Fourteen weeks of NFL action are officially in the books, so let’s dive into the PFF data to check in on all the first-round rookies.
With Christmas bearing down upon us, just a few short weeks remain in the debut seasons of the 2020 first-round rookies. While the offensive players have definitely had an easier time of it than their defensive counterparts, there have been some impressive first years on both sides of the football.
[Editor's Note: PFF's advanced statistics and player grades are powered by AWS machine learning capabilities.]
PICK NO. 1: QB JOE BURROW, CINCINNATI BENGALS
2020 overall grade: 75.1
The sad and seemingly inevitable conclusion of Joe Burrow’s woeful offensive line was realized after a knee injury prematurely ended his season. He will now have to rehab and hope to come back 100% in 2021 while the Bengals desperately focus on upgrading his pass protection.
What we saw from Burrow this season was tremendously encouraging despite circumstances that were not terribly conducive to high-end quarterback play. The only real question mark about his future is the severity of the injury and the length of time it will keep him out.
PICK NO. 2: EDGE CHASE YOUNG, WASHINGTON FOOTBALL TEAM
2020 overall grade: 79.8
Chase Young was everywhere against the San Francisco 49ers this week; he made some monster plays that changed the outcome of the game. Young had two total pressures, but one of them was a strip-sack when the team was trailing in the second quarter.
Later in the game, Young scooped a loose football and took it to the house for a defensive touchdown, giving Washington its first lead of the game — one the team would not relinquish. Young also had a couple of impressive wins against Trent Williams, who has been playing at an All-Pro level this season for the 49ers.
The Football Team drafted Young as high as they did because they believed him to be a game-changer, and that’s exactly what he was this week.
PICK NO. 3: CB JEFFREY OKUDAH, DETROIT LIONS
2020 overall grade: 41.8
Jeffrey Okudah has missed the Lions' past three games. Here’s what we said after Week 11:
Jeffrey Okudah isn’t an every-down starter anymore, but that can’t hide him from opposing offenses when he does see the field. Against Carolina this week, he saw 24 snaps of action and was targeted six times, allowing a catch in each instance. Those receptions went for 79 yards and a 118.8 passer rating. The good news for Okudah is that his run defense and tackling were solid, and this is a season in which coverage is a struggle for most cornerbacks and virtually all rookies.
It’s been a tough season for the No. 3 pick, and it would be difficult to pick out many positives, but he can at least take comfort in the schadenfreude of knowing that he’s not alone. The Lions will be hoping that this season is laying the groundwork for better play in the future.
PICK NO. 4: OT ANDREW THOMAS, NEW YORK GIANTS
2020 overall grade: 61.3
Andrew Thomas turned a corner in recent weeks, only to run into the buzzsaw that was Haason Reddick in Week 14. Only two of Reddick’s five sacks came against Thomas — though they were decisive losses — but Thomas was also beaten in pass protection by Zach Allen, Devon Kennard and Markus Golden in an overall performance that was worse than even his struggling early games.
This was the first game since Week 7 in which Thomas posted a PFF pass-blocking grade lower than 60.0, so it feels possible to give him the benefit of the doubt that this was just a bad day at the office blocking for an immobile quarterback.
The Giants will be hoping he doesn’t undo all of his progress and improvement in the final games of the season.
PICK NO. 5: QB TUA TAGOVAILOA, MIAMI DOLPHINS
2020 overall grade: 62.3
Going toe to toe with Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs was always going to provide some tough comparisons, but Tua Tagovailoa had a pretty solid game. He threw for 316 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. The pick was unfortunate in that it was a very catchable pass that was deflected off the hands of his receiver for a pick, but on the other hand, he had a genuinely bad pass dropped by the defense, so it evened out overall.
Tua wasn’t able to stick with Mahomes, but he was never expected to. He did pass for 7.2 yards per attempt from a clean pocket and had a 107.6 passer rating when throwing without being pressured. This was the kind of performance the Dolphins can win games with against most teams in the league; it just wasn’t enough against the Chiefs.
PICK NO. 6: QB JUSTIN HERBERT, LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
2020 overall grade: 75.1
Justin Herbert had fallen on tough times over the past few weeks, but he was the better quarterback in a game featuring Matt Ryan in Week 14. Herbert had two big-time throws and, unlike Ryan, escaped the game without any turnover-worthy throws. He continued to be absolute money when under pressure, throwing for a 115.8 passer rating when hurried and coming up clutch late as when the Falcons afforded him an opportunity.
Herbert’s rookie season has been an undoubted success, but it was still good to see him bounce back after he threatened to regress to more mediocre play in key areas that he was so strong in earlier this season.
PICK NO. 7: DI DERRICK BROWN, CAROLINA PANTHERS
2020 overall grade: 59.1
Derrick Brown had one of his better games in the NFL this week against the Denver Broncos‘ offensive line, which has struggled at times inside. Brown notched three total pressures, marking the fourth consecutive game in which he has had three or more. He also earned a solid grade in the run game, which has been a lot less consistent this season despite being his nominal strength as a prospect. This was the best run-defense grade we have seen from Brown since back-to-back dominant outings in the first month of the season against disastrous interior lines.
Overall, Brown has shown a lot of growth already in his rookie year. He still has work to do to become an every-down impact player, though.
PICK NO. 8: LB ISAIAH SIMMONS, ARIZONA CARDINALS
2020 overall grade: 62.3
Isaiah Simmons played 27 snaps this week against the New York Giants and was a designated coverage linebacker for as much as the Cardinals can control that role. Twenty-one of his 27 snaps came in coverage, with just one rushing the passer. He was thrown at twice, and though he gave up a catch both times, they were short gains that went for a combined eight yards and featured only one yard after the catch.
This is the role that the team has been crafting for Simmons, and generally, he has been solid in it. He did miss a tackle in this game, and his work against the run has been more hit and miss, but Simmons has certainly flashed the ability to make a difference on this defense going forward.
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