Lists

Star Athletes Who Had Terrible Rookie Seasons

Darren - March 28, 2020
Lists

Star Athletes Who Had Terrible Rookie Seasons

Darren - March 28, 2020

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

29. Lane Johnson

The popular offensive tackle is one of Philadelphia’s longest-serving players. However, many fans didn’t think that they would see much more of Johnson after a terrible rookie season. He played in every game for the Eagles but didn’t perform well in 2013. In fact, one news source graded him as the worst first-round rookie from that year’s draft. Then, to make matters worse, he tested positive for PEDs before his sophomore year.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

Fortunately for Johnson, he was able to turn his career around and get back on track. He played a key role in the Eagles’ 2016 Super Bowl win. It must have felt good for him to get his hands on a ring after a rough start to his career. Furthermore, it shows that many elite athletes take time to blossom into something brilliant. Johnson definitely proved this point.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

28. Rajon Rondo

An excellent point guard, Rondo only played a supporting role during his rookie season. The numbers don’t lie, as he didn’t make much of an impact in his first year with the Celtics. Averaging 6.1 points and 3.8 assists per game, there was nothing to suggest he would be elite.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

Rondo’s evolution was swift once Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen landed in Boston. We’re talking about one of the best rosters in recent NBA history. An NBA champion and four-time All-Star, it’s fair to say things turned out pretty good for the volatile Lakers man.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

27. Vincent Lecavalier

Art Williams called Lacavalier the ‘Michael Jordan of hockey,’ when the Tampa Bay Lightning drafted him in 1998. However, his rookie season wasn’t all that great as he only scored a meager 23 points. In his second season, he got that total up to 43 and was soon scoring in the 60s.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

A legend in Tampa, Lecavalier was a member of their 2004 Stanley Cup championship team. The Lightning retired his jersey in 2018 as a tribute to his brilliance. As a young player, Tampa stripped him of the captaincy because he was too immature. In the end, however, he earned their utmost respect.

Mandatory Credit: GOAL

26. Samuel Eto’o

A Champion’s League winner with Inter Milan, Eto’o was one of Jose Mourinho’s favorite players. The Cameroonian was blisteringly fast with an eye for a goal. He made his name with Barcelona but he could have been a force for the Catalan club’s arch-rivals, Real Madrid. However, after he came through Madrid’s academy he only made three appearances and spent significant time on loan.

Mandatory Credit: Sky Sports

After a terrible start to his career, Eto’o picked up the pieces in Mallorca and became a top striker. This attracted Barcelona’s attention and the rest is history. From then on, Eto’o regularly won the African Player of the Year awards and was a continental superstar. He played for 13 teams throughout his career in multiple leagues across the globe. It just goes to show that careers can explode in an instant.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

25. Jimmy Butler

A five-time All-Star, Butler has become a great and consistent player. After an incredible personal journey that saw him thrown out of his house at the age of 13 by his mother, he focused on the court. He struggled to make an impact in his rookie season with the Chicago Bulls.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

He played 8.6 minutes per game, scored 2.6 ppg, and dished out 1.3 assists. After pushing up his numbers, he became an elite performer. The NBA named him their Most Improved Player, the first time in Bulls’ franchise history. That’s a testament to his hard work and dedication to basketball.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

24. Jose Bautista

Bautista had a really terrible start to life as a professional, playing in the minor leagues for teams like the Lynchburg Hillcats and the Hickory Crawdads. When he finally broke into MLB in 2004, he played for four different teams in one year. It wasn’t until his second season with the Toronto Bluejays in 2009 that he finally broke out.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

From 2010–2015, Bautista hit more home runs than any player in the major leagues. An MLB All-Star selection six consecutive times, he has won three Silver Slugger Awards and two Hank Aaron Awards. In sum, it was a slow start to his career but when he got going, nobody could stop him.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

23. Jozy Altidore

Altidore has played for Toronto FC since 2015, scoring over 50 goals in the process. His career took him from the MLS to Europe and back again. His first year as a pro with the New York Red Bulls was uneventful with a single goal in a mere nine appearances. That’s a terrible return.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

The best couple of seasons of his career came at AZ Alkmaar, where he became the highest-scoring American in a European league. Altidore has over 110 international caps to his name and represented the USMNT at two World Cups. Physically powerful, he’s a handful for any defense.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

22. James Harden

For the past several years, Harden has been one of the best shooting guards in the NBA. The Houston Rockets were lucky to have their bearded giant. He only averaged 9.9 points per game in his rookie season but increased that tally in the following years. He then truly blossomed after leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

The 2018 NBA Most Valuable Player, Harden led the league in scoring. He’s an eight-time NBA All-Star and has earned All-NBA Team honors six times, including five first-team selections. Harden has definitely come a long way from his early days in Oklahoma. Now he plays for the Brooklyn Nets.

Mandatory Credit: Sky Sports

21. Antonio Brown

Brown’s personal drama hasn’t helped his image over the past couple of seasons. The reality is that he’s one of the best wide receivers in the NFL on his day. Brown amassed more receptions than any other player since he entered the league and is a seven-time Pro Bowler.

Mandatory Credit: Bleacher Report

However, his rookie season was nothing to write home about. Brown only caught 16 passes for 167 yards in his first year for the Steelers in 2010. They made the Super Bowl that year and lost to the Packers. Despite this, he developed into a phenomenal athlete. Now he just needs to get his head right. It’s tough to say if we’ll ever see Brown in an NFL uniform again.

Mandatory Credit: Sky Sports

20. Andriy Shevchenko

During his time with A.C. Milan, Shevchenko was the best striker on the planet. He offered a unique and clinical threat, scoring goals for fun. But the Ukrainian didn’t have an easy start to life as a pro. In fact, it’s fair to describe it as terrible. He came through the ranks of Dynamo Kyiv, one of the biggest clubs in his home nation. But he scored just a single goal in his first season.

Mandatory Credit: Sky Sports

Fair enough, he was young at the time, but Kyiv won the league. He was unable to break out and had to wait another year before he was mature enough to play regularly. Then he started scoring goals with an increased frequency. Finally, he attracted the attention of Milan and became a global superstar. Nothing about his first season suggested that this would be the case.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

19. Tracy McGrady

McGrady entered the NBA straight from high school. Like Kobe Bryant, he had a relatively tough start to life in the league because of his youthfulness and a lack of physicality. McGrady has described his rookie year as “hell,” feeling lonely in Toronto and sleeping up to 20 hours a day. What was supposed to be a dream was actually terrible.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

However, the following year, McGrady developed dramatically under new Raptors coach Bruce Carter. The rest is history because he became a seven-time NBA All-Star, a two-time NBA scoring champion, and won the NBA Most Improved Player Award.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

18. Isaac Bruce

Bruce actually won the Rams Rookie of the Year award in 1994 even though he didn’t contribute that much. He only caught 21 passes for 272 yards and three touchdowns in his rookie year. But the following season when the Rams moved from LA to St. Louis, his career blew up.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

A Super Bowl champion in 1999, he achieved so much in the game. His best statistical season was 1995 when he caught 119 passes for 1,781 yards and 13 touchdowns. A year later he led the league in receiving yards. It’s no surprise he finally made the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2020.

Mandatory Credit: GOAL

17. Dennis Bergkamp

The Netherlands has produced some of the world’s greatest forwards. From Van Nistelrooy to Van Persie, the list goes on and on. But one of the greatest at the turn of the twentieth century was Bergkamp. He made his name with Ajax before lighting up the Premiership with Arsenal. Needless to say, he didn’t have a great first season, or he wouldn’t be on this list.

Mandatory Credit: GOAL

Just two goals in 14 appearances was a terrible return for a player who became one of the best in world soccer. However, he was young at the time so that must be taken into account. As he received more game time, he blossomed and scored increasing numbers of goals. This prompted Arsene Wenger to bring him to Highbury where he became an icon for the Gunners.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

16. Alex Rodriguez

We all know what happened at the end of Rodriguez’s career. However, the beginning of it wasn’t too great either. He was very average for his first couple of years, except, of course, for the fact he was only the third 18-year-old shortstop in Major League Baseball (MLB) since 1900.

Alex Rodriguez
Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

That’s a nice stat, but the truth was that he didn’t do much in his rookie year. But he did evolve into a three-time American League MVP and five-time American League Home Run Champion. Of course, PED use destroyed his legacy, so we’ll never really know how good he was.

Mandatory Credit: Sports Illustrated

15. John Stockton

A deserving NBA Hall of Famer, Stockton never got a ring on his finger. But alongside Karl Malone, he’s one of the best players in league history never to win a championship. He led the league in steals twice and won the 1993 NBA All-Star game MVP award.

John Stockton
Mandatory Credit: Sports Illustrated

But the Utah Jazz legend’s rookie season was terrible by his later standards. He posted low numbers, averaging 5.6 points and 5.1 assists per game in 82 games. But he improved substantially over the next couple of seasons. Stockton now holds the NBA records for most career assists and steals by wide margins.

Mandatory Credit: Bleacher Report

14. Fernando Torres

Torres was very young when he became a senior player for Atletico Madrid. Much is made of the fact that he captained the team at the age of 19. However, his first two seasons with Madrid were very poor. The team was fighting to get out of the Segunda Division and re-establish themselves as a La Liga force. In short, it was a tough environment for a youthful player.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

He scored just seven goals in his first two seasons for Atleti. It may seem harsh to call this terrible because he was so young, but it’s crazy when compared to his later form. However, Torres developed into one of Spain’s greatest ever strikers. He enjoyed success on both the international and club level stages. Finally, he retired with one of the best records in sports.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

13. Eli Manning

Eli’s legacy is not as famous as that of his older brother Peyton, but he was an outstanding quarterback in his own right. A two-time Super Bowl champion, Manning holds Giants franchise records for most passing yards, touchdown passes, and completions in a career.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

But his rookie season was pretty terrible. He passed for just 1,043 yards and managed six touchdown passes with nine interceptions. However, things turned when he won the Super Bowl MVP in both 2007 and 2011. He also set an NFL record for touchdown passes thrown in the fourth quarter with 15 in 2011.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

12. Dirk Nowitzki

This German star turned into one of the NBA’s best foreign imports. However, he didn’t settle at first in the US and it took him some time to start firing on all cylinders. First of all, the NBA’s player strike disrupted the season and was a terrible distraction. He then struggled to cope with the physicality of defenders.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

Nowitzki only averaged 8.2 points and 3.4 rebounds in 20.4 minutes of playing time. But Nowitzki evolved into one of the best power forwards in the league. An NBA champion, he was a 14-time All-Star and won an MVP Player award in 2007.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

11. Sergio Aguero

Aguero’s inclusion on this list may come as a surprise to many soccer fans. This is because he is one of the greatest strikers in Premier League history. First of all, he lit up La Liga with Atletico Madrid. Then, he moved to Manchester City where he played a key role in their development into one of the best sides in the world. But it didn’t start out as well as all of that.

Mandatory Credit: Sky Sports

He made his debut for Argentina’s Independiente in 2002. Aguero made just a single appearance that year without any goals. The following season he played five times but still didn’t score. Once again, it may seem harsh to call him terrible, but he certainly took his time in developing. Finally, in his third season, he began to feature more and scored five goals.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

10. Troy Aikman

Aikman only played 12 seasons in the NFL, but he achieved a lot at that time. Being the quarterback of America’s team who brings them back to glory has to count for something. In short, winning three championships with the Cowboys made him into a superstar.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

That’s why, despite passing for only 30,000 yards, he’s in the Hall of Fame. However, Aikman had a  forgettable rookie season. He only threw for 1,749 yards and 9 touchdowns with 18 interceptions. Those aren’t elite numbers, but he rebounded to become one of the most respected stars in the Cowboys’ history. Aikman is now positioned as one of the most popular football analysts on network television.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

9. Landon Donovan

Donovan is the greatest MLS player of all-time. The LA Galaxy legend also briefly played for Everton in the Premier League. He shares the position of his country’s top scorer with 57 goals and also is the only US player with over 50 goals and 50 assists. The former USMNT captain is the highest-scoring American in World Cup history.

Mandatory Credit: ABC News

However, Donovan had a very innocuous start to life as a professional. His first season saw him make just seven appearances for Bayer Leverkusen in Germany. After struggling to adapt to life in Europe, he moved back to the US. That’s when his career really took off and his journey began.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

8. Drew Brees

There really isn’t much to say about Bree’s rookie’s season. He only played in one game and finished with 221 passing yards and his first career passing touchdown. Initially, there were extreme doubts about his height and the power of his arm. Brees was able to prove these totally wrong.

Drew Brees, Purdue
Mandatory Credit: Sporting News

It’s hilarious now to think about those worries because Brees is one of the best pure passers in NFL history. He has led the NFL in passing yards a record seven times and in passing touchdowns a record-tying four times. The Super Bowl champion is also an 11-time Pro Bowler. His best records are two greats – he owns the career marks for both passing touchdowns and passing yards in NFL history. They’re going to be exceptionally tough for any young quarterback to break.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

7. Cris Carter

It’s crazy how careers can suddenly change course. Carter is an NFL Hall-of-Famer but nothing from his first couple of seasons suggested he would ever make it. In his rookie year, he ran for five yards in nine games. That was a terrible return and things didn’t get much better over the next couple of seasons. While his numbers rose, so did his bad behavior. The Eagles cut him for his off-field conduct.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

But Carter turned his life around and deserves a lot of credit for that. He played in eight consecutive Pro Bowls and was one of the Vikings’ greatest ever receivers. Furthermore, in 1994, he led the NFL in receptions. One reason why many athletes perform badly at a young age is that they lack maturity. A bit of age and experience can do wonders for their careers.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

6. Greg Maddux

The first pitcher in major league history to win the Cy Young Award in four consecutive seasons, Maddux was a phenom during his prime. He won the World Series with the Atlanta Braves in 1995 and became a Hall of Famer in 2014. Due to his long list of accomplishments, you might be surprised his first season was terrible.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

Maddux compiled a 6-14 record with a 5.61 ERA in his first full season with the Chicago Cubs in 1987. Nobody expected him to become an 18-time Gold Glove Award winner. Maddux also holds the record for most seasons finishing top 10 in the league in wins with 18.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

5. John Elway

A Broncos legend, Elway spent all 16 seasons of his playing career in Denver. Initially drafted by the Baltimore Colts, Elway famously said he would refuse to play for the downtrodden franchise, forcing a trade to Denver for a better future. However, his rookie season was definitely terrible. Check out some of these statistics.

John Elway, Stanford
Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

Elway started 10 games in 1983, throwing seven touchdown passes to 14 interceptions and completing just 47.5% of his passes. The Broncos lost patience after three straight losses and benched him for the rest of the season. It all turned out well when Elway became a two-time Super Bowl winner and nine-time Pro Bowler.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

4. Kobe Bryant

‘The Black Mamba’ is one of the greatest players in basketball history. But he didn’t have the most inspiring start to his career with a very average rookie season. He only managed to average about 15 minutes per game, scoring 7.6 ppg on 41.7 percent from the field. It was a slow start to an incredible career.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

Of course, he did come to the NBA directly from high school. Furthermore, he was the youngest player in the history of the league at the time. However, the following year he truly sprung into life and emerged as one of the most exciting stars on the Lakers’ roster. The rest is history.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

3. Brett Favre

It’s easy to forget that Favre played for the Atlanta Falcons. But failure there seemed inevitable. Jerry Ganville never wanted him and he only attempted four passes as a Falcon. After a terrible but blessedly short time in Atlanta, the Falcons traded him to Green Bay. Then, he then became one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history.

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

A three-time MVP, Favre held the award for consecutive years from 1995-97. He also won the Super Bowl in 1997 and made the Pro Bowl 11 times. Furthermore, Favre led the NFL in touchdowns four times and was the NFL’s all-time leader in starts and wins.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

2. Steve Nash

One of the best point guards to play the game, Nash was a brilliant player. Despite never getting an NBA ring, he’s still a legendary figure. The Canadian didn’t have a good start to life though, with a terrible rookie season. Nash averaged 3.3 points per game, 2.1 assists, and shot 42.3 percent from the field.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

Those are bleak numbers, but he went on to prove his doubters wrong. He was the fulcrum of an excellent Phoenix Suns’ team featuring Shawn Marion, Amare Stoudemire, and Leandro Barbosa. In short, the Canadian was a two-time MVP award winner for a reason.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

1. Peyton Manning

Depending on who you ask, Manning may just be the best quarterback in NFL history. However, the fact is that his first season in the big time was terrible. While his passing was good, he led the league in interceptions with an astounding 28. Meanwhile, the Colts were terrible and only managed three wins.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

However, he became a two-time Super Bowl champion, a five-time NFL MVP, made the Pro Bowl 14 times, and became the Colts leader in all major statistical categories for quarterbacks. So it’s fair to say everything turned out ok for ‘The Sheriff.’

Advertisement
Advertisement