We’ve got an infatuation with rookies in the sports world. With so much untapped potential, the slightest sign of stardom can create an instant declaration for Canton, Cooperstown, Springfield or Toronto.
With the NFL draft coming up next month, there’s a whole new crop of up-and-comers ready to take the league by storm. And of course, there will be plenty more who will fall flat or harmlessly fade into oblivion.
But let’s stay positive for a moment, and we’ll keep it local while we’re at it. Let’s take a look at some of the best rookies in Patriots history.
Jim Plunkett (1971)
The quarterback threw for 2,158 yards, 19 touchdowns and 16 interceptions, and he guided the Patriots to a 6-8 record, giving them their most wins since 1966. The first pick in the draft was the Offensive Rookie of the Year and was later part of one of the greatest trades in Patriots history.
John Hannah (1973)
Hog Hannah was perhaps the greatest offensive lineman to ever battle it out in the trenches, but his Hall of Fame career had to start somewhere. The fourth pick of the 1973 draft stepped right in at left guard and was the Patriots' Offensive MVP in his first season, and he was named to a number of the league’s all-rookie teams.
Steve Nelson (1974)
The second-round pick was named the team MVP in his rookie season, and he helped the defense turn the corner in the middle of the decade. Nelson’s teammates described him as an extremely instinctual player who always found himself in the right place at the right time — a previous generation’s Tedy Bruschi.
Mike Haynes (1976)
The Arizona State product was the fifth pick in the draft, and he had a career-high eight interceptions in his rookie season. Haynes also returned two punts for touchdowns and was the Defensive Rookie of the Year and a Pro Bowler. The cornerback was later inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame.
John Stephens (1988)
The 17th overall pick had his most productive season as a rookie, when he rushed for 1,168 yards and four touchdowns. He was the Offensive Rookie of the Year and also earned a Pro Bowl berth. Stephens died in a car accident in Louisiana last September.
Leonard Russell (1991)
The 14th pick in the draft rushed for 959 yards and four touchdowns — not overly impressive, but he was the Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Curtis Martin (1995)
The NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year rushed for 1,487 yards and 14 touchdowns, and he caught 30 passes for 261 yards and one score. The third-round pick from Pittsburgh was a tremendous compliment to the big arm of quarterback Drew Bledsoe, and it really added another dynamic to the Patriots’ offense. Martin only spent three seasons in New England, though, as Bill Parcells gave the restricted free agent an offer the Patriots couldn’t match in the 1998 offseason.
Terry Glenn (1996)
“She” might have spent the season in Bill Parcells’ doghouse, but Glenn still spread the field unlike any receiver Bledsoe ever had. Glenn set a rookie record with 90 receptions and also had 1,132 receiving yards and six touchdowns. Glenn wasn’t the model Patriot, but he was an electric rookie.
Robert Edwards (1998)
The former Georgia star was the 18th pick of the 1998 draft, and it looked like the Patriots had their answer at running back after losing Curtis Martin to the Jets. Edwards rushed for 1,115 yards and nine touchdowns, and he caught 35 passes for 331 yards and three touchdowns. However, Edwards suffered a devastating knee injury in a league-sanctioned flag football game on the beach in the offseason, and it was so bad that doctors thought they might have had to amputate his leg. Edwards made it back for a stint with the Dolphins in 2002, but he never fully recovered from the injury.
Stephen Gostkowski (2006)
It’s pretty amazing that he had to beat out Martin Gramatica to win the job, but Gostkowski really helped the Patriots move on from Adam Vinatieri. The Memphis product and fourth-round pick overcame a slow start to convert 20 of 26 field goals in the regular season, and he nailed all eight of his postseason attempts, including a 31-yard game-winner to beat San Diego.
Jerod Mayo (2008)
The middle linebacker was the 10th pick in the draft and became the Defensive Rookie of the Year. Mayo had a dominant showing in his first season, far and away leading the team with 93 solo tackles and 139 total stops. The Tennessee product also had four pass defenses, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery, and he epitomized Bill Belichick’s Patriot way, showcasing himself as a tremendous locker room leader.