2020 NFL Offensive Rookie Preview

In April, NFL fans were pleased to hear that the NFL would hold its draft. Raking in record numbers for draft viewership, 50 million viewers tuned in over the three-day span. And alongside this, the draft had a great deal of media coverage.

At Quibbl, we covered the draft in my article: “The Winners and Losers of the NFL Draft”. In this article, I rated a few teams on their drafting. But in this article, I wanted to focus on the rookies and which ones went to situations in which they can succeed. Specifically, I am looking at which ones stand the best chance of winning the Offensive Rookie of the Year award (aka OROY). Thus, this article excludes any defensive player, offensive linemen, and tight ends.

But I also wanted to include highly-touted rookies who aren’t in the best situation to win the award. While these players aren’t by any means untalented, the team that drafted them might limit their playing time or opportunities in their first year.

Contenders for OROY:

Joe Burrow:

LSU Quarterback Joe Burrow was taken 1st overall by the Bengals

While the addition of Joe Burrow to the Bengals will probably not turn them into a contender this season. But Joe Burrow is in a great position to win the Offensive Rookie of the Year award. The combination of Burrow’s skill and the players around him in this offense will help him have a successful 2020.

It is no secret that Joe Burrow is the most complete QB from the 2020 class. Having a historic season at LSU culminating in winning the Heisman and College Championship, Burrow’s list of accolades has skyrocketed in the past year. With the Bengals drafting him 1st overall and ditching their longtime QB, Andy Dalton, Joe Burrow has all the confidence of the organization behind him. Thus, Joe Burrow could be the only rookie QB to start on day one.

Alongside Burrow will be a surprisingly impressive host of talent to help him. The Bengals have a great receiving corp with the likes of AJ Green and Tyler Boyd. Alongside them there is John Ross III, who unofficially broke the record 40-yard time at the combine with a speedy 4.22. The Bengals even drafted WR Tee Higgins out of Clemson with the 33rd pick this year. To make things even better, Burrow will also have elite RB Joe Mixon to help him out. Mixon is a proficient pass catcher and his presence will allow Burrow’s wideouts to get open easier.

The one question on the Bengals offense that could hurt Burrow’s rookie success is the offensive line. But the Bengals will be getting Jonah Williams, who missed 2019 due to injury. Williams was drafted 11th overall in the 2019 Draft and could be the guy to turn the o-line around. But even if the offensive line is bad, Burrow is great on the run and under pressure. In fact, Joe Burrow’s passer rating in 2019 actually went up when under pressure(!). Given this, Burrow should play well this upcoming season whether the O-line is good or not.

One factor that is working against Burrow is the division he is in. The AFC North is a division filled with strong defensive teams. The Steelers and the Ravens will likely be competing to be the best defenses in the league and the Browns aren’t terrible whatsoever. Due to this, Burrow is not guaranteed to win Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Jonathan Taylor:

The Colts took Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor with the 41st pick in the draft

I talked about Jonathan Taylor’s potential previously in my “NFL Offseason Roundup” article when I explained the moves the Colts made in the offseason. Basically, the fact that Phillip Rivers is now a Colt will help Taylor establish himself as an elite RB in his rookie year.

But before we talk about how Rivers helps Taylor, we should look at how awesome Taylor was in college. In his 3-year career at Wisconsin, Taylor accumulated 6,174 rushing yards, including a massive 2,194 yard sophomore season. One might be concerned that his rushing yards didn’t increase in his final year at Wisconsin, but it’s important to note that Taylor also caught 26 passes for 252 yards in his final season, which is almost 10 yards per catch. And while in general, the volume of catches he received at Wisconsin wasn’t high, another alum, Melvin Gordon, only received 22 passes during his time there and is now one of the NFL’s top pass-catching backs.

Now that we’ve established that Taylor is an incredibly capable running back with pass-catching upside, we can move onto the great situation that Taylor finds himself in. Specifically, it is that fact that Taylor has a quarterback that is prone to check down to RBs. In fact, Rivers constantly feeds his RBs passes. Combining the Chargers two best running backs in recent history, Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler, Rivers has thrown them 118, 105, and 147 targets from 2017-2019. Thus, not only should Taylor receive significant work on the ground, but also in the receiving game.

Even more encouraging is the fact that Taylor is walking onto a team with one of the best O-lines in the league. With Quentin Nelson and Braden Smith, who are both young stars, the Colts are a serious threat in the trenches. Thus, Taylor should have no trouble getting perfect blocks that will allow him to break out. Furthering this, he will also be asked to run a bunch of screen plays, boosting his stats even more. With all these factors in his favor, there are very few things that could hamper Taylor.

One of these factors is the Colts’ current running back, Marlon Mack. Mack has been a solid running back for the Colts, accumulating 1091 yards in only 14 games last season. And while Mack is very efficient, he has been hampered by injuries. Alongside the fact that all signs are pointing towards Taylor being the lead back, I don’t see Mack as a 3-down back able to catch passes consistently. Therefore, I don’t think Mack as much of a threat to Taylor’s workload as others seem to think.

While Taylor is not a perfect running back as his heavy usage in college could hurt him in the long run, for a team that is looking to win now, Taylor is perfect. With high volume and a skilled O-line, Taylor will be incredible next season and a contender for the OROY.

Jalen Reagor:

TCU WR Jalen Reagor was taken by the Eagles 21st overall

While it is quite rare for a rookie wideout to win the OROY, I still want to talk about my favorite for being the best wideout this year. And while this may seem like a hot-take considering that wideouts like Ceedee Lamb, Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III, and Justin Jefferson are considered better prospects, let me explain first. Reagor has been put in a better position than those guys and played on an underperforming team in college. While many were disappointed that the Eagles didn’t draft LSU’s Justin Jefferson, I see him more as a slot receiver, a position in which the Eagles already have a lot of talent. Reagor’s ability to go outside as well as his game-breaking speed make him a perfect fit for the Eagles.

Reagor played for TCU, a lower-skilled team, last year. And unlike the wideouts listed before, he didn’t have an exceptional QB like Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa, or Jalen Hurtz throwing to him. Rather he had Matt Duggan, a freshman QB with a 53% completion percentage. Thus, Reagor’s stats have been harmed by the poor play of the team around him. In fact, looking at his combine numbers, he has quite a lot of potential. While Reagor ran a 4.47s 40yard time at the combine, this was due to the fact he had put on weight in the prior weeks. At his pro day, he ran a 4.28, ranking him as one of the fastest wideouts in the draft.

And in Philadelphia, he should be able to use this speed. The Eagles wide receiving corp was awful last year as Alshon Jeffery and Desean Jackson were injured constantly. There is much concern if these players will ever fully recover. And while the slot is covered by tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert, QB Carson Wentz needs a threat on the outside. This is where Reagor fits in as he’s extremely fast and is also quite good at contested catches. Thus, I expect Reagor to play a significant role in an Eagles offense that will certainly see a resurgence from an abysmal 2019.

One factor that could hinder Reagor is his lack of refinement. TCU is not Alabama or Oklahoma and doesn’t have the best coaches. Thus, Reagor’s form and skills are a little raw and he could struggle due to this. But Reagor is a perfect fit for the Eagles and should receive a significant target share in his first year.

Honorable Mentions:

WR Justin Jefferson (Vikings): With RB Dalvin Cook potentially sitting out in 2020, the Vikings might have to throw the ball more, which means more volume for Jefferson. But his targets could be limited by playing behind WR Adam Theilen.

RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire (Chiefs): Being a running back on an high-powered offense like the Chiefs is almost guaranteed success. Edwards-Helaire’s size (5’7” 210lbs) is a significant concern though.

Who won’t win OROY:

Tua Tagovailoa: 

Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa was drafted 5th overall by the Dolphins

While I still think Tua is a great player, I just don’t see him having an outstanding rookie season. This is not because of his skill, but because I don’t think he’ll start the season off as a starter. His injury history combined with the Dolphin’s situation does not help him.

As many know, Tua has a significant injury history dating back to 2018 when he broke his left index finger, sprained his right knee, and left ankle, which prompted surgery in the offseason. And in 2019, he sprained his right ankle and dislocated his right hip with a posterior acetabular wall fracture, prompting surgery again. While Tua has recovered enough to throw and run:

There are still concerns about his health. And this is made worse by the Dolphin’s terrible O-line. The Dolphins made headlines by trading tackle Laremy Tunsil to the Texans just before the beginning of the 2019 season. While the two 1st round picks that Dolphins received will help them in the future, this reward came at the expense of their quarterbacks’ health. The Dolphins were sacked 58 times in 2019, leading the league with 3.6 sacks allowed per game.

Because of the Dolphins’ lackluster O-line, it would be silly to put a talented QB recovering from major injuries in at the start of 2020. I hope for the sake of Tua’s health and wellbeing that he is not thrown into the Dolphins offense day 1. Instead, they should give Ryan Fitzpatrick, who was playing pretty well last year, that starting role and then make a move for a star tackle when a good deal arises.

While Tua possesses no shortage of talent, his injury history and poor o-line make it hard to imagine him taking a significant role in the Dolphins year 1.

J.K. Dobbins:

Ohio State RB J.K. Dobbins was taken 55th overall by the Ravens

Coming out of Ohio State, J.K. Dobbins looks like the real deal. Yet, I think his situation is not optimal for him making a run for the OROY. This is much due in part to the competition around him.

J.K. Dobbins had an impressive junior season at Ohio, amassing 2,003 rushing yards and 247 receiving yards. Yet, these impressive numbers are surely impossible to recreate in his position in the Ravens offense. With Lamar Jackson being an unbelievable rusher, Dobbins’s opportunities are limited. Alongside this, Mark Ingram Jr. will be starting off as the lead back this season and will receive most of the goalline work. Even their second string running back, Gus Edwards, is seen as someone with a decent amount of potential.

Given this, I don’t see J.K. Dobbins as being a contender for Offensive Rookie of the Year. The competition for rushing yards in the Ravens offense is just too high to encourage me. Maybe in the future Dobbins may replace Ingram, but for 2020 Dobbins will be relegated to a lower workload.

Dishonorable mentions:

Justin Herbert (Chargers) and Jordan Love (Packers): Barring something crazy happening, Tyrod Taylor and Aaron Rodgers will be starting in L.A. and Green Bay respectively. Both these rookie QBs have a lot of talent but need time to refine their skills and develop. We might not even see them start until 2021.

Ceedee Lamb (Cowboys): Possesses high skill, but will be playing behind Amari Cooper. The Cowboys’ QB situation also isn’t stable as Dak Prescott might sit out for a contract extension.

What Quibbl wants to know:

Will Tua Tagovailoa be the starter in Miami at the beginning of the season? Vote Here.

Will Michael Thomas have 500 or more receiving yards than DaVante Parker in 2020? Vote Here.

Will Jerry Jeudy be Drew Lock’s top target at the start of the 2020 season? Vote Here.

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