Ranking the Best Rookie Seasons in Packers History

For most players in the NFL, their rookie campaign is a year of adjustment as they get used to playing football against the best players in the world. But a few rookies stand out and make an immediate impact on their new team.

The Green Bay Packers have had their share of outstanding rookie performances over their century of existence. Here is a look at the best rookie seasons the Packers have ever had. Some of these players went on to lengthy and memorable NFL careers while others were one-year wonders.  

12. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix S 2014

The Packers selected Clinton-Dix in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft with the 21st overall selection. The former Alabama star became a starter early in the season and played an important role on the team. He was in on 92 tackles including one sack and one tackle for loss while providing the Packers with strong play at safety.

His first career interception off Detroit’s Matthew Stafford. He added two more interceptions in the NFC Championship Game that year against Seattle.

Clinton-Dix played well his first few seasons in Green Bay and earned Pro Bowl honors after the 2016 season. But he became less consistent and the Packers traded him to Washington midway through the 2018 season. He has since become a journeyman, playing for four teams (including the Packers) in the last three seasons.

11. Mason Crosby K 2007

Crosby won the Packers kicking job in 2007 after the Packers drafted him in the sixth round. He led the NFL in scoring as a rookie with 141 points, still tied for his career high. Crosby made 31-of-39 field goals and all 48 of his extra points in his rookie campaign. His longest kick that season was from 53 yards out.

The rookie kicker was a difference maker in his very first NFL game. He made three field goals including the game-winning 42-yard kick with two seconds left on the clock as the Packers edged the Eagles 16-13. Crosby was named the NFC’s Special Teams Player of the Week for his performance.

He also earned NFC Special Teams Player of the Month for November of his rookie season as he kicked 12 field goals and had 54 points to lead all kickers in that category.

Crosby went on to have a successful career in Green Bay and is now the franchise’s all-time leading scorer with 1,575 points.

10. Bryan Bulaga OT 2010

Bryan Bulaga got his NFL career off to a strong start. The Packers first round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft started 12 games for the Pack at right tackle and earning All-Rookie Team honors. He also started all four of the Packers postseason games as a rookie including Green Bay’s 31-25 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV.

Bulaga was always a battler and a consistent player for the Packers. He played nine seasons in Green Bay, providing Aaron Rodgers with solid protection on the right side of the offensive line and leading the way for Packers runners as well.

Bulaga left the Packers after the 2019 season, signing a free agent deal with the Los Angeles Chargers.

9. Tom Flynn S 1984

Safety Tom Flynn started his NFL career with a bang, intercepting nine passes as a rookie after the Packers selected him in the fifth round of the 1984 NFL Draft. The former University of Pittsburgh star seemed like a ball magnet, making big play after big play for the 8-8 Packers in Forrest Gregg’s first year as head coach.

The nine interceptions led the NFC and helped earn Flynn Defensive Rookie of the Year honors from Pro Football Weekly.

Flynn’s best game came in Week 9 during the Packers 41-9 win over Detroit. Flynn intercepted three passes that day to help key the Packers victory.

But while Flynn’s rookie season was magical, he was never able to play up to that level after that. He only intercepted two more passes in his career. His play fell off so badly that the Packers released him midway through the 1986 season. Flynn signed with the Giants and scored on a blocked punt return against the Packers in the season finale. Flynn won a Super Bowl ring when the Giants beat the Broncos in Super Bowl XXI that year.

Flynn remained with the Giants through the 1988 season but never started a game on defense for them.

8. Travis Williams RB/KR 1967

Travis Williams possessed electrifying speed that earned him the nickname, “The Roadrunner.” He made the Packers after they selected him in the fourth round of the 1967 NFL Draft.

Williams overcame a fumbling problem in training camp to earn his roster spot. Head coach Vince Lombardi ordered the rookie to carry a football with him wherever he went to help overcome the fumbling issue. It worked.

Williams carried the ball only 35 times for 188 yards in 1967, but his real impact came on special teams. He led the league with a 41.1-yard average per return and scored four touchdowns on kick returns as a rookie. “The Roadrunner” scored twice on kick returns during the Packers 55-7 crushing of the Browns in Week 9.

In the playoffs, Williams also contributed to the Packers success. In the Western Conference playoff against the 11-1-2 Rams, Williams led all players with 88 yards on 18 carries and two touchdowns. His first score came in the second quarter on a 46-yard dash that tied the game at 7-7. Williams also scored the only touchdown of the fourth quarter on a two-yard run that provided the final margin of victory.

Williams spent four seasons with the Packers and led the team in rushing in 1969. He finished his NFL career in 1971 with the Rams.

Unfortunately, Williams had a rough life after football, falling into addiction and illness. He died on February 17, 1991, at the age of 45.

7. Boyd Dowler WR 1959

Body Dowler was 6’5” and 224 pounds which gave him a big size advantage over NFL defensive backs in the 1960s. The Packers selected Dowler out of Colorado in the third round of the 1959 NFL Draft.

Dowler started half of the Packers 12 games as a rookie, catching 32 passes for 549 yards and four touchdowns to earn NFL Rookie of the Year honors.

While those statistics do not seem eye popping by modern standards, that did place Dowler in the top 20 in the league in catches and 14th in yards gained by a receiver and tied for 13th in the league in touchdown catches.

Dowler went on to a stellar career with the Packers, making the Pro Bowl twice and earning a spot on the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1960s. He won five NFL titles with Lombardi’s Packers and caught two touchdown passes in the Ice Bowl and scored on a 62-yard bomb from Bart Starr in Super Bowl II.

Dowler caught 448 passes in 11 seasons with the Packers and was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 1978.

6. Eddie Lacy RB 2013

Eddie Lacy’s best NFL season came in 2013, his rookie campaign. The Packers selected the former Alabama star in the second round of the draft that year and the 5’11”, 250-pound runner had an immediate impact.

He gained 1,178 yards on 284 carries while rushing for 11 touchdowns, all career highs. He also caught 35 passes for 257 more yards and became an integral part of the Green Bay offense.

Lacy was a load. He his center of gravity was low to the ground and he had moves that could make a tackler miss despite his size.

Because of his strong play, Lacy was named the NFL’s Rookie of the Year and earned a trip to the Pro Bowl.

Unfortunately, Lacy’s play fell off a bit each year after his outstanding rookie campaign. The Packers let him go after the 2016 season and he spent one year in Seattle before his career ended. He was never able to stay in shape to match the magic of his first two seasons in the NFL.

5. Willie Buchanon CB 1972

The Packers used the seventh overall selection in the 1972 NFL Draft to select cornerback Willie Buchanon out of San Diego State.

Buchanon had an immediate impact on the Packers secondary and the team allowed only seven touchdown passes all season in his rookie year.

Buchanon intercepted four passes in his rookie year including one in his very first NFL game against the Browns in Cleveland. He also had two key picks off Fran Tarkenton in the Packers division clinching, 23-7 win over the Vikings in Minnesota in Week 13.

In addition to his four interceptions, Buchanon recovered three fumbles and provided the Packers with excellent speed and coverage ability. He teamed with Ken Ellis to give the Pack an outstanding tandem of cornerbacks.

Buchanon played seven seasons with the Packers and led the NFC with nine interceptions in 1978 including four in one game against the Chargers. He may have been even more dominant had he not suffered broken legs that cut short his 1973 and 1975 seasons.

He finished his career with San Diego before retiring at the end of the 1982 season. Buchanon was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 1993.

4. Elgton Jenkins G 2019

Not many rookie offensive linemen make an impact right away but Elgton Jenkins proved the doubters wrong. The Packers second round pick out of Mississippi State almost won the starting left guard spot in training camp, but when veteran Lane Taylor was lost for the season with an injury suffered in Week 2, Jenkins took over and the team never missed a beat.

Jenkins was a good run blocker and did not allow a sack all season as a pass blocker. He earned All-Rookie Team honors for his outstanding and consistent play.

The Packers believe Jenkins has the potential to be a Pro Bowl-caliber player along the offensive line for a long time to come. Now it is up to Jenkins to live up to that potential.

3. John Brockington RB 1971

John Brockington was the key to the Packers offense for most of his career, especially during his first three campaigns. The former Ohio State star became the first player in NFL history to gain 1,000 or more yards during his first three seasons in the league.

Brockington gained 1,105 yards on 216 carries in his first season, an impressive 5.1-yard average per carry. He also caught 14 passes and scored four rushing touchdowns.

Brockington gained more than 100 yards rushing in a game four times as a rookie including three in a row in Weeks 7, 8 and 9. His best game that year came against the Vikings outstanding defense. Brockington gained 149 yards on just 23 carries against the “Purple People Eaters” in a game the Packers lost 3-0.

Brockington won NFL Rookie of the Year honors, a Pro Bowl berth and was named All-Pro in his rookie season. It was the first of three straight trips to the Pro Bowl for the Brooklyn native.

Brockington played seven seasons with the Packers and finished his career as the franchise’s second all-time leading rusher with 5,024 yards gained. He also led the Pack in receptions in 1974. He was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 1984.

2. Chester Marcol K 1972

Few rookies made as big an impact on their team’s success than kicker Chester Marcol did for the Packers in 1972. In 1971, the Packers made only 14-of-26 field goals and employed three kickers. They lost three games by three points or less and tied two others that season.

In 1972, the Packers selected Marcol in the second round of the draft out of Hillsdale. All Marcol did was kick 33-of-48 field goals and all 29 extra points to lead the NFL with 128 points. The Packers record improved from 4-8-2 to 10-4-0 and they won their only division title of the 1970s.

In his first game with the Packers, Marcol kicked four field goals and added two extra points to account for 14 of the team’s 26 points in a 26-10 upset win over the Browns.

Marcol set a new NFL record for most field goals attempted in a rookie season with 48. He was named the NFC Rookie of the Year, earned a trip to the Pro Bowl and received All Pro honors.

In 1974, Marcol led the NFL in scoring a second time. Unfortunately, he suffered a season-ending injury in Week 1 of the 1975 season. During his rehab, he became addicted to pain killers and that led him to more and more drug use. In 1980, when he famously returned his own blocked kick for a touchdown in overtime against the Bears, Marcol was using cocaine.

After retiring from football after 1980, Marcol was able to straighten out his life. He later worked as a drug and alcohol abuse counselor.

Marcol was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 1987.

1. Billy Howton WR 1952

The Packers selected wide receiver Billy Howton with the 15th overall pick (2nd round) in the 1952 NFL Draft. The former Rice University star had a spectacular rookie season for the Packers, catching 53 passes for 1,231 yards and 13 touchdowns. The yardage total led the NFL and the 13 touchdowns set a new rookie record that wasn’t broken for more than a decade when Gale Sayers broke it in 1965. The 13 receiving touchdowns stood as a rookie record until 1998 when Randy Moss broke it.

Howton caught seven passes for 151 yards and a touchdown against the Lions in Week 5, then added 200 yards on six catches against the Rams in Week 11.

Overall, he totaled six 100-plus yard games in a 12-game season. Howton finished sixth in the league in catches, first in yards and second in receiving touchdowns. Despite Howton’s excellence, the Packers finished the season in fourth place in the Western Division with a 6-6-0 record.

He was named to the Pro Bowl as a rookie, the first of four Pro Bowl berths he earned with the Packers. He averaged 102.6 yards per game in his first season in the NFL in an era where teams didn’t pass the ball nearly as much as they do today.

Howton played seven years for the Packers, before spending one year with the Browns and four seasons with the expansion Cowboys. He retired after the 1963 season.

Howton was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 1974.

You can follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers

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Comments (41)

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13TimeChamps's picture

July 09, 2020 at 12:44 pm

Good list. I would add James Lofton in 1978;

46 receptions/818 yds/17.8 ave/6 TDs, and made the Pro Bowl as a rookie.

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GilMartin's picture

July 09, 2020 at 12:50 pm

Good call, 13TimeChamps. He had a great impact, catching 3 TDs in his second career game against the Saints. And he had a quarterback that year who was in his first full year as a starter in David Whitehurst. Thanks for commenting.

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13TimeChamps's picture

July 09, 2020 at 01:10 pm

Not quite sure how that warrants a thumbs down, but ok...lol.

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GilMartin's picture

July 09, 2020 at 01:16 pm

Me either.

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gkarl's picture

July 09, 2020 at 02:38 pm

I bet its because you forgot to include his rushing stats that year LOL. 3 for 13 by the way.

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GilMartin's picture

July 09, 2020 at 02:39 pm

LOL. How did you guess?

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splitpea1's picture

July 09, 2020 at 03:15 pm

What about Favre? I know he technically wasn't a rookie, but maybe you should've included his name with an asterisk. He turned the franchise around in his first season with the Packers and we haven't looked back.

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GilMartin's picture

July 09, 2020 at 03:17 pm

Agree that Favre's first season with the Packers was absolutely magical, but as you said, he wasn't a rookie so I didn't include him. If it was his rookie year, he would have definitely made the list. Thanks for the comment, splitpea1.

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splitpea1's picture

July 09, 2020 at 04:24 pm

I had to bring his name up because he came to a new team and a new offense, hardly played in his rookie season, and ended up to be the most impactful player this franchise had seen in a long time.

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GilMartin's picture

July 09, 2020 at 04:52 pm

Very true. Also the turning point for the Packers franchise. Thanks as always for commenting.

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blffan4's picture

July 09, 2020 at 03:59 pm

I think Mark Tauscher could be on this list as well. He took over when Earl Dotson suffered a back injury and started 14 of 16 games for the 2000 Packers as a rookie 7th round pick. In addition to Lofton (good call on that 13TimeChamps), his co-first round pick from 1978 deserves a mention too. John Anderson-LB had 5 INTs (remember when LB's would get 4 and 5 INTs a season?) and a fumble recovery as he started 13 games for the Packers in 1978 as a rookie.

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13TimeChamps's picture

July 09, 2020 at 04:27 pm

1978 was a really good draft. The aforementioned Lofton and Anderson were joined by fellow linebacker Mike Douglass. Three relatively long term quality starters. All three are in the Packer's HOF, and Lofton is in the NFL HOF as well. Not too shabby of a draft!

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GilMartin's picture

July 09, 2020 at 04:56 pm

It was a good draft and the Packers improvement from 4-10 to 8-7-1 reflected that. Lofton is in Canton and Douglas and Anderson are Packers HOFers as you mentioned. I enjoyed watching all three play. Several other contributors in the later rounds of that draft like Estus Hood, Leotis Harris and Terry Jones. Thanks for the comment, 13TimeChamps.

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crayzpackfan's picture

July 09, 2020 at 06:23 pm

All these amazing names from my preteens to my teens ( 70’s and 80’s). Absolutely loved reading your list. Thank you

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GilMartin's picture

July 10, 2020 at 01:46 pm

Glad you enjoyed it crayzpackfan and thanks for commenting.

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LeotisHarris's picture

July 09, 2020 at 06:46 pm

13TC, it's been far too long since someone dropped an "aforementioned" 'round these parts. I thank you for that, and wonder aloud if a "plethora" sighting might not be far behind.

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PeteK's picture

July 10, 2020 at 08:16 am

or the former and latter, LOL

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GilMartin's picture

July 10, 2020 at 01:46 pm

LOL

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GilMartin's picture

July 09, 2020 at 04:53 pm

Anderson and Lofton definitely are worthy of inclusion. Anderson is too often forgotten and really was a very good player for the Pack for more than a decade. Thanks for the comment blffan4.

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Jonathan Spader's picture

July 09, 2020 at 05:04 pm

Rather than go across the entire Packer history might have been worth compiling a best of list decade by decade. Corey Linsley performed extremely well as a rookie when Tretter went down. CM3 in his rookie year along with Raji were a force. I feel like a series rather than a single article might be worth a shot if you're up for it Gil.

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GilMartin's picture

July 09, 2020 at 06:19 pm

Thanks, JonathanSpader, I like the idea. Since everything for this season is up in the air, it may very well come in handy.

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Leatherhead's picture

July 09, 2020 at 07:11 pm

How about this for grins? Look up all our first round rookies since 92 and then try to explain why we don't just trade the pick away every year.?

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Leatherhead's picture

July 09, 2020 at 07:11 pm

How about this for grins? Look up all our first round rookies since 92 and then try to explain why we don't just trade the pick away every year.?

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PeteK's picture

July 10, 2020 at 08:01 am

Good observation, many times lower picks have something to prove.

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GilMartin's picture

July 10, 2020 at 01:47 pm

Yeah, some painful memories and big disappointments looking back. Thanks for commenting, Leatherhead.

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wildbill's picture

July 09, 2020 at 07:13 pm

How about Bakhtiari? Thrust into a starting LT role as a rookie? I know he didn’t make the pro bowl but he played a very tough, and important, position well enough that there was no talk of him being replaced.

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GilMartin's picture

July 10, 2020 at 01:48 pm

Good call on Bakhtairi, wildbill. He was close to making the list. A lot of potential players out there. Thanks for commenting.

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WisconsinStrong's picture

July 09, 2020 at 11:31 pm

I always appreciate Gil's well-researched and thought-provoking articles!! At a time in the season where compelling new content isn't easy, this story hits the spot by offering a great new conversation to have!

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GilMartin's picture

July 10, 2020 at 01:49 pm

Much appreciated WisconsinStrong. Glad you enjoyed the article and thanks for commenting.

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NickPerry's picture

July 10, 2020 at 05:01 am

It's easy to pick apart a list once it's up and I think David did a good job... BUT, you can't make a list like this and not include Clay Matthews IMO. Matthews should be on everybody's list...

He recorded double digit sacks (10)
17 tackles for loss
7 passes defensed with 1 interception
1 FF and 3 fumble recovery's and a TD return

He SHOULD have been DPOY in 2010 but got screwed by Troy Palamalu... It's okay because Matthews was holding the Lombardi Trophy in 2010 instead of Palamalu.

Matthews was a huge reason why Dom Capers defense was great Capers first 2 seasons.

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GilMartin's picture

July 10, 2020 at 01:50 pm

Clay got off to a fast start as a rookie. Yes, I probably should have included him. Thanks for the comment.

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Jonathan Spader's picture

July 10, 2020 at 02:42 pm

Would Clay of had his success without Raji eating up the double teams upfront and creating lanes? I mentioned Raji and CM3 in my comment for that reason. They were both instrumental in the defense's success.

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GilMartin's picture

July 10, 2020 at 03:31 pm

Always was a big Raji fan. He only started one game as a rookie, so it was tough to include him as one of the best rookie seasons in team history, but by his second season, he was a big difference maker. Thanks for commenting, JonthanSpader.

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Oppy's picture

July 10, 2020 at 07:20 pm

Raji was disruptive on passing downs when allowed to pursue but that guy was soft at holding the point. Did not play as strong as his size suggested, but he made up for it with surpising mobility. Just not a block eater.

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NickPerry's picture

July 11, 2020 at 08:32 am

Excellent point about Raji JS. Raji was great those first few years, especially in 2010 his 2nd year. He's was a BEAST!

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Kreitz's picture

July 10, 2020 at 06:42 am

Great list. Nice to see some of the early 70's Packers (when I became a fan) on this list. Brockington, Buchanon, Marcol were the real deal. Talented teams. If they only had a quarterback...

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GilMartin's picture

July 10, 2020 at 01:51 pm

Yeah, that was a frustrating time to be a Packers fan. Those players were outstanding but Scott Hunter, Jim Del Gaizo, Jerry Tagge and John Hadl (just to name a few) weren't really able to get the job done offensively. Thanks for commenting, Kreitz.

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PeteK's picture

July 10, 2020 at 08:31 am

A tough choice between Brock, Lofton, Lacy, and Matthews. However, I have to go with Matthews because he was a game changer even in his first year. A brilliant move by Thompson on draft day that had most scratching their heads.

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GilMartin's picture

July 10, 2020 at 01:52 pm

Yeah, he was a great late first round pick and he had a strong rookie year. Thanks for the comment PeteK.

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Ferrari-Driver's picture

July 10, 2020 at 12:13 pm

Hey Gil,

When I saw your topic headline, I immediately thought of the safety whose name I couldn't think of at the moment and was glad to see him on your list. I tend to be too optimistic and just thought the Packers landed a future Hall of Famer with a mid round pick, but as you explained, Tom Flynn came crashing down to earth after that amazing rookie year.

Thanks for that interesting article. You are doing an excellent job.

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GilMartin's picture

July 10, 2020 at 01:54 pm

Thanks, Ferrari-Driver. Glad you enjoyed the article and always appreciate the kind words.

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