Top 15 NFL Players Who Peaked As Rookies

As Todd Gurley continues to tear up in the league in his first season with the St. Louis Rams it's easy to anoint him the next Adrian Peterson, but sometimes players don't have the careers you might t

As Todd Gurley continues to tear up in the league in his first season with the St. Louis Rams it's easy to anoint him the next Adrian Peterson, but sometimes players don't have the careers you might think from their rookie season. In the NFL, a player's career can change in a single play because of injury.

Many players have burst on the scene in their first year, only to flame out as their careers went along. This is especially true for the running back position, which is a young man's position. The next time a rookie, like Marcus Mariota in his first NFL game, puts up huge stats in their rookie season, you may want to remember this list that shows it doesn't always go according to plan.

In 2012, we saw an incredible influx of rookie quarterbacks in the NFL, with the big three being Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson. Wilson has already been to two Super Bowls and won one, Luck has carried Indianapolis to three straight postseasons, while RGIII has had trouble getting his career back on track since a serious knee injury derailed his career in a playoff game against Seattle. Ryan Tannehill was from that 2012 class as well and has also shown promise.

Last year, it was a bevy of wide receivers taking the league by storm, including Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans and Sammy Watkins and Kelvin Benjamin all broke 1,000 yards receiving.

Here are the top 15 NFL players who peaked in their rookie season.

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15 Anthony Thomas


As you will see, there are a number of running backs that peaked early on this list. Anthony Thomas won rookie of the year with the Bears in 2001, rushing for 1,183 years and seven touchdowns. It was all downhill from there as Thomas would struggle in his second season, posting only 3.4 yards per carry. His career would never get back on track and he finished his career bouncing around teams like Dallas and Buffalo.

14 Cadillac Williams


This may be hard to believe, but there were a few weeks in 2005 where Williams was the story of the league. After being taken 5th overall by the Bucs, Williams started his career off with 434 in the first three games of his career, making the high draft choice seem reasonable. Williams won offensive rookie of the year in the NFL that season after posting 1100 yards rushing and and 6 TDs. Unfortunately for Williams, his career felt apart after his rookie season as he struggled with injuries and a weak offensive line, never again rushing for 1,000 yards or over 4 yards per carry.

13 Brian Cushing

via AP Photo

There is still some time left in his career but it's looking like his Defensive Rookie of the Year season may be Cushing's best. Cushing displayed his wide range of skills during his rookie season, finishing with 133 tackles, 4 sacks and 4 interceptions. The linebacker played with an intensity that his coaches loved and gained him the respect of his teammates. Cushing would struggle throughout his short career with injuries, losing seasons to both a torn ACL and a broken fibula. Cushing didn't make it easy on himself, missing a number of games for performance-enhancing drugs. Cushing continues to play with the Texans but the injuries seemed to snapped him of his greatness.

12 Mike Anderson


Broncos coach Mike Shanahan was a running back whisperer so it was always tough to tell if the running back was actually talented or just running through huge holes in Shanahan's zone blocking scheme. Anderson came into the league as an older rookie after spending years with the Marine Corps. Anderson won Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2000 after posting 1,487 yards and 15 touchdowns, while only starting 12 of the games that season. Anderson would struggle with injuries and as an older rookie at age 27, his career was always going to be short. His managed to put together another 1,000 yard season in 2005 but was never the same dominant runner he was as a rookie.

11 Alfred Morris

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Another example of the Shanahan factory of running backs, Morris was a late round draft pick that played his rookie season like a top 10 pick. Playing in the zone blocking scheme Morris was able to use his downhill running skills to put 1,690 yards rushing and 13 TDs. Morris was helped by his quarterback RGIII and their zone-read offense which allowed Morris to excel. While Morris continued to be productive as a runner in Washington, he has seen his production fall every season and now spends his time sharing carries with a number of other backs.

10 Doug Martin

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

There is still time in his career and he's off to a good start this season but Martin may never match his numbers as a rookie. The first round pick came in the league with the Bucs and posted 1,454 rushing yards to go with another 472 yards in the air and 12 total touchdowns. Martin was a true 3-down workhorse back the way the don't make them anymore. Struggling with injuries and a lackluster offensive line, Martin hasn't come to close to his rookie season numbers and probably won't ever.

9 Matt Kalil

Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Considered a can't miss left tackle prospect, Matt Kalil excelled in his first season with the Vikings. Kalil spent that season blocking for Adrian Peterson in one the best rushing seasons ever, which helped him get to the the Pro Bowl. It may have been a bad idea to judge him by how good Peterson was, as Kalil has since struggled mightily, especially in pass-protection and the Vikings may be at the point of moving on from the once promising tackle once the season is over.

8 Michael Clayton

AP Photo/Reinhold Matay

The first round pick in 2004 of the Buccaneers, Clayton had all the physical tools to be a dominant receiver. Clayton used those skills to post one of the best seasons by a rookie wide receiver, going for 1,193 receiving yards and seven TDs. Clayton struggled in his sophomore season and after a number of injuries, was never able to regain his form. In the 74 games since his rookie season,  Clayton scored just three TDs and is no longer in the league.

7 Ickey Woods


Known now more for his dance moves, the "ickey shuffle", Ickey Woods was a dominant fullback in his rookie season, running for over a 1,000 yards and and an impressive 5.3 yards per carry. His goal-line dominance led to 15 rushing touchdowns and plenty of opportunities to bust out his celebratory dance moves. Woods would suffer a catastrophic knee injury the following season and was out of the NFL by age 26. Ickey's career may have been cut short but he remains a Bengals fan favorite to this day.

6 Don Woods


Don Woods was cut by the Packers in his first season and then joined the Chargers just before the start of the season, which seemed for a time to be a great pick-up. Woods ran for 1,162 yards in his first season which was the rookie record at that time, adding 10 total touchdowns. These numbers all came despite not playing for the first two games of the season. Woods was slowed down by a serious knee injury and never came close to regaining his form.

5 Mike Ditka


Mike Ditka may be remembered now for his time as a head coach and TV personality but before all that, Ditka put up one of the best rookie seasons ever for a tight end. In an era where tight ends weren't the receiving threats they are today, Ditka put up 1,076 yards and 12 TDs. His rookie season was the beginning of the dual role for tight ends, moving from strictly blockers to also play-makers. Ditka never hit the huge numbers he posted as a rookie, never surpassing 900 yards again and never posted double digit TDs. Ditka would have a great career, even making the hall of fame as the first tight end ever to do so, but his rookie season remains the best he ever played.

4 Jevon Kearse


Jevon "the freak" Kearse burst onto the NFL stage in his rookie season and looked like he would be a future hall-of-famer. Kearse collected 14.5 sacks and forced eight fumbles, even running one of those in for a touchdown. The Titans would go to appear in the Super Bowl that season and the dominance of Kearse was a big reason why. Kearse would have a couple more decent seasons but never regained the "freakish" level of play he reached in his first season.

3 Vince Young


Vince Young burst onto the NFL stage after being taken 3rd overall by the Titans following his steller season with the Texas Longhorns. Young has rare athleticism for a QB his size and led the Titans to numerous dramatic come-from behind victories. In his rookie season Young put up 2,199 passing yards, 12 TDs, 13 INTs to go along with 552 rushing yards and six rushing TDs. VY won Offensive Rookie of the Year and even played in the Pro Bowl that season.

The Titans hoped he would develop as a pure passer but he never really lived up to expectations as he continued to struggle to read defenses and throw interceptions. The wonderlic score doesn't usually mean much for NFL players but Young's score of 6 out of 50 could have been a sign that he might not be able to handle playing QB in the NFL.

2 Steve Slaton

AP Photo/Paul Connors

The shifty, dual-threat runner started his career on a path towards greatness but quickly flamed out. In his rookie season with the Texans Slaton put up 1,282 rushing yards to go with his 377 yards receiving and 10 TDs. Slaton came in to his sophomore season with a lot of hype but managed only 437 rushing yards, becoming more of 3rd down back. Slaton had put on 20 pounds before his sophomore season and it didn't translate well for the normally quick runner. Slaton played a year in the Canadian Football League before calling it quits in 2015.

1 Robert Griffin III


It all started so great that it almost made the Redskins' disastrous trade look like a stroke of genius. RGIII took the league by storm with his command of the read option and his ability to drop in the long ball off of play-action. It seems ridiculous to think about now, but during his rookie season people questioned whether the Colts were right to go with Andrew Luck first overall. RGIII became the first player in NFL history to lead the league in yards per attempt as a passer and as a rusher in the same season. He led what was supposed to be a terrible Redskins team to the NFC East division title, throwing 20 touchdowns and running from another seven.

It's all fallen apart quickly for him, suffering a series of knee injuries, he has struggled to find his form and progress as a pocket-passing QB. The low point has come this season as he sits on the sideline and watches Kirk Cousins throw interceptions as the starting QB for the Redskins.

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Top 15 NFL Players Who Peaked As Rookies