7 NFL Rookies Who Can Take the League by Storm in 2020

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistMay 25, 2020

7 NFL Rookies Who Can Take the League by Storm in 2020

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Several members of the 2020 NFL draft class have a chance to make a league-altering impact upon arrival. 

    Onlookers saw it a year ago with second overall pick Nick Bosa, who arrived in a great schematic and depth-chart fit with the San Francisco 49ers and went on to post nine sacks while boosting the team to the Super Bowl. 

    Several incoming rookies have landed in similar situations for immediate individual success. They also don't have any questions about early playing time, do project as pro-ready and usually play a position that doesn't have a massive barrier to instant production (though there have been exceptions, such as Terry McLaurin in 2019). 

    These are the rookies with the best chance to take the NFL by storm in 2020. 

Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Running backs have one of the easiest paths to production as rookies given the general smoothness of the pro transition. 

    It's largely about landing spot, and few rookies landed in a better situation than Clyde Edwards-Helaire with the Kansas City Chiefs. 

    Picked by Patrick Mahomes himself, the draft's 32nd selection was an all-around workhorse at LSU. During his last campaign, Edwards-Helaire ran for 1,414 yards on a 6.6 per-carry average and 16 scores and also caught 55 passes for 453 yards and a score. 

    Now in the NFL's best offense, Edwards-Helaire shouldn't have a problem shoving aside Damien Williams for the majority of the touches out of the backfield. Williams, after all, has handled more than 50 carries in a season just once in his six campaigns, and the Chiefs singled out running back as the pick in the first round for a reason. 

    The best back in an offense that put up 1,569 rushing yards on a 4.2 average last year (218 yards coming from Patrick Mahomes), Edwards-Helaire is positioned to be a rookie sensation. 

Jonathan Taylor, RB, Indianapolis Colts

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Don't discount Jonathan Taylor in the rookie breakout race at running back. 

    Taylor always had the feel of a back who could challenge for Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. Running for 6,174 yards on a 6.7 per-carry average and 50 touchdowns at Wisconsin, with 42 catches as well, he solidified his chances regardless of landing spot. 

    Then the Indianapolis Colts took him with the 41st pick. 

    He gets to play behind an elite offensive line headed up by Anthony Castonzo and Quenton Nelson while not being overly threatened by the presence of Marlon Mack, whose performance didn't stop the Colts from addressing his position in the top 50. 

    While defenses worry about Philip Rivers, T.Y. Hilton and others in a Frank Reich-directed passing attack, Taylor will be free to go to work in three-down fashion. His performance could have the NFL wondering why he wasn't off the board in the first round. 

Patrick Queen, LB, Baltimore Ravens

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    If a rookie isn't a high-profile pass-rusher like Nick Bosa, it's somewhat easy to overlook just how good his first-year impact can be. 

    Patrick Queen, the 28th overall pick by the Baltimore Ravens, should be a great example.

    Queen is a workhorse middle linebacker who in his final season at LSU put up 85 total tackles (12 for loss), three sacks and an interception. He'll slide right into the middle of the Ravens defense in what is generally the easiest linebacker position for a rookie. 

    And Queen will do so in the confines of a wicked front seven. He'll have Derek Wolfe, Brandon Williams and Calais Campbell in front of him while Pernell McPhee and Matt Judon rush the passer. Patrick Onwuasor, one of the guys Queen is replacing, finished third on the team in tackles (64) last year, and it's hard to imagine the LSU product won't do that or better. 

    With offenses so worried about the rest of Baltimore's front seven and the transition so smooth, Queen should be a stat-sheet stuffer right from the jump in Week 1. 

Javon Kinlaw, DL, San Francisco 49ers

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    Javon Kinlaw doesn't play the easiest of positions that translate to instant success, but it's hard to think of a better surrounding set of circumstances. 

    The San Francisco 49ers' first pick (No. 14 overall) steps right into the void left by DeForest Buckner and gets to terrorize opposing offenses while Nick Bosa and Dee Ford on the edges do the same, never mind the presence of Arik Armstead next to him. 

    Kinlaw always had some potential for instant impact after putting up 17 tackles for loss and 10 sacks over 37 games at South Carolina. He then appeared to dominate at the Senior Bowl. 

    He's in a great spot to make waves immediately. 

Justin Jefferson, WR, Minnesota Vikings

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Wideout is generally one of the tougher transitional positions for rookies, though Terry McLaurin was one of the big exceptions last year. 

    Justin Jefferson might be the next example of a big exception, thanks to his abilities and his comfy circumstances with the Minnesota Vikings. 

    Jefferson was widely hailed as one of the most pro-ready wideouts in the class after his junior season at LSU. He put up 1,540 yards and 18 scores while playing the second option to Ja'Marr Chase, at least in terms of yardage. 

    Now Jefferson will play a similar safety-net role for the stat-happy Vikings as the second option to Adam Thielen with Stefon Diggs gone. Diggs' absence leaves a 94-target hole, and Kirk Cousins has attempted at least 540 passes with 4,000-plus yards in four of his last five seasons. And don't forget Dalvin Cook in the backfield. 

    Given the attention drawn elsewhere, Jefferson should be unusually free for production compared to other rookie wideouts and has the ability to win his matchups and secure his role early. 

Chase Young, EDGE, Washington Redskins

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Chase Young was always going to land on a list like this regardless of locale. 

    Widely hailed as one of the best edge-rushers to enter the draft in a long time, Young put up 27 sacks over his final two seasons at Ohio State before seriously threatening to be the No. 1 overall pick. 

    But Young's landing spot works wonders for his potential to wreck the league immediately. 

    The Washington Redskins have a loaded front seven even without him. He'll have Jonathan Allen (six sacks in 2019), Matt Ioannidis (8.5 sacks) and Daron Payne (two sacks) in front of him. Allen and Payne are first-round products. Speaking of first-round products, he'll get to learn from Ryan Kerrigan (7.5 sacks or more in every healthy season since 2011) while pairing with 2019 first-rounder Montez Sweat (seven sacks as a rookie). 

    It's a wicked front for Young to join, and he's bound to put up huge pressure efficiency numbers while putting his instantly translatable skill set to work. 

Joe Burrow, QB, Cincinnati Bengals

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Normally a rookie quarterback wouldn't register as one who could erupt and make a major impact on the league. 

    But Joe Burrow isn't a normal rookie quarterback, and his surroundings with the Cincinnati Bengals are quite rare. 

    Burrow just had one of the best college seasons ever, throwing for 5,671 yards and 60 scores while winning a national title and the Heisman Trophy. He then spent the predraft process not necessarily trying to prove anything to the NFL, but focusing on being the best rookie passer he can be.

    Now he lands in a Cincinnati offense boasting receivers A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd and running back Joe Mixon. Green has had injury issues but is a top-20 wideout when healthy. Boyd stepped in as the No. 1 in each of the last two years and put up consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. He'll also get to benefit from the game-breaking speed of 2017 top-10 pick John Ross, and if all else fails, he'll work with No. 33 pick Tee Higgins, who fell out of the first round potentially because of the sheer number of quality wideouts in the class. 

    Don't overlook the presence of Mixon, who has rushed for 1,100-plus yards in consecutive seasons with 17 total touchdowns. He has also recorded 30 or more catches in all three of his seasons. 

    Were the surroundings not so uncannily good for a rookie passer, it'd be easier to omit Burrow. But he's the bona fide starter, and while there are some question marks around him, it sure projects like he'll be able to fire the ball off fast on high-efficiency throws and let some stars around him do the heavy lifting. 


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