Ranking the NFL's Top 5 Offensive Rookie of the Year Candidates in 2020

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistMay 12, 2020

Ranking the NFL's Top 5 Offensive Rookie of the Year Candidates in 2020

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    The race to the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year award in 2020 should be something special. 

    A year ago, Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray unsurprisingly fended off Oakland Raiders running back Josh Jacobs and Tennessee Titans wideout A.J. Brown, but this year's race should be far less predictable.

    With three quarterbacks off the board in the top six picks and a host of talented players at skill positions, there's no easy way to predict the outright winner. Talent, favorable surroundings and projected usage will likely end up determining who walks away with the award.

    The following five rookies have the best chances of joining the likes of Murray, Saquon Barkley and Alvin Kamara. 

5. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Clyde Edwards-Helaire has the benefit of dropping right into an elite Patrick Mahomes-led offense orchestrated by Andy Reid. That gives him a good shot at winning some individual hardware as a rookie. 

    It helps that the No. 32 overall pick is ridiculously talented, too.

    Over the last two years at LSU, Edwards-Helaire put up 2,000-plus rushing yards and 23 rushing scores while never dipping below 4.5 yards per carry in a season. He also caught 60-plus passes and broke an incredible 85 tackles in 2019 alone, according to Pro Football Focus' Anthony Treash

    Given the circumstances, Edwards-Helaire might seem like a front-runner for Offensive Rookie of the Year. However, he'll still have to compete with Damien Williams for snaps, let alone compete for touches in a diverse spread-it-around attack that gave five players at least 37 rushing attempts last season and seven at least 30 targets. 

    Sheer talent and his landing spot assure Edwards-Helaire of a chance at OROY contention, though quantity of touches (or a lack thereof) might hold him back from winning. 

4. Justin Herbert, QB, Los Angeles Chargers

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    Collin Andrew/Associated Press

    Justin Herbert seems like a distant third at quarterback for Offensive Rookie of the Year this season. 

    Herbert boasts less improvisational skill than fellow top-six picks Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa when plays break down, and he's joining a team that has been adamant about starting a veteran under center. 

    But the Los Angeles Chargers might not be able to start Tyrod Taylor over Herbert for long—if at all. 

    Herbert had the most NFL-ready arm of the bunch in his draft class, and his four years of starting experience at Oregon puts him in a great spot. He threw 95 touchdowns to only 23 interceptions in college while averaging 8.2 yards per attempt on a career 64.0 completion percentage. 

    The No. 6 overall pick is bound to put up numbers once he's on the field, and he's surrounded by impressive skill-position talent. That includes Austin Ekeler out of the backfield (92 catches last year), Hunter Henry at tight end and the Keenan Allen-Mike Williams tandem at wideout. 

    Uncertainty about when he will get on the field and the likelihood of typical rookie struggles limit Herbert's chances at Offensive Rookie of the Year, but not by much. 

3. Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Miami Dolphins

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    If Tua Tagovailoa is healthy and ready to start right away, the Miami Dolphins have a serious Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate under center. 

    The Alabama product completed 69.3 percent of his 684 passing attempts in college for 7,442 yards and 87 touchdowns against 11 interceptions, averaging a gaudy 10.9 yards per attempt. He also added 340 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground.

    Tagovailoa's production should translate to the NFL seamlessly if he's able to beat out Ryan Fitzpatrick for Miami's starting gig. His improvisational ability when plays break down should lead to plenty of rushing yards, but he'll also keep his eyes downfield and deliver passes accurately. 

    And while the Dolphins are rebuilding, Tagovailoa already has some big weapons around him. 

    No. 1 wideout DeVante Parker just had a career year with 1,200-plus yards and nine scores, and Tagovailoa will be the best passer he's played with so far. Tight end Mike Gesicki also has big-play potential, and a Jordan Howard-led rotation in the backfield should guarantee Fitzpatrick doesn't end up leading the team in rushing again. 

    While Tagovailoa is one of the NFL's most intriguing players heading into the 2020 season, his injury history and surroundings muddy the picture enough to put him behind two other rookies in this race. 

2. Jonathan Taylor, RB, Indianapolis Colts

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Jonathan Taylor always had a chance to be the most productive rookie running back based on his collegiate production. When the Indianapolis Colts selected him with the No. 41 overall pick, his Offensive Rookie of the Year chances skyrocketed.

    At Wisconsin, Taylor put up 6,174 yards and 50 touchdowns while averaging 6.7 yards per attempt on 926 carries. He also gained nearly 10 yards per catch and scored five touchdowns on 42 receptions.

    The Colts have veteran quarterback Philip Rivers and star wideout T.Y. Hilton, which will prevent opponents from crowding the box to stop Taylor. Instead, he'll get to chug away behind an elite offensive line featuring Anthony Castonzo and Quenton Nelson.

    Marlon Mack, a fourth-round pick in 2017, churned out 1,091 yards and eight scores while averaging 4.4 yards per carry last season behind that line. Taylor will now have a chance to displace the fourth-year back, who didn't do enough over the past two seasons to convince the Colts he was their answer in the backfield.

    Positional difficulty gives Taylor an advantage in the Rookie of the Year race compared to first-round wideouts such as Henry Ruggs III, Jerry Jeudy and CeeDee Lamb. Wideouts have to adapt to the size and speed of pro defenders while also digesting a playbook and forming chemistry with a quarterback, while Taylor mostly has to come in and do exactly what he did in college. 

    Uber-productive in college and in a great situation, Taylor is a leading candidate to reel in some hardware. 

1. Joe Burrow, QB, Cincinnati Bengals

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    One of the most obvious No. 1 picks in years is the clear favorite to win Offensive Rookie of the Year.

    If there was any doubt whether Joe Burrow would start right away, the Cincinnati Bengals made their intention clear when they released longtime starter Andy Dalton after the draft. Burrow also has the best supporting cast for a rookie No. 1 overall quarterback dating back to at least Cam Newton.

    No. 1 wideout A.J. Green has missed 23 games over the past two seasons, but he had at least 1,000 receiving yards in six of first seven years. Tyler Boyd has put up back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons with 13 combined touchdowns over the past two years. Burrow also has former top-10 pick John Ross III, second-round rookie Tee Higgins and running back Joe Mixon, the AFC's leading rusher from 2018 who has two straight 1,100-plus-yard rushing seasons with 13 scores.

    So long as the Bengals avoid the injury bug and 2019 first-round pick Jonah Williams can get on the field and man left tackle well, Burrow should hit the ground running.

    Burrow is fresh off one of the greatest seasons in college football history, having thrown 5,600-plus yards and 60 touchdowns against six interceptions last season en route to a national title and Heisman Trophy. He's a complete prospect with better improvisational ability than any other passer in his class. He also spent the draft process learning from Cincinnati coaches, so he'll have a step up on the playbook, according to ESPN, which could counteract any delays or cancellations of offseason workouts due to the coronavirus pandemic.

    As such, Burrow is the easy favorite to be the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year.