Top 5 NFL Rookie Seasons of All-Time: Golden Oldies and Relative Newcomers Make Up Our List

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There is nothing quite like witnessing a player fresh out of college football taking the NFL by storm, and although it is a tall order establishing a starting spot as a rookie, a select few down the years have transcended this label and have become instant heroes.

In this article, we will list what we believe to be very best rookie seasons of all-time in the NFL, whether it be from over 40 years ago or as recently as this current decade…

Top 5 NFL Rookie Seasons of All-Time

5. Justin Herbert – 2020

Kicking off our list, we have the most recent pick in this article which exemplifies just how special Justin Herbert’s rookie season was.

The now 23-year-old burst on the season after the Los Angeles Chargers‘ starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor suffered a punctured lung in the second game of the 2020 season. This catapulted Herbert into the limelight, launching one of the most promising NFL careers in recent memory.

That year he had arguably the best QB rookie season ever, breaking records for most passing touchdowns with 31 and he threw for 4,336 yards, just 11 shy of Andrew Luck’s rookie record, in just 15 games. This earned him the Offensive Rookie of the Year award.

 

4. Earl Campbell – 1978

From the most recent on our list to the oldest, it is nigh-impossible to leave out legendary running back Earl Campbell.

Infamous for his aggressive, powerful and punishing runs, Campbell was absurdly hard to stop right from his first game in the NFL. Fresh out of one of the greatest college seasons to date, he was the No. 1 overall pick by the Houston Oilers in the 1978 NFL Draft and continued his explosive form, quite literally rushing onto the scene.

It still remains rare to see a youngster as powerful as Campbell; he rushed 1450 yards – the first to do so in the NFL. He also carried 302 times and for 13 touchdowns that year, earning him the league’s Offensive Player of the Year and he would go on to claim the MVP title the season after.

 

3. Lawrence Taylor – 1981

It is really hard not to place Lawrence Taylor in our top two. Nonetheless his rookie season for the New York Giants was the beginning of a career which sees him widely regarded as the greatest linebacker of all time to this day.

In his debut season , he became the first player in NFL history to win both Defensive Player of the Year and Defensive Rookie of the Year honours, while registering 9.5 sacks and demonstrating an unmatched pass-rushing ability which struck fear into any and all of the league’s quarterbacks.

 

2. Randy Moss – 1998

Just missing out on top spot we have Randy Moss, who’s first season for the Minnesota Vikings remains the greatest single-season wide receiver performance ever for a rookie.

What makes it all the more incredible is just over 20 teams passed up the opportunity to draft Moss, who arrived from a little-known school in West Virginia.

In what remains a truly iconic season for the Vikings (556 points; second-best in NFL history), Moss was integral to their overall 15-1 record with 17 touchdown catches, an NFL rookie record, while he caught 69 passes for 1,313 yards and won Offensive Rookie of the Year honours, as well as a First Team All-Pro.

 

1. Eric Dickerson – 1983

And so, we arrive at what we believe to be the best rookie season in NFL history.

When you are looking at the raw facts, it is hard to argue against Eric Dickerson’s explosive first season for the St. Louis Rams. Donning his iconic eye glasses, Dickerson’s rookie season at running back was utterly dominant – his power and speed saw him lead the NFL in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, and carries, while his 1,808 rushing yards and 18 rushing touchdowns as a rookie are both long-standing records that remain intact.

Winning the Offensive Rookie of the Year, he also narrowly lost out in 2nd in MVP voting, and came in at 2nd in Offensive Player of the Year voting.

 

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