Top 25 Great Athletes That Had Terrible Rookie Seasons

In this day and age of sports there are several athletes that have had long and lengthy careers but started off on the wrong foot. This may be due to being the new rookie in town and not being given a fair shot, being a low round draft pick and not being given an opportunity or just simply not being good enough.

These circumstances occur in all of the four major sports leagues in North America quite often but I limited this list to those athletes that have won championships or are either in their respective hall of fames or have a good shot to make it once their careers are done. The best of the best and how even they did not live up to the hype of being drafted initially but overcame their poor rookie reasons to have great careers is what this article focuses on.

This list will be scattered with those athletes that have led their respective leagues in all the major statistical categories and played more than ten years in their respective leagues. There are also current athletes and those that have recently ended their careers. From leaders in home runs, scoring and active leaders in points researching this article really opened my eyes to how poorly these stars started their professional sporting careers

The research I did for this article was quite intense but I now feel like I have learned something about the athletes I put on this list and feel like I am more knowledgeable sports fan because of it and I hope that those that read this article feel the same way.

25 Terry Bradshaw


Terry Bradshaw was drafted first overall in 1970 and he was expected to lead the Steelers to glory. Bradshaw would in fact win a lot of games and four championships for the Steelers, but it was built around their defense and their running game. Bradshaw had an atrocious rookie campaign, throwing just six touchdowns to 24 interceptions and a completion percentage of 38. Oh, and this was in just eight starts! Bradshaw would go on to be a hall of famer, but he sure started off his career on the wrong foot.

24 Patrick Marleau

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

23 Henrik Sedin

Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

22 Vincent Lecavalier

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

21 Jose Bautista

Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

20 Joe Thornton

John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

19 James Harden

Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

18 Tracy McGrady


17 Antonio Brown

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

16 Patrik Elias

Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

15 Isaac Bruce


Bruce is on this list because I am a Los Angeles Rams fan and watched him closely in the 1990s and 2000s and when he left for San Francisco in 2008 it was a sad day indeed. Despite my personal preferences, Bruce belongs on this list because of his merits as well. He led the league in receiving yards in 1996 but his best statistical season was 1995 when he caught 119 passes for 1,781 yards and 13 touchdowns.

14 Marian Hossa

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

13 Eli Manning

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

12 Alex Rodriguez

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Rodriguez’s numbers speak for themselves as a three-time American League MVP and five-time American League Home Run Champion. However, the first two years of his career started off with little fanfare other than he was the only the third 18-year-old shortstop in Major League Baseball since 1900. Everything changed in 2007 when it came out that he was taking performance enhancing drugs which he admitted to taking from 2001-2003. Ever since then Rodriguez has still performed at a very high level and continues to do so but he has been doing so under a microscope.

11 Dirk Nowitzki

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

10 Gary Payton

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

9 Greg Maddux

Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Inducted into the hall of fame in 2014 and a World Series champion with the Atlanta Braves in 1995, Maddux is perhaps the most decorated and dominating athlete on this list. He is a four-time Cy Young Award winner and was known as a thinking pitcher that had uncanny control of the strike zone. Not overpowering he relied on this control to toy with batters and this led him to be able to win four ERA titles, led the National League in shutouts five times and he also holds the record for most seasons finishing the league in the top ten in wins with 18.

8 Drew Brees

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

7 Troy Aikman


6 Steve Nash

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

5 John Stockton


4 Brett Favre


3 John Elway

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

John Elway's rookie season could have been a lot worse had he chosen to just play for the lowly Baltimore Colts. Elway started 10 games in 1983, throwing just seven touchdown passes to 14 interceptions. He completed just 47.5% of his passes and was eventually benched midway through the season after three straight losses. Steve DeBerg would right the ship at quarterback, helping the Broncos make the playoffs, but would lose in the first round to Seattle. Elway's career would pick up from there, as the Broncos finished 13-3 the next year and were in the Super Bowl just a few years later.

2 Kobe Bryant


The same thing that I hate about Kobe Bryant makes him one of the greatest NBA players of all time. His competitiveness and drive to be the best player that he can be made him lead the league in scoring on 2 different occasions and be an NBA Champion 5 times. He also made the NBA All Defensive First Team 9 times, made 18 NBA All Star Teams, made the All NBA First Team 11 times and is the Los Angeles Lakers all time leading scorer.

1 Peyton Manning

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Manning’s rookie season in 1998 after being selected first overall by the Indianapolis Colts was good from a passing yardage point of view but he also led the league in interceptions with an astounding 28. His team was also terrible and only managed three wins. However, that rookie season is long in Manning’s past and he is arguably the greatest quarterback in NFL history and his achievements and NFL records back it up. At the top of that list are being the NFL all-time leader in wins, passing yards and touchdowns, being a two-time Super Bowl champion, five-time NFL MVP, making the Pro Bowl 14 times and being the Colts leader in all major statistical categories for quarterbacks.

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Top 25 Great Athletes That Had Terrible Rookie Seasons