Sixteen 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 one final regular-season game remains in the debut seasons of our 32 first-rounders. There have been some undoubted success stories and some unfortunate disasters. Let’s run through each of them to see where we stand with one game remaining.
[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: 87.7
Chase Young had the best game of his NFL career thus far with the kind of dominant outing that showed exactly why he was such a coveted prospect back in April. Young had another strip-sack and five total pressures from his 32 pass-rushing snaps against the Panthers, posting a 93.7 overall PFF grade and a 92.0 pass-rushing grade — the first time he has been above 90.0 in the NFL.
Young has flashed dominant ability in a rookie season that was set back a little due to injury early on. Over the past few weeks, however, he has started to look like a true impact playmaker for Washington’s defense — and someone who is going to fully justify the hype around him when he was drafted.
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
After being taken to pieces by Haason Reddick and then having to block Myles Garrett a week ago, Andrew Thomas did a solid enough job this week against the Baltimore Ravens. He earned a 65.7 PFF pass-blocking grade, the best mark he has posted since the team’s Week 13 win against Seattle, and surrendered only three total pressures across 53 pass-blocking snaps.
Thomas has been up and down so far in his rookie season, but he has a chance to finish strong and show some signs of encouragement for the future after starting slowly and then suffering a major setback against Arizona a couple of weeks ago.
PICK NO. 5: QB TUA TAGOVAILOA, MIAMI DOLPHINS
2020 overall grade: 64.3
Not for the first time this season, Tua Tagovailoa was benched by the Miami Dolphins, who elected to allow Ryan Fitzpatrick the opportunity to do what Tua couldn’t and generate a spark for the offense. This time, Fitzmagic made one of the plays of the season and snatched a win from the Raiders in some late-game madness. The contrast between the two quarterbacks couldn’t have been more stark. Tua passed for just 4.3 yards per attempt and has been largely without the kind of big-time throws that Fitzpatrick has been known for.
The team is still riding its rookie passer into Week 17 as the starter, but he knows there is pressure on his job from the veteran backup.
PICK NO. 6: QB JUSTIN HERBERT, LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
2020 overall grade: 78.5
Justin Herbert managed to stave off the Chargers’ bizarre compulsion for losing games this week and held onto a win against the Denver Broncos. It wasn’t among Herbert’s best games of the season, but he was still impressive at times with a couple of big-time throws and numbers that should have been better but for some drops (three) by his receivers.
Herbert did have some mistakes in this game, with two turnover-worthy plays despite no actual interceptions (he had a fumble), but these are the kinds of errors we expect from young quarterbacks. For Herbert to avoid as many of them as he has as a rookie is impressive.
His rookie year has been a resounding success and will likely have ripples in terms of how teams evaluate quarterback prospects given what we thought we knew about him coming out of Oregon.
PICK NO. 7: DI DERRICK BROWN, CAROLINA PANTHERS
2020 overall grade: 60.7
Derrick Brown added three more total pressures to his season tally against the Washington Football Team and now owns the most from the entire rookie class in that area, with 34 on the season. This week marked the sixth straight game he has recorded multiple pressures after doing that just once in his first seven outings.
Brown has been a solid power pass-rusher over the second half of his rookie season, and while his run defense has been the weaker area of his game, it has been steady over that time, as well. He has yet to consistently dominate the way some expected him to right off the bat, but given how difficult life in the NFL is in 2020 for rookie defenders, it's impressive that he is keeping his head above water.
PICK NO. 8: LB ISAIAH SIMMONS, ARIZONA CARDINALS
2020 overall grade: 60.5
When the Arizona Cardinals met the San Francisco 49ers for the first time back in Week 1, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan may as well have painted a bullseye on Isaiah Simmons for how hard his team targeted the rookie on his debut. That remains the lowest single-game PFF grade of Simmons’ season, and so it’s probably not surprising to see the Cardinals dial back his playing time for the second matchup, with Simmons seeing the fewest snaps on defense since Week 12.
He was targeted only once in coverage this time, but he struggled against the 49ers' run game, earning multiple significant downgrades for either overrunning the play or getting handled by blockers.