The NFL regular season has drawn to a close, with the debut seasons from most of our rookies over and done with. A select few will get to extend their runs with postseason football, but for the rest, we can take stock and evaluate how they fared in their first year in the NFL.
There have been sure-fire success stories and unmitigated disasters among the 32 first-round selections, with everything in between. So, for the last time this season, let’s check what the PFF grades say about our rookies.
[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
Joe Burrow looked confident and collected as quarterback of the Cincinnati Bengals in his first NFL action, even with the team leaning on him with little support in the way of defensive help or the run game. Burrow was expected to carry the team as a rookie, and he was doing a good job of it until the inevitable conclusion of disastrous offensive line play hit home with a season-ending knee injury.
Burrow’s PFF grade was 85.5 from a clean pocket, and his performance in the more stable and predictive measures we track was impressive. The future is bright for Cincinnati if he can return 100% healthy.
PICK NO. 2: EDGE CHASE YOUNG, WASHINGTON FOOTBALL TEAM
2020 overall grade: 87.2
Chase Young bookended his rookie season with some dominant play and now rolls into the playoffs with a head of steam on the back of seven total pressures against the Eagles in Week 17.
Young has been by far the best of the first-round rookie defenders, and if not for an injury that took a while to recover from, he could have had a truly special debut season. Young’s ability to be a top-tier pass rusher doesn’t look in question, and Year 2 for him could be dominant.
PICK NO. 3: CB JEFFREY OKUDAH, DETROIT LIONS
2020 overall grade: 41.8
Jeffrey Okudah hasn’t played since before Thanksgiving. He was thrown into the fire as a rookie in Matt Patricia’s man-heavy coverage scheme and didn’t fare well. Rookie cornerbacks have been generally torched in 2020, and Okudah struggled more than most. He lost his starting job before injury shut him down for the season.
Overall, he was targeted 50 times and allowed a 112.0 passer rating on those plays. Okudah was a hugely talented prospect at draft time, but it’s been a rookie season he will hope to forget heading into Year 2.
PICK NO. 4: OT ANDREW THOMAS, NEW YORK GIANTS
2020 overall grade: 62.4
Andrew Thomas has had an up-and-down rookie season for the Giants. The top tackle on PFF’s draft board, Thomas had his technique reworked and struggled badly right out of the gate, earning PFF game grades of 60.8 or worse for his first four games. He turned things around later in the season, but the improvement was punctuated by a couple of ugly days at the office, none worse than the destruction at the hands of Haason Reddick and the Arizona Cardinals in Week 14.
Overall, he surrendered 10 sacks and 57 total pressures in Year 1, but he did have six game grades with above-average or better pass-blocking performances. Thomas had a lot to contend with in his rookie campaign — and endured some significant struggles because of it — but the Giants will be hoping that laid the foundations for 2021 and beyond.
PICK NO. 5: QB TUA TAGOVAILOA, MIAMI DOLPHINS
2020 overall grade: 65.4
It has been a rocky start to his NFL career, with multiple games in which he was benched for Ryan Fitzpatrick and likely avoiding another one this week only because Fitzpatrick had tested positive for COVID-19. Tua has been accurate, but he has yet to bring big throws to the table, which is something he will need to develop to be a success at this level.
Miami is in the rare situation of being a borderline playoff team with a No. 3 overall pick in the upcoming draft thanks to Houston, and so the franchise will need to evaluate Tua compared to the available quarterbacks at the top of this draft.
PICK NO. 6: QB JUSTIN HERBERT, LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
2020 overall grade: 80.1
While Tua’s season has been lacking big plays, it feels like Justin Herbert’s has been constructed from nothing but them. Herbert finished the season as the highest-graded quarterback in the league under pressure, and while that’s a wildly unstable metric bound to regress in 2021, it goes some way toward explaining why he looked so good right out of the gate. Herbert’s ability to stand in the face of pressure and find a killer pass down field was a highlight reel in and of itself. He set a new rookie touchdown record, was the best-graded of the rookie quarterbacks and improved as the season went on in the more stable quarterback data points, as well.
Herbert was one of the surprises of the season, and the Chargers should be elated by his performance.
PICK NO. 7: DI DERRICK BROWN, CAROLINA PANTHERS
2020 overall grade: 60.7
The Carolina Panthers were destroyed by the Saints in Week 17, and after a strong run of games, Derrick Brown was barely a factor in the game. Before this week, he had recorded three or more total pressures in six straight games. Yet, he failed to register any pressure at all against Drew Brees and the quick-passing game from New Orleans.
Hailed as a dominant run defender as a prospect, Brown has largely been more of a power pass-rusher so far in his NFL career, with his run defense featuring flashes of ability rather than consistent dominance. Brown’s only elite games against the run came against the worst offensive lines he faced, but he has already shown enough to allay any concerns that he couldn’t generate pressure at this level, with 34 total pressures over his rookie season.
PICK NO. 8: LB ISAIAH SIMMONS, ARIZONA CARDINALS
2020 overall grade: 59.9
Isaiah Simmons had one of the toughest transitions to the NFL of any first-round rookie because his switch involved effectively learning a whole new position in addition to handling the jump in skill level.
Early in the year, Simmons was attacked relentlessly by opposing offenses and struggled to even get playing time as the team tried to protect him. As the season wore on, he featured more and more and flashed the ability to make plays. Despite allowing five touchdowns in coverage, that was the strongest facet of his play, with a 69.9 PFF grade.
Simmons could become an impressive playmaker in Year 2 after his growing pains this season.