Top 15 rookie performances
- Analyst, NFL.com and NFL Network
- Published: Nov. 7, 2012 at 11:18 a.m.
Andrew Luck electrified the Lucas Oil Stadium faithful last Sunday with a record-setting day for a rookie quarterback. Luck's 433 yards set an NFL record for first-year quarterbacks, but was it enough to merit inclusion in the NFL's list of top 15 single game performances by a rookie? Drumroll...no. There is no doubting Luck's impact on pro football. But it was another quarterback who bombed expectations into oblivion, not only as a rookie, but in the first game of his career. Let's kick off the best games by a rookie in league history with...
15. Cam Newton vs Arizona Cardinals - Sept. 11, 2011
There existed much doubt regarding how quickly Cam Newton could assimilate the pro game and impose his will on it. Try one week. The Heisman Trophy winner started fast, exploiting and then decimating the Cardinals secondary with 422 yards passing and two touchdowns. He had another TD on the ground, something he would do 13 more times during the 2011 season.
14. Tony Dorsett vs the Philadelphia Eagles - Dec. 5, 1977
Another Heisman Trophy winner strutted his stuff as a rookie, albeit 34 years earlier. And like Cam Newton, there were doubts regarding how Tony Dorsett would fare as a pro. At 5'11" 185 lbs, many league observers thought he couldn't take the pounding. Dorsett pounded any question marks with 206 yards rushing versus the Eagles in his first home start. More importantly, the rest of the NFL was made aware that Dallas was now the most complete team in the league with a home run hitter at tailback. Dorsett would be the final piece to the Cowboys Super Bowl title winning team.
13. Earl Campbell vs the Buffalo Bills - Oct. 15, 1978
There would be no Heisman jinx one year after Tony Dorsett entered the league. That's because Earl Campbell led the NFL in rushing as a rookie with 1,450 yards in 1978. But it was his 199-yard game on Monday Night Football versus the playoff-bound Dolphins that let fans know just how good the Tyler, Texas product was. Despite all 11 players on the Dolphins defense knowing Campbell would get the ball, the powerful running back motored 81 yards to the house to seal a 35-30 win for the upstart Oilers.
12. DeMarco Murray vs the St. Louis Rams - Oct. 23, 2011
What better way to show that being taken in the third round was an insult to your draft stock, and that you were nobody's backup...namely Felix Jones? How about rushing for 253 yards in your first career start. That's what DeMarco Murray did in his first career start versus the Rams in 2011, and it's an NFL record.
11. Doug Martin vs the Oakland Raiders - Nov. 4, 2012
Eleveth on our list of the greatest single game performances by a rookie comes from the annals of NFL history. As in last week. What made Martin's 244-yard day in Oakland so special was that a) he ripped off scoring runs of 45, 67, and 70 yards, and b) he did it in an era that coaches have a baffling tendency to limit even the most premium tailbacks' touches (we're not mentioning Andy Reid here).
10. Jerry Rice vs the Los Angeles Rams - Dec. 22, 1985
Any time a rookie wideout puts up 241 yards receiving in a game, that's saying something. When it comes in a game with playoff implications...against a good Rams secondary...in prime time...by a guy who would break every receiving record in the books...it's special. Jerry Rice served notice to the rest of the NFL that night who the league's next dominant wide receiver would be, and it sure as heck wasn't Art Monk.
9. Devin Hester vs the St. Louis Rams - Dec. 11, 2006
The Bears' Devin Hester tied, then broke, the NFL record for return touchdowns in a season on a 42-27 Monday night win in St. Louis. Number 23 took a kick back 94 yards in the second quarter, then another one 96 yards to the house in the fourth – his sixth return touchdown for the season. After all was said and done, Hester put up 246 return yards and the Rams had no answer for Chicago's X-factor.
8. Randy Moss vs the Dallas Cowboys - Nov. 26, 1998
You want a great stat line? How about rookie Randy Moss's day – Thanksgiving Day – in Dallas back in 1998. The incredibly talented speedster from Marshall, who 20 teams (including the 'Boys) passed on in that year's Draft, caught three passes for 163 yards and three touchdowns. I think every football card of Cowboys defensive backs showed them falling down, arms outstretched, while Moss pranced.
7. Bo Jackson vs the Seattle Seahawks - Dec. 1, 1987
If you've only heard about Bo Jackson, or seen his Tecmo Super Bowl runs on Youtube, then you're missing football beauty. As Raiders hall of fame teammate Howie Long once said, Jackson was all "thighs and ass" when he hit the corner on his 91-yard touchdown run in Seattle 25 years ago. Despite having no training camp, and shagging flyballs for the Kansas City Royals through the early part of the season, Jackson managed to rush for 221 yards on this night...including a touchdown plunge right through the infamous Brian Bosworth.
6. Anquan Boldin vs the Detroit Lions - Sept. 7, 2003
No one could've stopped Anquan Boldin in the first game of his career. Deion Sanders, Mel Blount, Darelle Revis, doesn't matter. The man was unstoppable, racking up 10 catches for 217 yards and two touchdowns. Simply put, it's the greatest debut by a rookie wide receiver in NFL history. 'Nuff said.
5. Red Grange vs the New York Giants, Jan. 1, 1925
No official stats exist for the Bears 19-7 victory over the Giants at the Polo Grounds in 1925. But that doesn't diminish the relevance of this game from Grange's rookie season. While reports vary, approximately 70,000 people showed up to see Grange run against the Giants. Considering NFL Owners were pleased as punch to get 10,000 at a pro game in the early to mid '20s, you can see the impact of "the Galloping Ghost." This game, as well as the 18 others Grange and the Bears played in the 1925 barnstorming tour, is responsible for putting the NFL on the map.
4. Timmy Smith vs the Denver Broncos - Jan. 31, 1988
Timmy who? Not a lot of fans are familiar with Timmy Smith. Even pro football fans in 1987 weren't fully aware of the rookie Redskins running back out of Texas Tech. That's because former Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers was Washington's starter at tailback most of the year. All Smith did was rush for a record 204 yards in the biggest game of the year, Super Bowl XXIII. Washington won 42-10, with Smith playing a huge role.
3. Adrian Peterson vs the San Diego Chargers - Nov. 4, 2007
What can be said about Adrian Peterson that hasn't already been said? Well, he's the owner of the third best performance by a rookie in NFL history. The physical runner out of Oklahoma was already having a fine rookie campaign when he suited up to face the Chargers in his eighth professional game. Then he flat out destroyed the San Diego defense with 296 yards rushing and three touchdowns. Peterson set the NFL record for most rushing yards in a game in the process, and oh by the way, has been pretty good since.
2. Sammy Baugh vs the Chicago Bears - Dec. 12, 1937
It might have been 75 years ago, but there can no denying Sammy Baugh's greatness, particularly as a rookie. The two-way player out of TCU led the Redskins to the NFL Championship in his first venture into pro ball. More impressively, he delivered when it counted the most, throwing for 335 yards in the 28-21 win. Quarterbacks were lucky to eclipse 100 yards passing in the 1930s, much less 300. Baugh played both ways, and did one of the hardest things in football: lead a team to a title in his first year.
1. Gale Sayers vs the San Francisco 49ers - Dec. 12, 1965
The greatest single game performance by a rookie in NFL history came in miserable conditions at Wrigley Field. The field was a swamp pit, with rains leaving as much mud as grass. Future Hall of Famer Gale Sayers didn't let him faze him. You like yards? He gained 336 of 'em. You like touchdowns? Sayers racked up six –6! – in the Bears's 61-20 win. His last score was his most electric, an 85-yard punt return that was simply dazzling. In standard NFL.com scoring, Sayers' day amounts to over 50 fantasy points. There is no argument or hesitation in calling this show the best ever by a rookie. Period.