Every year, fans are excited to see the new class of rookies enter the NFL. Some fans barely get to watch because they’re just not ready. However, others take the league by storm and take the first steps on the journey to superstardom. The game is constantly evolving but we still love to see young players succeed.
Many of these players were Heisman Trophy winners and lived up to massive expectations. Others were late-round draft picks and broke onto the scene out of nowhere. Meanwhile, others didn’t actually start the season but when they played they definitely showed their qualities.
So we looked at 35 players who took the NFL by storm. Not all of these players won individual awards but they all showed brilliance in their rookie years. Check out the list below via USA TODAY Sports.
35. Kyler Murray
Murray became the first rookie quarterback to start all 16 games for the Cardinals when he joined them as the first overall pick in 2019. The young man arrived from the Oklahoma Sooners with a big reputation as the Heisman Trophy winner. He didn’t disappoint as he performed well enough to seal a spot as a Pro Bowl alternate. That’s not bad at all for a rookie who took the NFL by storm.
He passed for 3,722 yards with 20 touchdown passes in a productive season for the young man. Furthermore, Murray broke effectively all of the franchise rookie quarterback records in a great year. Then, he won the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award. Several analysts doubted him before the season because they believed he wasn’t big enough to succeed in the NFL.
This young Washington Football Team standout was stellar in his rookie season. He made his NFL debut in 2019 after arriving from Ohio State as a third-round pick. But he belied his status to become one of the best young wide receivers in the league. He didn’t receive the same kind of praise as the likes of A.J. Brown but McLaurin was brilliant and consistent for the former Redskins.
PFF graded him 86.5 after a phenomenal year. This put him second in the all-time list behind Odell Beckham Jr, though Justin Jefferson overtook him a year later. However, McLaurin’s ranking is special because of the unstable quarterback situation in Washington and the fact that he didn’t break 1,000 yards. In sum, this shows that he is brilliant despite the fact that he played in an unstable franchise.
Manning was one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history. He still makes an appearance from time to time annoying Tom Brady on golf courses. Eli’s older brother had a stellar rookie year with the Indianapolis Colts. The first overall pick set all kinds of records as he took the league by storm.
First, he threw the most touchdown passes by a rookie that year with 26 and passed for an excellent 3,739 yards. Nowadays, certain franchises may redshirt their rookie QBs, but the Colts threw Manning into the fire and with good reason.
‘Gronk’ doesn’t play the most glamorous position on the field, but fans still love him for his work ethic. personality, and winning mentality. He demonstrated his brilliance in an excellent rookie year where he just fell short of winning the Rookie of the Year award.
However, make no mistake, Gronkowski was excellent. He became the youngest rookie in NFL history to score three touchdowns in a single game. He was effective all over the field, immediately proving to be sound and dangerous. Gronk was ready to move forward in a sensational career. One of the most unguardable players in the NFL during his peak.
Jefferson enjoyed a sensational rookie season in 2020 as he was statistically the second-best receiver in the entire league behind Davante Adams. His 90.5 receiver rating was just short of Odell Beckham Jr’s rookie record, but make no mistake, he was just as influential for a poor Vikings’ team. He arrived from LSU with some doubts about his abilities, but he took the league by storm.
The former LSU standout is an electric talent and a record-breaker. He broke Randy Moss’s longstanding franchise record for most receptions in a season with 74 compared to the latter’s 69. Meanwhile, his 1,400 yards are a new NFL rookie record. This young man has such a high ceiling but it remains to be seen if the Vikings can effectively utilize his talents.
Portis only spent two seasons with the Denver Broncos, but his impact was massive. He broke all kinds of records as he took the league by storm before his eventual move to the Washington Redskins. Portis was perfect for the Broncos’ system, rushing for over 1,500 yards both years.
Meanwhile, he averaged 5.5 yards per carry as a Bronco in a devastating run. Portis also broke all kinds of franchise records. Furthermore, he was the youngest ever player to score five touchdowns in a single game. All of that’s what the Broncos got from the 51st overall pick.
When you’re the 173rd overall pick, nobody really seems to care too much about you. But that can be a blessing in disguise because low expectations can mean less pressure. Morris found himself in that situation throughout his rookie year with the Washington Redskins in 2012. Overall, he was outstanding.
First, he defied all expectations by starting all season. In his case, that would have been a big enough achievement, but he went even further than that. Morris rushed for an outstanding 1,613 yards with 13 touchdowns in 2012. It was an amazing rookie year.
Not many defensive players receive a Heisman Trophy nomination but Young did. The Buckeyes star was the second overall pick in 2020 and swiftly proved that he deserved this status. He quickly became an integral cog in the Washington Football Team’s defensive line and helped them on their unexpected drive to the postseason. Young is quite simply an absolute beast.
The rookie won a place in the Pro Bowl for his efforts in 2020. He led his fellow rookies in sacks and duly claimed the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award. Franchises look to these young players to become building blocks for the future. Obviously, quarterbacks are the most fashionable position, but elite edges like Young prove their skillsets to their teams as well.
The Raiders drafted Jacobs in 2019 in the first round after a strong 2018 year with the Alabama Crimson Tide. It proved to be a brilliant decision because he was outstanding in 2019. The Tulsa native is a superb running back and lit up the NFL in his rookie year. He finished the year with seven rushing touchdowns and was truly exceptional throughout the season.
The PFF ranked him as the best offensive rookie that year with an 87.1 grade. Even though he demonstrated superb maturity on the playing field, he sometimes doesn’t show this outside. In 2021, police arrested him for DUI. He received a gruesome head wound and a lot of criticism for his recklessness but the charges were dropped. However, Jacobs has a high ceiling and the potential to be a superstar.
Offensive players tend to get all of the credit on these kinds of lists, but you can’t exclude a player like Urlacher. He was formidable for the Chicago Bears in a stellar rookie year. Rather than taking the league by storm, he prevented storms from passing through the Bears’ defense.
The Defensive Rookie of the Year was the leader of the Bears’ defense in 2000. Young defensive players often take time to adapt physically and mentally to the NFL. They are usually still growing into their bodies and sometimes make the wrong decisions. But Urlacher was magnificent from the beginning.
The Tenessee Titans wide receiver is one of the most exciting attacking talents in the NFL today. He broke onto the scene as a rookie in 2019 but nobody expected him to make this kind of impact immediately. Brown produced 52 receptions for 1051 yards. He had a profound influence upon the Titans making the AFC Championship game, although ultimately they fell short against the Chiefs.
Brown’s early form puts him in the same category as elite wideouts like Davante Adams and DeAndre Hopkins. The former Ole Miss star demonstrated sensational skill and blistering pace as a rookie. Many players take time to adapt to the physicality and pressure of playing professional football, but Brown took to it like a duck to water. This young man thrills his fans.
A player who had a great start to his career but couldn’t sustain it, Benjamin was outstanding in 2014. The Carolina Panther caught for 1,008 yards with 9 touchdowns as one of the best wide receivers in the league. It looked like he was going to be quite good.
A powerful runner with clever feet, Benjamin struck up a great partnership with Derek Anderson. Benjamin spent three seasons with the Panthers before moving to the Buffalo Bills for a couple of seasons. But his form deteriorated as his awful 2018 with the Chiefs showed.
Winston had to choose between baseball and football but his dream was to play in the NFL. The pressure was heavy on his shoulders after he won the Heisman Trophy with Florida State. Everybody was watching him after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted him in 2015.
Winston was superb his rookie season. He passed for over 4,000 records in a remarkable year. Add in 22 touchdown passes and you can see why he was so important to the Bucs’ cause. Things haven’t worked out quite the same in recent years, but what a start it was.
Evans is very popular in Tampa Bay and it’s no wonder because he has spent six years with the Buccaneers. The lanky wide receiver had a great rookie year after joining Tampa from the Aggies. But as his three Pro Bowl selections prove, his consistency is nothing new.
His 12 touchdowns and 68 receptions for 1,051 yards were massive for the Florida franchise. They couldn’t have asked for much more from him. Meanwhile, Evans became the youngest player ever to catch for over 200 yards in a single game. As rookie years go, this was a great individual one.
Another Tampa Bay superhero, Wirfs had a superb rookie season in 2020. Tom Brady instantly stole all of the headlines with his big move from the New England Patriots. However, any success in Florida required him to make an instant impact. Wirfs proved that he could be one for the Bucs as he played excellently all year for the team as they drove toward a home Super Bowl appearance.
The offensive tackle was brilliant for Iowa and proved to be a force for Tampa too. Naturally, the quarterbacks like Justin Herbert and Joe Burrow received more headlines, but Wirfs put in a phenomenal shift to protect Brady. He started all 16 games of the regular season and demonstrated why he was a first-round pick. The young man appears destined to be an NFL mainstay.
A tremendous return man, Hester was a key player for the Chicago Bears for many seasons. Initially, the Bears played him as a cornerback before he moved into a wide receiver role. But he definitely took the NFL by storm with some scintillating games his rookie year.
Among his many highlights, he achieved the first kickoff return touchdown in Super Bowl history. Hester built up a reputation for his return efficiency throughout the season. In the Super Bowl, the Colts grew wise to this after the opening kickoff and did their best to avoid him. This played a huge part in their win over the Bears.
Burrow’s season ended early because of an ACL tear. It may appear strange for him to be included on this list, but the reality was that he was the one bright spot in the Cincinnati Bengals’ 2020/21 season. After one of the greatest college seasons of all-time, all eyes were on the Heisman Trophy winner. He didn’t disappoint as he proved that he was ready to take on the NFL in his rookie year, taking the league by storm.
The former LSU star was on course to absorb a record number of hits in 2020 so it may prove fortunate in the longterm that he missed time with injury. This way the Bengals can draft and sign more protection for him. However, on the field, he instantly injected quality into their offense and valiantly attempted to make the Bengals look like a functional franchise.
Many analysts thought former Wisconsin quarterback Wilson was just too short for the NFL. The Seattle Seahawks selected the Badgers star as the 73rd overall pick. Nobody expected him to start in the 2012 season but he did and didn’t look back. It turned out to be an inspired decision.
Wilson helped his side to reach the postseason after passing for 3,118 yards with 26 touchdowns. Those are elite numbers. Yet as we all know, Wilson was no one-hit-wonder. That’s unlike some other athletes on this list who suffered injuries or regressed for other reasons.
In the beginning, Jackson wasn’t the Baltimore Ravens’ starting quarterback. However, he broke onto the scene after Joe Flacco suffered an injury and hasn’t looked back since then. He’s one of the most exciting quarterbacks in the NFL right now. But he was also great when he took the NFL by storm.
Jackson threw for 1,201 passing yards and six touchdowns. While those aren’t the biggest numbers, he only started seven games. Furthermore, the team got six wins to one defeat throughout that period. This time helped him to fully acclimatize to the league and blossom into an elite player.
The Cleveland Browns hope that Mayfield will emerge as their franchise quarterback. It certainly looked like that was going to be the case after his stellar rookie season. He totally revitalized the flagging franchise and got the team on their way to being an exciting force as he took the league by storm.
Anything was an improvement after the Browns tanked 0-16 in 2017. Mayfield wasn’t the starting quarterback initially but soon made the position his own. They improved to 6-7 after he threw for 3,725 yards with 27 touchdowns. Only time will tell whether or not he can do the same consistently.
The Arizona Cardinals drafted Boldin as the 54th overall pick in 2003. But nobody could have expected the impact that he would have in the NFL because he was was magnificent throughout his entire rookie year. Few players took the league by storm as this wide receiver did.
He totaled 1,377 yards on 101 catches and scored eight touchdowns. The Offensive Rookie of the Year showed why the draft doesn’t always reflect a player’s true ability. Boldin went on and won a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens during an excellent career.
Dallas Cowboys star Elliot is one of the best running backs in the sport. His phenomenal athleticism and frightening speed get fans off their seats. But his brilliance is nothing new because Elliot was excellent in his rookie season. He was the complete package from the start.
Elliot took the league by storm as he rushed for 1,631 yards with 15 touchdowns. That led the league in rushing yards as he made his first Pro Bowl appearance. Elliot has a very high ceiling as part of an exciting Dallas Cowboys offense. However, his career saw highs and lows after his rookie season. The Cowboys expect him to deliver and inspire them to glory.
Bosa almost lived the dream in his rookie season as the San Francisco 49ers fell short in the Super Bowl. However, the young defensive end was magnificent all year for the Niners as they went on an exciting postseason run. He won NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors after taking the league by storm. Bosa’s position wasn’t the most glamorous but everybody recognized his significance to the team.
The Ohio State alumnus achieved nine sacks all season, including a key intervention against Aaron Rodgers in the NFC Championship game. His 47 tackles proved his commitment to the cause as he quickly established himself as a crowd favorite in the Golden City. Unfortunately, in Game Two of his sophomore year, Bosa tore his ACL so only time will tell how he rebounds from that blow.
Beckham’s breakout year with the New York Giants was exceptional. The most iconic moment was his incredible catch against the Dallas Cowboys. It was one of the greatest in the history of the NFL. If you’ve never seen it then you should drop everything and watch it now.
The wide receiver started just 12 games but it was more than enough to make the Pro Bowl. He racked up 1,315 yards with 12 touchdowns and 91 catches in an extraordinarily effective year. Of course, he won the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award, surprising absolutely no one.
A Detroit Lions hero, many people were actually worried that Sanders was too small for the NFL. However, the running back was a ball of muscle and was devastating when released upon opposition teams. There was no stopping him as he took the league by storm in his rookie season.
The 1989 Offensive Rookie of the Year tore the league to shreds. He carried the ball 280 times for 1,470 yards in a highly effective year. He also contributed with 14 touchdowns. Sanders went on to play in 10 Pro Bowls and was the 1997 NFL MVP. Furthermore, many believe that he’s the best player never to win the Super Bowl.
James had an extraordinary impact upon the Indianapolis Colts’ fortunes during his time at the Lucas Oil Stadium. It’s wild to look back now and consider the criticism that the Colts experienced because they chose to draft James instead of Heisman winner Ricky Williams. But it was an inspired decision.
He turned out to be the perfect weapon for Peyton Manning as he rushed for 1,553 yards and 13 touchdowns his rookie season. Furthermore, he won the Rookie of the Year award after truly taking the league by storm. James still holds a special place in the hearts of Colts fans.
Moss spent the biggest chunk of his career with the Minnesota Vikings. He immediately set the league on fire in his rookie year. However, in another life he would have probably played for the Dallas Cowboys but ‘America’s Team’ wasn’t willing to risk controversy because of Moss’s well-documented legal problems.
Their loss was the Viking’s gain because the 21st overall pick took the league by storm. Moss caught 17 touchdowns as the Vikings stormed towards the Super Bowl. They looked unstoppable but ultimately the Atlanta Falcons stunned them in the NFC Championship Game. But Moss had a brilliant season.
Joe Burrow and Tua Tavagoiloa received all of the rookie quarterback headlines at the start of the 2020 season, but Herbert proved to be the best of the bunch. The young man demonstrated superb maturity despite his age. His greatest achievement was setting a new record for most passes by a rookie in a single season. The Chargers were delighted because they have the QB position locked down potentially for the next decade.
Of course, that’s assuming he isn’t a one-season wonder and stays fit. However, it looks like he is a superb talent. Herbert is also the youngest signal-caller to throw for more than 30 touchdowns in one season. The former Oregon Ducks starlet was the sixth overall pick and looks to be a brilliant acquisition for the L.A. franchise as he took the league by storm.
Before injuries cruelly got in the way of his career, looked like a worldbeater. He broke onto the scene in 2012 as the second overall draft pick. A Heisman winner with Baylor during his final year, Washington Redskins fans had high expectations for their new man.
Then he proved them right by winning the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award. Griffin finished the year with 3,200 passing yards and rushed for 815. However, he suffered some horrendous knee injuries at the end of his incredible season. This resulted in him spending a lot of time as a backup.
Luck had the unenviable task of replacing a franchise icon in Peyton Manning. However, the Indianapolis Colts’ quarterback proved he was more than up to the task. He quickly demonstrated that he was one of the best passers in the league as their starting QB as he took the league by storm.
With 4,374 passing yards and 23 touchdowns, Luck was ruthlessly efficient. Furthermore, his 11 wins as a rookie was a new record for a draft first pick. The Colts only won two games in the previous season which shows just how significant his impact was. Unfortunately, injuries ended his career in its prime, but Luck was a generational talent and a supreme athlete at his best.
The most exciting attacking rookies play without fear. Sometimes this can be to their detriment because they may put their bodies at unnecessary risk. However, it can also be scintillating to watch. That was the case for Dickerson in his phenomenal rookie year with the Los Angeles Rams.
Dickerson won all kinds of individual honors for his stellar NFL performances in 1983. He rushed for 1,808 yards and landed 18 touchdowns as he demonstrated his devastating attacking prowess. Furthermore, the running back played in his first Pro Bowl as he took the league by storm.
A very gifted player, Prescott is now the undisputed Dallas Cowboys’ quarterback. However, nobody expected Prescott to start for ‘America’s Team’ his rookie year. So how did he end up playing in all 16 regular-season games and winning the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Award, not to mention his first Pro Bowl selection?.
Well, Tony Romo suffered an injury during the preseason and was unable to start the season. Prescott took full advantage of this opportunity and put down his mark. His 3,667 passing yards were the fourth-best overall in 2016. It was a magnificent way for him to announce himself in pro football.
When a rookie makes the Pro Bowl, they’ve obviously done very well. Not many manage to achieve this honor. However, Kearse did after an exceptional year in 1999 for the Tennessee Titans. You could argue that he peaked in his first year because he never achieved the same number of sacks in a season again.
‘The Freak’ was a major part of the Titans’ reaching the Super Bowl final. With 48 tackles, eight forced fumbles, and an excellent 14.5 sacks, Kearse was a force of nature in the Tenessee backline. Needless to say, he won the Defensive Rookie of the Year award for his staggering contribution.
Newton took a meandering route to the NFL, but when he finally arrived, he took the league by storm. The young Carolina Panthers’ quarterback quickly ousted his competition and showed off his incredible talents. He was the first rookie quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards in their first season.
His overall value to the team was incredible. Newton set all kinds of records in his debut year, including rushing yards by a rookie QB and many more. Meanwhile, he won the Offensive Rookie of the Year award which was practically a given.
‘Big Ben’ has been in the NFL for 16 years but has been brilliant from the beginning. Incredibly, he was the Pittsburgh Steeler’s third-string quarterback before injuries got him on the field. Then he made the starting shirt his, going 13-0 in his rookie season. In short, the Offensive Rookie of the Year had a dream start.
The Patriots did eventually shut him down in the AFC Championship game, but Roethlisberger had an excellent regular season. After coming into the team with pressure on his shoulders, he took the NFL by storm. His 2621 passing yards were a very reasonable return, but the best was yet to come as ‘Big Ben’ eventually won two Super Bowls.