NFL’s Notable Rookies Reviewed

With the conclusion of the NFL season, let’s look at how some of the biggest college stars’ first years panned out.

Joe Burrow

The first overall pick of the draft, critics hailed Burrow as the best quarterback prospect to come out of the NCAA for the last five years or so. A generational talent. But did he live up to such high praise?

After winning the national championship and throwing five touchdowns for an impressive 463 yards, Burrow led his LSU Tigers to a perfect 15-0 season and one of the best college careers ever. Many fans believed he would have won Rookie of the Year over Herbert had he not torn some ligaments in his leg against the Washington Football team in week 11. Burrow had already led the league in passing attempts and became the first rookie QB in NFL history to record a 400-yard passing game before his unfortunate injury. Cincinnati is hopeful Burrow can lead his new tigers to the promised land, but with his injury, in mind, we still have barely seen what this prospect can offer. One thing is for sure though, his ceiling is definitely high.

Grade: A-

Justin Herbert

Although I may be perceived as biased considering I’m an avid Chargers fan, this kid is special. Herbert, with an impressive 6’6” frame and weighing in at 236 pounds and coming out of the University of Oregon, has had arguably the best rookie season for a quarterback of all time.

Taken as the third quarterback in 2020; he shattered two of the three most important rookie quarterback records with: most passing touchdowns (31), most completions (396), and just shy of obtaining the Colts’ quarterback Andrew Luck’s previously held passing yards record by a measly 36 yards in the air. Fans cannot ignore such numbers, and that is why he won AP Rookie of the Year voting.

I have truly never seen a Quarterback with all the tools Herbert possesses at such a young age. Many doubted Herbert’s chance of success after much skepticism surrounding his quiet leadership approach and just how he fits with such a messy Los Angeles Chargers organization. Well, that’s where they made a mistake. Herbert doesn’t need to fit the organization; the organization fits around him.

Grade: A+

Justin Jefferson

Last, but certainly not least, the AP Rookie of the Year runner-up Jefferson. He quickly solidified himself as one of the best receivers in the NFL in just one year. Disrespectfully chosen at 22 in the draft; Jefferson somehow fit the massive shoes of Stefon Diggs who is a top-five receiver in the NFL and who the Minnesota Vikings ridiculously let walk in the offseason. The Vikings needed a number two after the Diggs departure to complement Adam Thielen. But as it turns out, Thielen might end up being the complement for Jefferson.

The 6”1 wideout out of LSU was one of Burrows biggest weapons, and a huge reason they won the National Championship. Even after his proven success; Jefferson was chosen after four other wide receivers. All of them have struggled early in their NFL careers for each perspective team especially in comparison to Jefferson. It is safe to say that all of these teams that passed this prospect up regret it. And they will for a very long time.

Grade: A+

Jeff Okuda

One of my favorite prospects coming out of college: Okuda exudes confidence and isn’t afraid to show it. It’s still pretty early to write off the former Jim Thorpe award-winning buckeye, but what we saw this year definitely wasn’t a third pick caliber season by any measure.

Okuda came up with just one interception, a measly two passes defended, and a little under 50 tackles for the Detroit Lions. All while being in a defensive unit that ranked 30 in passing yards allowed, last in passing touchdowns, and had seven interceptions as a whole. Okuda was basically absent on the field this year for a team that needed a star. I still believe Okuda has what it takes to be a top-tier caliber cornerback in this league, but if he continues this level of play; not even his heart of a lion will save his career.

Grade: C-

James Robinson

An undrafted rookie out of Illinois State–to say Robinson had a chip on his shoulder would be an understatement. Most undrafted running backs bounce around from team to team and often make a living as a solid third or second string running back in the NFL. For Robinson, that will not be the case.

Many believed the Jacksonville Jaguars were tanking this year after winning just one game. Quarterback Gardener Minshew was disappointing. DJ Chark, wide receiver, had a subpar season. And the absence of defensive end Calias Campbell was a problem for the team. With all this misfortune and a lack of notable players, it seemed like their only good option would be to bank on the draft and take their losses. Well, Robinson gave Jaguars fans across the world a reason to stay hopeful.

Robinson carried the ball for an impressive 1,070 yards on 240 rushing attempts. On top of this, Robinson compiled 1,414 scrimmage yards, which are more than any undrafted rookie in the modern NFL era. Robinson, even behind one of the worst offensive lines in the world, showcased the talent that competed with the first running back taken in the draft, Taylor. This success proves that it does not matter when you are chosen, but to make the most of your opportunity. Robinson has done just that, solidifying his spot as a building block when paired with presumptive first pick Trevor Lawrence for the Jaguars.

The only question I would have is how Robinson will adjust after such a good season under first-year NFL Coach Urban Meyer. Meyer has a track record for producing superstar running backs such as Ezekial Elliot and Carlos Hyde among others. Luckily for Meyers, it seems Robinson is already a superstar and that is going to make Meyers’ job that much easier.

Grade: A

Tua Tagovailoa

The left-handed Hawian native proved to be a huge addition right away when inserted into the Alabama lineup in the National Championship against Georgia in 2018. He revived a tired offense and became the offensive MVP after throwing the game-winning dagger to future Heisman winner Devonta Smith.

The Miami Dolphins were hoping to obtain some of this glory for an organization that has not had a stable quarterback since Dan Marino. Although Tagovailoa showed some moments of stardom in his NFL rookie campaign, it was definitely short of expectations. Tagovailoa had a mediocre season with 1,814 passing yards after ten games and threw for 11 touchdowns and five interceptions.

Many fans believe the Dolphins would have made the playoffs had they taken LA’s Herbert instead with the No.5 pick. Regardless, the Dolphins came up short with a 10-6 record in which veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick had to go under center a fair amount with Tagovailoa’s rookie mistakes. The future’s still bright for the former Heisman nominee, but not enough success has been shown to rate him anywhere near the suspected stardom surrounding him.

Grade: C+

Johnathon Taylor

Out of Wisconsin, Taylor was easily one of the best college backs in recent years.
He concluded his collegiate days as the No. six best RB in NCAA history to go with his impressive 6,000 yards in three years. In addition, he also won the Doak Walker award, and was a Heisman award nominee each year of his college career. All of these accolades were why Taylor was so highly praised coming out of Wisconsin.

But how can such a great runner live up to these expectations? Well, by rushing for almost 1,200 yards of a rookie, of course. But even with generational skills, NFL scouts had some skepticism. Taylor fumbled the ball in college. A lot. Another worry would be his acceleration after making a move. All concerns have been completely forgotten and laughed at when we look back on the season. The Indianapolis Colts have had an iffy running game for the better part of this decade. With Quarterbacks such as Manning, Luck, and most recently Philip Rivers, the mediocre running game was allowed to be overlooked. But if the Colts want to break out of their shell of complacency and win a Super Bowl, this team needs a franchise running back to guide them. Taylor provided that and more–somehow exceeding already insurmountable praise.

Grade: A+

Andrew Thomas

Thomas was my highest-rated offensive lineman of this draft. A lot of analysts and fans were beyond shocked when the Giants took Thomas at third with Wirfs and Becton still on the board. But what we all need to remember is the draft is not about taking the most talented guy available. It is about what the team needs the most. Thomas more than fit the bill.

The New York Giants had one of the absolute worst offensive lines we have seen in the past couple of years. With two young stars in Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley, the Giants did not just need a solid passing tackle, but they needed someone the generational running back in Barkley can put his hand behind and follow all the way to the top of the league on the ground. Thomas was exactly what the Giants needed considering he was already used to protecting a pocket passer in Jake Fromm while also being a large reason Georgia has produced the top running backs in college football. Barkley and Thomas could be the duo New York needs to fully reach their potential. But, unfortunately, we just haven’t seen that yet out of Thomas.

Grade: B

Tristan Wirfs

Probably the biggest steal of the NFL season next to Herbert was Tristan Wirfs. The former Iowa Hawkeye was taken 13 in the draft after two other top lineman prospects Andrew Thomas and Mekhi Becton. Both of whom fell short in comparison to one of the only starting rookie tackles in history to win a super bowl their first year–Wirfs. Coaches gave the 22-year-old the tough task of protecting the backside of one of the best quarterbacks of all time in Tom Brady.

Safe to say he did just that by giving up just one sack, and critics rated him the best tackle in the draft. Regardless of Brady’s future with the Bucs; they certainly will not have to worry about whomever is protecting the guy under center. Wirfs is the real deal. And is one of the sole reasons the once terrible Tampa Bay are now the Super Bowl champions.

Grade: A+

Chase Young

Young was the most dominant defender in college football in the last couple of years. Young won Defensive ROTY and had a monster season. If this level of play continues, Young has the potential to be mentioned with guys like J.J. Watt and Michael Strahan.

The only reason I did not choose to add the plus is that his dominance has been halted from time to time. Wirfs and the Buccaneers in the wildcard matchup were a great example of this. He did not record a single sack on Brady like he promised the previous week, and this could be a sign that Young can be easily stopped. Nevertheless, I hope Young earns that plus from me.

Grade: A