By Brian Kalchik @BrianKalchik on June 26, 2014
It's not even the preseason yet, but that doesn't mean it's too early to start talking about the top rookies. Will it be Houston's Jadeveon Clowney? Could it be Johnny Manziel or maybe even someone like Sammy Watkins? What we do know is that some rookies will make an impact right away like Andrew Luck did in 2012. But to get a place on my NFL All-Time All-Rookie Team, these rookies will have to supplant another group of former rookies.
Plenty of good candidates like Dan Marino, Matt Ryan and Ben Roethlisberger would have been a solid choice, but my selection at quarterback is Andrew Luck. Coming off a 2-14 season and having the unenviable task of trying to replace Peyton Manning, Luck had one of the best rookie seasons ever. He threw for over 4,300 yards and 23 touchdowns to lead the Colts to an 11-5 record without a good offensive line and running game around him.
My selections for running backs go to two Hall of Famers in Eric Dickerson and Gale Sayers. In 1983, Dickerson rushed for 1,808 yards, a rookie record not likely to be broken anytime soon, and scored 20 total touchdowns while catching 51 balls. In 1965, all Gale Sayers did was post an NFL record 22 touchdowns (14 rushing, six receiving, and two on special teams). He gained 2,272 all-purpose yards and scored six touchdowns in a single game.
As the 21st pick of the 1998 NFL Draft, Randy Moss shattered most rookie receiving records. He finished the season with 69 receptions for 1,313 yards and 17 touchdowns (an NFL record) and led the Vikings to a 15-1 record on the most prolific offense at the time in NFL history. On a bad team with the Arizona Cardinals in 2003, Anquan Boldin set the rookie record for receiving yards in a game with 217 and was selected to the Pro Bowl.
Mike Ditka set the standard for receiving tight ends as a rookie. In 1961, Ditka had 56 receptions for 1,076 yards and 12 touchdowns, still a rookie receiving record for the Bears. He was named as the NFL Rookie of Year and made the Pro Bowl that season, which served as a springboard for the rest of his Hall of Fame career.
In 2007, Joe Thomas helped Cleveland improve from 4-12 in '06 to 10-6 in 2007. Thomas was named to the Pro Bowl as a rookie and became the best player for the Browns that season. On his way to a Hall of Fame career, Baltimore's Jim Parker was named First-Team All-NFL in 1957.
In 1988, Minnesota's Randall McDaniel started 15 games for the Vikings. The team finished 11-5 that season, their best regular season record since the team's last Super Bowl appearance in 1976. For Oakland guard Gene Upshaw, his rookie season helped him become one of the best linemen ever. In 1967, Upshaw helped the Raiders reach their first Super Bowl appearance with a 13-1 record, tied for the best in team history in a 14-game season.
For Maurkicce Pouncey, his 2010 rookie season had its great moments and had a poor moment. When healthy, Pouncey started all 16 regular season games for an often-maligned Pittsburgh offensive line. Unfortunately, he was injured in the AFC Championship game and did not participate in Super Bowl XLV. He gets the nod here because of the significant drop-off between him and his backup in Doug Legursky.
If statistics for sacks were kept in 1978, Al "Bubba" Baker would still own the single-season record. He recorded an unofficial 23 sacks as a rookie for the Detroit Lions. For Jevon Kearse, his 1999 rookie campaign almost resulted in a Super Bowl victory. "The Freak" led the AFC with 14.5 sacks as a rookie. Kearse also forced eight fumbles and made three sacks in the postseason, including one in Super Bowl XXXIV.
Despite going 1-13 with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1969, Joe Greene was named Defensive Rookie of the Year en route to a Hall of Fame career. Not bad for Greene, who was Hall of Fame coach Chuck Noll's first ever draft selection. Merlin Olsen also started off his Hall of Fame career with a great rookie season. He was named NFL Rookie of the Year in 1962 and made the first of his 14 consecutive Pro Bowls.
Lawrence Taylor only posted 9.5 sacks as a rookie in 1981, but the impact he made on the Giants was immediate. With Taylor in the fold, the Giants made the postseason for the first time since 1963. Taylor would then help the Giants become a dominant team later in the decade. In 1989, Derrick Thomas became the next great NFL pass rusher. His 10 sacks helped the Chiefs go from 4-11-1 in 1988 to 8-7-1 in 1989, their first winning season since 1981.
As part of the greatest draft class in NFL history, Jack Lambert was selected in the second round by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1974. He was deemed to be a project due to his small frame and inexperience at middle linebacker (he was a defensive end at Kent State). Instead, Lambert filled in for injured linebacker Henry Davis and earned NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Award in 1974 and the Steelers won the first of four Super Bowls in the 70s.
Before Ronnie Lott became a Hall of Fame safety, he was an elite cornerback. In 1981, Lott had seven interceptions (three of which were returned for touchdowns) and had two more interceptions in the postseason en route to a Super Bowl XVI victory. For Mike Haynes, he and the New England Patriots had a Cinderella season in 1976. The team finished 11-3 as Haynes recorded eight interceptions, setting the stage for his Hall of Fame career.
Before Paul Krause became a Hall of Famer with the Minnesota Vikings, he had one of the best regular seasons by a defensive back in NFL history with the Washington Redskins. Krause had 12 interceptions, which led the NFL, was named First-Team All-Pro and was a Pro Bowler. In 1990, Chicago Bears safety Mark Carrier also posted double-digit interceptions. Carrier also led the league with 10 picks, earning a trip to the Pro Bowl.
In his rookie season, Justin Tucker made 30-of-33 field goals and made all 20 of his postseason kicks. Tucker was a First-Team All-Pro that season and made several clutch kicks against New England and Denver to help get the Ravens to Super Bowl XLVII. In the Super Bowl, Tucker accounted for eight of Baltimore's 34 points.
Ray Guy is still the only punter to be selected in the first round in NFL Draft history, but he proved that he was worthy of the high selection in 1973. Guy averaged 45.3 yards per punt that season and had a long of 72. He made the Pro Bowl as a rookie and was also named First-team All-Pro.
Chicago's Devin Hester scored five return touchdowns in the regular season on just 67 returns in 2006. He quite frankly was Chicago's best offensive weapon that season, helping the Bears reach Super Bowl XLI in spite of a poor offense led by Rex Grossman. Hester capped off his magical season by becoming the first and only player in Super Bowl history to return the opening kickoff for a touchdown.
Being a head coach in San Francisco is tough enough, but trying to replace Bill Walsh seemed to be impossible for George Seifert. Not only did he exceed his replacement, he led the 49ers to one of the best seasons in NFL history. The team finished 14-2 in the regular season, losing both games by a combined five points. The team defeated each of their three playoff opponents by more than 27 points, with a 55-10 rout of Denver in Super Bowl XXIV.
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