Ranking the Top 6 NFL Rookie of the Year Candidates Entering 2020 Season

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistAugust 20, 2020

Ranking the Top 6 NFL Rookie of the Year Candidates Entering 2020 Season

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    Aaron Doster/Associated Press

    One of the most interesting modern races to the NFL Rookie of the Year Award happens in 2020.

    It's not just that Cincinnati Bengals No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow has some legitimate competition from a handful of dominant skill-position players.

    An award already dripping with plenty of intrigue is even more interesting this year since rookies don't have the benefit of a normal training camp, nor will they get a single rep in preseason games.

    First-year standouts who are most prepared to step in and produce right away and those at positions with easier pro transitions stand to have the best odds of taking home the honors. Factor in past production, upside and current pro outlook on their respective teams and the rankings quickly become clear.

6. Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Miami Dolphins

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    Joel Auerbach/Associated Press

    Quarterback favoritism is a very real thing with all individual awards, so Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa figures to enter the conversation even if he doesn't line up under center immediately. 

    Tagovailoa was cleared to practice fully near the end of July. But the Dolphins have made it clear the current plan is to roll with veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick, an idea backed up by on-site reporters at camp, barring an unexpected outburst from the rookie passer. 

    Granted, the Dolphins can preach bringing Tagovailoa along slowly on account of his injury history and the odd summer schedule, but they might only have so much patience. He is, after all, the guy who threw for 76 touchdowns against just nine interceptions over his last two seasons at Alabama and was largely considered the top quarterback before Joe Burrow's breakout. 

    But any rookie quarterback is going to be raw, and especially so without preseason games. The Dolphins also remain one of the NFL's biggest rebuilders, so besides DeVante Parker's contributions, Tagovailoa's statistical output could be pretty meager compared to other ROY candidates. 

5. CeeDee Lamb, WR, Dallas Cowboys

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    Wideouts have a miserable track record with individual rookie honors compared to running backs and quarterbacks. 

    For good reason, too, as wideout just isn't as flashy as the quarterback position and has a much tougher transition to the pros than running back. To simplify it, while backs do largely the same thing as in college, wideouts have to learn a new offense with at least one new passer while adapting to pro speed and physicality. 

    That out of the way, Dallas Cowboys wideout CeeDee Lamb might have the best marriage of talent and fit capable of winning individual honors. He put up consecutive 1,100-yard seasons with 25 touchdowns over his final two college seasons and was a yards-after-catch machine who should translate well immediately. 

    Lamb will also have the benefit of opposing defenses throwing more resources at Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper and even Michael Gallup, meaning he could quickly become a favorite of Dak Prescott's and pile up massive stats.

4. D'Andre Swift, RB, Detroit Lions

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    There's been a big opening for big numbers out of the Detroit Lions backfield for essentially as long as Barry Sanders has been in retirement. 

    And a back as talented as D'Andre Swift should seize the opportunity and maximize the potential results. 

    Swift ran for 2,885 yards and 20 touchdowns on a gaudy 6.6 yards per carry over mostly two seasons of workhorse opportunity, also catching at least 17 passes in each season before becoming the 35th pick of the Lions. 

    A year removed from averaging 4.1 yards per rush with just seven scores, Detroit could deploy Swift as a three-down back. The offense will also return star quarterback Matthew Stafford and complementary passing-game pieces in Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr., so Swift should have plenty of room to operate as a runner and receiver.

3. Jonathan Taylor, RB, Indianapolis Colts

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Jonathan Taylor isn't a stranger to putting up massive numbers. 

    At Wisconsin, Taylor ran for 6,174 yards and 50 touchdowns, averaging 6.7 yards per carry and also catching 42 passes with another five touchdowns. Keep in mind he was also the third-heaviest player at his position at the combine...yet ran a 4.39-second 40-yard dash. 

    Now Taylor's immense talent arrives in Indianapolis on a team that just got an upgrade under center via the arrival of veteran Philip Rivers. More importantly, Taylor will feel like he's right back at Wisconsin behind one of the NFL's best offensive lines headed up by Quenton Nelson. 

    While Rivers could have some issues leaping to the first new team of his career after struggling last season, even that uncertainty could bring more opportunity Taylor's way. There are some other names on the depth chart at his position, too, but the Wisconsin product's every-down talent and track record suggest he'll elbow his way past Marlon Mack and Nyheim Hines into enough meaningful snaps to compete for honors.

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

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    The Kansas City Chiefs didn't take Clyde Edwards-Helaire at the end of Round 1 to sit him as a rookie. 

    But his promising outlook was amplified with Chiefs running back Damien Williams opting out of the season and the team doing little else for help. 

    The whole workload figures to go to Edwards-Helaire, who has already been serving as the top back in training camp. That's promising for all involved considering he ran for 1,414 yards (5.7 yards per carry) and 16 scores last season with 55 catches for 453 yards and a score. 

    Williams' opt-out means a 111-carry void in the NFL's most electrifying offense from a season ago. And with defenses focused on Patrick Mahomes and his army of pass-catchers, Edwards-Helaire's three-down talent should be on full display, likely nullifying any ideas of a committee approach from the coaching staff. 

1. Joe Burrow, QB, Cincinnati Bengals

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    Aaron Doster/Associated Press

    Normally, a preseason-less summer might knock a rookie passer out of the top spot on a list like this, but Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow has a few unique things going for him. 

    For one, he's coming off one of the best seasons by a college passer ever, highlighted by a 76.3 completion percentage with 5,671 yards and 60 touchdowns against six interceptions—along with all the accolades to show for it. 

    And two, he's entering a uniquely strong situation for a signal-caller taken No. 1 overall. He's got star running back Joe Mixon in the backfield, a reliable 1,000-yard wideout in the slot in Tyler Boyd and a potential top-15 overall wideout in A.J. Green. Then add playmakers like Giovani Bernard, 2017 first-rounder John Ross III and Tee Higgins, the first pick of the second round this year. 

    Burrow's going to have a trial by fire of sorts, and it won't always be pretty. But if there were ever a quarterback prospect to flourish despite these unique summer and regular-season circumstances, it's probably him.