Every year, many college football players enter the draft with the hope of earning millions of dollars. However, even if they make it that far, there’s no guarantee they have a good rookie season. It’s often useful to redshirt young players to acclimatize to the league.
But some rookies immediately take the league by storm. So today, we’re going to take a look at 30 of the best rookies in recent history. Many of these became some of the best quarterbacks out there today. There are also many running backs and several defensive standouts. Check out the list below via Yardbreaker.
30. Matt Ryan
Consistently one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, Ryan was great from his rookie season on. He led the Falcons to the playoffs with an 11-5 record after passing for 3,440 yards and 16 touchdowns. Meanwhile, his 87.7 passer rating ranks in the top 10 among rookies.
There was controversy over his contract with the Atlanta Falcons. They made him the fourth-highest paid quarterback in the league, despite never having played in the NFL. He won the AP NFL Rookie of the Year award. The only thing Ryan is missing is a Super Bowl.
The late, great White was a brilliant defensive end. After two years in the USFL, he entered the NFL draft in 1985 and the Philadelphia Eagles snapped him up. At the start of the season, nobody knew who he was. But by the end, he was the NFC Defensive Rookie of the Year.
He missed the first few games but made a massive difference when he finally broke onto the scene. White had 10 tackles and two-and-a-half sacks in his very first game. Over 13 games, White made 100 tackles and 13 sacks. That set him on the path to his legendary Hall of Fame career.
In 2011, Newton broke onto the scene as the most exciting rookie quarterback in the NFL. He was the first NFL quarterback to throw for 400 yards in his first game, shattering Peyton Manning’s record by 120 yards. But that was just the beginning of an exciting season.
Newton went on to become the first rookie quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards in a season. He rushed for 14 touchdowns, an NFL record for quarterbacks, breaking a 35-year-record in the process. In sum, he was a megastar after just one year with the Panthers.
A Colts icon, James had a strong college career with the Miami Hurricanes. The Colts drafted him fourth overall in 1999. However, some people believed the Colts should have selected Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams and criticized their decision. But James didn’t listen to that.
His first season was an immediate success. He rushed for 1,553 yards and 13 touchdowns, adding 62 receptions for 586 yards and four scores. Furthermore, he had more than 2,100 years from scrimmage. It just goes to show that some players blossom in the right environment.
After setting multiple records at Penn State while receiving national attention, Barkley entered the NFL Draft and joined the New York Giants. He had one of the best seasons ever by a rookie running back, setting phenomenal numbers. He made the Pro Bowl in his first year.
Barkley gained 2,028 yards from scrimmage and scored 15 touchdowns to lead the NFL. He also averaged 5.0 yards per carry and had 91 receptions. Finally, he won the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award to cap off a stunning personal season. In short, 2018 was as good a year for him as you could hope for.
Griffin’s story is one of the most depressing on this list. He had a magnificent debut season, setting a whole bunch of rookie records. In one win against the Eagles, the Redskins’ quarterback became the first rookie quarterback to throw for 200 yards, pass for 4 touchdowns, and rush for more than 75 yards in a single game.
By the end of the year, Griffin was 258 of 393 passing for 3,200 yards, with 815 rushing yards, and seven scores. Then he won the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award. However, disaster struck when he tore his ACL and LCL in the playoffs. This put him out of the Pro Bowl and his career has never recovered since.
Elliot is one of the best running backs in the NFL. The Dallas Cowboys star has been brilliant from the start of his career. In his 2016 debut year, he rushed for 1,631 yards and 15 touchdowns as well as 363 receiving yards, a strong start for a rookie running back.
Expectations were high for Elliot after an excellent college career. He won second-team All American honors and was also a Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year while at the University of Ohio. With his powerful physique and searing pace, Elliot is a natural athlete and an intelligent runner.
After a series of legal troubles, Moss ended up redshirting his rookie season in college but still blossomed into a brilliant player. However, he fell far in the draft because few NFL teams were willing to take a chance on him. The Minnesota Vikings wanted him and it proved brilliant for both parties.
The Vikings proved almost unstoppable during the regular season as they went 15-1. Meanwhile, the wide receiver caught 17 touchdowns, a rookie record. He won the Offensive Rookie of the Year award as well as receiving his first Pro Bowl selection. In sum, he proved everybody wrong.
Regarded as the greatest return man in NFL history, Hester had quite the rookie year. Analysts initially criticized the Bears’ decision to draft him as they believed that they should have focused on their offense instead. However, Hester answered all of his critics and then some.
Hester led the league in returns, return yardage, and return touchdowns. He then sealed legend status with a 92-yard kickoff return to lead off Super Bowl XLI against the Indianapolis Colts. This was the first touchdown return of an opening kickoff in Super Bowl history as well as the quickest touchdown.
The Denver Broncos drafted Portis in 2002. He spent two seasons in Colorado, where he broke a host of records in his rookie season. The young star had 273 carries for 1,508 yards and 15 scores. Furthermore, he added 364 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
The Broncos’ running back was the youngest player ever to score four touchdowns in a game in a 31-24 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. But he went even further the next season by becoming the youngest player to score five touchdowns in a game, also against the Chiefs.
OBJ has had problems with injuries and attitude throughout his NFL career. But it’s easy to forget how good he was in his rookie year. Despite missing the first four games of the season with a hamstring injury, Beckham was excellent for the New York Giants when he got going.
He led the NFL with 108.8 receiving yards per game, finishing with 91 receptions for 1,305 yards and 12 scores in only 12 games played. The receiver was also the first Giants rookie wide receiver in franchise history to play in the Pro Bowl. Finally, he was the youngest-ever player to be feature on the cover of the Madden video game.
‘Big Ben’ is one of the most popular quarterbacks in the NFL today. But brilliance came naturally to the Pittsburgh Steeler. First of all, he went 13-0 as a starter in 2004. You can’t do much better than that. Meanwhile, the Steelers made it all the way to the AFC Championship game.
Roethlisberger threw for 2,621 yards, completing 66 percent of his passes with 17 touchdowns. His brilliance earned him the AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Award. A two-time Super Bowl winner, Roethlisberger is also a six-time Pro Bowl selection, showing this was no fluke.
It’s a fact that the reputation of a player’s college can affect their placement in the draft. After starring at South Carolina State, Leonard found himself in exactly this situation. In his rookie season, Leonard led the league in tackles and was a First-Team All-Pro as well as the Defensive Rookie of the Year.
To sum up, he was a rock in the backline. The linebacker led the NFL with 163 tackles, including 12 tackles for loss, as he helped revitalize the Colts’ defense. Furthermore, he broke all manner of Colts’ defensive records throughout the season.
The 2017 Offensive Rookie of the Year had a phenomenal season by anyone’s standards. Kamara’s 6.07 yards per rush was an NFL rookie record. Finishing with 1,554 yards from scrimmage and 13 touchdowns, he was magnificent alongside Mark Ingram.
Kamara and Ingram became the first running back duo in NFL history to each have over 1,500 scrimmage yards in the same season. In sum, it’s no surprise Kamara is a three-time Pro Bowl selection. The only way is up for this young man.
Although Alvin Kamara stole the headlines in 2017, Hunt was also brilliant. The Kansas City Chiefs drafted him and it proved to be a brilliant move because he was one of the best running backs in the league that season.
Hunt led the NFL in rushing during his rookie season with 1,327 yards and had eight touchdowns. He averaged a 4.9 yards per carry and also added 53 receptions for 455 yards and three receiving scores. It was brilliant while it lasted for him in Kansas City. Of course, his stay was short after he struck a woman on camera and was released.
Usually, it takes a few seasons for a defensive player to enter their prime. They have to develop physicallyand develop the mental aptitude to make the correct decisions. However, Kearse had the year of his life in 1999, producing numbers in his rookie season that he never managed to replicate again.
Kearse was a colossus for the Tennessee Titans. He had 48 tackles, 14.5 sacks, and a staggering eight forced fumbles. The Titans got all the way to the Super Bowl. It was no surprise that he won the Defensive Rookie of the Year award. Fans nicknamed him ‘The Freak’ because of his exceptional wingspan and athleticism.
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Prescott had a great rookie season. Initially he was a backup, but an injury to Tony Romo suddenly catapulted him into starting. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise because Prescott demonstrated a high level of play in an amazing debut year.
As a rookie, Prescott started all 16 games. Hhe achieved 3,667 passing yards, 282 rushing yards, and 29 total touchdowns with a mere four interceptions. Meanwhile, his passing rate was the fourth-best in the entire league. Thanks to this showing, he went to his first Pro Bowl and was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
It’s laughable now, but the Seahawks faced a lot of criticism for drafting Wilson in the 2012 draft. They had also signed Matt Flynn as a free agent and didn’t expect much from the rookie. Furthermore, Wilson was the 75th pick overall. But he emerged as Seattle’s starter in week one.
Wilson broke the rookie passer rating and the NFL ranked him fourth overall that season. He threw for 3,118 yards and 26 touchdowns, tying Peyton Manning’s record for most touchdowns thrown by a rookie. Futhermore, he rushed for 489 yards and four more touchdowns.
Imagine being the man who replaced Peyton Manning at the Indianapolis Colts. Luckily for Luck, his name worked in his favor because he was outstanding in his rookie year. Luck was one of the most exciting talents to enter the NFL Draft.
The first overall pick went on to produce scintillating numbers for the Colts. He had 4,374 passing yards and 23 touchdowns. Meanwhile, his passing yards were a new rookie record as he broke Cam Newton’s previous record. It was a sign of great things to come.
An All-American with the University of Florida, Taylor looked like a great prospect for the NFL. The Jacksonville Jaguars drafted him in 1998. He produced some fantastic numbers in his rookie year and immensely upgraded their attack.
Taylor started 12 of 15 games for the Jaguars as a rookie in 1998, rushing for 1,223 and 14 touchdowns. He also caught 44 passes for three touchdowns. The running back went on to have a great career but only made the Pro Bowl once in 2007. Furthermore, he is a member of the 10,000 yards club.
Nicknamed ‘Muscle Hamster’ at Boise State because of his strength and short stature, Martin was excellent throughout his college career. This convinced the Tampa Bay Buccanneers to pursue him early in the draft. He repaid their faith by producing the best numbers of his professional career hos rookie season.
Martin had 319 rushes for 1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns to cap a stunning year. Furthermore, he was versatile because he was also a threat as a receiver, with 49 receptions for 472 yards. These numbers meant that he was on the short list for the 2012 Rookie of the Year, but fell short with Robert Griffin III winning.
The draft always throws up a few surprises. Nobody expected much from Martin as a third-round pick by the New England Patriots. However, he demonstrated that you can never predict who will be brilliant and who will be a bust. 1995 was a tremendous year for this running back.
Martin won the Offensive Rookie of the Year award with the Patriots, rushing 368 times for 1,487 yards and 14 touchdowns. It was at odds with his place in the draft but as the likes of Tom Brady prove, that’s not always the best guide. Timing and the right environment can make all the difference.
The 2013 Heisman Trophy winner had an outstanding college career with Florida State. He was also an outstanding baseball player like Russell Wilson. However, football remained his first love. The Tampa Bay Buccanneers drafted him in 2015.
He threw for more than 4,000 yards and 22 touchdowns in a brilliant rookie season. Winston was also the third rookie quarterback to pass over 4,000 yards in a season. He made the NFL All-Rookie Team for his efforts and played in his first Pro Bowl.
There’s no doubt Mayfield had a phenomenal rookie season. He joined a team that finished 0-16 the previous year, but instantly provided an injection of quality. Although was on the bench for the first few games, Mayfield soon made a difference when he became the Browns’ QB1.
A Heisman Trophy winner at the University of Oklahoma, Mayfield guided the Browns to a 6-7 record. He threw for 3,725 yards and 27 touchdowns as the starter. As a result, there were massive expectations on his shoulders before his second season, but he flopped.
Some say that Mike Anderson’s numbers in 2000 were less about his individual ability and more about Mike Shanahan’s game planning in Denver. The truth is that even if you’re just a piece, you still need to fit the puzzle. Anderson was highly effective during his rookie year as his stats below prove.
The Broncos picked him up in the sixth round, so not many expected much from Anderson in his first season. He had 297 carries for 1,487 yards and 15 touchdowns, averaging 5.0 yards per carry. In the end, he won the AP NFL Offensive Player of the Year Award.
2017 was an appalling year for the New York Giants, but they had one bright light in rookie tight end Engram. The young star broke onto the scene and posted excellent numbers as most of the rest of the team flopped around him. One player can’t do it all by themselves, but he tried his best.
He finished the season with 64 receptions for 722 receiving yards and six touchdowns after 11 starts. Despite his bright start to life in the league, he has suffered a lot of injuries in his last couple of seasons.
You’ll notice there has been a lot of running backs on this list, but there are far less defensive players. Willis was majestic in 2007 during his rookie season. An All-American with the University of Mississippi, Willis brought that form to the San Francisco 49ers. Instantly, he became a star.
It was no surprise that he won the Defensive Player of the Year award after his remarkable consistency. The middle linebacker had 135 tackles and four sacks on his way to All-Pro Honors. By the end of his first two seasons, Willis had established himself as one of the best defensive players in the NFL.
Boldin is another Florida State alumnus who went on to achieve great things in the NFL. Drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in 2003, he was one of the most exciting players in the league that year. In the end, he won the NFL Offensive Player of the Year award.
The former second-round pick had 101 receptions for 1,377 yards and eight touchdowns in his first season. Boldin was also the only rookie to play in that season’s Pro Bowl. Furthermore, he still holds the NFL record for most receptions in the first 26 games of an NFL career. It was a magnificent beginning to his professional career.
Another player who retired in his prime, Sanders was brilliant for the Detroit Lions. He won the Offensive Rookie of the Year award for his stunning efforts in 1989. The running back was incredibly elusive, using his ability and agility to great effect. His numbers that year back up all of the talk.
Initially, there were concerns about his size, but these proved to be groundless. He finished the season second in the NFL in rushing yards and touchdowns. Sanders had 280 carries for 1,470 yards and 14 touchdowns after going third overall in the draft. It set him up for a brilliant career.
Urlacher was unbreakable during his rookie season with the Chicago Bears. After performing poorly in his first game, Dick Jauron didn’t start him in week two. But he rebounded and proved his excellence.
He had 101 tackles and eight sacks in his rookie season and won Defensive Rookie of the Year. Both of these numbers eclipsed the Bears’ previous records. Furthermore, he made the Pro Bowl in his rookie year. Not many players can claim that accolade. In sum, he was a superb linebacker and a deserving Hall of Famer.