Unfortunately, we lost Joe Burrow, one of the rookies who has found a place on this top-10 list almost every week since the start of the year, to a season-ending injury on Sunday. Though, on a more positive note, we did see a highly drafted rookie regain a top spot after an outstanding Week 11 outing.
With the help of Premium Stats 2.0, we present to you the 10 highest-graded rookies in the NFL through Week 11 of the 2020 NFL season.
[Editor's Note: PFF's advanced statistics and player grades are powered by AWS machine learning capabilities.]
Jefferson was responsible for a pivotal drop in the final minutes of Minnesota’s loss to Dallas in Week 11, which played a part in the Vikings turning over the ball on downs to end the game. Before that, though, Jefferson looked as good as ever and produced multiple big plays against single coverage. He generated three receptions of 15 or more yards on such plays, one of which resulted in a touchdown. The first-round rookie now ranks first in yards per target against single coverage this year at 17.0, over 2.6 yards more than D.K. Metcalf in second.
Next week, Jefferson and the Vikings get the Carolina Panthers, who have the second-lowest-graded coverage unit in the NFL. Quite a few talented wide receivers have lit up the Panthers' defense this season, and Jefferson is poised to be the next man up.
Onwenu earned a poor run-blocking grade for the first time this season in New England’s Week 11 loss to Houston. The now-right tackle put up just a 51.4 grade as a run-blocker, over 10 grading points worse than his previous career-low — a mark that ranked 43rd among qualifying tackles.
On the bright side, Onwenu had his best pass-blocking performance at tackle to date. He didn’t allow a single pressure on 43 pass-block snaps and was the highest-graded right tackle of the week on true pass sets. Onwenu had 19 true pass sets on the day, with 13 of those coming against J.J. Watt, and he didn’t lose a single one. Watt may be in the midst of a down year to his standards, but that’s still incredible work by the sixth-round rookie.
3. WR BRANDON AIYUK, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
The Niners' first-round rookie was far from productive in his first five games in the NFL, generating just 0.94 yards per route run to pair with a 68.7 receiving grade. He's been red-hot as of late, though, raising his yards per route run figure to 2.63 and earning a receiving grade of 87.3 over the last three games, the third-best grade at the position over that span.
Since Week 8, the Arizona State product has torched single coverage when given the opportunity, catching 10-of-12 such targets for 125 yards and two touchdowns. And of those 12 targets, Aiyuk created a step or more of separation on 10 of them.
In Week 12, Aiyuk will go up against a Los Angeles Rams coverage unit that ranks second in expected points added (EPA) per pass allowed. He and the Niners have already gone up against L.A. once this year, and that just so happened to be Aiyuk’s lowest-graded game of the season.
Wirfs had one of the more impressive pass-blocking outings of his rookie season on Monday Night Football against the Los Angeles Rams. The 13th overall pick allowed just one pressure on 49 pass-block reps — which was a hurry and not a sack or hit — and recorded his second-lowest single-game pressure rate allowed of his season.
What makes it even more impressive is that the rookie drew a few matchups against the man, the myth, the freak: Aaron Donald. However, Wirfs played his role in keeping the star pass-rusher quiet, as Donald generated just two pressures on the night, neither of which came against Wirfs. The Buccaneers now have the third-highest-graded right tackle in pass-protection after this impressive MNF performance.
Consistency has been a bit of an issue for Gibson this season. We have seen him finish among the five highest-graded running backs of the week multiple times, but we have also seen him bottom out from a grading perspective.
We got the better side of Gibson this past week against Cincinnati. He had one of his better rushing outings of the season, featuring a career-high four explosive runs of 10-plus yards.
It wasn’t quite as good as his best performance on the ground this season, which came back in Week 7 against the Dallas Cowboys. That week, Gibson earned the third-best single-game rushing grade we have seen at the position this year at 89.3.
Week 12 just so happens to be the week he and the Football Team face Dallas for the second time in 2020. It’s not going to be easy for Gibson to replicate his Week 7 performance on Thanksgiving against the Cowboys, but the rookie should be able to put together a decent performance against this bottom-five run defense.
Herbert played his way out of the top 10 in Week 10 with the worst performance of his career to date. He earned a 50.4 passing grade that week against the Dolphins and failed to record a big-time throw for the first time in 2020.
Then, in Week 11 against the New York Jets, Herbert responded with a career-best 80.8 passing grade. It was by far his best game of the year from an accuracy standpoint, as he threw an accurate pass on 63.0% of his pass attempts, per PFF's ball location data. His performance also featured multiple big-time throws under pressure, with Herbert going 8-of-14 for 120 yards and a score when he was moved off his initial spot by the pass rush. The sixth overall pick is now the third-highest-graded passer in the NFL this season when under pressure.
7. G DAMIEN LEWIS, SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
Lewis filled in at center in Week 11 with Ethan Pocic out, and it went quite badly in pass protection. It was the first time of Lewis’ entire football career that he played a game at center, and he gave up a sack on the very first play of the game. The LSU product went on to record the sixth-worst pass-block grade at the position of the week at 42.3.
However, he was a standout performer in the run game, just like he had been over at right guard throughout his rookie campaign. Lewis’ 84.9 run-block grade in Week 11 led all centers, while his positively graded run-block rate was the third-best we have seen at the position in a single game this year.
He’ll be moving back over to right guard in Week 12 with Pocic back, just in time to face a Philadelphia Eagles pass rush that ranks first in team pass-rush grade.
The Jaguars' passing offense was quite the disaster in Week 11 against the Steelers, but the run game was not thanks to Robinson. Jacksonville had the third-most-efficient rushing attack of the week, and the former Illinois State Redbird busted off three runs of 10 or more yards. That made it Robinson's ninth game this season in which he had multiple runs of 10-plus yards, a new NFL high. Obviously, rushing efficiency doesn’t matter if the passing offense is as bad as it was on Sunday, but it's impressive nonetheless.
Robinson and the Jags get the Cleveland Browns next week, and it certainly won’t be an easy one for the running back to add more explosive runs to his season total. The Browns have allowed 10-plus-yard runs at the fifth-lowest rate in the NFL (9.7%).
9. QB JOE BURROW, CINCINNATI BENGALS
Burrow suffered a torn ACL, MCL and other structural damage in his knee on Sunday, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Ben Baby. At this point, we can only hope for a full recovery.
He won’t be taking another snap this season, and that’ll prevent him from making an appearance on this list again after this week, but it’s important to note that Burrow was in the midst of a remarkable rookie campaign. He was, and still is, a star quarterback in the making.
The No. 1 overall pick’s deep ball wasn’t finely tuned as it was at LSU in 2019, but he routinely hit those money throws to the intermediate level. Burrow ranked sixth in the NFL this season in passing grade on throws of 19 yards or less and did this playing behind one of the worst offensive lines in the game. When free from pressure on those same throws, Burrow jumps to first in PFF passing grade.
It’s way too early to know whether it’ll be Week 1 of 2021, sometime in the middle of the season or even 2022 before we see Burrow take another snap for Cincy. But assuming he recovers fully, the Bengals are getting back one of the top young quarterbacks in the game.
10. WR CHASE CLAYPOOL, PITTSBURGH STEELERS
Claypool had himself another solid outing in Week 12 outside of the dropped deep ball he had on an out-and-up. He hauled in three catches over 10 yards downfield for first downs, with one of those being a deep receiving touchdown. Claypool’s per-route production isn't as crazy as his touchdown total, but 2.16 yards per route run is still quite impressive for a rookie. It’s actually on pace to be the seventh-best by a rookie wideout in the past decade.
Claypool will be looking for redemption this Thanksgiving as he and the Steelers face off against the division-rival Ravens. Baltimore was one of just a few teams that have managed to keep Claypool in check this year, back in Week 8. In that game, Claypool earned his third-lowest receiving grade of the year, lost a fumble and stumbled to his third-least-productive game on a per-route basis.