These NFL Rookie of the Year Winners Didn’t Live up to the Hype
Achieving lasting success as an NFL player is easier said than done. There are a few undrafted players who made the Hall of Fame, but complete draft busts are way more common. Being an NFL Rookie of the Year was the career highlight for these players.
These players were AP offensive or defensive rookies of the year, but things went downhill quickly. It’s hard to rank ineptitude, so we’ll go in alphabetical order. The player at No. 6 won in 2013, but his career effectively ended less than five years later. Meanwhile, the guy at No. 15 might be one of the worst rookie award winners of all time.
1. Mike Anderson, RB, Denver Broncos
Award: 2000 Offensive Rookie of the Year
You have to give Mike Anderson credit for a unique career trajectory. One of a handful of NFL players who served in the military, he spent time in the Marines after finishing high school. Then he attended junior college before playing at Utah. He was outstanding as a 27-year old rookie in 2000, rushing for 1,487 yards and 15 touchdowns, but he managed just one more season like it (1,014 yards and 12 TDs in 2005). Anderson’s rookie year account for 36.5% of his 4,067 career rushing yards and 40.5% of his 37 rushing scores.
Next: Does this name ring a Bell?
2. Kendrell Bell, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Award: 2001 Defensive Rookie of the Year
Second-round draft pick Kendrell Bell went from tormenting SEC offenses at Georgia to tearing up the NFL as a rookie in 2001. In his first season, he tallied nine sacks and 70 tackles while starting all 16 games. He compiled just 204 tackles, 11.5 sacks, and only one interception over the following six seasons. Bell lasted a long time in the NFL, but he never lived up to the potential he flashed as a rookie.
Next: Great out of the gate and mediocre after that.
3. Mike Croel, LB, Denver Broncos
Award: 1991 Defensive Rookie of the Year
The Broncos took Nebraska’s Mike Croel with the fourth pick in 1991, and after his NFL Rookie of the Year award, it looked like a smart pick. Croel was great out of the gate with 84 tackles and 10 sacks in 13 games, but he was mediocre the rest of his career. He racked up only 14 more sacks in six additional seasons, and he was out of the game by 1998.
Next: An amazing debut, but not much else.
4. Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington Redskins
Award: 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year
Amazing and its synonyms are a good place to start when discussing Robert Griffin III’s rookie season, which was one of the best in NFL history. He was the NFL Rookie of the Year on offense after passing for 3,200 yards and 20 touchdowns (to just five interceptions) and rushing for 815 yards and seven scores. He hasn’t come close to a season like that since, though injuries haven’t helped the cause. After sitting out the 2017 season, Griffin signed a one-year deal with the Baltimore Ravens.
Next: This Rookie of the Year was beset by injuries.
5. Percy Harvin, WR, Minnesota Vikings
Award: 2009 Offensive Rookie of the Year
Percy Harvin enjoyed three standout seasons to start his career, including 60 catches for 790 yards and six touchdowns as a rookie. After that, the question was, ‘Can Percy Harvin get past his injuries?’ The answer was no. After playing in 45 games in the first three seasons, he was limited to just 30 games over the next five seasons before he joined a horde of players who retired in 2016.
Next: His career effectively ended in five years.
6. Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay Packers
Award: 2013 Offensive Rookie of the Year
We just saw how 2012 NFL Rookie of the Year, Robert Griffin III, had a major decline after his debut, and Eddie Lacy is almost a carbon copy. He rushed for 1,178 yards and 11 touchdowns in his first campaign in Green Bay after a stellar year in college at Alabama. Unfortunately, Lacy’s struggles with his weight and fitness derailed his career.
After his rookie season and a 1,139-yard, nine-touchdown season in 2014, his production declined significantly. He played in nine games and gained 179 yards with Seattle in 2017.
Next: He started fast, but he couldn’t sustain the pace.
7. Rueben Mayes, RB, New Orleans Saints
Award: 1986 Offensive Rookie of the Year
Coming out of Washington State in 1986, Rueben Mayes quickly found a home in New Orleans’ backfield and rushed for 4.7 yards per carry, 1,353 yards total, and eight scores as a rookie. He couldn’t maintain that pace, however, and his career ended after he rushed for two yards on one carry with Seattle in 1993.
Next: Fans had reason to be disappointed after his rookie season.
8. Vernon Maxwell, LB, Baltimore Colts
Award: 1983 Defensive Rookie of the Year
No, we’re not talking about one of the most hated NBA players in history, but fans had reason to be disappointed after Vernon Maxwell’s rookie year. Drafted by Baltimore in the second round in 1983, Maxwell tallied 11 sacks, two fumble recoveries, and an interception while starting all 16 games, but that was as good as it got. He managed only 10.5 sacks the rest of his six-year career, eventually going from the Colts to Detroit to Seattle before retiring in 1989.
Next: He was one of the best defenders in the game, for one season.
9. Erik McMillan, S, New York Jets
Award: 1988 Defensive Rookie of the Year
Erik McMillan was one of the best defenders in football, at least during his rookie season. His eight interceptions during his first year in 1988 were the most in the AFC, and he returned two of those for touchdowns to the NFL Rookie of the Year on defense. McMillan went from stud to dud quickly, though. He started every game in his first three seasons, but by year four he was used sparingly, and he bounced between three teams in his final season in 1993.
Next: He bounced around after his solid rookie season.
10. Leonard Russell, RB, New England Patriots
Award: 1991 Offensive Rookie of the Year
Statistically speaking, Leonard Russell’s third season in the NFL was his best with 1,088 yards rushing, seven touchdowns, and another 245 yards receiving. But he was the NFL Rookie of the Year on offense in 1991 after rushing for 959 yards and four scores. Russell’s production didn’t fall off a cliff, but he bounced around between four teams in six seasons and was out of the league after the 1996 campaign.
Next: No, your eyes aren’t deceiving you.
11. John Stephens, RB New England Patriots
Award: 1988 Offensive Rookie of the Year
Another year, another New England running back named an NFL Rookie of the Year. John Stephens’ NFL career wasn’t dreadful, but he didn’t come close to matching the 1,168 yards Pro Bowl appearance he had as a rookie. The Patriots took Stephens in the first round at No. 17 overall, one round and 23 picks ahead of eventual Hall of Fame Thurman Thomas.
Next: Picking Rookies of the Year in the 1980s must have been tough.
12. Troy Stradford, RB, Miami Dolphins
Award: 1987 Offensive Rookie of the Year
If you’ve been paying attention, you know we’ve already discussed the 1986 and 1988 Rookie of the Year winners on offense, Rueben Mayes and John Stephens, respectively. In between the two was Troy Stradford, and he definitely didn’t live up to the hype. The 619 yards rushing and six touchdowns from his Rookie of the Year campaign accounted for 44.8% of his yards and 60% of his TDs in his career.
Next: The train went off the tracks after one season.
13. Anthony Thomas, RB, Chicago Bears
Award: 2001 Offensive Rookie of the Year
After rushing for 4,472 in four years at Michigan, the Bears picked Anthony “A-Train” Thomas in the second round of the 2001 draft. He rumbled to 1,183 yards and seven scores on his way to an NFL Rookie of the Year award, but the train went off the tracks after that. He gained 2,708 yards and found the end zone just 16 more times over the next six seasons before retiring.
Next: The ride was nice while it lasted.
14. Cadillac Williams, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Award: 2005 Offensive Rookie of the Year
Carnell “Cadillac” Williams has one of the best football nicknames ever, and that might be the way we remember since his nice ride in the NFL got rocky after the first season. As a rookie out of Auburn in 2005, Williams rushed for 1,178 yards and six touchdowns to help lead Tampa to the playoffs. Williams scored just 15 TDs over the next six years and never came close to another 1,000-yard season.
Next: One of the biggest disappointments ever.
15. Vince Young, QB, Tennessee Titans
Award: 2006 Offensive Rookie of the Year
There are plenty of college football stars who disappointed in the NFL, but Vince Young might be the biggest disappointment of the lot. It’s a wonder he was named an NFL Rookie of the Year. He completed only 51.5% of his passed for 2,199 yards and 12 touchdowns (with 13 interceptions) in 2006. Those aren’t the kinds of numbers that inspire hope, which is a good thing, because Young never lived up to his hype as a No. 3 overall draft pick.
Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference.
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