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.