As Colts fans, we all know how good Polian drafts. Some players like Reggie Wayne take longer to blossom into stars, but some reveal their greatness the first time they put on their pads. As the 2008 season approaches with high expectations placed on this rookie class, let’s look back at the greatest rookie season performances by Colts draftees.
5. Dominic Rhodes, Undrafted Free Agent, 2001: While all of the players that will follow were actually drafted, Rhodes wasn’t thought to be a top 246 player in this draft. When Edgerrin James tore his ACL in the sixth game of the season, Rhodes came in and proved every critic wrong. Rhodes became the first UDFA to rush for over 1000 yards, gaining 1104 yards while scoring 9 touchdowns on the ground. His rookie season is the greatest ever for an undrafted free agent running back, and he is back in Indy to try to repeat his dominant performance in his rookie year, which was not seen over the past six seasons.
4. Dwight Freeney, Round 1, Pick 11, 2002: Freeney was drafted because of his phenomenal pass rushing skills, and he definitely improved the Colts pass rush in his rookie year. Freeney, although he only started 8 games, had 13 sacks, 9 forced fumbles, and 45 tackles. His rookie year was arguably his best season, and he was ripped off on the Rookie of the Year award, which went to Julius Peppers. Freeney has had a Hall of Fame-worthy career so far, and he is expected to come back from his injury stronger than ever.
3. Duane Bickett, Round 1, Pick 5, 1985: Before there was Patrick Willis, there was Duane Bickett. Like Willis, Bickett did not take long adjusting to the pro game. As the starting right outside linebacker in 1985, he had 141 tackles, a forced fumble, an interception, and 6 sacks. Bickett took home the Defensive Rookie of the Year award in 1985, and he kept on improving until his career in Indy ended.
2. Marshall Faulk, Round 1, Pick 2, 1994: Faulk won the Rookie of the Year in 1994, and looking at his stats, there is no question why. Faulk had 1282 rushing yards, 12 total touchdowns, and 552 receiving yards. Faulk was a main reason why the Colts were one controversial call away from making it to the Super Bowl in 1996. Though he is remembered more for his career in Saint Louis, his rookie year established him as an NFL great and a future Hall of Famer.
1. Edgerrin James, Round 1, Pick 4, 1999: Did you expect anyone else? Edgerrin’s rookie year may be the greatest debut in the history of offensive rookies. Edgerrin led the league in rushing with 1553 yards. He also had 17 total touchdowns and helped the Colts have the biggest turnaround in NFL history, going from 3-13 to 13-3 in only one season. Edgerrin may have left for less green pastures in Arizona, but his early years with the Colts were strong enough to get him into the Hall of Fame, possibly on the first ballot.
Photo by Matthew J. Lee from the Boston Globe