The 2012 NFL season will feature the pro debuts of quarterbacks Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck, a pair of top three draft picks that enter the league with sky-high expectations. Griffin and Luck will be hard-pressed to match the yearlong production of these legendary rookies. Here are five of the best breakout NFL rookie seasons ever:

Peyton Manning

Who can forget the 1998 NFL Draft? Peyton Manning was selected first overall by the Indianapolis Colts, just ahead of the sinking ship known as Ryan Leaf. Manning took over the reins of one of the league’s worst teams and turned them into a contender almost overnight. His 3,739 passing yards and 26 touchdowns were considered the gold standard for rookie quarterback production…that is, until the next guy on this list came along.

Cam Newton




The Carolina Panthers selected the outspoken Auburn product with the first overall pick in the 2011 draft and he certainly did not disappoint. Newton became the first rookie QB in NFL history to amass over 4,000 passing yards in a season. He was also his team’s most effective running back, rushing for over 700 yards and setting the single season record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (14). Not bad for a guy that many analysts predicted would be a colossal bust.

Randy Moss

Randy Moss remains the prime example of what can happen when a player’s on-field upside outweighs his off-field risk factor. Moss’ checkered past caused many teams to shy away from drafting him, allowing the Minnesota Vikings to scoop him up with the 21st pick in the 1998 draft. The lanky wide receiver quickly established himself as one of the most electrifying players ever to lace up the cleats. With the aid of teammate Cris Carter’s guidance, Randy caught 69 passes for 1,313 yards and a rookie record 17 touchdowns.

Anquan Boldin

In 2003, the Arizona Cardinals weren’t exactly known for their passing game, and probably weren’t expecting greatness from their second round selection out of Florida State. Despite the fact that he wasn’t even the first receiver the team drafted that year, Anquan Boldin went on to set NFL rookie records for receptions (101) and yards (1,377). Possessing a rare combination of power and speed, Boldin could catch passes over the middle with the best of them. His breakout 2003 season helped to redefine the process for scouting and drafting college wide receivers.

Edgerrin James

Colts fans were devastated when their team chose Edgerrin over Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams, but he wasted no time in proving his doubters wrong. As a key cog in Peyton Manning’s high-powered offense, James rushed for over 1,500 yards and 13 touchdowns. He was also a major part of the dynamic Indianapolis passing attack, adding 586 receiving yards and 4 more touchdowns for good measure. Edge went on to win Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, and remains the team’s all-time leading rusher.