Fifteen 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.
Just two more weeks remain of the rookie seasons of our 32 first-round players. It’s been a tough debut year for many, but a few players have emerged as real impact stars in their first year in the NFL. Let’s see what difference Week 15 made to the analysis.
[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 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: 80.6
It was always going to be tough to replicate his performance from Week 14, but Young was still a standout performer for the Washington Football Team this week against Seattle — it just came on a series of lower-profile plays. Young had three total pressures and a couple more pass-rush wins that never had a chance to become pressure because the ball came out before he could affect the quarterback. He also didn’t have a downgrade against the run all game and finished up with a 73.5 overall PFF grade, grading above average in every measurable facet of the game.
Young is now the only first-round rookie defender with an overall PFF grade for the season above 65.0 — he is more than 15 grading points higher than that — cementing his status as a rare prospect.
PICK NO. 3: CB JEFFREY OKUDAH, DETROIT LIONS
2020 overall grade: 41.8
Okudah hasn’t played since before Thanksgiving. 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: 61.0
Thomas was eviscerated a week ago by Haason Reddick and the Arizona Cardinals, so of course the tonic he was looking for was to face Myles Garrett and the Browns on prime time. Thomas allowed a sack and a hit across 35 pass-blocking snaps as well as three more minor pass-protection losses. Overall, it has to go down as at least a reasonable job given the opposition.
The last two weeks have certainly slowed the narrative on how well he had been turning the corner in his rookie season, but he did at least bounce back to some degree after his worst game as a pro despite seeing a step up in competition.
This year, Thomas has shown encouraging signs for the team to look optimistically at 2021 and beyond.
PICK NO. 5: QB TUA TAGOVAILOA, MIAMI DOLPHINS
2020 overall grade: 65.1
Bill Belichick against rookie quarterbacks is a major mismatch in New England’s favor, and while the Patriots certainly did a good job against Tagovailoa and Miami’s offense, the young quarterback found a way to make just enough plays to keep his team in front and grab a win. From a clean pocket, Tua’s PFF passing grade was 84.6, and he had an adjusted completion rate of 100%. While the bad plays came when he was hurried, there was also some good mixed in there, like scrambling for a score.
Even though Tua got a later start to his rookie season than Burrow and Justin Herbert and has yet to show quite as much promise as either, he has still given us plenty of flashes of talent and may be in the best situation of the three in terms of supporting cast going forward.
PICK NO. 6: QB JUSTIN HERBERT, LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
2020 overall grade: 77.8
Herbert looked like his team was finding another way to lose a game on Thursday night against the Raiders before taking matters into his own hands and dealing his way to a victory. Herbert finished the game with a PFF passing grade of 89.9, had three big-time throws and was second only to Baker Mayfield in grade this week.
What is most impressive about Herbert's rookie season is how he has cut down on the mistakes from his college tape and even early in his rookie year. Herbert now simply looks like a composed and accomplished NFL quarterback. For the season, his overall PFF grade is 77.8, the best of the rookie passers, and he has exceeded all but the most optimistic of expectations from before the season.