September 20, 2011
Top 10 NFL debuts
By DAVE POLLARD, QMI Agency
Cam Newton is the best player in the NFL.
Hah, anyone actually believe that? Are people buying into the first-week wonder's hype?
Sure, the Carolina Panthers quarterback had a great start to his NFL career last week, but it was just one performance, folks. Take a deep breath before you start engraving the trophies.
That said, Newton's debut as a pro (debatable, since he played at Clemson) was among the best ever in the NFL. Here are THE best.
10. Randy Moss (1998)
Everyone knew Moss had talent before he ever stepped on to an NFL field. Sure, there were a few, uh, issues during his time at Marshall but there was no denying his ability to catch passes. In his first game with the Minnesota Vikings, Moss hauled in four passes for 95 yards in a 31-7 win over Tampa Bay. Big deal, you say? Well, two of those receptions were for touchdowns. And so began a Hall of Fame career.
9. Peyton Manning (1998)
Yeah, yeah, I know. On the whole, it took a while for Manning to get his feet firmly under him in the NFL. But he hard a pretty darn good debut, going 21 for 37 for 302 yards and a touchdown in a home loss to Miami. He also threw three INTs, but to not include him on this list for that would be nit-picking, especially when you factor in how good the Dolphins D was that year (first in fewest points allowed, third in yards allowed).
8. Ben Tate (2011)
If not for Tate breaking an ankle in a pre-season game last year, Arian Foster might never have broken out the way he did. This year, the roles were reversed in the Houston Texans season opener. Foster was sidelined with an injury and Tate, still listed as third on the depth chart behind Derrick Ward, rose to the occasion. The Texans' second-round pick in 2010 had a dominant showing, running for 116 yards and a touchdown as Houston laid a whippin' on the Indy Colts.
7. Jim Kelly (1986)
Kelly's debut, like that of Otto Graham, needs as asterisk beside it because he actually played two seasons with the Houston Gamblers of the USFL before joining the Buffalo Bills. Nonetheless, his debut in a Bills uniform was awfully good. He completed 20 of 33 passes for 292 yards and three touchdowns, earning a QB rating of 119.8. Kelly lost his first game -- the Bills went 4-12 that year -- but it was clearly a sign of things to come.
6. LaDainian Tomlinson (2001)
It didn't take long to see what kind of workhorse Tomlinson would become. In his first game with the San Diego Chargers, LT carried the ball 36 times (in nine seasons with San Diego he had 30-plus rushes only eight times) for 113 yards and two touchdowns in a one-sided win over Washington. It was an auspicious, but not altogether unexpected, start to Tomlinson's NFL career given that he was the fifth player taken in the 2001 draft.
5. Earl Campbell (1978)
Built like a bowling ball more than anything else, Campbell (5-foot-11, 232 pounds) rumbled over the Atlanta Falcons for 137 yards on just 15 carries and scored a touchdown in his first game as a Houston Oiler. It was Campbell's first of seven 100-yard rushing games that season -- it took him all of 12 games to nearly hit 200, settling for 199 in a win over Miami. Campbell, the first overall pick in 1978 out of Texas, wound up running all the way to the Hall of Fame.
4. Otto Graham (1950)
It's hard to argue that a record-setting performance shouldn't be included, even if it does date back more than half a century. And, yes, I know Graham played four years before the Cleveland Browns joined the NFL. But this is about NFL debuts and Graham's was perhaps THE best before Newton came along. His 346 passing yards stood as the NFL record for rookie debuts until, again, you-know-who shredded the Arizona Cardinals for 400-plus.
3. Anquan Boldin (2003)
Maybe if Boldin started his career anywhere but Arizona, more people would have sat up and noticed him after his mind-blowing debut in a loss to the Detroit Lions. Check out these numbers -- 10 catches, 217 yards and two touchdowns. A second-round pick out of Free Shoes University (sorry, Florida State), Boldin kicked off a memorable rookie season, which ended with 101 receptions for 1,377 yards and eight TDs, with his coming-out party in Motown.
2. Ottis Anderson (1979)
After watching Anderson pound his way for 193 yards (on a mere 21 carries) and a touchdown in his debut with the St. Louis Cardinals, seven other GMs probably smacked themselves in the forehead and said, "Doh!" The fact he ran for nearly 200 yards against the Dallas Cowboys during the Roger Staubach era makes it even more impressive. The eighth player picked in the 1979 NFL draft, Anderson burst on to the scene like no player before or after him.
1. Cam Newton (2011)
Gotta give Newton his props for starting a career in style. Throwing for 422 yards and two touchdowns is a pretty nifty day for any quarterback, never mind one who has never played a down in the NFL. And, heck, it topped a record that hadn't be broken for 60 years. Not by Manning, Brady, Montana, Elway. None of them. Newton tops the list of some pretty amazing company when it comes to NFL debuts so maybe there is something to get excited about after all.