The 10 Sickest NFL Rookie Duos of the Last 10 Years
Andy Dalton and A.J. Green have led the Cincinnati Bengals to a bounceback season as first-year players. What other rookie duos have taken the league by storm over the past 10 seasons?
For the purposes of this list, “duos” means players that actually played together, not just two great rookies that happened to be on the same team.
As a quarterback and wide receiver, Dalton and Green are a perfect example. Those two have been part of a recent trend of offensive rookie teammates getting off to great starts in the NFL.
Prior to 2007, most of the high-impact rookie tandems showed up on the defensive side of the ball.
2011: Andy Dalton and A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals
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Regardless of what happens in the Cincinnati Bengals' final regular season game, Andy Dalton and A.J. Green have accomplished an incredible feat in leading a team that went 4-12 in 2010 to the brink of the playoffs in 2011.
Green has been outstanding as an individual. He leads all rookies 63 receptions for 1,031 yards through 15 games, and his yardage total ranks 13th among all NFL receivers.
Dalton hasn’t been quite as statistically impressive, but 3,166 yards and 20 touchdowns against just 13 picks is a great season from a rookie.
2010: Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, New England Patriots
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With leading receiver Wes Welker fighting back from a torn ACL, the 2010 New England Patriots needed some less heralded players to contribute in the passing game. Their two rookie tight ends, neither of which was a first-round pick, answered the bell, combining for 87 receptions and 16 touchdowns. In the process, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez revolutionized the way that the Patriots run their offense.
Tom Brady can make a lot of players look good, but even as rookies, defenses didn’t know how to handle two players with tight end size that ran routes like wide receivers.
2009: Louis Delmas and DeAndre Levy, Detroit Lions
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The 2009 Detroit Lions were not a very good football team, but even on a bad team, it’s impressive to see two rookies establish themselves as full-season starters right away. It’s even more impressive when those two rookies finish second and third on the team in tackles, as Louis Delmas and DeAndre Levy did.
Delmas and Levy combined for 179 tackles in 2009, chipping in three interceptions and 14 tackles for loss as well.
2008: Jeff Otah and Jonathan Stewart
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Jeff Otah and Jonathan Stewart were both top 20 picks in the 2008 draft, and they immediately paid off for the Carolina Panthers. With Otah leading the way, the Panthers finished third in the NFL in rushing.
Even as he shared carries with leading rusher DeAngelo Williams, Stewart churned out 836 yards and 10 touchdowns as a rookie.
2007: Adrian Peterson and Sidney Rice, Minnesota Vikings
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Both Adrian Peterson and Sidney Rice helped the 2007 Minnesota Vikings overcome exceptionally poor quarterback play to actually win a few games.
The Vikings passed for more than 250 yards just once, but Rice was able to carve out a nice role in the offense, finishing second on the team in receptions and catching a team-leading four touchdowns.
Even with defenses stacking up against the run, Adrian Peterson finished second in the NFL in rushing and averaged 5.6 yards per carry.
2006: DeMeco Ryans and Mario Williams, Houston Texans
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Mario Williams came in as the No. 1 overall pick, but DeMeco Ryans overshadowed his fellow rookie on the 2006 Houston Texans defense.
Williams had a solid first season, chipping in 47 tackles and finishing second on the team in sacks.
Ryans, however, was otherworldly as a rookie. He started immediately at linebacker and led the NFL with a whopping 126 solo tackles.
2005: Luis Castillo and Shawne Merriman, San Diego Chargers
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Both Luis Castillo and Shawne Merriman started immediately for the San Diego Chargers. In 2005, they fueled a pass rush that ranked fifth in the NFL in sacks.
With Castillo occupying blockers on the line, Merriman was free to swoop in off the edge, recording 10 sacks as a rookie.
2004: Jonathan Vilma and Erik Coleman, New York Jets
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Jonathan Vilma and Erik Coleman immediately established themselves as the leaders of a very good defense. The New York Jets finished seventh in the NFL in total defense in 2004, with Vilma and Coleman finishing first and third on the team in tackles.
In all, the two rookies combined for 207 tackles, four sacks and seven interceptions.
2003: Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman, Chicago Bears
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Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman cracked the starting lineup right away as rookies, leading the revival of the proud Chicago Bears defense. The two combined for 159 tackles in 2003.
Briggs immediately clicked next to Brian Urlacher, and Tillman began building his reputation as a ball hawk early, forcing two fumbles as a rookie.
2002: Julius Peppers and Will Witherspoon, Carolina Panthers
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Julius Peppers and Will Witherspoon came in with similar expectations as the Williams/Ryans duo for Houston in 2006, but in this case, the roles were reversed.
Witherspoon has a solid season as a starter at linebacker, recording 71 tackles and 1.5 sacks.
Peppers, however, was unblockable from the start. He finished sixth in the league with 12 sacks as a rookie.