Easy as 1-2-3: Best starts to an NFL career

Easy as 1-2-3: Best starts to an NFL career

Patrick Mahomes had what amounted to a redshirt season as a rookie. And he still has one of the best starts to a career through three seasons in NFL history.

Mahomes has only played 31 regular season games. He started one at the end of his rookie season. He missed a few due to injury in 2019. And he still has a great case for the best start to any NFL career.

Mahomes is the youngest quarterback to win Super Bowl MVP. He’s the youngest player to win a regular season MVP and a Super Bowl. He could retire tomorrow (please don’t) and have a more decorated career than almost everyone who has played in the NFL.

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes celebrates a Super Bowl LIV title. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

But is it the best start ever to an NFL career? Let’s take a look at the top 10 best starts through three seasons, which was a tough, tough list to crack (and we’re making players who started in other pro leagues ineligible … sorry Reggie White).

10. Dick “Night Train” Lane

In 100 seasons of NFL football, there have been only 75 instances of a player intercepting 10 or more passes in a season. Lane did it twice in his first two seasons.

Lane set a record in 1952 as a rookie with 14 interceptions, and that record still stands. Then in Lane’s third season he had 10 interceptions to lead the league. Lane’s 27 interceptions through three seasons would be a good career for many players. Lane played 14 seasons, had 68 career picks and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

9. Walter Payton

Payton almost got left off due to a forgettable rookie season, with 679 rushing yards. But his second and third seasons? Payton had 3,242 rushing yards and 27 rushing touchdowns, carrying a terrible Bears offense. In 1977, his third season, Payton rushed for a then-NFL record 275 yards against the Vikings. He was named NFL MVP that season.

That was just the start of a historic career for “Sweetness.”

8. Lawrence Taylor

Though three seasons, Taylor had a defensive rookie of the year award and two NFL defensive player of the year awards. The rest of his career went pretty well too. He had a streak of six straight first-team All-Pro nods to start his career.

Taylor changed the league, starting right away.

7. Earl Campbell

Seven players since 1950 were NFL first-team All-Pro in each of their first three seasons (the list is below, if you want a second to guess). Campbell is the only No. 1 overall pick on that list.

Campbell was a phenomenon, a Heisman winner who became a legend with an all-time great game on “Monday Night Football” against the Miami Dolphins. Campbell had three rushing titles in his first three seasons. He led the league in rushing touchdowns twice. He won the 1979 NFL MVP in his second season.

Campbell wasn’t great in the playoffs (3.1-yard average over six games) but that’s about the only quibble with him on this list.

(The seven players to be NFL first-team All-Pro in each of their first three seasons: Jim Brown, Campbell, Keith Jackson, Ollie Matson, Barry Sanders, Gale Sayers, Lawrence Taylor.)

6. Eric Dickerson

Here are Dickerson’s rushing yardage totals his first three seasons: 1,808, 2,105 and 1,248. He led the NFL in rushing each of his first two seasons. His 2,105-yard season in 1984 still ranks No. 1 all time. His rookie season total is 21st all time. His third season wasn’t quite as good but included a 248-yard game against Dallas in the playoffs, which is still the NFL postseason record.

Dickerson still had two more rushing titles after that, in 1986 and 1988.

5. Randy Moss

Moss’ 1998 rookie year will be talked about forever. We might never see another receiver have a debut like that again. It’s possible it’s the greatest rookie season ever, regardless of position.

Moss has the most receiving yards (4,163) and receiving touchdowns (43) through three seasons in NFL history. He put up at least 1,300 yards and double-digit touchdowns in each of his first three seasons. The Vikings made the playoffs all three seasons, won two division titles and made two trips to the NFC title game. Moss had an undeniable impact on the Vikings and the NFL as a whole.

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Randy Moss (84) had a remarkable three-year stretch to start his career. (AP Photo/Tom Olmscheid)

4. Dan Marino

Marino’s first three seasons are tough to dispute.

Source : Yahoo Sports Link

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