Fantasy Football News

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Top Six Performances by a Rookie Running Back

With rookie minicamps taking place in the last couple of weekends, I thought it'd be fitting to do a couple of posts surrounding rookies. I've compiled a list of the top six most memorable single-season performances by a rookie running back in the past decades.

Here's what I came up with (listed in chronological order)..

Gale Sayers, Chicago Bears, 1965

Sayers, one of the most durable backs this league has ever seen, had a short-lived career (just seven seasons in Chicago). But there's no doubt he was productive coming out of the backfield for the Bears. In his rookie campaign, Sayers ran the ball just 166 times while splitting carries with Jon Arnett, but he accumulated 867 yards, giving him a 5.2 yards per carry average.

Sayers put the ball in the end zone a combined 22 times (14 rushing, six receiving, 1 KR, 1 PR). In 14 games, Gale compiled 1,374 yards from scrimmage. The yardage doesn't seem like much in today's standards for a running back, but given he had just 195 touches throughout the season.
George Rogers, New Orleans Saints, 1981

Selected first overall in the 1981 draft by New Orleans, the South Carolina alum wasted no time proving he could keep up with the big boys. In 16 games that year, Rogers posted nine 100+ yard games in addition to three multi-TD games on his way to a league-leading 1,674 yard season.

His 13 rushing touchdowns proved to be one of his two double-digit TD seasons, as he went on to play six more years with New Orleans and the Washington Redskins before stepping away from the game following the 1987 season due to lingering injuries.

Eric Dickerson, Los Angeles Rams, 1983

Throughout his 12-year Hall of Fame career Dickerson won the rushing title four times, including his rookie season in L.A. In his second season he became just the second player to join the 2,000 yard club (there are six members now), but it all began with his 1,808/18 TD rookie campaign.

Rushing for an average of 113 yards/game in 16 games with nine 100-yard games, Dickerson quickly became the league's most dangerous runner.
Barry Sanders, Detroit Lions, 1989

Speaking of dangerous runners, next we have Barry Sanders being selected third overall in the 1989 draft, just six years later. Barry's rookie season wasn't quite as productive as Dickerson's 1,800 yards and 18 TDs, but he sure as hell did more with less. Dickerson also happened to lead the league in attempts (390), but Barry managed 1,470 yards and 14 TDs on the ground with just 280 carries, good enough for 5.3 yards/carry.

The most dangerous runner this league has ever seen didn't get much help from his Detroit offensive line, either. If you watched him play, he was always running for his life. The opposing defense would line up, knowing for certain that #20 was getting the ball, and they still couldn't stop him. His numbers weren't as dazzling as some of the other guys on this impressive list, but the results are just as good, if not better.

Clinton Portis, Denver Broncos, 2002

Now, I'm not gonna lie. Before I started my research for this list I didn't realize just how spectacular Portis' opening season was. With even less carries than Sanders, Portis (273 attempts) broke 1,500 yards with 15 TDs in Washington. His 5.5 yards per carry average tied his career-high (he also averaged 5.5 the following year in 2003).

Portis was not named to the AFC Pro Bowl roster that year, and started just 12 games, but considering he was drafted in the second round (51st overall) out of Miami, I don't think he was really expected to produce as much as he did. So kudos to you, Mr. Portis.
Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings, 2007

Of course you know I had to have at least two modern-day backs on this list, and Adrian Peterson A.K.A. "AP" A.K.A. "All Day" had to be the second one. This past season was the first time in his five-year career that he missed the 1,000 yard plateau, and that was simply because he played just 12 games. His rookie campaign wasn't a full season either, yet he made the most of his time on the football field.

On his 238 carries, Peterson amassed 1,341 yards and 12 TDs (5.6 YPC) and added a receiving touchdown in to the mix. In his very first game, a 24-3 victory over Atlanta on September 9, Peterson broke 100 yards–103 to be exact–and caught a touchdown pass. Later on that year? A 224 yard, 3 TD performance against Chicago and a record-setting 296 yards at home against the Chargers. To cap it all off, "All Day" put up four multi-TD games and led the league in yards per game as a rookie. If that isn't impressive, then I don't know what is.

Well, that just about wraps up my list of top six single-season rookie RB performances. Are there any other ones that you think I missed? If so, please feel free to let me know in the comments section or you can send my an email at

Also be sure to check out my additional blog on Tumblr

I do not own any of the above images, no copyright infringement intended


  1. Old post obviously, but Portis played his rookie season (and the following season) for the Denver Broncos (in the AFC, obviously). He didn't play for the Redskins (in the NFC) until 2004.

    1. Trust me, I knew that, I just made a simple mistake. Thanks for letting me know, though! I edited it and made the fix.

      Check out the new and improved site over on for me if you're interested.



Tell us what you think!