Saturday, February 24

10 Bad Rookie Seasons From Great NFL Players

A rookie year for a player in the NFL is one of the most important of their career, as it helps set the stage for their future in the league. There have been some great rookie years, such as Robert Griffin III’s first year which saw him dominate the league. Sadly for Griffin III, he fell off after his rookie year, and his first year proved to be a bit of an anomaly.


Related

10 Hyped NFL Players Whose Careers Declined Quickly

These men stand out as ten majorly hyped NFL players who fell apart fast and show it’s hard to live up to the huge expectations of the league.

However, the reverse can also happen. For every RG3 who had a great first year to never reach those heights again, some legends had Hall of Fame careers that no one could have expected based on their rookie season. A player could go on to win Super Bowls and end up in multiple Pro Bowls, but in their rookie season, they struggled mightily before using that experience to become a star.

UPDATE: 2023/12/20 18:00 EST BY SHAWN S. LEALOS

The 2023 NFL season has a lot of wild games and that is partially because of all the young quarterbacks forced into action this season. Bryce Young, coming out of Alabama with a lot of potential, has struggled hard. He has been sacked 48 times in just 12 games and had as many touchdowns as interceptions. This also got his head coach fired. On the other hand, C.J. Stroud has been a miracle worker and has his Houston Texans competing with everyone. He has already set the rookie record for passing yards in a game (470) and tied for passing touchdowns in a game (5). It shows no one really knows what to expect from rookies in the NFL.


10 Brett Favre

Drafted By The Atlanta Falcons In The 2nd Round In 1991 (33rd Overall)

Brett Favre as a rookie with Atlanta Falcons

Stats

Cmp

Att

Yds

TD

Int

Rookie Season

0

4

0

0

2

Career Stats

6,300

10,169

71,838

508

336

Accomplishments

Super Bowl champion (XXXI), 3× NFL Most Valuable Player (1995–1997), NFL Offensive Player of the Year (1995), 11× Pro Bowl (1992, 1993, 1995–1997, 2001–2003, 2007–2009), Pro Football Hall of Fame (2016), Longest touchdown pass: 99 yards (tied), Most consecutive starts: 297 (321 including playoffs)

Many fans forgot that the Atlanta Falcons drafted Brett Farve. In 1991, they decided to take the quarterback in the second round with the hope that he’d be their star of the future. Instead, he played so badly that he was shipped out after one year. That was the best thing that could have happened to the signal caller.

Favre reportedly didn’t look good in practice, which led to head coach Jerry Glanville saying it would take a plane crash to put him in the game (via The Falconholic). No plane crash happened, but the future MVP did play sparingly. He took five snaps, was sacked once, threw two interceptions, and completed zero passes before leaving Atlanta for good. He ended up playing for 20 seasons, won a Super Bowl, was a three-time NFL MVP, and is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

9 Adam Vinatieri

Undrafted Free Agent Signed By The New England Patriots In 1996

Adam Vinitieri with New England Patriots

Stats

FG

FG%

PAT

PTS

Rookie Season

27/35

77.1%

39/42

120

Career Stats

599/715

83.8%

874/898

2,763

Accomplishments

4× Super Bowl champion (XXXVI, XXXVIII, XXXIX, XLI), NFL scoring leader (2004), Most career points scored: 2,673, Most consecutive field goals made: 44, Most combined regular season and postseason games played: 397, Most career field goals made: 599, Most seasons with 100+ points: 21

Adam Vinatieri wasn’t automatically the best kicker in the league. While he impressed coaches in training camp and earned the starting job, he struggled when it came to the regular season. Vinatieri went 27/35 on field goals, and 39/42 on extra points, and that’s at a time when extra points were much shorter kicks.

Luckily, he found his rhythm the following season and went on to cement his place as one of the greatest kickers ever. Between the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots, he won four Super Bowl rings and ended up holding the record of the most career field goals in NFL history.

8 Steve Young

Drafted By The Tampa Bay Buccaneers In The 1st Round In 1984 (Supplemental Draft)

Stats

Cmp

Att

Yds

TD

Int

Rookie Season

72

138

935

3

8

Career Stats

2,667

4,149

33,124

232

107

Accomplishments

3× Super Bowl champion (XXIII, XXIV, XXIX), Super Bowl MVP (XXIX), 2× NFL Most Valuable Player (1992, 1994), Pro Football Hall of Fame (2005), Most TD passes in one Super Bowl – 6, Most rushing yards by a QB, postseason career – 594

Steve Young’s first NFL season came after spending two seasons in the USFL and was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It’s worth noting that the Bucs were arguably the worst team in NFL history before he was drafted. Young’s first NFL season came in 1985, and he struggled badly. He started five games and threw eight interceptions and only three touchdowns.

Young famously only began to gain traction when he landed in San Francisco a couple of years later. The change of scenery worked wonders. With the 49ers, Young replaced Joe Montana and went on to win three Super Bowls and even took home a Super Bowl MVP and two NFL MVP awards before ending up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

7 Alex Smith

Drafted By The San Francisco 49ers In The 1st Round In 2005 (1st Overall)

Stats

Cmp

Att

Yds

TD

Int

Rookie Season

84

165

875

1

11

Career Stats

3,250

5,193

35,650

199

109

Accomplishments

NFL Comeback Player of the Year (2020), 3× Pro Bowl (2013, 2016, 2017), NFL passer rating leader (2017)

Alex Smith’s NFL journey was unlike any other, from being labeled a bust to being a multiple-time Pro Bowler and having arguably the greatest comeback of all time in 2020. He was correctly labeled a bust at the start of his career, however, as his rookie year was horrific. Smith’s 2005 season was terrible. He played in nine games and passed for 11 interceptions opposite just a single touchdown. He also fumbled 11 times and completed just 50.9% of his passes.

Alex Smith finally turned his career around when he left the 49ers. While he started to play better in San Francisco, the team wanted someone better and shipped Smith off. He became best known for a brutal injury where he broke his leg and then returned to win the NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award in 2020.

6 Cris Carter

Drafted By The Philadelphia Eagles In The 4th Round In 1987 (Supplemental Draft)

Cris Carter with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Stats

Rec

Yds

TDs

Rookie Season

5

84

2

Career Stats

1,101

13,899

130

Accomplishments

Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year (1999), 8× Pro Bowl (1993–2000), NFL receptions leader (1994), 3× NFL receiving touchdowns leader (1995, 1997, 1999), Pro Football Hall of Fame (2014)

Cris Carter is a Hall of Famer and is regarded as one of the best wide receivers ever. Those accolades would likely come as a shock to anyone who watched his rookie season in 1987. Carter couldn’t get on the field, thanks a lot due to his off-the-field struggles with drugs and alcohol. When he was on, he couldn’t get open. He played in nine games and caught 5 passes for 84 yards and two touchdowns.

Related

Trevor Lawrence (& 9 More Awful NFL Rookie Seasons)

Rookie seasons in the NFL can be rough, and unfortunately for these players, they had to endure those first-year- struggles.

Like many players who turned things around in their NFL careers, it took a change of scenery. While Carter ended up playing well for Philadelphia, he really came into his own when he went to the Minnesota Vikings. Teaming with Randy Moss, they developed into one of the best wide receiver duos in NFL history.

5 Jared Goff

Drafted By The Los Angeles Rams In The 1st Round In 2016 (1st Overall)

Stats

Cmp

Att

Yds

TD

Int

Rookie Season

112

205

1,089

5

7

Career Stats (Pre-2023)

2,250

3,502

25,854

155

70

Accomplishments

3× Pro Bowl (2017, 2018, 2022), Most completions in a regular season game: 45 (tied with Drew Bledsoe)

Jard Goff has had some mixed success in the league since being drafted first overall in 2016. However, nothing was as bad as his rookie season. He started seven games his rookie year and didn’t win a single one. One can argue that wins aren’t a good quarterback statistic, but he was largely a reason they lost those games. Goff passed for seven interceptions opposite five touchdowns, and only completed 54.7% of his passes.

Goff finally found his home when the Rams traded him to the Detroit Lions, so they could bring in Matthew Stafford. While Stafford won a Super Bowl after Goff left, the Rams former quarterback has developed into something special and has the Lions as contenders once again.

4 Melvin Gordon

Drafted By The San Diego Chargers In The 1st Round In 2015 (15th Overall)

Stats

Rush Yds

Rec

Rec Yds

TDs

Rookie Season

641

33

192

0

Career Stats

6,462

309

2,467

69

Accomplishments

Super Bowl champion (LVII), 2× Pro Bowl (2016, 2018)

Melvin Gordon has gone on to be a multiple-time Pro Bowler and had some nice seasons in the league as a running back. However, while he headed into the league with high expectations, it didn’t start out well for the former Wisconsin player. Gordon’s rookie season was quite mediocre. He rushed for 641 yards in 14 games, no touchdowns, and averaged only 3.5 yards a carry. He also fumbled six times, not great.

Gordon ended up as a star with the Chargers after his disappointing rookie season. However, like many other running backs, he ran out of steam and the Chargers let him go. He never found the same success again, although for a short time, he was one of the best in the NFL.

3 Troy Aikman

Drafted By The Dallas Cowboys In The 1st Round In 1989 (1st Overall)

Stats

Cmp

Att

Yds

TD

Int

Rookie Season

155

293

1,749

9

18

Career Stats

2,898

4,715

32,942

165

141

Accomplishments

3× Super Bowl champion (XXVII, XXVIII, XXX), Super Bowl MVP (XXVII), NFL Man of the Year (1997), 6× Pro Bowl (1991–1996), Pro Football Hall of Fame (2006)

Troy Aikman headed into the league with a boatload of hype, having been drafted first overall in the 1989 draft after a successful tenure at UCLA. Despite that hype, it took some time for the future Super Bowl MVP to catch on in the NFL. His rookie season was rough, to say the least. He went 0-11 in his starts for the Dallas Cowboys. Aikman also passed for 18 interceptions compared to just nine touchdowns.

Aikman developed with a young Cowboys team after that 1989 season. After bringing in Emmitt Smith the next season in the NFL Draft, the team ended up winning three Super Bowls together in the early 90s and Aikman ended up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

2 Peyton Manning

Drafted By The Indianapolis Colts In The 1st Round In 1998 (1st Overall)

Stats

Cmp

Att

Yds

TD

Int

Rookie Season

326

575

3,739

26

28

Career Stats

6,125

9,380

71,940

539

251

Accomplishments

2× Super Bowl champion (XLI, 50), Super Bowl MVP (XLI), 5× NFL Most Valuable Player (2003, 2004, 2008, 2009, 2013), 2× NFL Offensive Player of the Year (2004, 2013), NFL Comeback Player of the Year (2012), Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year (2005), Pro Football Hall of Fame (2021), Most passing touchdowns in a season: 55, Most passing yards in a season: 5,477, Most touchdown passes in a game: 7 (tied)

Peyton Manning’s rookie season in 1998 was about as inconsistent as it gets. While had bright spots that showed why he was drafted first overall, he also struggled as he essentially played a lot of hero ball that first year. Manning passed for nearly 4,000 yards and 26 touchdowns, which is a positive. However, he also only completed 56.7% of his passes and threw 28 interceptions.

Related

The 14 Best QB-WR Duos In NFL History

These quarterback and wide receiver duos proved to be some of the most dangerous combinations in NFL history.

Manning went on to have an incredible career. He won two Super Bowls, one with Indianapolis and a second with the Denver Broncos. He ended up with over 70,000 passing yards and ended up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2021.

1 Terry Bradshaw

Drafted By The Pittsburgh Steelers In The 1st Round In 1970 (1st Overall)

Terry Bradshaw with the Pittsburgh Steelers

Stats

Cmp

Att

Yds

TD

Int

Rookie Season

83

218

1,410

6

24

Career Stats

2,025

3,901

27,989

212

210

Accomplishments

4× Super Bowl champion (IX, X, XIII, XIV), 2× Super Bowl MVP (XIII, XIV), NFL Most Valuable Player (1978), 2× NFL passing touchdowns leader (1978, 1982), Pro Football Hall of Fame (1989)

Unlike some players on this list, Terry Bradshaw didn’t just have a bad rookie season. He had arguably one of the worst quarterback seasons ever in his debut 1970 season. Bradshaw played in 13 games, and in that, he showed very few flashes that led him to be drafted first overall. He completed only 38.1% of his passes and threw only six touchdowns opposite 24 interceptions.

While Bradshaw was never as accurate as other quarterbacks (he had 210 interceptions compared to 212 touchdowns), he was a winner. After that tough rookie season, he won four Super Bowls with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and he took home the Super Bowl MVP in two of those wins.

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