The Pohory-list: Top 10 Rookie Seasons in DC History

While the Washington Wizards had an uneventful end to their season in the NBA bubble, rookie forward Rui Hachimura shined and wound up earning NBA Second Team All-Rookie honors after a strong first campaign.

Washington Football Team defensive end Chase Young has had a massive impact on Washington’s defense with 2.5 sacks through two games and one quarter. A groin injury in Week 3 will keep him out for Week 4 and possibly beyond, but it’s looking likely that the newest Washington star will be back on the field in the near future.

These are just two examples of rookies that have made an immediate impact with their respective teams, which makes you think which rookies have had the greatest starts to their career. Some rookies are one-hit wonders and flame out, while others start balling right away and never look back.

Today we’ll be looking at the 10 greatest rookies in Washington sports history. The player’s overall career has no impact on the list, it’s strictly based on the rookie season. Individual statistics, awards and contribution to team success all hold equal weight when taking into account which seasons were the best.

As always this list is based on Washington, D.C. sports only, so while the Bullets history is inextricably linked with the franchise’s tenure in Baltimore, it will not be included in this list. As such, Wes Unseld’s legendary 1968-69 season in which he became the second rookie to ever win MVP will not be included. (For the record, if Unseld were included, his rookie season would easily be No. 2. Read the full list to see the only one who would beat him.)

Additionally, Mike Gartner would be a contender for this list, but he was never technically a rookie with the Capitals. He played one professional season with the Cincinnati Stingers of the World Hockey Association (WHA) before the league folded and he entered the 1979 NHL Entry Draft, where the Capitals selected him fourth overall. Gartner led the team in goals and points in his first season, but the NHL ruled former WHA players were not eligible for the Calder Trophy (Granted, Wayne Gretzky would have won it had he been considered a rookie as well).

Here are the 10 greatest rookie seasons in DC history:

10. John Wall, Wizards PG (2010-11)

Photo Credit: Michael Hickey/USA TODAY Sports
Rookie Season Accolades/Accomplishments:
  • First Team NBA All-Rookie
  • NBA Rookie of the Year Finalist
  • NBA Rookie Assists Leader
  • Led team in Assists per game

When the Wizards won the 2010 NBA Draft Lottery, everyone knew Wall was headed to DC. He signaled a new chapter for the franchise as a point guard to build around. Despite the hype surrounding him, Wall had little help in 2010-11, and the team finished 23-59 and entered the lottery again. That said, the new face of the franchise put together a strong rookie season.

He averaged 16.4 points, 8.3 assists and 4.6 rebounds per game, starting 64 games. His scoring average was second-highest among all rookies behind Rookie of the Year Blake Griffin (22.5), and his 8.3 assists per game not only led all rookies, but was tied for the sixth-highest average in the entire league. Wall finished second in Rookie of the Year voting, and is currently looking to revitalize his career after missing the last 18 months due to an Achilles injury.

9. Nicklas Backstrom, Capitals C (2007-08)

Photo Credit: Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images
Rookie Season Accolades/Accomplishments:
  • Calder Trophy Finalist
  • NHL Rookie Assist Leader
  • Capitals Assist Leader

Backstrom took the NHL by storm right away, becoming one of the league’s best passers from the jump. Giving budding superstar Alex Ovechkin a teammate of Backstrom’s caliber did wonders for the Russian; his career-high 65 goals and 112 points earned him his first Hart Trophy.

Focusing on Backstrom, his 55 assists were 11th-most in the NHL that season and tops among rookies. His offensive firepower alongside Ovechkin allowed the Caps to reach the postseason for the first time since 2002-03. He finished second in Calder Trophy voting behind Patrick Kane (21g-51a-72p).

Backstrom also joined the likes of Sergei Fedorov, Eric Staal, Rick Nash, Joe Pavelski, Sean Avery and 11 others in 65th place of Selke Trophy voting, receiving just one fifth-place vote. Backstrom gave Ovechkin an official running mate, and he continues to be under appreciated for his accomplishments to this day.

8. Alfred Morris, Washington RB (2012)

Photo Credit: Rob Carr/Getty Images
Rookie Season Accolades/Accomplishments:
  • NFL Rookie Rushing Leader
  • Team Rushing Leader
  • 2nd-most rushing yards in NFL
  • 7th-most scrimmage yards in NFL
  • NFC East Champion

Morris’ rookie year was slightly overshadowed by someone further down on this list, but he came out of no where as a sixth-round pick from Florida International to put up one of the greatest rushing seasons in franchise history. Had Adrian Peterson not put up his MVP-winning 2,097 rushing yards, Morris would have won the NFL rushing crown with 1,613 yards to go with 13 touchdowns.

Morris averaged over 100 rushing yards per game, and he finished the year off with 200 yards and three touchdowns against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 17 to help Washington win the NFC East for the first time since 1999. Despite Morris’ terrific season, he was snubbed from the Pro Bowl and the All-Pro teams, but he established himself as a top running back regardless.

Morris made the Pro Bowl in the following two seasons instead, but never quite reached the level that he started with in 2012. Morris last played with the Arizona Cardinals in 2019 after brief stints with the Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers.

7. Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals 3B (2006)

Photo Credit: Curly W MLB Blogs
Rookie Season Accolades/Accomplishments:
  • NL Rookie of the Year Finalist
  • MLB Rookie RBI Leader
  • Nats Leader in RBI
  • NL 3B Putout Leader
  • NL 3B Fielding Percentage Leader*

Zimmerman made his major league debut in the Nats’ inaugural season in 2005, but didn’t exceed his rookie limits until 2006, where he immediately stepped up as one of the club’s top players.

Zimmerman slashed .287/.351/.471 to go with 20 home runs and a team-leading 110 RBI. Despite being teamed up with All-Star Alfonso Soriano and the plate-disciplined Nick Johnson, the Nationals finished with a 71-91 record due to lack of firepower around that core trio and an abhorrent pitching staff.

While Zimmerman established himself as a rare bright spot in the Washington lineup, he displayed his defensive prowess as well. His 152 putouts led all National League third basemen, which could speak more to how Nationals pitchers had trouble striking batters out, but is still a testament to Zimmerman’s ability to hold down the fort in the hot corner. Of third basemen who played at least 100 games, Zim was tied for the best fielding percentage among NL third basemen (.965).

6. Bryce Harper, Nationals OF (2012)

Photo Credit: Joy R. Absalon/US PRESSWIRE
Rookie Season Accolades/Accomplishments:
  • NL Rookie of the Year
  • NL All-Star
  • NL Rookie WAR Leader
  • NL East Champion

Harper was one of the most hyped baseball prospects of all-time, and the 2010 No. 1 overall pick brought a lot excitement to DC when he debuted in 2012. He didn’t lead in any major offensive categories for rookies, but he was among the best in all of them, which helped him earn Rookie of the Year honors.

Beyond individual statistics, Harper’s arrival sparked the Nationals’ first playoff appearance in team history. With Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond leading the way offensively, the 19-year-old Harper brought yet another effective bat to the lineup, and his athleticism in the outfield helped on defense as well.

We all know how the rest of his Nationals career played out, and he will likely be better known as a Philadelphia Philly by the time his career is over (or is it Phillie? Who cares, it’s a dumb team name no matter how you spell its singular form), but his rookie season in Washington was unforgettable.

5. Mike Thomas, Washington RB (1975)

Photo Credit: Getty Images
Rookie Season Accolades/Accomplishments:
  • AP Offensive Rookie of the Year
  • NFL Rookie Rushing Leader
  • Led team in rushing yards, third in receiving yards
  • Fifth-most scrimmage yards in NFL

Most of the names on this list developed into significant pieces of the franchise’s history, but not Thomas. The running back spent just six years in the NFL, but looked like one of the brightest young rushers in football as a rookie in 1975.

With 919 rushing yards across 14 games, Thomas finished with the 10th-most rushing yards in the NFL. In addition to elite rushing, Thomas also made his presence known in the passing game. He was third on the team in receptions (40) and receiving yards (483) in 1975 behind an aging Charley Taylor and third-year receiver Frank Grant.

With 1,402 scrimmage yards, Thomas trailed only OJ Simpson, Chuck Foreman, Lydell Mitchell and Franco Harris. That’s quite the list, and Thomas looked poised to join them in the annals of NFL history. But it never happened.

After a Pro Bowl sophomore season, in which he rushed for 1,101 yards and five touchdowns, Thomas took a step back in year three, then got injured in 1978. He was traded to San Diego, where he spent the next two seasons before getting waived and being forced to retire at 27. He died just over a year ago at 66 years old.

4. Charley Taylor, Washington WR/RB (1964)

Photo Credit: Washington Football Wire/USA TODAY Sports
Rookie Season Accolades/Accomplishments:
  • AP Offensive Rookie of the Year
  • Pro Bowl
  • Team Rushing Leader
  • NFL Rookie Rushing Leader
  • Top 10 in NFL Rushing & Receiving
  • T-2nd-most Scrimmage Yards in NFL

Taylor would later transition into a full-time receiver role, but in his first few seasons he served as a hybrid back and receiver, especially as a rookie. He was the fifth-leading rusher and put up the 10th-most receiving yards in the NFL, immediately establishing himself as one of the biggest offensive threats in the league. He was even the first rookie in 20 years to finish in the top 10 in both categories.

The eventual Hall of Famer scored 10 total touchdowns to tie Bobby Mitchell for most on the team and finished behind just three other players for the league lead. The team itself was mediocre at best, finishing 6-8, and Washington was a long time away from contending, but Taylor was an elite player from the very beginning.

3. Robert Griffin III, Washington QB (2012)

Photo Credit: Getty Images
Rookie Season Accolades/Accomplishments:
  • AP Offensive Rookie of the Year
  • Pro Bowl
  • NFL QB Rushing Leader
  • T-Lowest Interception Rate
  • NFL Yards per Pass Attempt Leader
  • NFL Yards per Rush Attempt Leader
  • NFC East Champion

As much as Harper lit the city on fire with the Nationals in 2012, RG3 was the explosive gender reveal party that set the area further ablaze. And it really felt like an actual party. That magical 2012 season had Washington fans everywhere believing the team had finally found its franchise quarterback for the next 10-15 years.

With 3,200 passing yards, 20 touchdown passes and just five interceptions on 65 percent passing, Griffin looked like a pro’s pro in the backfield. He was no dink-and-dunker either, as he led the league with 8.1 yards per pass attempt. His rushing ability was jaw-dropping; with 851 yards, seven touchdowns on the ground and a league-leading 6.8 yards per carry, Griffin was a top 20 rusher in the entire league and topped all quarterbacks in yards.

Much like Harper did for the Nats, Griffin helped drive the team to their first division win of the 21st century, and took home Offensive Rookie of the Year as well as a spot in the Pro Bowl. He suffered multiple injuries as a rookie, culminating in an ACL tear in the Wild Card loss to the Seattle Seahawks, and the downward spiral of his career began, but for one season, the rookie RG3 had the city of Washington hopeful for the first time in decades.

2. Alex Ovechkin, Capitals LW (2005-06)

Photo Credit: NoVa Caps Fans
Rookie Season Accolades/Accomplishments:
  • Calder Trophy winner
  • NHL First-Team All-Star
  • NHL Rookie Shots Record
  • NHL Rookie Goals, Points Leader
  • Led NHL Rookies in Points per game
  • T-Third-most Goals in NHL
  • Team Goals, Assists & Points Leader

Ovechkin had to wait an extra year to debut in the NHL because of the 2004 NHL lockout, but it was worth the wait. Ovi scored two goals in his first game, and never turned back. The budding superstar led the Caps in scoring by a wide margin with 106 points (Dainius Zubrus was closest with 57). His 52 goals were tied for third in the league and first among rookies.

Ovi’s 52 goals still stand as the third-most from a rookie in NHL history, and the most of any rookie in the 21st century. His 106 points are also the third-most in a rookie season in NHL history. With a rookie record of 425 shots, Ovi posted the fourth-highest single-season shot total in NHL history.

His explosive first year earned him the Calder Trophy and ensured the Capitals had a legitimate franchise player to build around. Ovi became the first rookie in 15 years to be selected First Team All-Star, and no rookie has been selected since, which proves just how incredible Ovechkin’s rookie season was.

1. Sammy Baugh, Washington QB (1937)

Photo Credit: The New York Times/Associated Press
Rookie Season Accolades/Accomplishments:
  • NFL Passing Leader
  • NFL Yards per Pass Attempt Leader
  • NFL Passing Touchdown Percentage Leader
  • Would have been Rookie of the Year*
  • Would have been MVP*
  • NFL First Team All-Pro
  • NFL Champion
  • Would have been NFL Championship MVP*

Baugh accomplished pretty much everything a quarterback could dream of in his first season. In 1937, neither the Rookie of the Year nor MVP awards existed, but you can pretty much guarantee Baugh would have won both awards if they did. The 23-year-old gunslinger led the league in passing (1,127 yards), and despite leading the league in interceptions (14), his eight passing touchdowns were tied for the second-highest total. Astonishingly, his 47.3 percent completion percentage was also second-highest in the league. It truly was a different era.

Baugh added 240 yards and one touchdown on the ground, making him a top three rusher on the team. He led Washington to an 8-3 record to top the NFL East, and absolutely unleashed on the Chicago Bears to win the franchise its first NFL championship. With three passing touchdowns of 35-plus yards (55, 78, 35) and an unprecedented 335 passing yards (after averaging a league-best 102.5 yards per game), Baugh absolutely lit up the 9-1-1 Bears in the 28-21 victory. If Championship MVP honors were awarded, Baugh would have easily won that too.

Baugh was ahead of his time, revolutionizing the quarterback position while putting together one of the most impressive pre-modern NFL careers, all with Washington. He was a legend from Day One, putting together the greatest rookie season in Washington sports history, if not sports history in general.

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