7 Superstars Who Had Awful Rookie Seasons

Even great athletes need time to develop. Here are seven superstar pro athletes who struggled early in their careers.


Patience is a virtue. That's especially true in today's sports world, where high draft picks are expected to play, and play well, right away. If they don't,  fans and coaches don't seem willing to wait for them to develop. Think of Brandon Weeden, a first-round draft pick in 2012, who started only 20 games before he was run out of Cleveland. Or Jimmy Clausen, a second-round pick in 2010, who started only 10 games before being demoted in Carolina. Or Geno Smith, who appears to be on his way to getting benched in New York after only a season and a half.

But counting out a player after a bad first season is unfair and unwise. Some of the greatest stars in sports history were hugely disappointing as rookies. Here are seven athletes who prove that good things come to those who wait.

Terry Bradshaw, Quarterback

Drafted first overall in 1970 by the Pittsburgh Steelers, Bradshaw was expected to be the team's franchise quarterback for years to come. But as a rookie, he threw 24 interceptions and only six touchdown passes and had an atrocious completion percentage (38 percent). His QB rating was 30.4. Not a single starting NFL QB has had a lower rating since. The amazing thing is that Bradshaw started only eight games that year and still chucked 24 picks.

Bradshaw hit his stride after a few seasons, and he eventually led his team to four Super Bowl titles. He's now enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. 

Rajon Rondo, Point Guard

Coming into his first NBA season, Rajon Rondo knew nothing but success on the basketball court. He was a McDonald's High School All-American at Oak Hill Academy, and he set the single-season record for steals at the University of Kentucky en route to becoming an SEC All-Freshman team selection. After two seasons, he left Kentucky for the NBA and was selected 21st overall by the Boston Celtics in the 2006 NBA Draft.

In his first year as a pro, Rondo shot a measly 41.8 percent from the field, an awful 20.7 percent from beyond the arc and finished the season averaging 6.4 points and 3.8 assists per game. But the very next season, Rondo was the Celtics' starting point guard, guiding the team to its first championship in more than 20 years. Rondo is now a four-time All-Star and a multi-time All-Defensive Team selection.

Troy Aikman, Quarterback

Troy Aikman's rookie season was downright ugly. Taken first overall by the Dallas Cowboys in the 1989 NFL Draft, he looked like a colossal bust during year one, with a completion percentage of only 52.9 percent and twice as many interceptions (18) as touchdown passes. Add the fact that the Cowboys went 1-15 that season, and it  seemed like Aikman's days in Dallas would be numbered.

But the Oklahoma product improved markedly over the next few seasons, aided by offensive weapons Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith. This trio went on to lead Dallas to three Super Bowl victories in a four-year span, and Aikman is now considered one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. He's is the Cowboys' all-time leader in passing yards, a six-time Pro Bowl selection and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Cristian Guzmán, Shortstop

Cristian Guzmán has not received as much recognition as some of the other players on this list, but he was a two-time All Star, and he had a successful 11-year MLB career. It's safe to say that few people saw that coming after Guzmán had arguably the worst rookie season in baseball history.

Playing shortstop for the 1999 Minnesota Twins, Guzmán started 126 games. He had a batting average of only .226 and a downright dreadful on-base percentage of .267 for the season. He hit only one home run all year and struck out more than four times as often as he drew a walk. He also committed 24 errors in the field.

The Twins lost almost 100 games that season, and manager Tom Kelly was blunt in his assessment. "Probably none of [our] rookies should be in the big leagues," Kelly said. But Guzmán stuck around and improved immensely, hitting .302 and posting a 4.6 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) rating a mere two seasons later. The crazy part is that Guzmán could've easily been cut after his rookie season and no one would've batted an eye.

John Stockton, Point Guard

Stockton is the current NBA career leader in both assists and steals, which is simply unbelievable considering the way his career started out.

Stockton was selected by the Utah Jazz in the 1984 NBA Draft, a pick that was met with a bevy of boos from Jazz fans. His rookie season did little to change the fans' opinions, as he averaged  5.6 points and 5.1 assists per game, and his 3-point shot was nonexistent (he shot 18.2 percent from behind the arc). The next two seasons were more of the same, with Stockton never averaging more than 7.9 points per game.

In his fourth NBA season, however, Stockton became the Jazz's starting point guard and he never looked back. His pairing with Karl Malone fueled 16 seasons of success, as their pick and roll game was nearly unstoppable. Stockton ended his career as a 10-time All-Star, a two-time All-NBA First Team selection and the current leader in career assists by nearly 4,000.

Peyton Manning, Quarterback

Peyton Manning recently broke the NFL record for career touchdown passes, and he is one of the best quarterbacks of all time. But after being drafted first overall by the Indianapolis Colts, he had a rookie season that was less than stellar. He threw for 3,739 yards, but he completed only 56.7 percent of his passes (he's never completed less than 62.1 percent since). He also threw a whopping 28 interceptions and had a QB rating of 71.2. To put that in perspective, current Minnesota Vikings rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater has a QB rating of 71.3.

The Colts went 3-13 that first season, and Manning's future looked murky. But he learned from his mistakes, cutting his interceptions to 15 the next season and making the Pro Bowl. The rest is history. Manning is now considered by many to be the greatest QB of all time, having won five AP NFL MVP awards.

Gary Payton, Point Guard

Gary "The Glove" Payton's rookie season in the NBA must have been a humbling experience. Coming out of Oregon State, Payton was a consensus All-American who had set school records in nearly every major statistical category. He was selected second overall in the 1990 NBA draft by the Seattle Supersonics and was expected to be a big contributor right away.

Payton started every single game his rookie season, but he averaged only 7.2 points per game and shot an abysmal 7.7 percent from 3-point range. He became so frustrated that he even considered retiring. But he stuck with it, and he hit his stride in his third NBA season. Today Payton is considered by many the greatest defensive player of all time. He ended his career with nine All-Star selections, nine NBA All-Defensive First Team selections and a host of other accolades.


Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock

Topics: POINT GUARD