Biggest Takeaways from Every NFL Team's 2020 Rookie Class

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistNovember 23, 2020

Biggest Takeaways from Every NFL Team's 2020 Rookie Class

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    Whether it's Justin Herbert giving the Chargers franchise hope, Patrick Queen roving the middle of the Ravens defense or Tua Tagovailoa taking over for a Dolphins team trying to win the division, the rookie class of 2020 is already having a big impact. 

    We won't be able to fully judge each team's haul until they've played a few years on their rookie contracts. It can take a while for the metamorphosis from college star to NFL standout to take place. Some players weren't drafted to make an impact this season but rather to take over a role later in their deal (looking at you, Packers).

    But we can take a look at the early returns. With more than half the season gone by, teams are starting to see what they have in their batch of rookies. Whether it's fair or not, the evaluation process does start early—even if it doesn't paint a complete picture at this juncture. 

    Here's what we've learned about each team's class thus far.

Arizona Cardinals: Isaiah Simmons Is More Project Than Pro Bowler

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    Jennifer Stewart/Associated Press

    Isaiah Simmons was arguably the most tantalizing defensive prospect in the draft. With his body of work at Clemson, incredible athletic testing numbers and positional versatility, it seemed like he would be an immediate impact player. 

    That hasn't been the case for the linebacker thus far. Simmons has struggled to get on the field for an Arizona defense that is 10th in DVOA. He's only played 27 percent of the team's defensive snaps this season and has logged just two games with more than 50 percent of them—in Weeks 8 and 10. 

    There's good news, though. With the uptick in playing time, he does seem to be earning the coaching staff's trust. 

    "After the bye, he came back a different guy," defensive coordinator Vance Joseph told Darren Urban of Word from the Birds. "He's definitely more comfortable. He's more confident in what he's doing. He wants more playing time. That's a good thing. He has to earn it, but he wants it."

    Simmons has shown flashes of the athleticism and playmaking that made him a top-10 pick: an interception of Russell Wilson an incredible hustle play in which he turned a quarterback pressure into a tackle against the Bills.

    His Thursday Night Football appearance in the rematch with Seattle is even more reason for hope. He posted 10 tackles, two for loss and a quarterback hit. He's still shown the potential to be a difference-maker but is just coming along slower than expected.

    Fellow rookies Josh Jones (35 snaps), Leki Fotu (153) and Rashard Lawrence (83) have all played even less offensive or defensive snaps than Simmons this season. Fotu has seen modest production in his opportunities with just five tackles.

Atlanta Falcons: AJ Terrell Can Play; the Rest of the Class Needs Some Time

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    Danny Karnik/Associated Press

    It hasn't always been pretty, but cornerback AJ Terrell has been a key player on the Falcons defense from day one. While the rest of the Falcons rookies have played varying roles, Terrell has the second-highest percentage of snaps for his position and was the only one to play 100 percent of the snaps in Week 9. 

    He hasn't put up head-turning numbers there. He had 34 tackles, an interception and two passes defended going into the Week 10 bye. But he did make Pro Football Focus' midseason all-rookie team. 

    Second-round pick Marlon Davidson is the most worrisome of the class. He's seen action in just three games (with four tackles) this season while dealing with a knee injury and recovering from COVID-19. 

    Matt Hennessy got some run as the team's left guard, but James Carpenter has taken over the spot. Linebacker Mykal Walker shined in his opportunity to start for Foyesade Oluokun in Week 3 with eight tackles, one tackle for loss and a forced fumble.

Baltimore Ravens: Tradition of Great Linebackers Continues with Patrick Queen

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    The Ravens franchise is consistently one of the best at drafting, and it appears the 2020 class has once again supplied the team with difference-makers. 

    Chief among them is the man who is playing in the middle of a defense that is fifth in DVOA. Patrick Queen still needs to work on his consistency, but general manager Eric DeCosta has to like what he sees so far. He's made himself a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate with 61 tackles, five tackles for loss, two sacks and two forced fumbles. 

    Second-round selection J.K. Dobbins' usage is keeping him from putting up big numbers, but he's looked good when taking carries away from Mark Ingram II and Gus Edwards. His 15-carry, 113-yard performance against Pittsburgh could be a glimpse of what's to come as he carves out a bigger role. 

    For now, the biggest takeaway of the bunch is the Ravens got another future Pro Bowl linebacker with the 28th pick in the draft.

Buffalo Bills: Zack Moss and Gabriel Davis Proving to Be Important for Offense

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    Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

    Zack Moss was a bit of a surprise pick when the Buffalo Bills spent a third-rounder on a running back just one year after using a third-round selection on Devin Singletary in 2019. However, it has created a good pairing in the Buffalo backfield. 

    Moss has worked himself into at least an equal timeshare with Singletary from the beginning of the season. He's shown a nose for the end zone with three touchdowns on 59 carries, and he's either out-carried or tied Singletary in each of the last three games. 

    Gabriel Davis has already paid dividends as a fourth-round pick. He's become the team's clear fourth option on offense and has playmaking ability with three touchdowns on the year. The Central Florida product has the ceiling to surpass Cole Beasley and John Brown for the WR2 distinction in the near future. 

    Josh Allen is doing everything he can this season to show he makes Buffalo a dangerous team. The Bills did a good job of finding him some more weapons in the draft.

Carolina Panthers: Jeremy Chinn is a Stud

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    Brian Blanco/Associated Press

    Derrick Brown was the crown jewel of the Carolina Panthers' all-defense draft class, but it's Jeremy Chinn who has turned out to be a transformative talent. 

    Brown is second in pressures among rookies, according to PFF. His growth from Week 1 to now has also been encouraging. But Chinn is turning out to be everything Isaiah Simmons was advertised to be heading into the draft. He's played all over the field for Carolina as a safety and outside linebacker, doing everything from clogging running lanes and covering receivers to coming on blitzes. 

    In nine games, he's posted five passes defended, an interception, 70 tackles and three pressures. His do-it-all versatility allows him to play a role in every package the Panthers have defensively, which makes him an important chess piece in Matt Rhule's scheme.

    This draft class is going to shape their defense for years to come, but Chinn is looking like the best investment so far.

Chicago Bears: Jaylon Johnson Was a Steal

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    Kyusung Gong/Associated Press

    There were six cornerbacks taken before the Chicago Bears selected Jaylon Johnson with the 50th pick in the 2020 draft. Through 10 weeks of play, only two corners in the NFL have broken up more passes than Johnson. 

    Johnson's physical style has translated well to the NFL. He's holding opposing quarterbacks to a 50.8 completion percentage when targeted and is a major reason why the Bears are fourth in yards allowed per attempt.

    The Bears were without a first-round pick this year, so they had to nail both of their second-round picks. Cole Kmet has shown he's deserving of a bigger role in the offense. He's seen a steady uptick in his snap count as the season has gone on, and five of his seven receptions have been for first downs. Johnson is already a quality starting cornerback with a bright future. 

    Throw in the contributions of fifth-round pick Darnell Mooney as the team's No. 2 receiver, and the Bears' draft is looking good.

Cincinnati Bengals: The Draft Class is More Than Joe Burrow

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    Don Wright/Associated Press

    Coming off the most prolific season in college football history, Joe Burrow was the obvious No. 1 pick in the 2020 draft. The Bengals appear to have their franchise quarterback, but they needed to get more from this crop than that. 

    The results might not be showing up in the win column just yet, but the Bengals have multiple foundational pieces in the class—not the least of which is wide receiver Tee Higgins. The Clemson product is third among all rookie receivers in receptions and second in yards in a stacked class at his position. 

    His upside was most evident in the seven-catch, 115-yard, one-touchdown line he posted against the stingy Steelers defense. 

    On the defensive side of the ball, the trio of Akeem Davis-Gaither, Logan Wilson and Khalid Kareem have each played rotational roles.

    Wilson has hovered around 50 percent of the snaps since Week 5 and shown a nose for the ball with two interceptions, two passes defended and a sack. Davis-Gaither has shown some upside in pass coverage, and Kareem should see an uptick in playing time with the departure of Carlos Dunlap.

    The Bengals have lost Burrow for the season to what the early diagnosis shows is a torn ACL, per Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, but fans should still be encouraged by watching the rest of this class show their development over the course of the final weeks. 

Cleveland Browns: Jedrick Wills Was the Missing Piece on the Offensive Line

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    David Richard/Associated Press

    The Cleveland Browns came into the offseason with an offensive line that desperately needed to upgrade both tackle spots. The first upgrade came in the form of signing Jack Conklin on the right side. The second came in the form of 10th overall pick Jedrick Wills Jr.

    Wills was in competition with several tackles to be drafted highly. Andrew Thomas, Mekhi Becton and Tristan Wirfs were all under consideration as top-10-worthy. When the Browns were on the clock, only Thomas was taken.

    Wills looks like the guy thus far. He was included on PFF's all-rookie offensive line and is doing it while transitioning to left tackle after playing right tackle his whole career. Former Browns All-Pro left tackle Joe Thomas is among those impressed by how seamless that transition has been. 

    "I think the conversation, the questions and the skepticism about can he change from right tackle to left tackle, especially with a reduced or limited offseason, I think those have all been pretty much put to bed because he looks like a natural out there at left tackle," Thomas told Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal.

    There are other positive takeaways in the mix. Harrison Bryant (15 catches, 151 yards and three touchdowns) is making David Njoku's time with the franchise limited and Jordan Elliott has played a rotational role on the defensive line. 

    But Wills is by far the most important of the crop and he's living up to his top 10 pick billing. 

Dallas Cowboys: CeeDee Lamb is the Star of a Strong Draft Haul

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    The Dallas Cowboys haven't had much to be happy about this season, but the play of CeeDee Lamb and the rest of their rookies should give them hope. 

    Lamb was perceived to be one of the biggest surprises and steals in April. He's made that perception a reality with his production in Dallas. Despite shaky quarterback play after Dak Prescott's injury, he's gone on to lead all rookie receivers with 44 catches, and he's third in yards and touchdowns. 

    Considering he's commanding enough targets to put up those numbers with Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup in the fold, he is showing star potential. 

    The Cowboys have been awful defensively, but not much of that can be pinned on the rookies who are playing a fair share of snaps and showing promise. Trevon Diggs led the team in interceptions with two before going down with a foot injury that may end his season. 

    With Dallas dealing with a ton of injuries, almost every rookie in this class has chipped in to fill the void. Neville Gallimore and Bradlee Anae have stood out on the defensive line at times, and Tyler Biadiasz was named to PFF's All-Rookie Midseason Team if only for lack of competition at center.

Denver Broncos: The Quarterback of the Future Will Have Weapons

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    Danny Karnik/Associated Press

    It remains unclear whether Drew Lock is the quarterback of the future in Denver. For a myriad of reasons, including injuries to himself and Courtland Sutton, it's hard to determine if the second-year signal-caller is going to be "the guy" moving forward.

    However, rookie wideouts Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler have proved that Denver will have an impressive pass-catching arsenal regardless of who's under center.

    Both Jeudy and Hamler have been forced into important roles in Sutton's absence, and they are starting to live up to those expectations. Jeudy has struggled with drops and been inefficient with his targets (49.7 percent catch rate), but he's starting to put together some big games. 

    Week 9 was a preview of what Jeudy can do. He had a season-high seven catches for 125 yards and a touchdown. It also happened to coincide with Hamler's best game. He had six catches for 75 yards. 

    It hasn't always been pretty, but both receivers are trending up, and they should join a healthy Sutton to form a dangerous trio for whomever is throwing passes in 2021. 

Detroit Lions: First- and Second-Round Picks on Opposite Trajectories

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    Danny Karnik/Associated Press

    As the season progresses Detroit's coaching staff seems to trust second-round pick, D'Andre Swift, more and more. The exact opposite can be said for third overall selection Jeff Okudah. 

    In the first four games of the season, Swift saw just 12 carries and 16 targets in the passing game. He was getting less run and being outplayed by 35-year-old Adrian Peterson. Then the bye week came and with it more opportunity for the former Georgia running back. 

    Since then he's led the team in rushing in three out of five games and has added four touchdowns. He's continued to have a presence in the passing game with 23 catches for 151 yards while averaging 4.9 yards per rush. That's the kind of production you would hope to get out of a back drafted that high. 

    Positive returns on Okudah have been a little more slow-developing. His role on the team has dwindled on a weekly basis since Week 8. After playing more than 90 percent of the snaps in five of the first six games he has 45 and 39 percent of the snaps in Weeks 9 and 10 respectively. Okudah is giving up a 113.6 passer rating when targeted this season. 

    There's a degree of difficulty factor at play here. It's much easier to find success as a rookie running back than it is corner but Okudah was advertised as the most pro-ready player in the draft at his position so it's worth noting his struggles. 

Green Bay Packers: Little to No Short-Term Impact

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    Mike Roemer/Associated Press

    The Packers' draft was one of the most perplexing. The criticism was that few of the players they drafted seem to plug holes that were immediate needs, nor do they fit the current construction of the team with Aaron Rodgers at the helm. 

    So far, that assessment has held true. 

    Quarterback Jordan Love has obviously seen no playing time. It would be bad news for the Packers if he did. 

    But running back AJ Dillon has also been scarcely used with just 24 total touches, and there's little impact to be found other than the special-teams work of Vernon Scott. It's telling that the player who has seen the most offensive or defensive snaps through Week 10 is a seventh-round pick: Jonathan Garvin with 85

    Clearly, this is one of those classes that was never meant to be judged after the first year, much less halfway through the first season. Given Matt LaFleur and Brian Gutekunst's success thus far, they get the benefit of the doubt right now, but this class seems to be living up to its criticism.

Houston Texans: At Least They Have Laremy Tunsil

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    When Texans fans think of the 2020 draft, it's important to remember they lost their first-round pick trading for left tackle Laremy Tunsil. It was the first of two future first-round picks they moved in the deal to acquire the Pro Bowler. 

    Financially, they don't have the benefit of Tunsil playing on a rookie contract, but they essentially got a player who is in the top tier at his position for two draft picks that were far from guarantees. Tunsil has given up one sack on the year, and it was to Myles Garrett. 

    As for the actual picks, there is still a lot to be uncovered. Ross Blacklock—who was taken with the pick acquired in the DeAndre Hopkins trade—has seen an increase in playing time. Defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver said he's seen growth from the defensive tackle. 

    Jonathan Greenard has been the most promising rookie to this point. The third-round defensive end has seen more playing time as the season progresses and earned the respect of some of the veterans, like Whitney Mercilus.

Indianapolis Colts: A Hidden Gem and Potential Fool's Gold

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    Zach Bolinger/Associated Press

    There was a lot to like about Jonathan Taylor coming out of Wisconsin. He has the ideal size and speed you'd love to have in a running back, and his production was through the roof. But the start to his NFL career has shades of Trent Richardson.

    Colts fans will know that is not a compliment. 

    There have been standout moments for Taylor, to be sure; his truck-stick on Tennessee's Amani Hooker was delightful and a reminder of the back he could be. But Taylor has spent a lot of his short time with the Colts running into the backs of his offensive linemen, and he only had 12 yards on seven carries in that game against the Titans. 

    There's still plenty of time for Taylor to figure things out, and it could be an adjustment period, but it's a concerning start. 

    On the flip side, the Colts uncovered a gem in safety Julian Blackmon. He's been a force in the secondary with six passes defended, two interceptions and two tackles for loss. He's holding opposing passers to a 42.3 rating when targeted.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Best Rookie May Not Have Been Drafted

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    There were 18 running backs taken in the 2020 NFL draft. Clyde Edwards-Helaire came off the board in the first round, and five running backs followed suit in the second. 

    None of them were James Robinson, and none of them have outproduced the undrafted running back. 

    Robinson has perpetuated the idea that you can find good-to-great running back play without using a precious draft pick. Through nine games, he led all rookie rushers with 689 yards, or 103 more than Edwards-Helaire. 

    As Field Yates of ESPN noted, Robinson is on pace for more than 1,600 yards from scrimmage, which would be a record for an undrafted running back. He's made the club's decision to walk away from Leonard Fournette look genius and shined among a talented and deep batch of rookies for Jacksonville.

    CJ Henderson has been a Day 1 starter at cornerback and has six passes defended and an interception. K'Lavon Chaisson has shown some promise with four pressures in a limited role thus far, and Laviska Shenault Jr. is as dynamic as advertised (five of his 30 catches have gone for over 20 yards). 

Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs Are in Good Hands with Brett Veach

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    If the Chiefs are to realize their potential as a dynastic franchise with Patrick Mahomes locked up for the foreseeable future, they are going to have to nail the draft. The prohibitive cost of keeping the signal-caller around through 2031 is going to necessitate finding players who can perform on rookie deals. 

    So far, general manager Brett Veach has shown he's up to the task. 

    Last year, he found immediate contributors in the second round in wide receiver Mecole Hardman and safety Juan Thornhill. This season, he's found two defensive pieces in the second and fourth round who have flashed big-play ability in linebacker Willie Gay Jr. and cornerback L'Jarius Sneed. 

    Sneed started for the first three weeks of the season and gave up a passer rating of 33.8 despite seeing 17 targets as teams aggressively went after him. Unfortunately, he has been out of the lineup since with a broken collarbone, but finding a corner who can have that kind of success out of the gate is no joke. 

    The staff is bringing Gay along slowly, but he's done good things when on the field. His splash plays stand out, as he has a sack, two tackles for loss, two passes defended and a quarterback hit despite playing just 23 percent of the defensive snaps.

Las Vegas Raiders: Not Living Up to Expectations Early

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    Isaac Brekken/Associated Press

    With five picks in the top 100, the Raiders had a great opportunity to put together a quality class that could make a difference right away. That has happened to an extent, but it's hard to say any of the picks have lived up to expectations thus far. 

    Wideout Henry Ruggs III has made some plays and flashed the speed to stretch defenses vertically, but his numbers pale in comparison to his fellow rookie receivers such as Justin Jefferson, Tee Higgins, CeeDee Lamb, Jerry Jeudy or even Brandon Aiyuk. 

    Damon Arnette—the team's second first-round choice—underwent thumb surgery that kept him out five games. Prior to that, he had allowed nine completions on 11 targets for 110 yards, although he was targeted three times in his return against the Broncos and only gave up one catch for nine yards. Once again, glimpses of talent but not much substance. 

    Wide receiver Lynn Bowden Jr. was traded before the season even started and moved to running back in Miami. Fellow third-round selection Bryan Edwards has also been banged up. A foot/ankle injury kept the wide receiver out from Weeks 4 through 8. Since coming back, he has logged just one catch. 

    There is time for each of these guys (with the exception of Bowden, of course) to salvage their rookie season, so it isn't time to hit the panic button. However, the Raiders aren't seeing the immediate impact they could from their rookies.

Los Angeles Chargers: Justin Herbert Was No Consolation Prize

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    For much of the buildup to the 2020 draft, it was all about Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa. Both SEC quarterbacks dominated college football headlines and appeared to be the top prizes. With both quarterbacks coming off the board before Herbert, it was fair to view Justin Herbert as the booby prize. 

    As it turns out, the joke is on everyone else. 

    Herbert has been the shining light in a dark season that has included several heartbreaking losses for the Los Angeles Chargers. The Rookie of the Week award has become a shrine to Herbert, and it won't be surprising at all to see him and his new haircut take home that award a few more times before the season is over. 

    The inevitable comparisons to Burrow are going to follow him for years to come, and he's shown he can hang so far. He leads the trio of first-round passers in yards per game, touchdowns and completion percentage going into Week 11. 

    Joshua Kelley has also been a boon to the offense. With Austin Ekeler out of the lineup for much of the season he's racked up over 456 yards from scrimmage in 10 games. 

    The Chargers have found their quarterback of the future. Figuring out how to win the one-score games will surely come.

Los Angeles Rams: Defensive Rookies Outperforming the Offense

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    Steve Helber/Associated Press

    Running back Cam Akers and wideout Van Jefferson were the first two picks in the Los Angeles Rams' haul, but they haven't been the most impactful of the bunch. 

    Akers has been outplayed by both Malcolm Brown and Darrell Henderson despite having the opportunity to win the job. Jefferson has been a near-non-factor in a crowded Rams receiver room. Both will likely take on bigger roles down the road as the cap makes it difficult to keep their competition around, but it certainly isn't happening in the present based on their performances on the field. 

    There are some positive takeaways on the defensive side of the class. Jordan Fuller has been great for a sixth-round pick. He is PFF's 28th-ranked safety out of the 88 they've graded this season and has played a significant role when not out of the lineup dealing with a shoulder injury. 

    Edge-defender Terrell Lewis has dealt with injuries of his own this season but has been a disruptor when he gets on the field. He's played just 83 snaps but has two sacks and three quarterback hits. If he can extrapolate that production to a bigger role, he could end up being the best player in the class.

Miami Dolphins: The Rookie Class Is Integral to a Bright Future

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    Tua Tagovailoa's hot start to his career isn't the only reason for Dolphins fans to be excited. There are multiple rookies on the roster who are on pace to pan out in South Beach. 

    Tagovailoa has obviously been the headliner with his 3-0 start. He's been as advertised as a face-of-the-franchise-level quarterback even if he was benched in the team's loss to the Denver Broncos for performance reasons.

    The team was trailing by 10 in a game that meant a lot for their playoff contention and Tagovailoa had been sacked six times. These are normal growing pains for a rookie quarterback. 

    What's a little less advertised is the fact that they may have found his two tackles of the future in Austin Jackson and Robert Hunt. The latter has been the team's swing tackle and utility lineman but has played 228 snaps with just six blown blocks, per Sports Info Solutions. Jackson has logged 199 passing snaps and given up just one sack

    Cornerback Noah Igbinoghene has struggled to make the leap to the NFL, giving up a passer rating of 144.5 when targeted this season, but it's important to remember he's only 20 years old. Raekwon Davis has seen his role at defensive tackle ramp up each week and has logged 21 tackles. 

    Brandon Jones has been a contributor all over the defensive backfield, showing versatility. He's third among all defensive backs on the team in tackles. As long as those three players develop and the offensive rookies stay on track, this will be a class that shapes the Dolphins franchise for years to come.

Minnesota Vikings: Justin Jefferson Could Be the Best Player in the Draft

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    This class overall is shaping up to produce some stars, but wide receiver Justin Jefferson is making a legit case to be the best of them all. 

    Sure, Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert and Tua Tagovailoa may have more value as quarterbacks, but Jefferson is rewriting the book on rookie receivers. Jefferson has been PFF's highest-graded receiver in four of the nine weeks he has played, tied Randy Moss' franchise record for 100-yard receiving games as a rookie and is behind only Stefon Diggs in catches of 20-plus yards this season. 

    It isn't like Jefferson has been a benefactor of an explosive offense. He and Adam Thielen are the Vikings passing game. Jefferson's Dominator Rating, which calculates the percentage of his team's receiving yards and touchdowns he has accounted for, is 26.6 percent. Combined with Thielen's 38.7 rating and the duo account for 65.3 percent of the production. 

    In a class full of talented receivers, Jefferson is outproducing them all and making an argument he's the best pound-for-pound player in the class.

    On the defensive side of the ball D.J. Wonnum is proving to be one of the better deals in the middle rounds. The fourth-rounder out of South Carolina is third on the team with nine pressures. Combined with Jeff Gladney and Cam Dantzler who have played significant time in the secondary the Vikings got a few future defensive starters out of the draft. 

New England Patriots: Michael Onwenu Is the Best Value in the Class

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    A good offensive lineman is hard to find. It's possible to spend millions in free agency, early draft picks and trade capital and still not come up with one who offers consistent play. 

    That the Patriots are getting what they are out of sixth-round pick Michael Onwenu is an absurd bargain.

    Forget PFF's midseason all-rookie team, which Onwenu made. According to its analysts, only Wyatt Teller and Zack Martin earned better run grades. 

    Onwenu has played significant snaps at both guard spots, as well as right tackle, and has performed wherever he's been asked. Safety Kyle Dugger deserves a mention for the impact he's made on the defense. The Lenoir-Rhyne product has shown he's more than capable of playing in the league. 

    But Onwenu is the hidden gem of the class with his play so far.

New Orleans Saints: Limited Picks, Limited Impact

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    Mark LoMoglio/Associated Press

    The New Orleans Saints had the smallest draft class in 2020 with just four prospects. So far, those picks haven't translated to instant success. 

    Cesar Ruiz has filled a spot at right guard. That's all you can really say about his play to this point. He's started in five of eight games after missing Week 1 with an ankle injury. But he hasn't looked great when on the field. He carries a 50.7 grade from PFF, which ranks him 74th out of 82 guards. 

    The concern about Zack Baun is he may be a bit of a 'tweener with no clearly defined role as an edge-rusher or off-ball linebacker. So far, that concern has held true. Baun has only seen 30 snaps on defense. 

    Fellow third-rounder Adam Trautman has been equally dismal in his role. The tight end has just six catches on the season. 

    Undrafted free agents Malcolm Roach, who has been part of the defensive tackle rotation, and Marquez Callaway (15 catches and spot kick and punt-return duty) have arguably meant more than anyone they drafted outside of Ruiz. 

New York Giants: Tale of Two Halves for Andrew Thomas?

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    Brad Penner/Associated Press

    The New York Giants made the first bold move of the draft in April when they chose tackle Andrew Thomas over the rest of the top-ranked tackles in the class, as well as the highly hyped Isaiah Simmons and other defensive talents. 

    The early returns were not good. Thomas struggled to protect Daniel Jones, who needed all the protection he could get, and the Georgia product looked overmatched every week. However, with Joe Judge taking on a bigger role in coaching the line, Thomas has turned things around in recent weeks. 

    In the first seven games of the season, Thomas allowed five sacks, four quarterback hits and 27 quarterback hurries. In the next three games, he cut those numbers down to one sack, two quarterback hits and five hurries.

    The Giants have made a coaching change at Thomas' position, replacing Marc Colombo with Dave DeGuglielmo. If Thomas can continue to grow under a new tutor, then the Giants may have gotten the fourth pick right after all.

    Thomas is the most important member of the 2020 draft class but there is hope in some of the other choices. Xavier McKinney hasn't been on the field yet due to a broken foot, Matt Peart carries an impressive 80.0 grade from PFF in the limited action (107 snaps) that he's been graded and while Shane Lemieux has performed much worse (32.7) he has played at least 96 percent of the snaps in three straight games. 

New York Jets: Rookies Are Getting Lots of Experience

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    Corey Sipkin/Associated Press

    One of the benefits of being the worst team in the league is plenty of experience for the young players on the roster. The New York Jets are a prime example. 

    According to ESPN Stats & Info, the Jets played 10 rookies in their Monday Night Football loss to the Patriots, only the fifth time a team had played that many rookies this season. 

    They aren't just getting on the field, either. Offensive tackle Mekhi Becton, wideout Denzel Mims and safety Ashtyn Davis are starters. Running back La'Mical Perine and cornerback Bryce Hall are in key rotational roles. 

    Becton—the mammoth first-rounder—has shown progress throughout the season and held up fairly well when healthy. He has allowed just three sacks in 298 snaps while earning a 70.6 grade from PFF. 

    The rookies would likely be playing an even bigger role if it weren't for injuries. Becton missed two games with a shoulder injury, Mims didn't make his debut until Week 7 because of hamstring injuries, and defensive lineman Jabari Zuniga has only played in two games after suffering a quad injury.

Philadelphia Eagles: Draft Results Inconclusive

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    It's really hard to say too much about the Eagles draft class. The group certainly hasn't helped elevate the team to a higher level than it was in 2019. But a lot of that has to do with injuries and lack of opportunity. 

    First-round pick Jalen Reagor missed five games with a thumb injury but has looked good in limited opportunities. His first catch was a 55-yard gain, and he caught his first career touchdown against Dallas in his first game back from the injury. 

    Jalen Hurts was a surprising pick in the second round, and the team still hasn't used him much. Even with Carson Wentz struggling, the Eagles have resisted the urge to play him at quarterback, and he'd only registered 30 snaps through 10 weeks. 

    It's telling that fifth-round pick John Hightower has played more snaps than any other rookie. The Eagles didn't find many immediate contributors in this class, so it's going to take some time to get a full evaluation. 

Pittsburgh Steelers: No First-Rounder, No Problem

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    Don Wright/Associated Press

    The Steelers are one of the best-run organizations in football, and part of that has to do with consistently drafting well. The 2020 class appears to be no exception, as the Steelers have gotten contributions from multiple rookies despite losing their first-round pick in the Minkah Fitzpatrick trade. 

    It starts with Chase Claypool, who became the first wide receiver in the Super Bowl era with 10 touchdowns in his first 10 games. 

    Pass-rusher Alex Highsmith hasn't gotten a ton of run on the Steelers' loaded defense, but he made PFF's Midseason All-Rookie team based on his play in limited action. Entering Week 11, fourth-round guard Kevin Dotson logged 190 snaps without giving up a sack. 

    Running back Anthony McFarland Jr. has been a bit of a disappointment. He doesn't yet have a defined role within the offense as James Conner has handled the majority of the snaps in the backfield, but it's a strong draft class considering the resources the Steelers had to work with.  

San Francisco 49ers: John Lynch Nailed the First Round

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    The 49ers only had two picks in the first four rounds, but they made them count. 

    Defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw is making the DeForest Buckner trade look good. The team parted with Buckner for cap reasons and got the 13th pick in return. After the 49ers traded down one spot, they took Kinlaw, who is proving to be a disruptive force. Entering Week 11, he had tallied the third-most pressures of any rookie, three batted passes, 1.5 sacks and four quarterback hits. 

    Brandon Aiyuk—the 25th overall selection—has held his own against a strong rookie receiver class. He's scored a touchdown in three of his last four games and is sixth in receiving yards per game in the group.

    Both players are well on their way to becoming mainstays on their respective sides of the ball. That's a great haul with only two bites at the apple. 

Seattle Seahawks: Damien Lewis Is the Best in Class by a Wide Margin

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    Stephen Brashear/Associated Press

    The Seahawks had one of the most confusing picks when they took linebacker Jordyn Brooks in the first round instead of a pass-rusher. He's done little to make doubters look wrong there. 

    Darrell Taylor—the edge-rusher they did take in the second round—hasn't played yet this season while recovering from a leg injury but is rounding out his recovery process

    Running back DeeJay Dallas and defensive end Alton Robinson have proved to be solid Day 3 picks, but the standout of the class has been third-round pick Damien Lewis.

    Lewis was another addition to the PFF's Midseason All-Rookie Team and has been a strong run-blocker while keeping Russell Wilson relatively clean, allowing just two sacks. This class may not deliver a lot of quality starters, but the Seahawks already have one in Lewis. 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Tristan Wirfs and Antoine Winfield Jr. Carrying Class

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    Corey Sipkin/Associated Press

    For a franchise that signed Tom Brady, the 2020 draft was all about finding immediate contributors to get the Buccaneers to the Super Bowl. 

    So far, tackle Tristan Wirfs and safety Antoine Winfield Jr. have held up their end of the bargain. 

    Wirfs has been lights out as the team's right tackle from Week 1. He entered Week 11 as the fourth-rated rookie regardless of position, according to PFF, and he's doing it at a position that isn't easy to adjust to in the NFL. He's played every snap this year at a position that is crucial with Brady at the helm. 

    Winfield has been a linchpin of the secondary all season. He's a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate and has proved to be disruptive in the run game, as a blitzer and in coverage. The Bucs defense is simply better by having Winfield on the field. 

    Two more draft picks figured to make big impacts but haven't. Running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn figured to push Ronald Jones II for carries, but Leonard Fournette's presence has kept Vaughn off the field (just 12 touches). Tyler Johnson was a draft darling that hasn't been able to break through a deep receiver corps. 

Tennessee Titans: Injuries Have Created Rough First Year for Many

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    Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press

    Tackle Isaiah Wilson is one of two first-rounders to not play a down this season. The other is Jordan Love, who is stuck behind some guy named Aaron Rodgers. 

    Wilson has been on the COVID-19/reserve list twice for the Titans and has yet to be active despite practicing with the team. With left tackle Taylor Lewan out for the season with an injured ACL, one would think Wilson would be activated. 

    Second-round pick Kristian Fulton has been hard to get a read on this season. Rookie corners can run hot-and-cold, but missing games makes the evaluation hard too. He's made five appearances this season on account of a knee injury that forced him on the short-term injured reserve. 

    Third-round pick Darrynton Evans, who was supposed to provide a change of pace in the running game, has only made two appearances due to a hamstring injury.

    It's hard to even get a baseline feel for this class with all of the bad luck it's had this season. 

Washington Football Team: Chase Young Is a Bulldozer; Antonio Gibson Is a Weapon

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    Duane Burleson/Associated Press

    The Washington Football Team is under a complete overhaul, and their first two picks in the 2020 draft are among the brightest pieces of their future. 

    No. 2 pick Chase Young has lived up to the hype. The defensive end might not have the gaudiest sack numbers, but he entered Week 11 leading all rookies in pressures. And that's not factoring in that he essentially missed two games with a thumb injury. Playing alongside Montez Sweat is both a blessing and a curse for the prodigious pass-rusher. Sometimes Sweat simply beats him to a sack. 

    The tandem is a foundation for Washington to build a nasty defense around. 

    Ron Rivera's crew took a gamble on running back/wide receiver Antonio Gibson, who had just one year of starting experience at Memphis. It's been a great gamble, as Gibson had already scored seven touchdowns entering Week 11 and is a threat as both a runner and receiver. 

    He's the ideal back for the modern game and gives the team another weapon to form the offense around with Terry McLaurin. 


    All statistics current through Week 10.