NFL rookies: Ranking Rookie of the Year contenders

Tristan Wirfs v Bears
The 2020 NFL Draft class was loaded with talent - who deserves Rookie of the Year? Photo from Tampa Bay Times.

As the NFL regular season comes to a close, we take a look at who had the best rookie seasons and Tyler ranks his favourite Rookie of the Year Candidates from a highly anticipated 2020 Draft Class.

So without any more delay, who were the best rookies in the league this year?

1. Justin Jefferson – Wide Receiver, Vikings

After vacating a pair of incredibly difficult shoes to fill, Minnesota used the pick they got from trading Stefon Diggs to draft LSU wideout Justin Jefferson.

Despite Diggs having an insanely productive year, they still seemed to come out of the deal happy. Jefferson hauled in 88 receptions for a phenomenal 1,400 yards and 7 touchdowns on 125 targets.

He has got a bit of a reputation as a big play explosive threat, but one of my favourite stats from his first year in the league is that he converted 58 first downs. Jefferson set the rookie receiving record when he jumped ahead of Anquan Boldin and also notably Vikings legend Randy Moss. Jefferson came in and elevated an offense that traded away one of its superstars, and filled the role admirably, and he would be my pick for the Offensive Rookie of the Year.

2. Justin Herbert – Quarterback, Chargers

The person who will probably actually win the OROTY is Quarterback Justin Herbert. Herbert was thrust into a starting role completely out of nowhere when Tyrod Taylor was knocked out of his Week 2 start by the team doctor (he got fired but he may have done the Chargers a favour).

Herbert hit the ground running by immediately dropping 311 yards in his debut against the Chiefs, and his momentum never stopped. Say what you want about the Chargers winning or losing, and the impact it has on their draft pick, but if you remove the record and head coach situation this year was very positive for LA.

Herbert threw for 4,336 yards and 31 TDs and 10 interceptions on 396 completions. His yardage was just 38 yards shy of Andrew Luck’s NFL rookie record, and 31 touchdowns smashed Baker Mayfield’s 27 from two years ago, as did his completions, where the previous record was held by Carson Wentz at 379.


3. Chase Young – Defensive End, Washington

The Washington Football Team have had a feel-good season, with the headline of Alex Smith’s return putting the nameless franchise in everybody’s hearts, and with everybody rooting for him, the rest of the team all elevated too, with a couple of fantastic rookie seasons alongside the veterans they have.

WFT made it to the playoffs (admittedly in the NFC East) and that was largely down to an absolutely phenomenal defensive effort, led by Ohio State graduate Chase Young.

Young put up a fantastic line of 7.5 sacks, 44 tackles including 10 tackles for loss and 12 QB hits. He forced 4 fumbles, recovered 3 and even scored an epic touchdown on one of them. The edge rusher also somehow defended four passes. Chase Young was just an absolutely revolutionary addition to the Football Team, and his Pro-Bowl rookie season was undoubtedly deserving of the Defensive Rookie of the Year award.

4. Jonathan Taylor – Running Back, Colts

The second player who helped get his team to the playoffs is Indianapolis Colts RB Jonathan Taylor.

Taylor was a very important part of their offense down the stretch, after finally asserting himself above the committee that they had initially employed and carried the offense through the final month of the season.

The rookie finished with 1,139 yards rushing and 11 TDs, averaging 5 yards per carry, while also adding another 299 receiving yards and a touchdown through the air too. Despite a fantastic week in the second game of the year, the Wisconsin running back didn’t really get to prove himself until the Colts committed to getting him the ball.

From Week 11 to 16, when he became the primary back for good, Taylor averaged 123.5 rushing yards per game, scored 8 times and he was given 23 opportunities a game. JT has proven himself and he is going to be a very productive back for years to come behind that offensive line.

5. Tristan Wirfs – Offensive Tackle, Buccaneers

The name that I am possibly most excited to put in this article is that of the best rookie offensive lineman of 2020, Tristan Wirfs.

The Iowa Hawkeye graduated and was thrust into the starting position on an offensive line that has to protect Tom Brady, playing right tackle for a QB who came to town expecting to push for a Super Bowl at age 43.

Wirfs has had an absolutely fantastic season, and while regular-season awards are always seemingly won by the skill position players, and more often than not a quarterback, he should have some legitimate discussion in the OROTY voting.

Tampa Bay’s star rookie only allowed one sack all year with an immobile pocket passer behind him, and he only committed three penalties all year, and two of those were false starts. He played every single offensive snap through the 16 games and was truly dominant all season. Wirfs was the third tackle drafted in 2020 but he had the best year and he has the very real potential to be a top 5 offensive tackle in the league in the coming years. If the Bucs can have as deep a run into the playoffs as they’re hoping to, Tristan Wirfs will play a key role in that.

6. Jeremy Chinn – Safety, Panthers

While the Carolina Panthers season was thrown off balance with Christian McCaffrey getting injured, they have seen a few players looking really good, as they try to rebuild the rest of their roster around the stud RB.

Robby Anderson, DJ Moore and Curtis Samuel are some of the most explosive and exciting receivers in the league, and Teddy Bridgewater has been solid too. The defense, however, needs more improvement. The one massive bright spot in the struggling D, however, was Jeremy Chinn, who had a phenomenal season. An athletic safety out of Southern Illinois, Chinn led the team in tackles with 117 combined tackles, the third-highest figure for a safety in the league (24th among all positions).

He also got a sack and an interception, as well as defending 5 passes. He also forced two fumbles. His most exciting game was in Week 12, when he got his only two fumble recoveries and turned them both into touchdowns as well as a season-high 13 combined tackles.

7. James Robinson – Running Back, Jaguars

The Jacksonville Jaguars didn’t have a good season by the metrics of the NFL, but as far as the outlook of a franchise in the future goes, they are in a good position.

They have the first pick of the draft, which means they can add Trevor Lawrence, and they also had a very pleasant surprise in the form of undrafted rookie free agent James Robinson.

The Illinois State running back went unselected, but in his breakout rookie campaign, he broke the UDFA record for scrimmage yards with 1,414. On 240 rush attempts, he recorded 1,070 yards, 7 rushing TD’s and he also added 49 receptions for 344 yards and 3 more scores. The Jaguars will get to continue to add in the draft this year, but the best addition they made this year was one they didn’t even have to draft.

Honourable Mentions

CeeDee Lamb – Wide Receiver, Cowboys

Chase Claypool – Wide Receiver, Steelers

Patrick Queen, Linebacker, Ravens

Antonio Gibson, Running Back, Washington

Antoine Winfield Jr. – Safety, Buccaneers

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About Tyler Arthur 32 Articles
Tyler is an NFL writer who has had a love for American Football since he discovered the sport when he attended De Montfort University, where he studied Journalism, and played wide receiver and eventually quarterback. While at QB, he led the DMU Falcons to a division title in his final year before graduating. His passion for the game, and enjoyment of learning and understanding the nuances and details of the sport led him to start writing about it. Years later he has taken advantage of numerous opportunities involving writing, attending games and events and co-hosting a podcast. More of his work can be found on The Touchdown, Gridiron Hub and Read American Football.Tyler is a Las Vegas Raiders fan and he also enjoys baseball, in which he is a Chicago Cubs fan. He loves fantasy football and his other hobbies include video games and chess.

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