Some NFL stars are great from the start. However, adjusting to the NFL isn’t always easy. As a result, there are also stars that were late. There is simply nothing wrong with being a latecomer. In fact, it’s better late than never for these players to become stars. For this article, let’s take a look at 10 NFL stars who had a tough rookie season.
Terry Bradshaw is a Hall of Famer with four Super Bowl championships, including a 4-0 record in the biggest games. However, Bradshaw hasn’t always thrived in the NFL. As the first overall pick in the 1970 NFL Draft, Bradshaw faced a lot of pressure in his rookie year with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He only completed 83 of 218 of his passes for a 38.1% completion rate. On top of that, Bradshaw had a 30.4 passer rating and led the league in interceptions with 24. Fortunately, Bradshaw found his place in the NFL after a few seasons.
Despite carving out a successful career with the Green Bay Packers, Brett Favre had a forgettable rookie season. After being drafted by the Falcons, off-field problems plagued Favre’s season in Atlanta. In fact, Favre only appeared in two games. Additionally, he didn’t complete any of his four pass attempts and tallied two interceptions. A trade to the Green Bay Packers ultimately changed his career for the better, allowing him to win three NFL MVPs and a Super Bowl championship.
Adam Vinatieri has made a name for himself as a kicker in the NFL. However, Vinatieri had to go through his fair share of hurdles before that could happen. After not making the NFL draft, Vinatieri needed time to acclimate to the league. He only made 27 of 35 from the field and was 39 of 42 in terms of extra points. Fortunately, the Patriots kept their faith in him when Vinatieri increased his number. The undrafted kicker would score the most points in the NFL of all time with 2,673.
With a Hall of Fame career under his belt, Troy Aikman is one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. However, Aikman was also a late developmenter. In fact, Aikman had to go through a terrible rookie season that saw him go 155 of 293 for 1,749 yards. He also scored nine touchdowns but also had 18 interceptions. With a passer rating of 55.7, the Cowboys suffered a 1-15 win-loss record. But over time, Aikman adapted to the role of him. After the Cowboys kept their faith in him, Aikman assembled several pieces of NFL hardware, including three Super Bowl championships, one Super Bowl MVP, and six Pro Bowl selections.
With five MVPs and two Super Bowl championships to his name, Peyton Manning is easily a member of the Football Hall of Famer. While the quarterback had legendary seasons with the Colts and Broncos, Manning struggled in his rookie season. While his numbers were decent, tallying a league-leading 28 interceptions was not. In fact, Manning broke an unwanted NFL record that stood for 56 years. Also, the Colts struggled a lot, posting only a 3-13 record that year.
When it comes to terrible rookie years, Steve Young is up there. With Young as the quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he had a 56.9 passer rating with 935 yards. While he had three touchdowns, Young also threw eight interceptions. Additionally, the Bucs finished that year with a 2-14 record. However, Young’s career changed after he found greener pastures in San Francisco. As the 49ers’ star quarterback, Young helped the team win three Super Bowl championships. Super Bowl XXIX saw Young earn MVP honors en route to a Hall of Fame career.
After being cut by the Green Bay Packers and forced to play overseas, it was a rocky NFL journey for Kurt Warner. In fact, Warner also had a rough rookie season that saw him play just one game, which saw him complete just four of his 11 passes for 39 yards. But a year later, Warner’s hard work finally paid off. As the architect of the underdog Rams, Warner led the team to a championship in Super Bowl XXXIV and he took MVP honors. During the same year, Warner also won the first of two NFL MVPs.
Often overlooked since his high school days, it was a rocky NFL ride for Packers star Aaron Rodgers. In fact, his rookie season saw him spend his NFL days as a backup to Brett Favre. He completed 56.3 of his passes and recorded one interception in three games. Rodgers would need three seasons before he would finally break out. Fast forward to today, Rodgers is a 10-time Pro Bowl selection, a four-time NFL MVP, a one-time Super Bowl champion, and a Super Bowl MVP.
While Rich Gannon thrived with the Oakland Raiders earning league MVP honors in 2002, he was easily one of the best late-players in NFL history. In fact, Gannon posted a forgettable season with the Vikings. In four games, he completed just two of his six passes for 18 yards. Additionally, Gannon failed to record a touchdown and had an interception. Gannon worked for the Vikings, Redskins and Chiefs before finding a home with the Oakland Raiders.
While Jimmy Smith achieved Super Bowl success with the Cowboys in his first two NFL seasons, he was not a factor in those successful championship campaigns. Due to a broken leg, Smith only appeared in seven games in his rookie season and was not productive in those games. Unfortunately, appendicitis sidelined him the following year. It was only in 1995 that Smith finally established himself as a solid wide receiver. After being released by the Eagles, he signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Smith would go on to earn five Pro Bowl appearances, two All-Pro selections, and led the NFL in receptions.