The Best Rookie Season in the History of Every NFL Franchise

Josh McCainSenior Writer IJune 20, 2011

The Best Rookie Season in the History of Every NFL Franchise

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    5 Dec 1999:  Dan Marino #13 of the Miami Dolphins gets ready to pass the ball during the game against the Indianapolis Colts at the Pro Player Stadium in Miami, Florida. The Colts defeated the Dolphins 37-34. Mandatory Credit: Andy Lyons  /Allsport
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Every year the NFL raft comes and goes, and every year each team hopes one of their picks will turn the tide to make their teams instant contenders.

    In this slideshow are 32 players who made a huge impact their first year with their teams.

    Before the list begins though, I have to admit a couple of things:

    First, before 1981, the NFL did not track tackles and sacks as statistics.

    Since I was born in 1983, I did not see a lot of the best defenders of all time play, and going back to look at just rookie years was difficult to pick defenders as being the best rookie in their franchise's history.

    Second, remember this is just rookie seasons; some players might not have had a great career, but came out of the gates like gangbusters.

    Enjoy the list, and I am indeed open to suggestions.

Buffalo Bills: Thurman Thomas, RB

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    12 Oct 1997: Running back Thurman Thomas of the Buffalo Bills runs with the ball during a game against the New England Patriots at Foxboro Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts. The Patriots won the game 33-6.
    David Seelig/Getty Images

    The Buffalo Bills drafted Thurman Thomas in 1988, and in his first season, he rushed for 881 yards on just 207 attempts.

    Thomas also scored two touchdowns and averaged 4.3 yards a carry.

Miami Dolphins: Dan Marino, QB

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    19 Sep 1999:  Dan Marino #13 of the Miami Dolphins passes the ball during the game against the Arizona Cardinals at the Pro Player Stadium in Miami, Florida. The Dolphins defeated the Cardinals 19-16. Mandatory Credit: Andy Lyons  /Allsport
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    This was one of the easiest to decide—for the Miami Dolphins, it's Dan Marino.

    Marino started just nine games and went 7-2. He threw 296 passes for 2,210 yards, 20 touchdowns and only six interceptions.

    Not only is that good for a rookie but, shoot, that's pretty good for a seasoned vet.

New England Patriots: Terry Glenn, WR

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    1 Oct 2000: Terry Glenn #88 of the New England Patriots scrambles with the ball during the game against the Denver Bronocs at the Mile High Stadium in Denver, Colorado. The Patriots defearted the Broncos 28-19.Mandatory Credit: Brian Bahr  /Allsport
    Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    In his 1996 rookie season for the New England Patriots, Terry Glenn caught 90 passes for 1,132 yards and six touchdowns.

    Glenn averaged 12.6 yards per catch and 75 yards per game.

New York Jets: Larry Grantham, LB

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    topps.com
    topps.com

    In 1960, the New York Jets drafted Larry Grantham; he had five interceptions and one forced fumble.

Baltimore Ravens: Terrell Suggs, LB

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    FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 10:  Terrell Suggs #55 of the Baltimore Ravens reacts after he recovered a fumble in the first quarter against the New England Patriots during the 2010 AFC wild-card playoff game at Gillette Stadium on January 10, 2010 in Foxboro, Ma
    Al Bello/Getty Images

    In 2003, Terrell Suggs only started one game for the Baltimore Ravens, but that didn't stop him from having 12 sacks, an interception, five forced fumbles and 18 tackles.

Cincinnati Bengals: Corey Dillon, RB

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    CINCINNATI, OH - OCTOBER 19:  Corey Dillon #28 of the Cincinnati Bengals runs with the ball against the Baltimore Ravens during the 34-26 Bengals win over the Ravens October 19, 2003 at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty I
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    The Cincinnati Bengals drafted Corey Dillon in 1997 hoping he could help turn around their floundering franchise.

    In his first year, Dillon carried the rock 233 times for 1,129 yards. His long was 66 yards, and he averaged 4.8 yards per carry with 10 touchdowns. Dillon also caught 27 passes for 259 yards.

Cleveland Browns: Jim Brown, RB

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    CLEVELAND - MAY 20:  Hall of fame football player Jim Brown attends Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Orlando Magic during the 2009 Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 20, 2009 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO
    Elsa/Getty Images

    Again, another pretty obvious choice that I'm sure a Browns fan will correct me on.

    In 1957, possibly the greatest running back of all time joined the Cleveland Browns. 

    His name? Jim Brown.

    In 12 games, Brown ran 202 times for 942 yards and nine touchdowns, averaging 4.7 yards per carry.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger, QB

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    ARLINGTON, TX - FEBRUARY 06:  Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates after Rashard Mendenhall #34 ran for an eight yard touchdown against the Green Bay Packers in the third quarter of Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium on February 6, 2
    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    With all the rich history of the Pittsburgh Steelers, it's hard to believe that possibly the best rookie season in Steelers history could have come so recently.

    Pittsburgh drafted some kid named Ben Roethlisberger in 2004.

    He only went 13-0 in the regular season, completing 196 of 295 passes (66.4 percent) for 2,621 yards and 17 touchdowns.

    Roethlisberger also took the Steelers to the AFC Championship game. 

    Not bad for a guy whose last name was almost unpronounceable when we all first heard about him.

Houston Texans: Andre Johnson, WR

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    HOUSTON - SEPTEMBER 12:  Wide receiver Andre Johnson #80 of the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium on September 12, 2010 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    The young Houston Texans franchise drafted Andre Johnson in 2003.

    He caught 66 passes for 976 yards and four touchdowns.

Indianapolis Colts: Edgerrin James, RB

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    SEATTLE - DECEMBER 24:  Running back Edgerrin James #32 of the Indianapolis Colts carries the ball against the Seattle Seahawks at Qwest Field on December 24, 2005 in Seattle, Washington. The Seahawks defeated the Colts 28-13.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Ge
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    In 1999, the Indianapolis Colts drafted the man known as "Edge," Edgerrin James.

    In his first season, James rushed 369 times for 1,553 yards and 13 touchdowns, with his longest run being 72 yards.

    He also had 62 catches for 586 yards and four more touchdowns.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Fred Taylor, RB

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    HOUSTON - DECEMBER 01:  Running back Fred Taylor #28 of the Jacksonville Jaguars during play against the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium on December 1, 2008 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Fred Taylor was drafted by the Jags in 1998 and did not disappoint, with 1,223 yards and 14 touchdowns. 

    He also caught 44 passes for 421 yards and three touchdowns.

Tennessee Titans: Jevon Kearse, DE

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    GREEN BAY, WI - AUGUST 28: Jevon Kearse #90 of the Tenessee Titans prepares to rush against the Green Bay Packers on August 28, 2008 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Titans defeated the Packers 23-21. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    In 1999, the Tennessee Titans drafted Jevon Kearse, who had possibly one of the greatest defensive rookie seasons ever.

    "The Freak" had 14.5 sacks,—a rookie record—eight forced fumbles, one fumble recovery for a touchdown and 48 tackles.

Denver Broncos: Clinton Portis, RB

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    DENVER - DECEMBER 15:  Clinton Portis #26 of the Denver Broncos runs the ball against the Kansas City Chiefs during the NFL game at Invesco Field at Mile High on December 15, 2002 in Denver, Colorado. The Broncos won 31-24. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Imag
    Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    Denver Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan's plug-and-play running back system in 2002 produced a 1,508-yard and 17-touchdown year for rookie running back, Clinton Portis.

Kansas City Chiefs: Bobby Bell, LB

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    Topps.com
    Topps.com

    Hall of Fame linebacker Bobby Bell was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs. He was a beast, and sadly the only stat recorded for his rookie season season is one interception for 20 yards.

Oakland Raiders: Ray Guy, P

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    DENVER - DECEMBER 8:  Punter Ray Guy #8 of the Los Angeles Raiders kicks the ball away against defensive backs Daniel Hunter #25, Tony Lilly #22 and linebacker Simon Fletcher #73 of the Denver Broncos during the game at Mile High Stadium on December 8, 19
    George Rose/Getty Images

    Yeah, there is a punter on this list.

    In 1973, Ray Guy had 69 punts for 3,127 yards, with a long of 72 yards.

San Diego Chargers: Ladainian Tomlinson, RB

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    SAN DIEGO - JANUARY 17:  Running back LaDainian Tomlinson #21 of the San Diego Chargers stands on the field during the AFC Divisional Playoff Game against the New York Jets at Qualcomm Stadium on January 17, 2010 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Steph
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    In 2001, LaDainian Tomlinson was drafted by the San Diego Chargers.

    Tomlinson rushed for 1,236 yards (long of 54 yards) and 10 touchdowns on 339 attempts. He also had 367 receiving yards.

Dallas Cowboys: Bob Hayes, WR

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    Topps.com
    Topps.com

    The Cowboys drafted Bob Hayes in 1965. His rookie season, he had 46 receptions for 1,003 yards. Hayes also averaged 21.8 yards per catch and had 12 touchdowns.

New York Giants: Lawrence Taylor, LB

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    5 Sep 1993:  Linebacker Lawrence Taylor of the New York Giants moves down the field during a game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois.  The Giants won the game, 26-20. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Daniel  /Allsport
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    L.T. set the football world on fire his first season in the NFL, but unfortunately his only official recorded stats are one interception, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.

Philadelphia Eagles: DeSean Jackson, WR

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    PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 09:  DeSean Jackson #10 of the Philadelphia Eagles runs down field against the Green Bay Packers during the 2011 NFC wild card playoff game at Lincoln Financial Field on January 9, 2011 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by
    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Even though DeSean Jackson wasn't a first-round pick for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2008, he sure played like one with 62 catches for 912 yards.

    Jackson had two touchdown catches, and also rushed for 96 total yards and one touchdown.

    Finally Donovan McNabb had someone to throw to.

Washington Redskins: Paul Krause, CB

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    CANTON, OH - AUGUST 2: Paul Krause of the Minnesota Vikings  greets fans during the Class of 2008 Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony at Fawcett Stadium on August 2, 2008 in Canton, Ohio.   (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    Washington Redskins rookie Paul Krause had 12 interceptions, one touchdown and two fumble recoveries in 1964.

    The Redskins wouldn't see another cornerback like that until Darrell Green in 1983.

Chicago Bears: Gale Sayers, RB

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    FORT LAUDERDALE, FL - DECEMBER 06:  Former NFL great Gale Sayers shares a laugh during the taping of the NFL Players Week 10th Anniversary on Wheel Of Fortune on December 6, 2005 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images for PLAYERS I
    Doug Benc/Getty Images

    This is another one of those easy ones. 

    For the Bears, their best rookie performance came in 1965, and it came from running back Gale Sayers.

    Sayers rushed 166 times for 912 yards and 14 touchdowns, with an average 5.2 yards per carry. He also caught 29 passes for 507 yards and six touchdowns.

Detroit Lions: Barry Sanders, RB

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    25 Oct 1998:  Running back Barry Sanders #20 of the Detroit Lions in action during the game against the Minnesota Vikings at the Pontiac Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan. The Vikings defeated the Lions 34-13. Mandatory Credit: Tom Pidgeon  /Allsport
    Tom Pidgeon/Getty Images

    Young Lions fans might not remember this, but at one point the Lions were competitive. 

    And the man who led the charge was No. 20, Barry Sanders.

    In his first season (1989), Sanders rushed for 1,470 yards and 14 touchdowns on 280 carries. Two seasons later, he led the Lions to the NFC Championship game.

Green Bay Packers: James Lofton, WR

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    CANTON, OH - AUGUST 3:  Pro Football  Hall of Fame inductee James Lofton poses with his bust during the 2003 NFL Hall of Fame Induction ceremony on August 3, 2003 in Canton, Ohio.  (Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images)
    David Maxwell/Getty Images

    When the Green Bay Packers drafted James Lofton in 1978, he caught 46 passes for 818 yards and six touchdowns.

Minnesota Vikings: Randy Moss, WR

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    MINNEAPOLIS - OCTOBER 17:  Wide receiver Randy Moss #84 the Minnesota Vikings looks on prior to the start of the game against the Dallas Cowboys at Mall of America Field on October 17, 2010 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    In 1998, the Dallas Cowboys passed on Randy Moss, but the Minnesota Vikings did not.

    The Vikes were rewarded with 69 catches for 1,313 yards and 17 touchdowns. The Cowboys have never beaten Moss.

Atlanta Falcons: Deion Sanders, CB

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    ANAHEIM, CA - DECEMBER 27:  Defensive back Deion Sanders #21 of the Atlanta Falcons strikes a pose as he waits for play during a game against the Los Angeles Rams at Anaheim Stadium on December 27, 1992 in Anaheim, California.  The Rams won 38-27.  (Photo
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Since he's played for so many teams, some people may have forgotten "Prime Time" Deion Sanders was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in 1989.

    That season, Sanders had 307 punt return yards and one touchdown. He also returned 35 kicks for 725 yards. 

    Sanders added five interceptions, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery on the defensive side of the ball.

Carolina Panters: Julius Peppers, DE

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    CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 20:  Julius Peppers #90 of the Carolina Panthers against the Minnesota Vikings at Bank of America Stadium on December 20, 2009 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    In Julius Peppers' rookie season, he recorded 12 sacks, one interception, five forced fumbles and 29 tackles.

New Orleans Saints: George Rogers, RB

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    Topps.com
    Topps.com

    In 1981, the New Orleans Saints drafted George Rogers, who rushed for 1,674 yards (104.6 yards per game average) and 13 touchdowns on 378 carries.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Cadillac Williams, RB

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    NEW ORLEANS - DECEMBER 27:  Cadillac Williams #24 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers runs past Jonathan Casillas #52  of the New Orleans Saints at the Louisiana Superdome on December 27, 2009 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    Even though he hasn't duplicated his rookie season, Cadillac Williams of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers rushed for 1,178 yards on 290 carries with six touchdowns in 2005.

Arizona Cardinals: Ottis Anderson, RB

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    NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 18:  Former NFL player Ottis Anderson of the New York Giants attends the IRTS Gold Metal Award Gala September 18, 2008 at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
    Mike Stobe/Getty Images

    In 1979, Ottis Anderson was drafted by the Phoenix Cardinals, and he rushed for 1,605 yards and 10 touchdowns.

St. Louis/L.A. Rams: Eric Dickerson, RB

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    ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 14:  Running back Eric Dickerson #28 of the Los Angeles Rams runs with the ball against defensive back Dwaine Board #76 of the San Francisco 49ers during the game at Anaheim Stadium on September 14, 1986 in Anaheim, California.   T
    George Rose/Getty Images

    Drafted by the L.A. Rams in 1983, Eric Dickerson was a force to be reckoned with in the NFL.

    In his rookie season, he rushed for 1,808 yards and 18 touchdowns, also averaging 113 yards per game.

San Fransisco 49ers: Ronnie Lott, S

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    Sep 1988:  Strong safety Ronnie Lott of the San Francisco 49ers focuses on the ball as he follows in pursuit during a 49ers game at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, California.   Mandatory Credit: Allsport USA/ALLSPORT
    Getty Images/Getty Images

    Ronnie Lott redefined what a safety in the NFL was in 1981. With the speed of a corner and fierceness of a linebacker, many receivers felt he should be illegal.

    Lott had seven interceptions, three touchdowns, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries and 89 tackles.

Seattle Seahawks: Curt Warner, RB

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    Running back Curt Warner of the Seattle Seahawks moves the ball during a game against the Los Angeles Raiders at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, California. The Seahawks won the game, 24-20.
    Mike Powell/Getty Images

    Curt Warner—the running back, not the quarterback—had a huge break-out rookie season for the Seattle Seahawks, rushing for 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns.

The End?

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    HONOLULU - JANUARY 30: The NFL Pro Bowl Cheerleaders during the 2011 NFL Pro Bowl pre-game between the American Football Conference (AFC) and National Football Conference (NFC) at Aloha Stadium at Aloha Stadium on January 30, 2011 in Honolulu, Hawaii.  (P
    Kent Nishimura/Getty Images

    There you have it, my list of the best rookie seasons for all 32 franchises. 

    I'm sure you have a few different opinions, so go ahead and leave a comment to let me know some of the best rookie seasons, in your opinion.