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Which No. 1 NFL pick has had the best debut?

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Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews, the No. 1 pick in the NHL draft, scoring four goals in his first game for the Maple Leafs, which gave us an idea for Thursday’s PFT Live question of the day.

Which No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft had the best performance in the first game of his rookie year?

The exercise sparked an important realization: There aren’t many No. 1 overall picks who had huge performances in the first games of their rookie seasons.

The finalists are running back Earl Campbell (No. 1 in 1978), running back Billy Sims (No. 1 in 1980), quarterback Peyton Manning (No. 1 in 1998), quarterback Cam Newton (No. 1 in 2011), and quarterback Andrew Luck (No. 1 in 2012).

Campbell had 15 carries for 137 yards and a touchdown in his first game for the Oilers, a 20-14 loss to the Falcons. Sims had 22 carries for 153 yards and three touchdowns, along with 64 receiving yards, in a 41-20 win by the Lions over the Rams.

Peyton Manning completed 21 of 37 passes for 302 yards, with a touchdown and an interception in a 24-15 loss to the Dolphins. Newton completed 24 of 37 passes for 422 yards with two touchdowns, an interception, and a rushing touchdown in a 28-21 loss to the Cardinals. Luck complete 23 of 45 passes for 309 yards, with one touchdown and three interceptions in a 41-21 loss to the Bears.

Cast your vote below, argue in the comments about who we omitted from the list of finalists (and if you suggest JaMarcus Russell you’ll be banned), and tune in to Thursday’s PFT Live for more.

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22 Responses to “Which No. 1 NFL pick has had the best debut?”
  1. cjweber5187 says: Oct 13, 2016 12:38 AM

    This isn’t even close. Give me 200+ yards and 3TDs from my running back over any of these QB games.

  2. thegreatgabbert says: Oct 13, 2016 12:53 AM

    Billy is the only one who won. Including Auston Matthews.

  3. jshawaii22 says: Oct 13, 2016 12:59 AM

    You get a lot of extra points for actually winning the game… Billy Sims…


  4. bartpkelly says: Oct 13, 2016 1:08 AM

    Why is Luck in this conversation with those stats? 1 TD and 3 Ints?

  5. jjrs89 says: Oct 13, 2016 1:15 AM

    Lol why is Andrew luck in this? 3 interceptions should have been enough to just leave him off in my opinion

  6. bamboozle99 says: Oct 13, 2016 1:26 AM

    Fran Tarkenton tossed 4 TDs in his debut. He scored one on his first drive.

  7. bamboozle99 says: Oct 13, 2016 1:32 AM

    Or how about Boldin. 10 catches, 217 yards and 2 TDs.

  8. nyctraffic says: Oct 13, 2016 1:55 AM

    Matt Ryan threw a 62-yard TD on his very first NFL pass. It was against the Lions in the first game of the 2008 season. Ryan finished 9 of 13 for 161 yards, 1 TD, no INT. Falcons won.

    The 2008 Falcons were coming off a 4-12 season and still reeling from Mike Vick’s imprisonment and Bobby Petrino’s late-season defection. The rookie Ryan led them to an 11-5 record and the playoffs.

    Not bad for a rookie.

  9. thewiseowloftruth says: Oct 13, 2016 2:10 AM

    Jared Goff.

  10. malpine says: Oct 13, 2016 3:21 AM

    Come on, Anquan Boldin was the FIRST one that came to my mind…

    10 catches 217 yards and 2 touchdowns for a first game ever?!?!

  11. malpine says: Oct 13, 2016 3:22 AM

    Sorry…not the number 1 pick…BUT STILL 😉

  12. 81megatron81 says: Oct 13, 2016 4:54 AM

    You should’ve had Jamarcus Russell on the list.

    Oh darn, I’m gonna be banned.

  13. jasons81 says: Oct 13, 2016 7:20 AM

    I am surprised to see people actually voted for Luck

  14. smiley4284 says: Oct 13, 2016 7:30 AM

    A US-born kid from California went number 1 in the NHL draft and scored 4 goals in his first game, dang, that is AWESOME!!!!! Too bad he plays for the Maple Leafs up in Canada and not a team in the lower 48.

  15. MichaelEdits says: Oct 13, 2016 7:42 AM

    What a depressing list. Can I vote for Vinnie Testaverde in the Buccaneer orange?

  16. factschecker says: Oct 13, 2016 9:16 AM

    other than his name I didn’t know much about Earl Campbell before I watched his A Football Life. He was an amazing player. If he was a rookie in 2016 he’d easily be the best RB in football today. He simply punished defenders with each carry.

    LOL These days they’d probably have to make an Earl Campbell rule that protected defenseless defenders from getting steamrolled by Campbell.

  17. markkamal says: Oct 13, 2016 11:07 AM

    How does Luck make this list? That very same season/week, RG3 went down to New Orleans as a 10-point dog and won, with 320 yards passing, 2 TD’s, another 47 yards on the ground, and a QB rating of 139.9 (or QBR of 88.9 if that’s your thing).

  18. semperspartans says: Oct 13, 2016 11:38 AM

    Billy Simms, one of many Lions that left the game as one of the best in the biz….too bad his body couldn’t hold up because he was great. BUT, if it did then we wouldn’t have had Barry so….

  19. widerightyouloseagain says: Oct 13, 2016 12:02 PM

    smiley4284 says:
    Oct 13, 2016 7:30 AM
    A US-born kid from California went number 1 in the NHL draft and scored 4 goals in his first game, dang, that is AWESOME!!!!! Too bad he plays for the Maple Leafs up in Canada and not a team in the lower 48.
    Ya, too bad he’s in the single biggest hockey market in the world.


  20. mojodoa says: Oct 14, 2016 7:12 AM

    Billy Sims gets my vote.
    22 Rushes 153 Yards 6.95 Avg. 3 Touchdowns 2 Catches 64 Yards 32 Avg. And his team wins 41-20. This guy was a grid iron monster.

  21. TitanUp 1999 says: Oct 14, 2016 9:09 AM

    Houston Earlers, Houston Earlers #1!

  22. TitanUp 1999 says: Oct 14, 2016 9:23 AM

    From what I understand, Vinny Testaverde’s 1st career start in 1987 came against the Saints, a game that the Bucs lost 44-34 in New Orleans.

    Testaverde was 22-47 for 369 yards with 2 TD’s, 2 INT’s, and had 5 carries for 20 yards with a rushing TD.

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