To celebrate the arrival of a new NFL rookie class -- and thus a fresh batch of fantasy assets -- the Yahoo fantasy team decided to conduct an exhaustive, in-depth scientific review of the greatest debut seasons of the past two decades.
Unfortunately, "exhaustive" and "in-depth" and "scientific" required a bit more effort than we were willing to expend. So what you're getting instead is a thorough-ish review of the 20 best rookie seasons we could recall from the past 20 years. It's like a scrapbook of our fantasy past, loaded with running backs. (Seriously, the one thing that jumps out when you think about stellar rookie seasons is the number of backs who were dominant in year-one, and how few receivers thrived. Tight ends? Those guys have basically never scored as rookies, unless they were Patriots in 2010.) If any of this year's buzzy rookies -- Manziel, Watkins, Evans or Hyde -- intends to crack the top 20 of the fantasy era, they'll have to beat the first-year performance of a once-promising dual threat QB... — Andy Behrens 19. WR Joey Galloway, Seahawks, 1995 If you just began playing fantasy within the past 4-5 years, then you probably only think of Galloway as an unreliable Patriots receiver, often in the wrong place. But back in his early days, this guy was a live wire. At 24 years of age, Galloway was basically untouchable. He caught 67 balls for 1,039 yards as a rookie, plus he found the end zone in a variety of ways. Galloway was a monster in yardage-bonus leagues, as he scored touchdowns of 50-plus yards as a receiver, rusher and punt returner. 18. RB Steve Slaton, Texans, 2008 Slaton's career was derailed by injuries and fumbling issues, but his first season was terrific. He totaled over 1,600 scrimmage yards, he gained 4.8 yards per rush, plus he was at his best in the final weeks of the season when fantasy owners needed him most. Over his last seven games in '08, he averaged 105.3 rushing yards per game. Slaton's rookie season was actually 10.6 points better than LaDainian Tomlinson's in standard scoring systems, we should note. So get outta my face, LDT zealots. 17. RB Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars, 2006 MJD was an all-purpose, all-terrain monster from the instant he arrived in the league. He gained 941 yards on the ground as a rookie, 436 as a receiver and 873 in the return game. Along the way, he also found the end zone 16 times. He and Fred Taylor are on the short list of the greatest RBBCs in league history. 16. RB Adrian Peterson, Vikings, 2007 All-Day was like a terrifying purple hurricane, immediately. He rushed for over 100 yards in four of his first five NFL games (including a 224-yard effort at Chicago), and he eventually broke the single-game rushing record in Week 8, feasting on San Diego's defense. We're now seven seasons into Peterson's Hall of Fame career, and he's never failed to reach double-digit touchdowns. Before he's finished, he'll play his way into the G.O.A.T. discussion. 15. RB Alfred Morris, Redskins, 2012 Morris won't be the last member of the 2012 rookie class in this slideshow, nor will he be the last Shanahan running back. He distinguishes himself by being one of the single greatest waiver adds of the fantasy era. Morris was a sixth-rounder out of Florida Atlantic, just a name buried on the depth chart when camps opened. He then rushed for 96 yards and two scores in Week 1, and never looked back. We should note that Morris was absolutely beastly in the fantasy playoffs, breaking the plane seven times over the season's final four weeks. 14. RB Matt Forte, Bears, 2008 Forte delivered the sixth-highest reception total all-time by a rookie running back (63), which gave him a serious value bump in PPR formats. (Reggie Bush holds the record, with 88 in 2006.) Forte finished his first NFL season with 1,715 scrimmage yards and 12 touchdowns, and he earned the respect and gratitude of fantasy owners by playing through a foot injury in December. 13. QB Andrew Luck, Colts, 2012 How insanely good was the 2012 rookie class? Well, Luck shattered the records for passing yards in a single-game (433) and season (4,374) by a first-year quarterback, yet he still finished third among the rookie passers. That's ridiculous. Luck's season was full of magic, highlighted by a record seven game-winning drives. He threw for 23 scores and quietly delivered another five via the ground game. 12. QB Russell Wilson, Seahawks, 2012 Wilson narrowly edged Luck in standard fantasy scoring in 2012, despite attempting 234 fewer passes. So that's crazy. The key to Wilson's real-life and fantasy success was his uncommon first-year efficiency (7.9 Y/A, 26 TDs, 10 INTs). And of course it helped that he ran for 489 and four touchdowns as a rookie. 11. WR Anquan Boldin, Cardinals, 2003 Boldin opened his career with a 10-catch, 217-yard, two-touchdown performance at Detroit, announcing his presence with authority. He would deliver eight more games with 80-plus receiving yards in his rookie campaign, ultimately finishing with 1,377 yards and eight scores. As a first-year wideout, Boldin ranked fourth at his position in fantasy scoring, behind only Randy Moss, Torry Holt and Chad Johnson. In the end, the most impressive detail about Boldin's incredible first season is that he produced at such a high level with Jeff Blake at QB. 10. RB Marshall Faulk, Colts, 1994 Faulk was expected to carry his team's offense from day one, and he did it well. He accounted for 1,804 total yards in his first season, leading the Colts in both receptions (52) and rushing yardage (1,282) while making a dozen house calls. Eventually, Faulk would give us four consecutive seasons with over 2,000 scrimmage yards (1998-2001), cementing his position among the all-time fantasy weapons. 9. RB Mike Anderson, Broncos, 2000 Anderson didn't enter the NFL until he was 26 years old, having served four years in the Marines. In fact, the man didn't even play high school football. For real. But a junior college coach happened to scout him, playing for a Marine Corps team, and a few years later he was the NFL's offensive rookie of the year. Anderson rushed for 1,487 yards and 15 TDs in 2000, gaining 5.0 yards per carry, leading his fantasy owners to trophies. Today, Anderson seems like just another name from the long list of Shanahan success stories -- Davis, Gary, Portis, Droughns, et al. -- but he was a bright orange star, at least for one year. 8. RB Curtis Martin, Patriots, 1995 Martin wasted no time at all asserting himself as one of the league's premier workhorse backs. He visited the end zone 15 times as a rookie, then another 17 times in year two. Martin gained over 1,400 yards from scrimmage in ten straight seasons (1995-2004), and he had four years with more than 360 carries. As a rookie under Bill Parcells, Martin accounted for half of his team's total offensive touchdowns while rushing for 1,487 yards. 7. QB Robert Griffin III, Redskins, 2012 OK, so maybe RG3's first NFL season did not end as brilliantly as it began. And yes, his sophomore campaign was pretty much a year-long faceplant. But this guy was an absolute thrill for most of the 2012 season, and he rarely made a mistake. Griffin passed for 3200 yards and 20 scores while throwing just five picks as a rook, plus he added another 815 yards (6.8 YPC) and seven TDs on the ground. If he can recapture some of that first-year dazzle in the season ahead, Washington's offense will be an all-you-can-eat buffet of fantasy goodness. 6. RB Doug Martin, Buccaneers, 2012 Yup, yet another guy from the 2012 crew. Martin is our fifth and final member of that astonishing class. He rushed for 1,454 yards for the Bucs as a rookie (251 of them on a crazy day at Oakland), and he hauled in 49 passes for 472 yards. Along the way, he scored 12 touchdowns. Martin was on pace for nearly 400 carries last season, but a shoulder injury knocked the Muscle Hamster off the wheel. 5. RB Fred Taylor, Jaguars, 1998 Before he was Fragile Fred, he was simply a bad dude who broke tackles and made house calls. Taylor had a fantastic season for an 11-win Jacksonville team in '98, gaining 1,644 total yards and crossing the goal line 17 times. Sure, he had a few health issues over the course of his 13-year NFL career, but he also gave us seven 1,000-yard seasons and 74 total TDs. His first year in the league was among his best. 4. RB Clinton Portis, Broncos, 2002 Portis opened his career with back-to-back 1,500-yard rushing seasons for Denver, before being flipped to Washington in the Champ Bailey deal. As a rookie, Portis actually delivered his greatest single-season touchdown total (17) and the best yards-per-carry rate of his career (5.52). He was unstoppable in the biggest fantasy weeks, too, producing 508 total yards and seven scores over his final three games. If you were an early investor in Portis, you enjoyed massive profits. 3. RB Edgerrin James, Colts, 1999 Edge was unreasonably good in the early years, leading the NFL in rushing in each of his first two seasons. He's the only back in the past two decades to top 300 standard fantasy points as a rookie, and he's one of just two RBs in history to gain 2,000 scrimmage yards as a first-year player. (Eric Dickerson was the other, way back in '83.) James reached the end zone 17 times in '99, plus he hauled in 62 receptions. He gave us a dozen games with 100 or more total yards as a rook, including a streak of nine straight triple-digit weeks. Good luck finding a better season by a first-year back in the fantasy era. 2. WR Randy Moss, Vikings, 1998 Randall Cunningham-to-Randy Moss may not have actually been the most prolific QB-WR connection in league history, but it should be everyone's favorite. Minnesota's passing game in '98 was a must-see experience. Moss emerged as an uncoverable talent immediately in Week 1, catching four balls for 95 yards and two scores. After five weeks, the 6-foot-4 athletic freak from West Virginia had scored six TDs. Moss should have never, ever slipped outside the top-three draft picks, let alone the top-20. It was a sensational rookie season, seared into the memories of everyone who witnessed the madness. Without question, the signature game in Moss' absurd first year was the Thanksgiving matchup at Dallas, when he pretty much burned Texas Stadium to the ground (163 yards, 3 TDs). "This guy is amazing," said Madden, repeatedly. "I don't know how you stop him," said Summerall. And still, Moss's rookie season was not the greatest in recent memory. That honor goes to... 1. QB Cam Newton,Panthers, 2011 Really, there was no other choice. Cam actually might have qualified for this slideshow if we'd ignored his rookie passing stats entirely. He rushed for 706 yards and 14 TDs as a first-year player, which is obscene. He essentially served as Carolina's goal-line back, destroying the all-time NFL single-season mark for rushing touchdowns by a QB. And oh by the way, Cam also became the first quarterback in league history to top 4,000 passing yards as a rookie. He threw for 21 scores on the year, including seven during the fantasy playoffs (Weeks 14-16). As a rookie, Newton was borderline unfair. Good luck topping that performance, Johnny Football.