Only two players in the history of the NFL have ever scored 20 or more touchdowns during their rookie season in the league. To dominate like this during a player’s first season playing at the highest level is something that is fairly incredible.
In 1983, Eric Dickerson burst onto the scene out of Southern Methodist University and changed how the Los Angeles Rams had to be game planned against. During his rookie season he would break several records including rushing yards by a first year player. He would also end up at number two on the list for touchdowns scored by a player during their rookie year.
Eric Dickerson scored 20 touchdowns during that magical year, on top of leading the league with 1,808 rushing yards. He would start his scoring out that season with a three touchdown performance against the New Orleans Saints in week two. Then, after a one touchdown game against the Green Bay Packers in week three and a two touchdown performance in week four against the New York Jets, Dickerson would once again score three touchdowns in a game, this time in a win over the Detroit Lions. He would score at least one touchdown each week from week two to week eleven that season. The longest one coming on an 85 yard run in week four against the Jets. Dickerson would also score his only two receiving touchdowns of the season that year in a week 8 matchup against the San Francisco 49ers.
The leader in the category of touchdowns scored by a rookie though belongs to NFL legend Gale Sayers who in 1965, during a 14 game schedule, scored 22 touchdowns. Gale Sayers had the kind of elusive open field running talent that no one in the NFL had ever seen before. Though his career would be somewhat cut short by injury, he would make an unforgettable impact on the league both during his record setting rookie year and afterwards.
Gale Sayers began the season, scoring wise, with an 18 yard touchdown run in week two against the Los Angeles Rams. In week five he would score four rishing touchdowns against the Minnesota Vikings, including two receiving, one rushing, and one on a kickoff return. His most amazing performance that season though came in the second to last game of the season in a match up against the San Francisco 49ers. He started the game out by catching a 80 yard touchdown pass in the first quarter. In the second quarter he added touchdown runs of 21 and 7 yards. The third quarter would see Sayers run for two more touchdowns on a 50 yard run followed by a one yard plunge, bringing his toucdown total for the day up to five. Sayers wasn’t done though as in the fourth quarter he returned a kickoff 85 yards for his 6th touchdown of the day on the way to leading the Bears to a 61-20 victory over the 49ers.
Gale Sayers and Eric Dickerson are the only player to ever score more than 20 touchdowns during their rookie seasons. The other top rookie touchdown scorers include Edgerrin James, Randy Moss, Clinton Portis, and Fred Taylor who each scored 17 touchdowns during their first year in the league. It’s easy to see that Dickerson and Sayers sit well ahead of several players who are considered some of the best ever.