Bleacher Report's 2020 Expert Consensus NFL Rookie Awards
It's been just over a week since the 2020 NFL draft kicked off in Roger Goodell's basement with the Cincinnati Bengals' selection of LSU quarterback Joe Burrow. In the days since, fans and pundits alike have wondered how this year's rookies will fare in their new homes.
Will Burrow be the king of the first-year quarterbacks, or will it be Justin Herbert of the Los Angeles Chargers or Tua Tagovailoa of the Miami Dolphins?
Will Clyde Edwards-Helaire (the only running back taken on Day 1) of the Kansas City Chiefs lead all rookie backs, or will it be a Day 2 runner like J.K. Dobbins (Baltimore Ravens) or Zack Moss (Buffalo Bills)?
What about this year's crowded wide receiver class? Six were drafted in the first round, and another seven went in the second. Which one will make the biggest 2020 impact?
Then there are this year's defenders, headlined by Ohio State's Chase Young, who went second overall to the Washington Redskins. Who will pace that class in sacks? What about tackles? Or interceptions?
Well, the NFL writers at Bleacher Report have gathered to answer those questions and more (including who will be the 2020 NFL Offensive and Defensive Rookies of the Year) with the 2020 iteration of the B/R Expert Consensus NFL Rookie Awards.
The following writers took part: NFL Analyst Gary Davenport, NFL Features Lead Writer Tyler Dunne, NFL National Lead Writer Mike Freeman, NFL Analyst Brad Gagnon, NFL Draft Lead Writer Matt Miller, NFL Analyst Brent Sobleski and NFL National Lead Writer Mike Tanier.
Most Passing Yards
Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals (5 votes)
There isn't a rookie under more pressure to succeed early in his career than Burrow. That comes with the territory when you're the first overall pick.
By all indications, Burrow will be the Bengals' starter when the regular season begins. But he told reporters that he's not concerned about the expectations.
"You don't think about it; you just continue to work really hard and do what got you here," he said. "I'm the No. 1 pick, but it doesn't mean anything in four months, so I'm going to continue to work really hard to be the best player that I can be for this team, for this franchise and this city."
The Bengals may have won just two games in 2019, but Burrow isn't inheriting a barren offense. Fellow rookie Tee Higgins joins a wideout corps that already featured veteran A.J. Green, a player with two straight 1,000-yard seasons under his belt in Tyler Boyd and speedster John Ross III. Joe Mixon, 23, is one of the better young tailbacks in the NFL, and the return of a healthy Jonah Williams at tackle should provide a boost to the offensive line.
Combine the belief that Burrow will play from the get-go in Cincinnati with the passing-game weapons around him, and it's easy to see why he's the pick to have the most passing yards of this year's rookie quarterback crop.
Others receiving votes: Justin Herbert, Los Angeles Chargers (1 vote); Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins (1 vote)
Most Rushing Yards
TIE: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kansas City Chiefs (2 votes) and Zack Moss, Buffalo Bills (2 votes)
For the second year in a row, just one tailback was drafted in the first round. In 2020, that pick came via the final Day 1 selection.
And he happened to be one of two young runners to receive multiple votes in this category.
Edwards-Helaire landed in an excellent situation with the defending Super Bowl champions, and the former LSU standout appears to have a skill set tailor-made for what the Chiefs do offensively.
TMZ reported this week that Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes lobbied the Chiefs brass to take Edwards-Helaire—a fact that left the 5'7", 207-pounder blown away.
"Man, MVP quarterback, soon to be Hall of Famer—he's going to be a Hall of Famer, so for him to send my name in and want me to play with him, it made me feel a little special," he said.
It's not known if Josh Allen had any input on the selection of Utah's Moss in Round 3. But the rookie finds himself on a Bills team that was eighth in the NFL in rushing yards and sixth in carries a year ago.
A downhill power back who enters the NFL 20 pounds heavier than Bills starter Devin Singletary (203 lbs), Moss is viewed by many as the thunder to Singletary's lightning. With Frank Gore's 166 carries from last year up for grabs, the potential for a solid workload is there for Moss—especially if he shows out early.
Others receiving votes: J.K. Dobbins, Baltimore Ravens (1 vote); Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts (1 vote); Cam Akers, Los Angeles Rams (1 vote)
Most Receiving Yards
Justin Jefferson, WR, Minnesota Vikings (2 votes)
This wide receiver class was hailed as one of the deepest in recent memory, and that was reflected in both the first round and the votes for most receiving yards by a rookie. Six wideouts were chosen on Day 1, and an equal number received at least one vote here.
Only one player got two, though—Justin Jefferson of LSU, whom the Minnesota Vikings took at No. 22 with the first of their two Round 1 picks.
Jefferson was brought in to replace Stefon Diggs, who was traded to the Buffalo Bills. The 6'1" 202-pounder was ridiculously productive in 2019, leading all FBS receivers with 111 catches and ranking second in touchdowns (18) while amassing 1,540 receiving yards.
During ESPN's coverage of the NFL draft, Jefferson credited the loaded LSU offense for taking pressure off him (via Nick Kosko of 247 Sports):
"All of the guys at LSU helped me tremendously. Competing with those guys every single day on and off the field helped mold me as a player and as a person. That whole season was a dream, it felt like a dream. Having Joe throw it to us, it was really a cake walk and having all those receivers, it made my job easier. As a whole, the whole LSU staff, all the players...everyone just came in and worked together."
With players like Kirk Cousins, Dalvin Cook, Adam Thielen and Kyle Rudolph as new teammates, Jefferson will join an offense that isn't exactly cat food.
Others receiving votes: Brandon Aiyuk, WR, San Francisco 49ers (1 vote); CeeDee Lamb, WR, Dallas Cowboys (1 vote); Jerry Jeudy, WR, Denver Broncos (1 vote); Denzel Mims, WR, New York Jets (1 vote); Michael Pittman Jr., Indianapolis Colts (1 vote)
Kenneth Murray, ILB, Los Angeles Chargers (4 votes)
All right. Enough with the LSU guys already.
The Chargers drafted Herbert, their quarterback of the future, at No. 6 overall. But as it turned out, the team wasn't done in Round 1—L.A. later traded back into the round to grab a player the team hopes will be the quarterback of the defense for years.
In each of the last two seasons, Oklahoma's Kenneth Murray piled up over 100 tackles—including a jaw-dropping 155 stops in 2018. Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn said the Bolts felt they had to act when Murray slid into the latter part of the round, per Joey Helmer of 247 Sports:
"He's a guy that we had eyes on. And we had a plan, and Tom Telesco executed that plan to perfection, I thought. It was real cool, and at one point we were thinking we were going to move up, and we just kept talking to different people and we had a chance to move up and get him. He's a guy that he's a run and hit linebacker. You watch the tape, and he's a very physical football player. He plays his game like old school linebackers. He's really intense. But he has that speed that we haven't had at that position since I've been here, and he also has that leadership, those intangibles that I really like in a young man. So he was a guy that we were really targeting."
The Chargers have long needed a player to serve as the linchpin for their linebacker corps, and Murray, a prototypical inside linebacker with sideline-to-sideline range, will receive every opportunity to play a three-down role from day one.
That role should equate to plenty of tackle opportunities.
Others receiving votes: Patrick Queen, ILB, Baltimore Ravens (1 vote); Isaiah Simmons, LB, Arizona Cardinals (1 vote); Logan Wilson, ILB, Cincinnati Bengals (1 vote)
Chase Young, EDGE, Ohio State (7 votes)
In recent years, Ohio State has become a factory for producing high-end talent along the defensive line. In each of the past two NFL drafts, the No. 2 overall pick has been a Buckeyes defensive end—Nick Bosa in 2019 and Young this year. Bosa won Defensive Rookie of the Year honors, and Young is the clear favorite this season.
Young joins a Redskins front that includes four first-rounders. And much like the loaded front Bosa landed in with the Niners and the stacked squad they played on in Columbus, Young told reporters he thinks having all that talent around him can only help his chances of success:
"There would've been nothing an offense could've done with us. If you slide to Nick, then you let me go off. If you slid to me, then Nick going to go off. I feel like, you know, that's the same thing with the Redskins. ... When you really work as a unit, and you've got all guys clicking on all cylinders, and every guy is a first-rounder ... I don't feel like the offense can really do anything with a defensive line like that."
Despite missing two games last year and failing to record a sack in Ohio State's last three contests, Young still paced all FBS players with 16.5 sacks in 2019. He's the stuff of nightmares for quarterbacks—a generational talent who combines raw power with ridiculous bend and athleticism.
Adding Young to Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne, Ryan Kerrigan and Montez Sweat gives Washington (in theory) one of the league's most formidable defensive lines.
Antoine Winfield Jr., S, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4 votes)
There was no shortage of defensive back talent in this year's draft—six cornerbacks were taken in the first round, including two inside the top 10.
No safeties went on Day 1, and Minnesota's Antoine Winfield Jr. wasn't the first player selected at the position. But Winfield's college coach believes all the teams that passed on the 5'9", 203-pounder will regret it.
"You're getting a linebacker when he tackles, you're getting a corner when he covers, you're getting a wideout when he catches, and then you're getting one of the most instinctual football players in college football," P.J. Fleck told Megan Ryan of the Star Tribune. "So 10 years down the road, people are really going to kind of look back and say, 'Boy, how did we miss on Antoine Winfield Jr.?'"
Winfield has an NFL pedigree—his father spent 14 years with the Vikings and Bills, made three Pro Bowls and notched 27 career interceptions. But the younger Winfield is also quite the playmaker—he piled up 83 tackles, three sacks and seven interceptions in 2019.
That last number ranked fourth among all FBS players last season, and it's that nose for the football (plus the clear path to a starting role as a rookie) that leaves Winfield as the panel's pick to lead all first-year players in interceptions.
Others receiving votes: CJ Henderson, CB, Jacksonville Jaguars (2 votes); Jeff Okudah, CB, Detroit Lions (1 vote)
Justin Herbert, QB, Los Angeles Chargers (3 votes)
After well over a decade with Philip Rivers under center, the Chargers entered this year's draft with a clear need at quarterback following the veteran's departure. Chargers GM Tom Telesco told The Pat McAfee Show on Tuesday he knew the team was taking a signal-caller sixth overall—he just wasn't sure of which one (via Cody Benjamin of CBSSports.com):
"Actually, we felt great about all three quarterbacks that went in the top six. All three are going to be really good players in this league, and it's a comforting factor to know. We hope we don't pick sixth very often. If we do, I won't be making very many picks here. (So) in a pick this high, if there's a potential down-the-road franchise quarterback there that you like, you have to take him."
After Burrow went first overall and Tagovailoa went fifth, Herbert was the pick after he threw for 3,471 yards and 32 scores with just six interceptions in 2019.
There's plenty to like about Herbert—at times he's appeared to have the best arm talent in this class. But as Kyle Crabbs wrote for the Draft Network, Herbert's instincts, consistency and pocket presence all need work.
"Herbert presents as a player with consistency issues on timing throws and troublesome lapses under pressure," Crabbs wrote. "Ball security is another issue, so Herbert will need to be aided by high level interior OL play to protect him from consistent duress."
Herbert will start at some point in 2020—the last time Tyrod Taylor was a place-holder quarterback (in Cleveland in front of Baker Mayfield in 2018) he was terrible. But the Chargers have issues at the tackle spots after trading Russell Okung and passing on that position in the draft.
If Herbert is constantly facing pressure off the edge, his rookie season is apt to be a rocky one.
Others receiving votes: Damon Arnette, CB, Las Vegas Raiders (1 vote); A.J. Terrell, CB, Atlanta Falcons (1 vote); Jalen Reagor, WR, Philadelphia Eagles (1 vote); Henry Ruggs III, WR, Las Vegas Raiders (1 vote)
A.J. Dillon, RB, Green Bay Packers (3 Votes)
The Green Bay Packers were the kings of the curveball in the 2020 draft. First, they stunned onlookers by trading up in Round 1 to select Utah State quarterback Jordan Love.
Then in Round 2, despite the presence of Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams, the Packers drafted Boston College running back A.J. Dillon.
Jones is coming off a breakout 2019—he topped 1,000 yards on the ground, piled up 16 rushing scores and averaged a robust 4.6 yards per carry. But with both Jones and Williams set to hit free agency in 2021, the Packers hedged their backfield bet with the 247-pound bruiser.
Given the draft capital the Packers spent to obtain Dillon, he won't be a spectator as a rookie. And given how successful Dillon was at Boston College despite constantly facing eight- and nine-man fronts, Zach Kruse of Packers Wire believes Dillon is a good bet to have success in his inaugural campaign.
"Dillon used his size, athleticism and tackle-breaking ability (81 broken tackles in 2019, per Pro Football Focus) to hammer through loaded boxes and pile up yards after contact in college," Kruse wrote. "He likely won't be facing the same looks at the NFL level, even as the Packers begin transitioning to a run-centered offense."
If Dillon has anywhere close to the success in Titletown he did at BC (1,685 rushing yards, 5.3 yards per carry in 2019) he may not be a complementary back for long.
Others receiving votes: Chase Claypool, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers (1 vote); Joshua Kelley, RB, Los Angeles Chargers (1 vote); Alex Highsmith, OLB, Pittsburgh Steelers (1 vote); John Hightower, WR, Philadelphia Eagles (1 vote)
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Joe Burrow, QB, Cincinnati Bengals (3 votes)
For the past year or so, it's been Burrow's world. The rest of us have just been living in it.
After a so-so first season in Baton Rouge, the Ohio State transfer went berserk in 2019, putting up a season that rewrote the collegiate record books. Burrow threw for a jaw-dropping 5,671 yards—the third-most in FBS history. His 60 touchdown passes set a new high-water mark in that category. Burrow won the Heisman Trophy and led the Tigers to a national championship.
Bengals head coach Zac Taylor told reporters he expects Burrow's arrival to herald a new era in Bengals football:
"He's a proven winner. He throws with anticipation. He has a great football IQ. He can diagnose defenses as well as anyone we've studied. He can create off-schedule plays as well. He does a great job keeping his eyes up in the pocket and eluding defenders. They have great coaches and players at LSU, but there are some times where a defense gets you. He still had the ability to create and extend plays. Those are traits you can't pass up."
Burrow's talent is undeniable. His situation isn't ideal (the Bengals had the first overall pick for a reason), but the passing-game cupboard in Cincy is hardly bare.
The rookie passing records of 4,374 yards (Andrew Luck, 2012) and 27 touchdowns (Baker Mayfield, 2018) are both within reach for Burrow.
If he breaks one (or both), he's a lock to be named Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Others receiving votes: Denzel Mims, WR, New York Jets (1 vote); Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Miami Dolphins (1 vote); J.K. Dobbins, RB, Baltimore Ravens (1 vote); Justin Herbert, QB, Los Angeles Chargers (1 vote)
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Chase Young, EDGE, Ohio State (6 votes)
The NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year award has had a distinctly scarlet-and-gray feel to it. Whether it was edge-rusher Joey Bosa (2016), cornerback Marshon Lattimore (2017) or edge-rusher Nick Bosa (2019), three of the last four DROY have hailed from The Ohio State University.
If our panel is correct, Young is about to make it four out of five.
The Bosa brothers have quickly become two of the NFL's best 4-3 defensive ends, but ESPN's Todd McShay said before the draft that Young is the best prospect of the bunch.
"He's better," McShay said on First Take. "I would take him No. 1 even if I needed a quarterback."
That's heady praise—and McShay wasn't the only pundit who felt that way. Joel Klatt of Fox Sports told 106.7 The Fan (via Dustin Schutte of Saturday Tradition):
"He's just a total game wrecker. Every time that he's needed to make a play, it seemed like he was close. From my standpoint, this is the type of guy that you can draft, you can plug him in and you can play him right away. I think he is a better version of Nick Bosa. Bosa is explosive but he's shorter. Chase has better length. He's a little better versus the run because of that length. He is the type of guy that I think can be an all pro multiple times in his career."
There aren't any guarantees in the NFL. But everything has fallen into place for the 6'5", 264-pound Young. Not only is he immensely talented, but he also landed on a team with an already loaded front that will prevent opponents from keying on the youngster.
It would be a significant upset if Young doesn't win Defensive Rookie of the Year honors in 2020.
Others receiving votes: Logan Wilson, LB, Cincinnati Bengals (1 vote)
Rookie of the Year
Joe Burrow, QB, Cincinnati Bengals (3 votes)
Like it was going to be anyone else.
That there's so much hype surrounding Burrow is far from surprising. It's not just that he posted those gaudy numbers. Or that he won college football's biggest individual honor. Or that he sealed the deal by winning a national title. Or that he parlayed all that success into being the first overall pick in 2020.
No. It's more than all that. Burrow also just so happens to be a native of Athens, Ohio—the proverbial hometown hero. That's only elevated his status in southern Ohio that much more.
To many Bengals fans, the 23-year-old is the savior of a franchise that hasn't won a playoff game in his lifetime—and then some (January 1991).
Boomer Esiason was the last quarterback to lead the Bengals to a Super Bowl, and he told Billy Witz of the New York Times that in 2020 (and beyond), the Bengals will go exactly as far as Burrow takes them.
"Joe Burrow has to be the reason it doesn't go sideways," Esiason said. "He has to be bigger than all of it—carry himself like Tom Brady, like he's going to change it just like he did at LSU. It's a big ask, and it's a lot of pressure, but that's what makes it so awesome, such a unique opportunity for a hometown kid."
Burrow won't lead the Bengals to the Super Bowl in 2020. Or the playoffs, most likely—this was a two-win team a season ago with the fourth-worst defense in the NFL.
Of course, no one expected Burrow to accomplish what he did last year, either.
So maybe we shouldn't rule anything out just yet.
Others receiving votes: J.K. Dobbins, RB, Baltimore Ravens (1 vote); Justin Herbert, QB, Los Angeles Chargers (1 vote); Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Miami Dolphins (1 vote); Chase Young, EDGE, Washington Redskins (1 vote)