The best NFL rookie seasons feature a lot of record-breaking stats throughout league history. These exceptional rookies adapted to the league’s game speed quickly. They showed that they belong to a grown man’s league like the NFL.
Greatest rookie campaigns of all time
The best NFL rookies exhibited their ability to dominate the league even at a young age. We know that American football is one of the hardest sports given its physical and mental demands. Nevertheless, it didn’t stop these exceptional rookies from performing their best and making history.
Here are the ten greatest rookie campaigns of all time…
10. Justin Jefferson, 2020
The former 22nd overall pick had a record-breaking rookie season with 88 catches for 1,400 yards and 7 touchdowns.
— CBS Sports HQ (@CBSSportsHQ) August 16, 2021
He even didn’t start until Week 3 for the Vikings but he still broke records. Although Jefferson was snubbed as the Offensive Rookie of the Year, he’s on pace to become a top 10 NFL wide receiver in today’s game. Who knows? He could turn out to be the next Randy Moss.
9. Ronnie Lott, 1981
Besides Lawrence Taylor, Ronnie Lott was another defensive beast in the 1981 draft class. Drafted eight-overall by the 49ers, the rookie safety immediately made an impact on San Francisco with his disrupting plays.
In his rookie year, he intercepted seven passes and returned three of those for touchdowns.
He also gathered 89 tackles in the season. As a result, Lott earned All-Pro honors and helped San Francisco win their first-ever Super Bowl title. It was the start of the 49ers dynasty in the 80s.
8. Night Train Lane, 1952
Arguably the most physical cornerback of all time, Night Train Lane lived up to his nickname with his aggressive style of tackling.
Lane was undrafted. Still, he pursued his dreams of playing in the NFL and tried out for the Rams in 1952 as a wide receiver. However, he was tasked to fulfil the defensive back duties because they already had a lot of great receivers on the roster.
It turned out to be a great move as he excelled as a defender. In his rookie year, he gathered a league-best 14 interceptions in just 12 games. He also collected 298 return yards and two interceptions returns.
Lane was one of the best NFL rookies of all time.
7. Jevon Kearse, 1999
Also known as “The Freak”, Jevon Kearse is arguably the best rookie defensive end in his class. His athleticism and strength stood out as he racked up a ridiculous 14.5 sacks and forced eight fumbles—one in which he scored a fumble return touchdown.
— NFL Throwback (@nflthrowback) May 22, 2019
With his defense, he helped the Titans finish the season with a 13-3 record and reach the Super Bowl XXXIV for the first time in franchise history. In the postseason, he collected another three sacks.
6. Ben Roethlisberger, 2004
Pittsburgh struggled in 2003 with a record of 6-10. But then, Ben Roethlisberger happened. He quickly turned things around when he was drafted 11th overall by the Steelers.
In 2004, Roethlisberger started 13 games and won all of them. He immediately made the Steelers a contending team (15-1) and took them to the AFC championship. As you can see, his impact on the field is immeasurable. He made 2621 passing yards which led to 17 touchdowns. Big Ben turned out to become one of the greatest quarterbacks in the class of 2004 and a lock as a future Hall of Famer.
5. Eric Dickerson, 1983
Drafted by the Rams in 1983, Eric Dickerson is one of the best NFL rookies of all time. He entered the league looking like a seasoned running back veteran with his strength and speed.
In his rookie year, Dickerson led the league with 1808 rushing yards and 18 rushing touchdowns. He also led the NFL with 390 carries and had the longest rushing play of the season with 85 yards. As a result, he earned the All-Pro honors that season.
4. Earl Campbell, 1978
Following an epic career in college, Earl Campbell picked up steam and continued his dominance in his rookie year. He was drafted first overall by the Oilers in 1978.
— Old Time Football 🏈 (@Ol_TimeFootball) July 24, 2021
Immediately, he made an impact player in the league as he rushed 1450 yards—first in the NFL. He also carried 302 times and for 13 touchdowns that year. As a result of his dominant performance, he won the rushing title and the NFL Offensive Player of the Year award.
3. Randy Moss, 1998
Would you believe that 20 teams passed on Randy Moss in the 1998 NFL draft? It turned out that passing on him was a mistake.
The Vikings took Moss with their 21st-overall selection and he immediately showed what the other teams were missing. In his rookie year, he corralled 69 catches, 1313 yards, and 17 touchdowns. He also helped Minnesota gain a single-season record of 556 points (second-best in NFL history). This is clearly one of the best NFL rookie seasons of all time.
2. Lawrence Taylor, 1981
Lawrence Taylor is arguably the best linebacker of all time. Drafted second overall by the Giants, he was feared by quarterbacks with his pass-rushing ability. Taylor was like a freight train literally with his strength. Not just that but he also displayed his IQ on the field.
In his rookie season, Taylor recorded 9.5 sacks. He’s also the first player to win the NFL Defensive Player and Rookie of the Year awards.
1. Gale Sayers, 1965
Drafted fourth overall by the Bears, Gale Sayers showed his offensive package right off the bat. In his rookie year, he scored a whopping 22 touchdowns—14 rushing, six receiving, and one each on punt and kickoff.
Moreover, no one has topped off his record of six touchdowns in a single game (against the 49ers) up to this day. Sayers’ rookie season is one of the greatest rookie campaigns of all time, if not the best.