith scored five rushing touchdowns, more than any other player.
Smith is an eight-time Pro Bowler (1990-1995, 1998, and 1999); he was named to the All-Pro first-team five times (1991-1995).
Emmitt went on to claim quite a few more accomplishments throughout his career.
He has also accumulated some postseason records; Smith ranks at the top in several categories as well, including rushing yards (1,586), rushing touchdowns (19) and 100-yard games (seven).
He was selected the NFL’s 1990s All-Decade Team, NFL’s Most Valuable Player of the Year Award in 1993, and was the work horse to the 'Boys three Super Bowl victories in the 1990s.
He is also one of four running backs to lead the NFL in rushing three or more consecutive seasons, joining Steve Van Buren, Jim Brown, and Earl Campbell.
He is the only running back to ever win a Super Bowl championship, the NFL Most Valuable Player award, the NFL rushing crown, and the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player award all in the same season (1993).
Emmitt Smith was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010, in his first year of eligibility.
Taylor was a disruptive force at outside linebacker, and is widely considered to have changed the pass rushing schemes, offensive line play, and offensive formations used in the NFL.
Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs developed the two tight end offense and the position of h-back to prevent Taylor from blitzing into the backfield unhindered.
Lawrence Taylor was drafted by the New York Giants with the second pick overall in the 1981 NFL Draft.
Taylor went on to finish his rookie season with 9.5 sacks, and is often considered to have had one of the greatest rookie seasons in NFL history.
The Associated Press named Taylor 1981's NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and NFL Defensive Player of the Year, becoming the only rookie to date to ever win the Defensive Player of the Year award.
Taylor produced double-digit sacks each season from 1984 through 1990, including a career high of 20.5 in 1986 and was named the league's Most Valuable Player for his performance during the 1986 season. Taylor also won a record three Defensive Player of the Year awards to go along with his phenomenal career.
Taylor's impact contributed to the Giants defense going from allowing 425 points in 1980 to 257 in 1981.
Taylor also made first team All-Pro and his first Pro Bowl appearance in 1981. He went on to make 10 (1981-1990) in his career.
“L.T” is a two-time Super Bowl champ with the New York Giants in Super Bowls XXI and XXV.
He has also been named to the NFL’s 75th Anniversary All-Time Team and to the NFL’s 1980s All-Decade Team for his stellar career.
Taylor ended his career in 1993; the NFL unofficially recognizes 142 sacks for Taylor.
John Madden once said, “Lawrence Taylor, defensively, has had as big an impact as any player I've ever seen. He changed the way defense is played, the way pass-rushing is played, the way linebackers play and the way offenses block linebackers."
In 1999, Lawrence Taylor was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Lambert was selected by the Steelers in the second round of the 1974 NFL Draft; though many pro football coaches and scouts thought he was too small to play linebacker in the NFL.
At 6'3½" and 204 pounds as a rookie, he displayed the ability to shed off blockers with extreme intensity, and amazing ability to detect offensive play pushed him to be one of the most feared linebackers of all time.
Jack Lambert earned the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Award (1974) as a central figure on a great Steelers defense that went on to win their first Super Bowl by beating the Minnesota Vikings 16-6 in Super Bowl IX.
Lambert was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1976 and in his 11-year career Jack Lambert was named to nine straight Pro Bowls (1975-1983). Lambert was also part of the Steelers' first four Super Bowls (IX, X, XIII, and XIV).
Lambert was selected to be a member of the All Decade Team of the 1970s and 1980s.
According to the Pittsburgh Steelers media guides, Lambert averaged 146 tackles in his first 10 seasons.
He was also known as one of the greatest middle linebackers ever against the pass, Lambert racked up 28 career interceptions, 1,479 career tackles, and 23.5 sacks launching him on the list of the 20/20 Club.
In 2004, the Fox Sports Net series “The Sports List” named Lambert as the toughest football player of all time.
By the time of his retirement, he was widely recognized as one of the great middle linebackers in the history of the game.
Some may know Jack Lambert best for his four upper front teeth missing when seen playing football. Those missing teeth were a result of taking an elbow in basketball during high school.
Lambert's toothless snarl became a signature of the famous Steeler defense and led to his being referred to as "Count Dracula in Cleats."
While Lambert's No. 58 is one of many jersey numbers "unofficially retired" by the team (the Steelers do not retire jersey numbers), his jersey number has perhaps gotten the most attention out of all such jersey numbers. When Lambert retired, he reportedly told the equipment manager that he was not to issue No. 58 again.
Jack Lambert was selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990.