Florida State’s success at putting alumni into the NFL ranks is well known at this point. Not surprisingly, many of them happen to hit the ground running, with multiple former Florida State football players having strong rookie seasons in the professional ranks.
Most recently, safety Derwin James caught the eye of NFL viewers everywhere, as the Los Angeles Chargers used his incredible natural skills all the way to a playoff berth.
James’ success had us discussing the best ever rookie seasons by former FSU players. After some discussion, we were able to narrow it down to the five. We ranked them below from 1 through 5. Did we miss the mark on any? Comment below or on social media and tell us who should have made the list.
1. 2003 Anquan Boldin, WR
What makes Boldin’s 2003 season even greater is the complete lack of expectations. He was drafted in the second round with the 54th overall pick, but his speed came under scrutiny when he ran a 4.7-second 40-yard dash at the combine. It was a legitimate question whether or not he would adjust to NFL defenses.
The result? 101 receptions, 1,377 receiving yards, and eight receiving touchdowns as a rookie with the Arizona Cardinals. Boldin still hold NFL records for receptions in a rookie season and receiving yards in first career game. He was the only rookie selected to the 2004 Pro Bowl and he won the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Award for his efforts.
Even those who anticipated him contributing could not have predicted that Boldin would produce a top-5 season. It is a crowded field when discussing the best rookie seasons by FSU players, but Boldin stands out as one who truly dominated above the rest.
2. 1997 Warrick Dunn, RB
As a fan favorite in both the college and the NFL ranks, Warrick Dunn started out his professional career with a splash. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers needed an offensive spark badly, and Dunn’s Florida State career justified picking him with the 12th overall pick in the 1997 draft.
In Dunn’s rookie season, the Buccaneers improved their win total by four games and made the playoffs for the first time in 15 years. A good portion of that turnaround was linked to Dunn’s impressive season, where he ran for 978 yards and four touchdowns on 4.4 yards per carry, while also contributing 39 receptions for 462 yards and three touchdowns. Tampa Bay went from dead last in points per game to 23rd overall, which was enough to bring them a few extra victories and even a playoff win over the Detroit Lions in the Wild Card round.
Dunn was selected to the NFC Pro Bowl team and chosen as the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year. He enjoyed an illustrious career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Atlanta Falcons, and is now consistently recognized for his off-the-field efforts.
3. 2018 Derwin James, S
How shocking that a versatile defender in college turned out to be a versatile defender in the NFL. When Derwin James declared for the draft, most considered him a top-10 talent who could be used all around the defense. When he fell to the Chargers with the 17th pick, Los Angeles made a smart choice that may have turned around its defense this year.
James hit the ground running at the strong safety spot and started all 16 regular season games. The Chargers knew what they had in James, and they made sure his talents were maximized at multiple positions.
Derwin James positional snap count (@PFF) through Week 13:
• Box Safety – 287
• Free Safety – 204
• D Line – 130
• Nickel CB – 125
• Outside CB – 15
He’ll have a chance to be an All-Pro as a rookie.
— Jordan Reid (@JReidNFL) December 3, 2018
James combined for 105 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and three interceptions in his rookie season. For his efforts, he was selected as a first-team All-Pro and voted to the Pro Bowl. Not surprisingly, the Chargers’ defense ranked ninth in the league. Los Angeles broke through with a 12-4 record and first playoff appearance since 2013.
4. 1997 Peter Boulware, DE
The legendary Baltimore Ravens defenses of the early 2000s were built upon a group of elite defenders. That group included defensive end Peter Boulware, who the Ravens selected with the fourth overall pick in the 1997 NFL Draft. Boulware had the perfect blend of size and speed coming off the edge, and the Ravens knew they needed help in the pass-rush. Being the fourth overall pick, he was expected to contribute immediately.
Consider the expectations met. Boulware was voted as the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year after producing 66 tackles, 11.5 sacks, and one forced fumble. The number of sacks put him in the top-10 of the category that year, and it solidified his future in Baltimore as a standout on the defensive line.
Boulware would have a 9-year career with the Ravens before retiring after 2005. He was voted to four Pro Bowls and is part of the Baltimore Ravens’ Ring of Honor.
5. 2015 Jameis Winston, QB
Winston’s 2015 season sneaks on to the list, thanks to some postseason honors and multiple franchise records. While his NFL career has gotten off to an up-and-down start both on and off the field, it is hard to deny that his rookie season showed a potentially dominant starter in the NFL.
After throwing a pick-6 on his first career pass, Winston enjoyed the best rookie quarterback season in Tampa Bay franchise history. He threw for over 4,000 yards and 22 touchdowns, and ran for over 200 yards and six touchdowns. The interceptions were higher than usual, but that is not too surprising for the gunslinger type of passer.
Winston set franchise rookie records in pass attempts, pass completions, passing yards, and passing touchdowns, and was named a Pro Bowl alternate. When Tom Brady elected not to participate, Winston took his place and became the first Tampa Bay rookie quarterback to play in the Pro Bowl. Although consistency has been an issue, Winston holds multiple passing records for players before their 24th birthday and is Tampa Bay’s all-time leader in career touchdown passes with 88.