Some rookies take their first season to watch and learn. Others are just watched.
Giants running back Saquon Barkley was in the second camp. The No. 2 overall pick, who led the NFL in scrimmage yards, has already garnered numerous awards heading into the “NFL Honors” awards show on Saturday, Feb. 2 (9 p.m. ET, CBS) at the FOX Theatre in Atlanta, where he is up for AP Offensive Rookie of the Year. Leading up to the announcement, Giants.com looked back at the best debut seasons in franchise history.
Safety Emlen Tunnell, Rookie Year: 1948, Drafted: None
Ignored in the draft, Tunnell walked into the Giants’ office and asked founder Tim Mara for a tryout. Thus he became the first African American to play for the Giants and eventually the first to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That is only part of the incredible story that is Tunnell, who suffered a broken neck at the University of Toledo, an injury so severe that both the Army and Navy rejected his efforts to enlist during World War II. The Coast Guard finally accepted him, and following his service, he returned to college at the University of Iowa. He left Iowa after the 1947 season, and in 1948 he recorded seven interceptions in 10 games, returning one for a touchdown to help him earn the nickname “offense on defense.”
To put his numbers into perspective, he played in an era when the Los Angeles Rams led the NFL with 395 pass attempts in 1948. In 2018, the Seattle Seahawks had the fewest with 427, while the Pittsburgh Steelers had a league-high 689.
Linebacker Lawrence Taylor, Rookie Year: 1981, Drafted: 2nd Overall
While sacks didn’t become an official statistic until 1982, quarterbacks still felt them in 1981. Taylor, a linebacker from North Carolina, was the NFL’s No. 2 all-time sack leader at the time of his retirement with 132.5. That total does not include the 9.5 he accumulated as a rookie when he made the first of his 10 consecutive Pro Bowl appearances. He was named the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year after helping the Giants earn their first postseason berth since 1963.
Tight End Jeremy Shockey, Rookie Year: 2002, Drafted 14th Overall
Shockey caught 74 passes, which at the time were the fifth-most in a single season in Giants history and a team record for both rookies (shattering the mark of 48 set by Bobby Johnson in 1984) and tight ends (eclipsing the 66 passes Mark Bavaro caught in 1986). His 894 yards receiving were a rookie franchise record until Odell Beckham Jr. in 2014. Named to the Pro Bowl roster and the Pro Football Writers of America All-Rookie Team, Shockey was also voted the Pepsi Rookie of the Year, an award not again won by a Giants player until Barkley.
Wide Receiver Odell Beckham Jr., Rookie Year: 2014, Drafted: 12th Overall
He was more than “The Catch,” but what a catch it was. The phrase is often overused, but Beckham absolutely took the league and sports world by storm with his three-fingered touchdown catch at home against the Cowboys. Beckham capped his extraordinary debut season when he was named the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year, the first Giants player to be so honored in the history of the award that dates back to 1967. He was the franchise’s first AP Rookie of the Year since Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor won the defensive award in 1981. After missing the first four games with an injury, Beckham caught 91 passes for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns, all franchise rookie records and the most in NFL history in a player’s first 12 games.
Running Back Saquon Barkley, Rookie Year: 2018, Drafted: 2nd Overall
Barkley joined Pro Football Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson (2,212 scrimmage yards in 1983) and Edgerrin James (2,139 in 1999) as the only rookies with at least 2,000 yards in NFL history. Included in Barkely’s totals were 91 receptions, the most by a rookie running back in league annals and tied with Beckham for the franchise rookie record. Barkley was the first Giants running back chosen for the Pro Bowl since Tiki Barber made the last of his three consecutive appearances in 2006. He was the first Giants rookie to go to the game since Beckham in 2014, and the team’s first rookie running back to be so honored since Tucker Frederickson in 1965. Frederickson was the top overall selection in that year’s draft. PFWA named him the Offensive Rookie of the Year while fans voted him as the Pepsi Rookie of the Year.