The NFL has not had a shortage of great rookie performances during the league's first 103 seasons. A NFL season rarely goes by without a rookie putting his stamp on the game by putting together a season that has stood the test of time.
Some great rookie seasons laid the foundation for Hall of Fame careers. For instance, Jim Brown ---- led the NFL in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns as a rookie.
With that in mind, let's take a look at the 25 greatest rookie seasons in NFL history. It'll be interesting to see if any members of this year's rookie class will be able to crack this list this time next offseason.
25. John Jefferson, 1978
Jefferson kicked off the "Air Coryell" era in San Diego by leading the NFL with 13 touchdown catches during his rookie season. He also went over 1,000 yards that year despite appearing in just 14 games.
24. Ezekiel Elliott, 2016
Along with fellow rookie Dak Prescott, Elliot enjoyed a breakout year while helping the Cowboys tie the franchise's record for regular-season wins with 13. In 15 games, Elliott won the first of his two rushing titles while gaining nearly 2,000 all-purpose yards.
23. Tony Dorsett, 1977
His numbers don't jump off a page, but Dorsett's rookie stats (1,007 yards and 12 touchdown runs) are more impressive given that he made just four starts during the regular season. Dorsett (whose 84-yard run against the Cardinals was the NFL's longest run that season) ultimately won the starting job over veteran Preston Pearson and helped the Cowboys win their second Super Bowl. In the process, Dorsett became the first player to win a Super Bowl, the Heisman Trophy and a national title in consecutive years.
22. Cam Newton, 2011
While the 2011 Panthers were just 6-10, they enjoyed a big rookie season from Newton. Fresh off of winning the Heisman Trophy and national title at Auburn, Newton was named to the Pro Bowl that year after throwing for over 4,000 yards with 21 touchdowns. He also ran for 17 scores while averaging a league-best 5.6 yards per carry.
21. Sammy Baugh, 1937
One of the NFL's greatest players of pre-Super Bowl era, Baugh led the NFL in completions, attempts, and passing yards during his rookie season while earning All-Pro honors. He also led the league with 14 interceptions.
20. Tommy Nobis, 1966
The No. 1 pick in the '66 draft, Nobis tallied a whopping 294 tackles in 14 games. The middle linebacker earned the first of five career Pro Bowl selections that season.
19. Paul Krause, 1964
The NFL's all-time leader with 81 career interceptions, Krause earned All-Pro honors as a rookie while leading the NFL with 12 picks.
18. Bill Groman, 1960
A forgotten receiver, Groman's rookie season is still one of the best in league history. In 1960, he paced the AFL with 1,473 yards. He also caught 12 touchdown passes while averaging 20.5 yards per catch.
17. Jim Brown, 1957
Brown, the NFL's all-time leading rusher until 1984, led the NFL in rushing yards (942) and rushing touchdowns (9) as a rookie. It was the first of five straight years that Brown would pace the NFL in rushing.
16. Micah Parsons, 2021
Parsons was the engine that drove Dan Quinn's top-ranked defense during his rookie season. The former Penn State star racked up 13 sacks, three forced fumbles and 20 tackles for loss en route to winning Rookie Defensive Player of the Year.
15. Mike Ditka, 1961
"Iron Mike" had his best statical season as a rookie. That year, the Hall of Fame tight end caught 56 passes for 1,076 yards and 12 touchdowns.
14. Barry Sanders, 1989
The 1988 Heisman Trophy winner, Sanders hit the NFL running in '89, rushing for 1,470 yards and 14 touchdowns as a rookie while earning All-Pro honors. It was the first of a record 10 consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons for the Hall of Fame running back.
13. Dick Butkus, 1965
The most intimidating player of his era, Butkus earned All-Pro honors during his rookie season. That year, the Hall of Fame inside linebacker intercepted five passes while recording seven fumble recoveries in 14 games.
12. Ben Roethlisberger, 2004
Rookie Roethlisberger won each of his 13 starts, an NFL record. With Big Ben's help, the Steelers went 15-1 that season, a year after going 6-10.
11. Ronnie Lott, 1981
Lott, a Hall of Fame safety, earned All-Pro honors as a rookie while leading the NFL with three interception returns for touchdowns. Lott's play (along with the two other rookies that started in San Francisco's backfield that season) helped the 49ers win their first-ever Super Bowl title.
10. Ja'Marr Chase, 2021
Reunited with his college quarterback, Chase and Joe Burrow picked up where they left off at LSU. The duo connected 81 times for 1,455 yards and 13 touchdowns in the regular season. In the playoffs, Chase caught 25 more passes for 368 yards and a score while helping lead the Bengals to an AFC title.
9. Devin Hester, 2006
Hester put together one of the greatest seasons by a return man in NFL history in 2006. That season, Hester returned a league best three punt returns for scores while also running back two kickoffs for touchdowns. His 92-yard kickoff return for a score in Super Bowl XLI is the earliest touchdown scored in Super Bowl history.
8. Jevon Kearse, 1999
Nicknamed "The Freak," Kearse lived up to his nickname during his rookie season. The standout defensive end out of Florida racked up 14.5 sacks and eight forced fumbles while helping lead Tennessee to an appearance in Super Bowl XXXIV.
7. Night Train Lane, 1952
The Hall of Fame defensive back enjoyed a memorable rookie season. In 1952, the former Lions' standout led the NFL in interceptions (14), interception return yards (298) and interception returns for touchdowns (two).
6. Franco Harris, 1972
Harris' 10 rushing touchdowns and 5.6-yards-per-carry average helped the '72 Steelers capture their first-ever division title. His "Immaculate Reception" against the Raiders during the postseason gave the Steelers their first-ever playoff victory.
5. Eric Dickerson, 1983
A member of SMU's famed "Pony Express," Dickerson burst onto the NFL scene in 1983, earning All-Pro honors that season while leading the NFL with 1,808 rushing yards and scoring 18 touchdowns.
4. Earl Campbell, 1978
Following a legendary career at the University of Texas, "The Tyler Rose" led the NFL with 1,450 rushing yards in 1978 (his first of three consecutive rushing titles). His epic performance that season against the Miami Dolphins on "Monday Night Football" (28 carries, 199 yards, four touchdowns) still stands as one of the most memorable games in "MNF" history.
3. Lawrence Taylor, 1981
Arguably the greatest pass-rushing linebacker of all time, Taylor unofficially recorded 9.5 sacks in 1981 (the NFL didn't officially track individual sack totals until 1982) while becoming the first player in league history to win NFL Defensive Player and Rookie of the Year honors.
2. Randy Moss, 1998
Moss had a remarkable rookie season, catching a rookie record 17 touchdown passes for the 15-1 Vikings. His performance in the '98 Thanksgiving Day game against the Cowboys — three catches, 163 yards, three touchdowns — was his true NFL "coming out party."
1. Gale Sayers, 1965
Sayers' rookie season remains the greatest in NFL history. That season, the "Kansas Comet" scored 14 rushing touchdowns while averaging 5.2 yards per carry. Sayers also caught 29 passes for 507 yards while also returning one punt and one kickoff for scores. His six touchdowns against the 49ers that season is still an NFL record.