Harv currently writes for Abstract Sports, the Sports History Network, and the magazine Gridiron Greats. Harv wrote the published book "Pro Football's Most Passionate Fans" and as a professional writer has had articles published in an array of sports publications.
The Race is On for NFL Rookie of the Year
This year 32 young men were drafted in the first round of the National Football League Draft and for the team that selected them, they were hoping they found their next great star. We’ve now gone through 10 weeks of play in the 2020 season and when it’s all said and done, there will be one man who is named Rookie of the Year.
At this point, it seems to be boiling down to a race between the Cincinnati Bengals’ Joe Burrow and the Los Angeles Chargers’ Justin Herbert, two quarterbacks that are having sensational rookie campaigns. These two are leaving the other 30 first-round draft picks in their dust but most of those other 30 have contributed in some fashion towards their team’s play on the field.
Position-by-position, what follows is a breakdown of just how those other 30 rookies are fairing through 10 weeks of the season, not including the already started week 11 slate of games. Of the 32 first-rounders, six have yet to play (Jedrick Wills, Tristan Wirfs, Austin Jackson, Cesar Ruiz, Jordan Love, Isaiah Wilson). All the others have had significant playing time.
We’ll begin with the most vital position on the field...quarterback. For signal-callers heard their name called on draft day in the first round and three now find themselves as starters. Jordan Love had the unfortunate circumstance of being drafted by the Green Bay Packers and there was never a chance he was going to unseat Aaron Rodgers.
In Cincinnati, it was made known well before the season began that the Andy Dalton era was over and it was not Joe Burrow’s time. He’s made the most of it starting every game thus far and throwing for 12 touchdowns against just five interceptions, completing 65.4% of his passes good for 2,485 yards. In Los Angeles, the Chargers brought in veteran Tyrod Taylor thinking he would tutor rookie Justin Herbert, but Taylor lost his job to the kid, and the young man from the University of Oregon has made the most of his opportunity.
Herbert did not get to start from the beginning of the season so he’s been playing catchup. To date, he has 2,333 yards passing, has flown by Burrow’s touchdown total with 19, and thrown just six picks. Down in South Florida, Ryan Fitzpatrick did not lose his job because of poor play but rather the Dolphins coaching staff wanted to get rookie Tua Tagovailoa’s career started earlier instead of later. He’s made the most of his chance as well but while winning games has not put up the stats as the aforementioned rookies have. Still, Tagovailoa’s 63.6 completion percentage is impressive.
Running backs are a dime a dozen. Just ask Le’Veon Bell. There is not a lot of job security at this position and judging by the positions selected in the first round of this year’s draft, there was very little weight put on the position of running back as far as needs go. In fact, there was just ONE running back selected in the entire round, but he is becoming a very good one.
Lucky for Clyde Edwards-Helaire that it was the Kansas City Chiefs who picked him in the first round so the rookie goes right to the defending league champions. He’s made Andy Reid very happy with 586 yards rushing, two touchdowns. Edwards-Helaire has added 28 receptions to boot resulting in 228 receiving yards and one touchdown.At the receiving position, six players were taken, two of them from the same school (Alabama). Those two Crimson Tide wide receivers are Henry Ruggs who landed in Las Vegas, and Jerry Jeudy who is now a Bronco. Interesting is the fact that these two former teammates will now face each other as opponents playing for AFC West teams that play against each other twice. Jeudy has put up the more impressive numbers thus far with 552 yards receiving on 34 catches and he has scored twice.
Ruggs on the other hand has had less playing time thus fewer yards receiving(251 yards). Ruggs has just 13 grabs so far. The four other first-round receivers are Jalen Reagor in Philadelphia, Brandon Aiyuk who is a 49er, CeeDeeLamb in Dallas, and Justin Jefferson in Minnesota. Reagor has just 12 receptions, Aiyuk a bit more at 35 (44 yards), and Jefferson the most impressive of all the receivers taken as he has hauled in 42 receptions and should go over 1,000 yards receiving this season currently with 762 yards and has scored three times.
CeeDee Lamb was supposed to be the stud of this group and he’s not too far off from earning that label. Lamb has 44 receptions in nine games with 595 yards and three scores. For the remainder of the first round, the only other offensive players chosen were those who play on the front lines better known as the “o-line.”
As mentioned, center Cesar Ruiz drafted by the New Orleans Saints has yet to appear in a game this season. Of the six other players drafted for offensive lines four were mentioned above as having not played in 2020 and only Mekhi Becton of the Jets and Andrew Thomas of the Giants, ironically both playing in the Meadowlands of New Jersey have seen playing time. Becton in seven games and Thomas has started nine of the 10 on the schedule.
At this point, we have just 14 first-round players not mentioned and of those six are cornerbacks, three play on the defensive line, and four are linebackers. Beginning with the secondary men, all have played in seven or more games except for Damon Arnette who has appeared in only four games for the Raiders. He has made 13 tackles in those four games. But for A.J. Terrell (Atlanta), C.J. Henderson (Jacksonville), Noah Igbinoghene (Miami), Jeff Gladney (Minnesota), and Jeff Okudah (Detroit), they have all contributed impressively for their respective teams.
Of that group of corners, Gladney has made the most tackles with 41 and has defended two passes. Right behind him is Okudah with 40 tackles and he has started in six games of the eight he has played. He has one interception and defended two passes. C.J. Henderson until he suffered an injury comes in with 36 tackles and six passes defended to go with a single interception. A.J. Terrell has played in seven games, and Igbinoghene, nine.
On the defensive line, Chase Young of The Washington Football Team may be playing the best from this group of three (Javon Kinlaw-49ers and Derrick Brown-Panthers). Young has 3 ½ sacks and 18 tackles as well as a forced fumble. The other two have played in every game however with Kinlaw contributing 22 tackles and 1 ½ sacks where Brown has played also in all 10 and has made 28 tackles, has one sack, and defended against two passes.
Finally, there are the linebackers. There were five taken in the first round of the 2020 draft and they were Isaiah Simmons (Arizona), Jordyn Brooks (Seattle), K’Lavon Chaisson (Jacksonville), Kenneth Murray (L.A. Chargers), and Patrick Queen (Baltimore). All have played in eight games or more. Simmons leads the way with 10 games played and has 28 tackles, one sack, one interception, and two passes defended. Murray and Queen have the most impressive stats as Murray has played in nine games and registered 52 tackles where Queen has also played in nine and made 58 tackles as well as two sacks.
Rookies of the year normally go to an offensive player especially when a quarterback is playing well. Therefore, it’s highly likely that this year’s winner will either be Burrows or Herbert. But there are other players in their first year who are playing outstanding but did not get picked in the first round. Chase Claypool is a perfect example in Pittsburgh.
Regardless, first-round draft picks can pay dividends and this year’s class looks like that is exactly what they are doing.