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With the NFL draft coming, I looked back at some rookies which stood out from this past season, so here are the top 10 rookies of 2020!

This year’s rookie class was fantastic, especially when you take into consideration that both training camps were limited and that there were no preseason games played, due to the Covid-19 outbreak. While this could have hampered their ability to learn their respective offensive/defensive systems, there was a plethora of talented rookies who still managed to shine through.

So here’s my list for the top ten rookies who rocked the NFL landscape in 2020...

1) Justin Herbert – Los Angeles Chargers (Quarterback)

The standout rookie of the 2020 season, Justin Herbert performed above and beyond his expectations. Photo Credit: latimes.com

The sixth overall pick in the draft, many worried that the former Oregan man would be able to produce right away in the league, but he dispelled that notion in his first game against the then defending champions, the Kansas City Chiefs, in week two; throwing for 311 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception and 1 rushing touchdown in a losing effort. 

He finished the year with 31 touchdowns (beating the previous record of 27 set by Cleveland Browns’ quarterback Baker Mayfield) and only 10 interceptions. Herbert also became just the fourth rookie quarterback to throw for over 4,000 yards (4,336).

The scary thing is that Herbert is only 22 years old and he ended the 2020 regular season on a four game win streak, whilst earning rookie of the year honours; with a proper off-season programme behind him going into his sophomore season, there is a legitimate chance the Chargers could contend for the division if their young signal caller can take the second year jump.

2) Justin Jefferson – Minnesota Vikings (Wide Receiver)

The best wide receiver in a packed rookie class, Justin Jefferson made a name for himself with the Vikings. Photo Credit: nfl.com 

Another Justin comes in at number two, but I would argue that you can easily make a case for Jefferson being the rookie of the year (for better or worse, quarterbacks are always valued above all other positions).

Jefferson finished the year with 1,400 receiving yards, breaking the rookie record of 1,377 previously set by Anquan Boldin as well as 7 touchdowns to boot. One of only two rookies to be voted to the Pro-Bowl (the other being Chase Young, who we’ll get to soon…) he was also voted second team All-Pro, cementing himself as one of the top wideouts in the league, full stop. 

Jefferson excelled at getting open against single coverage and improving his route running throughout the season, so his challenge next year will be dealing with the inevitable double teams he is bound to attract from teams; I believe at the end of the day though, we will wonder how he fell to the 22nd pick in the draft.

3) Tristan Wirfs – Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Offensive Tackle)

With the mammoth job of protecting the greatest player of all time, Tristan Wirfs was able to lock down his left tackle spot and help the Bucs to a Super Bowl victory. Photo Credit: theathletic.co.uk

Imagine being 22 years old, getting drafted into the NFL and being told to protect the greatest football player of all time. Well that is exactly what the 13th pick, Tristan Wirfs, was asked to do in his rookie season… and safe to say, he handled that pressure almost flawlessly.

Going up against some elite pass rushers, such as Cameron Jordan, Joey Bosa and Frank Clark in the Super Bowl, Wirfs played a total of 1,073 snaps and gave up 1 sack… ONE! Per Pro Football Focus, the right tackle graded out at 82.2 (second highest in the NFL) and was a major reason for the Bucs having the second best scoring offence in the league and keeping the 43 year old Tom Brady upright.

Wirfs was the fourth tackle taken in the draft and may just turn out to be the best of the lot; with his combination of strength, speed and long arms, he is smooth in his movement on the offensive line and ability to get depth when in pass protection. His season also ended as a Super Bowl Champion, so not a bad start to the career… 

4) Chase Young – Washington Football Team (Defensive End)

The number 2 overall pick in last year’s NFL draft, Young lived up to expectations, earning the defensive rookie of the year award. Photo Credit: nflmocks.com

Coming out as potentially the most talented player in last year’s draft, Chase Young was selected second overall by Washington and it looks as though he is living up to his billing. The sack total (7.5) may not leap off the screen at you, but it still led all rookies and he also racked up four forced fumbles (recovering three) with one being returned for a 47 yard touchdown. 

As mentioned previously, Young was the other rookie to be selected to the Pro-Bowl and ended the season being crowned the defensive rookie of the year (something also worth mentioning, which is not usually deemed a big deal, but I think is; is that Young was also named a team captain, not usually common place for your first year in the league, outside of being a quarterback).

So as well as being a dominant force against both the run and the pass, it appears the 21 year old has also earned the respect of his team mates in such a short space of time. I would not be surprised if we were to see Young setting his sights on becoming the defensive player of the year in the near future. 

5) Jonathan Taylor – Indianapolis Colts (Running Back)

Once the former Wisconsin Badger was given the bulk of the workload in Indianpolis in the second half of the season, Taylor shined. Photo Credit: horseshoeheroes.com

The former Wisconsin Badger running back was rather up and down to begin his NFL career, however he ended the season as one of the best backs, not just in this rookie class, but in the league.

Selected in the 41st pick in the second round of the NFL draft, Taylor was only averaging 47.5 yards rushing a game throughout the first nine weeks of the year (with the lone bright spot in that span; 101 yards and a touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings in week 2).

The Colts, however, saw the light and began using Taylor more in the last six weeks, giving him more touches of the ball. He repaid that faith put in him by the coaching staff by averaging 123.5 yards a game. An area of Taylor’s game which was a concern coming out of college, was that he was prone to fumble (18 in 41 games, losing 15). But in the NFL, he only fumbled once so there has been great improvement in that aspect also.

Taylor finished the season with 1,169 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns and if he can carry this type of momentum into next season, the Colts may well have found their number one back for the foreseeable future.

6) Joe Burrow – Cincinnati Bengals (Quarterback)

Even with all the pressure and an unfortunate injury, Joe Burrow showed signs of being worthy of the Bengals’ first overall pick last year. Photo Credit: clutchpoints

There is always immense pressure on the number one overall pick in the draft to perform right away, especially when that number one pick is a quarterback. So it is not hyperbole for me to say that the former LSU product and Heisman trophy winner not only met expectations, but may have perhaps surpassed them, in the time we saw him on the field.

Unfortunately, we did not see him on the field as much as we would have liked, with Burrow sustaining a nasty injury in week 11, tearing both his ACL and MCL; being out for the rest of the year.

Burrow was putting together a really nice rookie season, with 13 touchdown passes to only 5 interceptions and 2,688 yards in the air. He also put his legs to good use, putting up another 3 touchdowns and 142 rushing yards. When Burrow was given time in the pocket, which was not a lot, playing behind one of the worst offensive lines in the league, he was able to make just about every throw in the book and really looked like a star in the making.

If the Bengals can fix their offensive line, through either the draft or free agency and get a healthy Joe Mixon back to take some pressure off their young signal caller, it is going to be extremely fun to watch Burrow get back out on an NFL field once again.

7) L’Jarius Sneed – Kansas City Chiefs (Cornerback)

The versitile corner was able to put together a great season and helped the Chiefs to a second consecutive Super Bowl. Photo Credit: forbes.com

The 16th cornerback taken in the 2020 draft (no, not the 16th player… the 16th cornerback!) Sneed made quite the impact in the nine games he played in, recording 41 tackles (31 solo, 10 assisted), with 3 interceptions and 7 passes defended.

Of the 52 times Sneed was targeted in coverage, he only gave up 31 completions for 250 yards and one touchdown. While that may sound like a lot, in the grand scheme of things for a rookie defensive back to come in and perform this well is rare; allowing a quarterback passer rating of 54.2, well below the league average (93.6). 

Sneed was also able to show his versatility, being asked to play either in the slot, or outside on the boundary, when the Chiefs’ starting outside corner Bashaud Breeland, was suspended.

Given the circumstances under which he had to play and a collarbone injury he sustained in week 3, L’Jarius Sneed stood out from all the other rookie cornerbacks taken before him and helped the Chiefs back to the Super Bowl. 

8) Tee Higgins – Cincinnati Bengals (Wide Receiver)

Higgins was able to elevate his play as the season went on and was able to finish third in receiving yards among all rookie receivers. Photo Credit: theathletic.co.uk

Taken in the second round of the draft, Higgins had a great rookie season, producing 908 yards receiving and 6 touchdowns. This is even more impressive when you take into account just how bad the Bengals’ offense was throughout the season.

Higgins’ route running and ability to track the ball in the air is superb and on more than one occasion, was able to produce some highlight reel catches, like in week 16 versus the Houston Texans.

He tied Cris Collingsworth for the Bengals’ rookie receiving record and even after sustaining an injury in week 17 which caused him to miss the majority of the game, he still finished third in receiving yards, behind Justin Jefferson and CeeDee Lamb. 

As previously mentioned with Joe Burrow earlier, if the Bengals can bolster their offensive line then the duo of Burrow and Higgins could be one to watch out for going into the 2021 season.

9) Michael Onwenu – New England Patriots (Offensive Tackle)

Even though he was asked to play multiple positions during the season, Onwenu was still able to bolster a very good offensive line for the Patriots. Photo Credit: telegram.com

Playing along the offensive line is harder than most people would have you believe; depending on where you play, there are different assignments based on the defensive front you see ahead of you, different types of players lining up opposite you and in general, a different skill set is required to play either guard or tackle at an elite level..

New England Patriots’ head coach Bill Belichick said it best when referring to Onwenu playing both left and right guard: “Even though guard is guard, footwork is different over there. It’s kind of like playing left handed when you’ve been playing right handed your whole life”.

Taking all of the above into account, it makes the play of Onwenu standout even more, as he was asked to play over 80 snaps at both left guard, right guard and right tackle for the Patriots and as per Pro Football Focus stats, he graded above 79.0 at each position.

Knowing the type of versatility Bill Belichick requires from his players, Onwenu could not have started his NFL career much better and the sixth round pick out of Michigan may turn out to be the steal of the entire draft (there’s just something about the Patriots and sixth round picks out of Michigan isn’t there…). 

10) Antoine Winfield Jr – Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Safety)

Winfield Jr. has upheld the family name quite well, helping a suffocating Bucs’ defense win the Super Bowl. Photo Credit: buccaneers.com 

If you watched the NFL in the early to mid 2000’s you may already recognise the name “Winfield”, but as Winfield Sr. who played fourteen years in the league at cornerback. If you are a more recent fan of the NFL however and watched Super Bowl LV you may know the name “Winfield” for other reasons, mainly for giving the “peace” sign to Kansas City Chiefs’ wide receiver Tyreek Hill.

Viral images aside though, Winfield Jr. made a big difference in his rookie season with the Bucs, mainly as a run stuffer, notching 94 total tackles, 3 sacks (2 of which being strip sacks) and 2 forced fumbles; also adding 6 passes defended and 1 interception to his regular season résumé.

Winfield was a tackling machine throughout the season and was a great addition to an already talented Buccaneers’ defense. He helped them become a top ten unit in the league and was a big contributor to holding the Chiefs’ explosive offense to just 9 points in the Super Bowl, intercepting Chiefs’ quarterback Patrick Mahomes in the process.

With the majority of the Tampa Bay defense likely to stay intact, going into the 2021 season and Winfield going into his second year, he has a chance to build upon his fantastic rookie season and solidify himself as one of the best safeties in the league.


Who do you think made a big impact in their rookie season? What rookies from the upcoming draft will make the list next year? Let me know in the comments.

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