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Top rookie seasons of the Super Bowl era: Wide receiver edition

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In a series leading up to the 2015 NFL Draft, NFL Media historian Elliot Harrison will rank the five best rookie seasons from the Super Bowl era at each major position group. Today, he reminisces about the first-year phenoms at wide receiver.

TOUGHEST OMISSION: Cris Collinsworth, Cincinnati Bengals, 1981 (67 catches, 1,009 yards, 8 touchdowns)

5) John Jefferson, San Diego Chargers, 1978

Regular-season stats: 56 catches, 1,001 yards, 13 touchdowns, 14 games played (14 starts).

In 1978, the Competition Committee made rule changes that opened up the passing game. Blockers were suddenly allowed to extend their arms, while defensive players could only contact receivers within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage. Thus, wideouts could run downfield unimpeded, allowing Don Coryell to really open up his playbook -- and the Chargers' first-year head coach took full advantage of a talented first-year pro at wideout. The athletic Jefferson was like a 1970s version of Odell Beckham Jr., high-pointing the ball, making circus catches and, most of all, producing at a spectacular rate. The first-round pick scored eight touchdowns in the final six games of the season, with "Air Coryell" beginning to take off in SoCal.

4) Terry Glenn, New England Patriots, 1996

Regular-season stats: 90 catches, 1,132 yards, 6 touchdowns, 15 games played (15 starts).

Seems like a lot of people have forgotten about Glenn as the years have gone by, but oh, what a rookie season he had in '96. Despite the presence of tight end Ben Coates, who was an All-Pro in 1994 and '95, Glenn immediately became the primary target in New England's passing attack. Head coach Bill Parcells derisively referred to Glenn as "she" when he missed time in training camp due to injury -- and the rookie wideout responded to his boss' mind games, helping the Patriots get to the Super Bowl by catching more passes than any rookie in NFL history. That is, until our No. 3 wide receiver came along and caught 11 more ...

3) Anquan Boldin, Arizona Cardinals, 2003

Regular-season stats: 101 catches, 1,377 yards, 8 touchdowns, 16 games played (16 starts).

It's impressive enough to be an NFL starter at receiver from Day 1, but Boldin took Day 1 distinction at the position to a whole other level on Sept. 7, 2003. In arguably the greatest rookie debut by any player in NFL history, the big receiver out of Florida State caught 10 passes for 217 yards and two touchdowns. The Lions simply couldn't stop him. Unfortunately, the Cardinals couldn't stop anyone. Arizona lost that game, 42-24, and dropped 11 more contests that season, thanks to the worst scoring defense in the league. Boldin, though, remains one of four players in NFL history with 1,300-plus receiving yards in Year 1.

2) Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants, 2014

Regular-season stats: 91 catches, 1,305 yards, 12 touchdowns, 12 games played (11 starts).

Unless you spent the last year living in a hut in the Ozark Mountains, only driving into town for the occasional Jamba Juice, then you're probably aware that Mr. Beckham just enjoyed a pretty good rookie campaign. You've seen this catch. And you fantasy fiends who drafted him late were rewarded beyond your wildest dreams, especially toward the end of the season. By December, the Giants had the toughest wideout to defend in football. Just ask Redskins fans. Beckham's 108.8 yards per contest -- he only played 12 games -- is the best rookie average in NFL history. And over the last six weeks of the season, he averaged 10 catches for 140 yards and scored nine touchdowns.

1) Randy Moss, Minnesota Vikings, 1998

Regular-season stats: 69 catches, 1,313 yards, 17 touchdowns, 16 games played (11 starts).

When you consider his absurd production (touchdowns in 11 games, including four multi-score contests), the team's success (Minnesota went 15-1) and the fact that Moss put the fear of God into opposing defensive backs and defensive coordinators alike, this guy is very deserving of the top spot. Some other rookies -- like Beckham -- have posted slightly better per-game numbers, but Moss contributed the entire season. That's important, as the '98 Vikings owned the best mark in the NFL and also set a scoring record (which has since been surpassed). Oh, and Moss added touchdown receptions in each of Minnesota's two playoff games, as well. Perhaps most importantly, Moss commanded double-teams despite the presence of Hall of Famer Cris Carter on the other side. And if you're looking for complete mastery of the vertical game, then Exhibit A exists in Vikings at Cowboys, Nov. 26, 1998. The speedster out of Marshall caught all of three balls that day ... for 163 yards and three touchdowns. Drop the mic.

Pre-Super Bowl era: Campaigns for the ages

Billy Howton put up incredible numbers for the Green Bay Packers in 1952, catching 53 balls for an eye-popping 1,231 yards and 13 touchdowns. All that production ... in 12 games! Not only that, but the rules governing what defenders could do to receivers were, shall we say, lax in the '50s and '60s. Bill Groman had the same kind of season for the 1960 Houston Oilers, posting 1,473 yards in 14 games, averaging an astounding 20.5 yards per catch. Groman's dynamic campaign helped the Oilers win the AFL's inaugural title.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

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