The 27 Best Rookie Performances in Super Bowl History

Best Rookie Performances in Super Bowl History

Best Rookie Performances in Super Bowl History: Timmy Smith, Super Bowl XXII- Nick Bosa, Super Bowl LIV- Malcolm Butler, Super Bowl XLIX- Corey Clement, Super Bowl LII- Chris Matthews, Super Bowl XLIX- Joseph Addai, Super Bowl XLI,,,,,

Here are The 27 Best Rookie Performances in Super Bowl History

1. Timmy Smith, Super Bowl XXII

George Rogers went No. 1 overall in 1981, going one spot ahead of Lawrence Taylor, and led the NFL in rushing as a rookie. He played seven seasons, but Washington’s starting running back aggravated an ankle injury in practice ahead of Super Bowl XXII and barely played in the game. Smith capitalized on this opportunity in one of the best performances in Super Bowl history. The fifth-round pick out of Texas Tech ran amok in Washington’s 42-10 blowout, gashing the Broncos for a Super Bowl-record 204 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. Smith broke Steve Van Buren’s 39-year-old record for championship-game rushing yards. No one has threatened Smith’s record since.

2. Nick Bosa, Super Bowl LIV

Bosa played a major part in Patrick Mahomes’ shaky first three quarters in his Super Bowl debut. The Defensive Rookie of the Year dominated Chiefs left tackle Eric Fisher, generating a whopping 12 QB pressures and notching a sack-strip on the eventual MVP. Mahomes recovered after Bosa blew past Fisher on an inside move, but the 49ers soon took a 20-10 lead after holding the Chiefs on that third-quarter drive. The 49ers pushed the Chiefs to the ropes came in large part because of Bosa’s disruptions. That year’s No. 2 overall pick would have presented a strong MVP case had Mahomes not caught fire late.

3. Malcolm Butler, Super Bowl XLIX

Butler played just 13 defensive snaps against the Seahawks, who made a point to attack him when he was on the field. But the undrafted free agent allowed just two catches for 39 yards. One of those came via Jermaine Kearse’s juggling catch. Butler provided good defense on Kearse prior to the bobbling act and certainly atoned for being beaten on that 33-yard strike. Butler stepping in front of Russell Wilson’s ill-advised goal-line pass altered the Patriots’ timeline, ushering in the second leg of their dynasty and effectively knocking the Seahawks off the NFL’s top tier. It is one of the most impactful plays in NFL history.

4. Corey Clement, Super Bowl LII

The Eagles unleashed a three-headed backfield on the Patriots; it combined for 255 scrimmage yards. An undrafted rookie led the way. One of just three running backs to total 100-plus receiving yards in a Super Bowl, Clement led the Eagles in receiving (100 yards) and added one of the better TD catches in Super Bowl history. Clement delivered a 55-yard catch-and-run to set up a rather important touchdown — the “Philly Special” sequence that began with a snap to Clement — and later caught a 22-yard dime from Nick Foles to put the Eagles up two scores. The Jay Ajayi-LeGarrette Blount complementary piece ran wild in the biggest game in Eagles history.

5. Chris Matthews, Super Bowl XLIX

The 2014 Seahawks rostered Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse, yet a recent Foot Locker employee became Russell Wilson’s go-to guy as the team bid for a repeat title. Matthews bounced on and off the Seattle practice squad in 2014, attempting to transition from the CFL. Beating Darrelle Revis’ sidekicks with regularity, Matthews caught four passes for a game-high 109 yards and a touchdown. The 6-foot-5 target beat tight man coverage on two 40-plus-yard completions and snared an 11-yard TD lob against Logan Ryan with 2 seconds left in the first half. Matthews’ NFL career did not pan out, but his performance against a strong Patriots defense will live on forever.

6. Joseph Addai, Super Bowl XLI

The rain Super Bowl involved plenty of Addai, who led all players with 29 touches — the most in a Super Bowl in the past 19 years — in a fairly sloppy game. Addai did his part, amassing 143 scrimmage yards. The Colts had let Edgerrin James walk in free agency that year, after franchise-tagging him in 2005, and used a first-round pick on Addai. Peyton Manning leaned on James’ successor all night, and Addai totaled 10 catches — third-most by a running back in Super Bowl history. While Addai lost a fumble on an exchange from Manning, he was not tagged with the miscue. And it did not influence the Colts’ reliance on him.

7. Torry Holt, Super Bowl XXXIV

While Isaac Bruce made the game-winning catch in the Rams’ first Super Bowl championship, Holt provided Kurt Warner with a dependable option throughout. The first-round pick caught seven passes for 109 yards and a touchdown in St. Louis’ 23-16 win. Holt kept finding open spaces against Tennessee’s defense in the first three quarters. These short- and mid-range grabs set up Jeff Wilkins field goals in the first half, and Holt shaking Titans cornerback Dainon Sidney for a 9-yard third-quarter score gave the Rams a 16-0 lead. This game is obviously crucial for Holt’s valid Hall of Fame case.

8. Eric Wright, Super Bowl XVI

Wright getting to Drew Pearson just in time to prevent an alternate ending to “The Catch” elevated the 49ers to their first Super Bowl. The second-round rookie delivered in that game, too. Matched up at key points with standout Bengals rookie Cris Collinsworth, Wright both stripped the Pro Bowler to deny Cincinnati on a red zone possession and later intercepted a Ken Anderson sideline pass intended for Collinsworth. Wright made a terrible decision to lateral after his game-sealing pick, but the 49ers recovered. San Francisco’s rookie-laden secondary won against a talented Cincy receiving corps, and Wright led the way.

9. Richard Seymour, Super Bowl XXXVI

Seymour finally received his Hall call Thursday night; his performance in the first of his four Super Bowls set the dominant defensive lineman on that course. The Rams often double-teamed the Patriots’ 2001 first-round pick — the highest Pats selection (No. 6 overall) in the Bill Belichick era — but he still disrupted St. Louis’ quest for another title. Making regular advancements into the Rams backfield, Seymour sacked Kurt Warner once, batted down a pass that led to a long Rams missed field goal, and added a tackle for loss. The interior lineman also pressured the 2001 MVP on a Willie McGinest sack, forcing a key fourth-quarter punt.

10. Antoine Winfield Jr., Super Bowl LV

The elder Antoine Winfield played 14 NFL seasons but never enjoyed the chance to play in a Super Bowl. His son made the most of his first try. The younger Winfield interfered with the Chiefs’ repeat hopes throughout, totaling six tackles, two passes defensed and an interception in the Buccaneers’ 31-9 cruise. A second-round pick, Winfield was critical to Todd Bowles’ defensive game plan — one that held a historically explosive pass offense without a touchdown — and he exacted revenge on Tyreek Hill after denying the deep threat a fourth-down pass in the final minutes. An indelible image from Tampa Bay’s rout.

11. Ja’Marr Chase, Super Bowl LVI

Few rookies entered Super Bowls with higher expectations, and Chase did his part to keep the Bengals in the game against the favored Rams throughout. The Offensive Rookie of the Year’s one-handed deep grab against Jalen Ramsey highlighted the former’s impactful night and the latter’s struggles against Cincinnati’s wideout talents. Chase’s 89 receiving yards are the fifth-most by a rookie in Super Bowl history. If the Bengals employed a decent O-line, Chase might have finished off a monster night by beating Ramsey for a deep game-winner. Alas, he joins Collinsworth as Bengals rookies with standout nights in Super Bowl losses.

12. Tristan Wirfs, Super Bowl LV

Only nine rookie tackles have made Super Bowl starts. This is probably the best outing. Despite rostering two Pro Bowl defensive linemen, the Chiefs hit Tom Brady just twice in Super Bowl LV. The Buccaneers’ rookie right tackle led the way on this front. The Chiefs sent both Frank Clark and Chris Jones at Wirfs; the Bucs’ 2020 first-round pick held up to the point Pro Football Focus gave him the top grade out of all the game’s participants. Clark’s sack did not come against Wirfs, who gave up only one sack throughout his rookie year and became an impact starter during the brief but memorable “Tompa Bay” period.

13. Sony Michel, Super Bowl LIII

Michel’s first try on the Super Bowl stage resulted in him scoring that game’s only touchdown. While Michel’s 2-yard TD in the fourth quarter ended up being enough to give the Patriots their sixth championship, their starting back did break off a few more memorable runs. Michel finished off a dominant postseason with an 18-carry, 94-yard game in New England’s 13-3 win over Los Angeles. The first-round pick made Rams comeback hopes nearly impossible after a tackle-shedding, 26-yard run in the final minutes. In three playoff games, Michel scored six touchdowns — an NFL rookie record.

14. Jamal Lewis, Super Bowl XXXV

Lewis did not deliver a dazzling Super Bowl performance, but he wore down the Giants. He is just one of two rookies to rush for 100 yards in the NFL’s ultimate game. The 2000 draft’s No. 5 overall pick churned out 102 yards on 27 carries — by far the most by a rookie in a Super Bowl — to help the Ravens keep the Giants at bay. Lewis did not offer up many chunk gains, but he helped a limited offense give Baltimore’s relentless defense key rest. Lewis narrowly broke the plane on his 3-yard touchdown run, having lost the ball at the goal line. Officials upheld their TD call, giving the Ravens a 31-7 lead in the fourth quarter.

15. Devin Hester, Super Bowl XLI

Big underdogs in Miami, the Bears needed near-perfect games from their defense and special teams to hang with the Colts. Their top gun did his part and petrified the Colts in the process. Hester broke off his sixth return touchdown of his rookie season — a 92-yarder to open the game — against Indianapolis, proving Tony Dungy’s defiant strategy of testing the electric Chicago returner foolish. The Colts kicked off six more times in the game; none of those plays involved a Hester return. This helped the Bears’ field position at points but did not ultimately affect the expected outcome.

16. Steve Smith, Super Bowl XLII

David Tyree’s clutch performance for the ages obscured his rookie teammate’s supporting act. Smith caught five passes for 50 yards; all five grabs came on third down. Smith converted two third downs on the Giants’ opening drive, which produced a field goal, but showed up with two crucial catches in the fourth quarter. Following rookie tight end Kevin Boss’ 45-yard catch-and-run, Smith added a 17-yarder to set up Tyree’s touchdown. Tyree’s time-capsule catch on the Giants’ game-winning drive also featured a Smith footnote — a 12-yard sideline reception to convert a third-and-11, setting up Plaxico Burress’ finisher.

17. Deebo Samuel, Super Bowl LIV

Although the 49ers were a bit more deceptive about Samuel’s designed runs against the Chiefs than they were during his unique 2021 season, he still gashed the eventual champions on designed runs. Reverses and wide receiver pitches frequently went for double-digit yardage in Samuel’s rookie-year finale. The second-round pick finished with 92 scrimmage yards on just eight touches. After a 32-yard sweep play in the first quarter, Samuel’s 11-yard reception set up Kyle Juszczyk’s game-tying touchdown in the second stanza. This was not enough for the 49ers, but Samuel’s efficient night provided a preview of his future.

18. Tony Dorsett, Super Bowl XII

Dallas’ Doomsday defense won the day against Denver, forcing eight turnovers. But the team’s burgeoning superstar still made some contributions in the one-sided matchup. Dorsett, for whom the Cowboys moved up 12 spots in that year’s first round, totaled 77 scrimmage yards and scored the game’s first touchdown — a 3-yard run in the first quarter. Tom Landry tailored part of his intricate offense around his Heisman-winning rookie that season, and Dorsett reeled off three 15-plus-yard runs against the Broncos’ famed Orange Crush defense.

19. Cris Collinsworth, Super Bowl XVI

Prior to calling a few Super Bowls, Collinsworth took part in two — in his first and last seasons, respectively — during an eight-year career. His Super Bowl debut featured greater involvement. While the Pro Bowl rookie’s contributions were a mixed bag, Collinsworth still totaled five receptions for a game-high 107 yards. He delivered one of the great catches in Super Bowl history — a 49-yard overhead grab despite tight Eric Wright coverage — to help Cincinnati pull within 20-14 in the second half. However, this came after a costly red zone fumble denied the Bengals a key scoring chance in the first half.

20. Randy White, Super Bowl X

Acquired in a lopsided trade that sent backup quarterback Craig Morton to the Giants, White went on to become a first-ballot Hall of Fame defensive tackle. In the first Cowboys-Steelers Super Bowl, however, White worked as a backup linebacker. Playing behind Lee Roy Jordan, White still sacked Terry Bradshaw twice, showing the quickness-strength combo that made him one of the best defenders of his era. Retroactive sack accreditation gave White four sacks during the 1975 postseason, providing an indication of the future Super Bowl co-MVP’s potential.

21. Tedy Bruschi, Super Bowl XXXI

A future mainstay in the blander uniforms associated with the Patriots, Bruschi got in a Super Bowl in flashier threads as a rookie. Bill Parcells did not deploy the future standout as a starter, rolling out a Chris Slade-Ted Johnson-Todd Collins linebacker trio, but Bruschi did damage as an off-the-bench sparkplug. Bruschi accounted for two of the Patriots’ five sacks that night, helping them stay in the game against a loaded Packers team. Bruschi is one of two rookies to post two-sack nights in Super Bowl history. He would go on to accumulate more Super Bowl stats in the coming years.

22. Ricky Nattiel, Super Bowl XXII

Of the Broncos’ three blowout Super Bowl losses in the 1980s, the middle one presented a clear peak for the John Elway-dependent teams. The Broncos scored on their first play from scrimmage in Super Bowl XXII, with Elway rocketing a pass to Nattiel for a 56-yard touchdown to give the favorites a 7-0 lead. The youngest member of Elway’s “Three Amigos” receiving corps of the late ’80s and early ’90s, Nattiel arrived in Denver as a first-round pick. The speedster beat Washington cornerback Barry Wilburn, an All-Pro that season, on the bomb. While Denver amassed a 10-0 lead, Washington won 42-10.

23. Reggie Phillips, Super Bowl XX

Phillips went on to be a part-time starter for the 1986 and ’87 Bears defenses — formidable units but groups that lack the prestige of 1985’s storied crew — but his most notable play came as a backup in the franchise’s finest hour. A Steve Grogan sideline pass ricocheted off tight end Derrick Ramsey and into Phillips’ arms. The SMU alum sprinted for a 28-yard pick-six, giving the Bears a 37-3 lead in the third quarter. This marked the ’85 Bears’ third defensive touchdown of the playoffs, which Chicago finished with a 91-10 margin of victory.

24. Jake Elliott, Super Bowl LII

The kicker representative here did miss an extra point, but he made up for it with multiple longer-range makes in a game his team was not supposed to win. Facing the modern NFL’s toughest team to beat, the Eagles turned to their rookie kicker for 42- and 46-yard field goals in the fourth quarter. Elliott came through on both, with the latter coming shortly after Brandon Graham’s seminal sack-strip on Tom Brady. Elliott’s ensuing field goal gave Philadelphia an eight-point lead, one that held after a failed Patriots Hail Mary try.

25. Matt Blair, Super Bowl IX

Blair went on to become one of the best defenders in Vikings history, but in 1974, he was working mostly as a backup. Playing behind older Minnesota linebackers, the second-round pick gave the Vikes a lifeline by blocking a Steelers punt and watching Terry Brown recover the ball for a touchdown. Blair darted through the left side of Pittsburgh’s protection to block Bobby Walden’s punt near the Steelers’ goal line, and Brown’s recovery cut Minnesota’s deficit to 9-6 early in the fourth quarter. With the Steel Curtain amid a breakthrough performance, Blair’s block represented the Vikings’ only points in their third Super Bowl loss.

26. Frank Zombo, Super Bowl XLV

A forgotten performance from an oft-overlooked Super Bowl. Zombo settled into a backup role for much of his nine-year career and was not active for any of the Packers’ other 2010 playoff games, but he started in place of the injured Erik Walden opposite Clay Matthews against the Steelers. Zombo finished with five tackles (two for loss) and notched a critical sack of Ben Roethlisberger. The undrafted free agent dropping Big Ben on a third-quarter third down led to the Steelers trying a 52-yard field goal, which Shaun Suisham missed. That became rather key in a six-point Packers win.

27. Andre Coleman, Tim Dwight, Ron Dixon, Super Bowls XXIX, XXXIII, XXXV

The Super Bowl has seen a handful of rookie kick returners make an impact. These three each scored a touchdown in their respective outings, only all three did so when their teams were hopelessly behind. Dwight gave the Falcons their first TD in Super Bowl XXXIII, but the Broncos were up by four scores at that point. The Ravens were on their way to shutting out the Giants in Super Bowl XXXV, but Dixon prevented it via his third-quarter dash. Jermaine Lewis overshadowed it by returning the ensuing kickoff for a Baltimore TD. As for Coleman, he returned eight kickoffs for a Super Bowl-record 244 yards. The Chargers rookie broke loose on the seventh such return, but this only narrowed San Diego’s deficit to 42-16.

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