Lap it up Daniel Jones. Take in the intoxicating elixir that was a stunning debut in the NFL and enjoy all the fanfare, praise and plaudits that come with it.
There are rough debuts in sport. There are adequate but instantly forgetful debuts. There are good debuts and there are great debuts. And then there is Jones’ debut. A 22-year-old rookie – and rather unheralded – quarterback thrust into the hostile away environment of Tampa Bay’s Raymond James Stadium. Replacing a franchise legend in two-time Super Bowl champion Eli Manning and with his team down 28-10 at half-time.
In his first start after Manning was benched following two insipid defeats to the Dallas Cowboys and Buffalo Bills, Jones completed 23 of 36 passes for 336 yards with a 112.7 passer rating and two passing touchdowns along with 28 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns.
Moreover, Jones led the Giants back from an 18-point deficit to beat the Buccaneers 32-31 and became the seventh rookie quarterback in NFL history (since 2010) to have a game-winning drive in their first career start. Insane.
But also Daniel Jones, take caution. Because a stellar start in the wild west of the NFL does not mean you’ve made it. Not at all.
Jim Kelly, Kurt Warner and Dan Marino ended up entering the Hall of Fame having each tossed three touchdowns in their first start, but Todd Marinovich and Anthony Dilweg (who?) also threw three.
Todd Bouman (Eh?), Eric Hipple (a real player) and Marcus Mariota are the only quarterbacks in the past 50 seasons to toss more than three scoring passes in their initial NFL starts, and their paths haven’t exactly led to fame and fortune either.
Here, we take a look at six players who shone on their NFL debuts, and went from strength to strength. We also look at six players who slinked off into obscurity, or worse.
ANQUAN BOLDIN (drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in 2003)
Boldin wasn’t even the highest-drafted rookie wide receiver on his own team when he caught 10 balls for a record 217 yards and two touchdowns in his Cardinals debut (Arizona took Bryant Johnson in the first round) – a 42-24 loss to the Detroit Lions.
It was a rookie record for a debut. Boldin went on to have a solid if not spectacular career in the league, although he won a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens in 2012.
He also had a stunning debut at the end of his career for the San Francisco 49ers, catching 13 passes for 208 yards and a touchdown in a 34-28 victory over the Green Bay Packers, a few weeks short of his 33rd birthday.
ADRIAN PETERSON (drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in 2007)
Named the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in his debut season, Peterson’s path to stardom all started with a scintillating debut, rushing for 103 yards in the Vikings’ opener and adding a 60-yard touchdown catch in a 24-3 grounding of the Atlanta Falcons.
Peterson rushed for 1,300 yards and 12 TDs on the season and became a warrior for the Vikings over the next decade, winning the league MVP in a 2012 season that saw him agonisingly fall just nine yards shy (2,097) of breaking Eric Dickerson’s single season all-time record of 3,006.
Now in Washington he is eighth on the all-time rushing list with 13,380.
OTTIS ANDERSON (drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1979)
The No8 pick of the 1979 draft still holds the mark for the highest rushing total in an NFL debut, gaining 193 yards on the ground, from just 21 carries. Having been drafted by the then St. Louis Cardinals in 1979, Anderson went on to amass 10,273 rushing yards during a 13-year career. His tally is 30th highest in history.
Anderson went on to become a big part of the New York Giants’ first two Super Bowl triumphs in 1986 and 1990 – he even earned MVP honours in Super Bowl XXV where he rushed for 102 yards and a touchdown as the Giants beat the Buffalo Bills 20-19.
FRAN TARKENTON (drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in 1961)
Veteran George Shaw started the 1961 season opener for the Vikings – the first in the franchise’s history – but when he was injured and replaced by rookie Tarkenton, the first steps to the Hall of Fame were trodden.
The University of Georgia alum immediately threw a touchdown pass, later added two more, and also had a rushing touchdown. Wow.
By the time he retired, Tarkenton owned every major quarterback record, and his 47,003 passing yards are still 12th most among quarterbacks, with his 342 touchdowns equal ninth, though he’ll be shunted to 10th the next time Aaron Rodgers tosses one.
MARSHALL FAULK (drafted by the Indianapolis Colts in 1994)
Another Hall of Fame career that was probably even carved out before he played his first professional game – but his debut certainly demonstrated how much of a force Faulk would become in the NFL.
He immediately proved himself a worthy draft pick (he went No2 overall in ’94), scampering for 143 yards and three touchdowns in his first game with Indy.
The entire Colts team had rushed for just four touchdowns in the entirety of the 1993 season so Faulk was kind of a step up.
Won a Super Bowl in 2000 with the Rams – in the same year he won the league MVP, while claiming Offensive Player of the Year three years running.
CAM NEWTON (drafted by the Carolina Panthers in 2011)
The man with the Superman celebration put up a superhuman effort on debut, throwing for a first-game record 422 yards and two touchdowns in defeat to the Cardinals. He also ran for 18 yards and a touchdown. It’s not like the Panthers were a team that could really air it out either – they only threw for over 200 yards once the previous season.
Newton broke all sorts of rookie records, shattering Peyton Manning’s first-game stats for passing yards by 120. He broke 4,000 for the season, the first rookie quarterback to do so. He also ran for 14 TDs, more in a single season than any QB in history.
A fine 2015 season was capped with an MVP and leading the 15-1 Panthers to the Super Bowl 50 – where they lost to the Denver Broncos.
THE BAD… AND THE UGLY
MARCUS MARIOTA (drafted by the Tennessee Titans in 2015)
With No1 pick Jameis Winston on the other sideline for the Buccaneers, No2 pick Mariota made history in the 2015 season opener, going 13-for-15 with 209 yards and an incredible four touchdowns. That was a rookie debut record and he recorded a perfect 158.3 passer rating, making Mariota the only QB to ever do that in his first game.
It hasn’t quite panned out though for Mariota, 25, since. He’s still in the NFL, is still in Nashville, but is also still stuck in first gear.
Fans and analysts are no closer to knowing whether or not either can be true franchise quarterbacks than they were in the Spring of 2015.
CADILLAC WILLIAMS (drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2005)
With a first name like Cadillac, and picked at No5 in the first round of the NFL Draft, it’s fair to say Bucs fans were expecting a Rolls Royce of a career from Williams. And they got it… initially. The Auburn running back rushed for 148 yards and a touchdown in his debut – a 24-13 win against the Vikings.
He lit up the first few weeks, winning three successive Rookie of the Week awards. And then Cadillac turned into a Fiat Punto. In his next four games he had a total of just 82 yards on 45 carries.
He eventually broke down entirely, persistent injuries blighting Cadillac’s next seven seasons as he never quite got his career in gear.
TODD MARINOVICH (drafted by the Los Angeles Raiders in 1990)
With the Raiders already securing a playoff spot in Marinovich’s rookie season he made his debut in Week 17, throwing for 243 yards and three touchdowns in a 27-21 defeat to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Marinovich had garnered attention long before his NFL entrance. His father Marv was a former Raider but his career failed to fire due to over-training and focusing on bulking. He subsequently became a trainer and is said to have started working on his son’s physical conditioning as early as one-month old. As a baby, Marinovich was reportedly only fed fresh vegetables, fruit and raw milk.
Marinovich flickered briefly but only lasted one more year in the NFL before battling drug and legal issues for decades. He threw just five further TD passes in his career and was named at No4 on ESPN.com’s list of the 25 biggest sports flops in 2004.
BILLY SIMS (drafted by the Detroit Lions in 1980)
The No1 pick in the 1980 draft roared into life for the Lions on debut, pouncing for three touchdowns from 153 yards rushing in a 41-20 blowout of the LA Rams. Sims rushed for over 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons and scored 13 touchdowns in both.
He might well have gone down as one of the NFL’s all-time great running backs, making the Pro Bowl in 1980, 1981 and 1982, But a devastating knee injury suffered midway through the 1984 campaign ended his career.
He spent two years attempting to rehabilitate his knee before retiring in 1986.
ROBERT GRIFFIN III (drafted by the Washington Redskins in 2012)
Great things were expected of RG3 after being selected at No2 in the 2012 draft, and greatness came soon too. In his debut in New Orleans against one of the favourites for the Super Bowl, RG3 threw for 320 yards and two passing touchdowns as well as rushing for 42 yards in a 40-32 win against the Saints.
He amassed over 3,000 yards and threw 20 touchdowns as he led Washington to their first winning season and playoff appearance in five seasons on his way to picking up the 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year award.
After that, greatness sadly faded as debilitating injuries and concussions led to a loss of form and an eventual move to the Cleveland Browns.
KAREEM HUNT (drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2017)
As we’ve seen from this list, plenty of players announced themselves to the world with explosive debuts. But Hunt did so on the biggest stage in football, the Kickoff Game, against the biggest team in football, the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, who the Chiefs beat 42-27.
Hunt said hello to the NFL with 148 rushing yards, 98 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Along with Faulk and Sims, it’s the only three-touchdown performance on debut.
However, since then, Hunt has gone from hero to zero, cut by the Chiefs last November after a video of him in a violent altercation with a female in a hotel was released.
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