The Best NFL Debut Games of All-Time

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If there's one thing about offseason NFL predictions, it's that they often don’t work out the way analysts and coaching staff expect. Many players stand out in college, but transitioning to the NFL can be a difficult adjustment for many rookies. Sometimes, however, these rookies are able to rise to the pressure not only meet their expectations, but excel beyond them in their NFL debut season.

Related: The 10 Best NFL Coaches of All-Time, Ranked 

Impressive NFL debuts are incredibly exciting for fans and teams who put a lot of resources into prepping their young players.

These are some of the best NFL debuts of all time:

1. Cam Newton (2011)

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  • Debut Team: Carolina Panthers
  • Position: Quarterback 
  • Draft Pick: 1st overall

Cam Newton's entrance to the NFL was highly anticipated after his noteworthy and successful college career. The Panthers selected Newton first overall in the 2011 draft, and he immediately was named Carolina's starting quarterback.

In his first game, he completed 24 of 37 passes for 422 yards, which made him the first rookie quarterback to throw over 400 yards in their debut. His eye-popping stat line included three touchdowns–two passing and one rushing–though the Panthers went on to lose the road game against the Cardinals 28-21.

2. Kareem Hunt (2017)

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  • Debut Team: Kansas City Chiefs 
  • Position: Running Back
  • Draft Pick: 86th overall

Kareem Hunt’s first play in his NFL career was a fumble, but he quickly turned his game around and did not look back after that. He went on to catch two touchdown passes, one of which was a 78-yarder, while rushing for a third touchdown.

Hunt finished the game with 148 rushing yards and 98 receiving yards for a total of 246 total yards, which was the most ever in a NFL career debut game. His performance helped lead the Chiefs to a Week 1 win against the Patriots.

3. Anquan Boldin (2003)

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  • Debut Team: Arizona Cardinals
  • Position: Wide Receiver
  • Draft Pick: 54th overall

In his NFL debut with the Cardinals, Anquan Boldin had 10 receptions for a total of 217 receiving yards. This impressive stat line was somewhat of a shock for many, as Boldin had not been a huge standout in college, and was not even a shoe-in to be a starting receiver for the Cardinals in the 2003 season. However, his debut game was a stellar performance that ended up being one of his best games of his 14-year career.

4. Fran Tarkenton (1961)

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  • Debut Team: Minnesota Vikings
  • Position: Quarterback
  • Draft Pick: 29th overall

Fran Tarkenton came off the bench in his first NFL career game and went on to lead his team to a memorable come-from-behind victory. Despite not starting the game, he threw for 250 yards including four passing touchdowns, which made him the first and only NFL quarterback to throw four touchdown passes in their career opener until Marcus Mariota did it in 2015. Tarkenton also rushed for a fifth touchdown that helped propel the Vikings over the Bears.

5. Robert Griffin III (2012)

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  • Debut Team: Washington Redskins
  • Position: Quarterback
  • Draft Pick: 2nd overall

Robert Griffin III was the youngest starting quarterback in the NFL in the 2012 season, and the rookie did not waste time making a name for himself in the league.

In his career opener, Griffin completed 19 of 26 passes for 320 yards, including two touchdowns, and recorded 42 rushing yards. He ultimately led the Redskins to a win over the New Orleans Saints. RGIII was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week for his efforts, which made him the first rookie quarterback to receive that honor in their debut game.

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