January always makes the mouth of an NFL fan salivate. The announcements of future draftees, as well as the playoffs, give us plenty to look forward to. The hype around the 2020 NFL Draft has been around the near-inevitable combination that is the Cincinnati Bengals and Joe Burrow. Other headlines include how far Tua Tagovailoa will drop after his hip injury, and how high teams prioritize defensive prospects such as Jeff Okaduh and Chase Young.
Despite the hype, it doesn’t discount the standout rookie performances that we have been blessed to watch this season. On both sides of the ball, we have seen first round picks stand out, while others have come from deeper in the draft to blossom against the best. In no particular order, we look at ten standout rookie performances; including two nominees for Rookie of the Year.
Devin Bush Jr- LB, Pittsburgh Steelers
The son of a former Super Bowl Champion, Devin Bush Jr has been a shining light alongside Minkah Fitzpatrick in Pittsburgh. There was plenty of hype surrounding Bush when he came out of Michigan, and he lived up to it with room to spare.
Bush ended the regular season with 109 tackles; the most of any rookie this year. It was also the second-most this season for a pure linebacker; only one behind Deion Jones. Bush also had four fumble recoveries, two interceptions, a sack and a touchdown to his name after Week 17.
With the Steelers just missing out on the playoffs this season, in part to having three quarterbacks, one has to imagine that Pittsburgh will be back in the hunt next year. While that hunt will have Ben Roethlisberger leading the pack, Bush Jr will not be far behind.
Maxx Crosby – DE, Oakland Raiders
Drafted in the fourth round, Oakland arguably made their best value draft choice with Maxx Crosby. While Josh Jacobs was efficient on offense, Crosby saw his stock rise with a standout season on defense. One could argue that the Oakland rookie is an outsider for the Defensive Rookie of the Year, although it’s difficult to pass on Nick Bosa.
Crosby had 10.0 sacks, including a four sack game against Cincinnati in Week 11. The defensive end also had 46 tackles, with 16 of those being for a loss. Add on the 30 total quarterback pressures during the season, and Crosby has cemented a solid place in Oakland’s defensive setup.
In a year that saw Oakland improve but miss the playoffs, they found someone who can terrorize opposing quarterbacks for years to come. If Jon Gruden can get a few more pieces into the defense, then Oakland has a shot at making the playoffs next year.
Josh Allen- DE, Jacksonville Jaguars
Drafted seventh overall, Josh Allen provided offensive linemen with plenty of problems. Allen totaled 10.5 sacks; the most of any rookie this season and 14th in the NFL. He is difficult to keep away from the pocket and was rewarded with a nod in the PFWA All-Rookie team alongside Nick Bosa.
One can make an argument that Allen is the man who could take the Defensive Rookie of the Year away from Bosa. Dominant on defensive line, he is considered a building block to help improve this roster. We should have high expectations for his sophomore season.
Nick Bosa- DE, San Francisco 49ers (Defensive Player of the Year)
The San Francisco 49ers knew exactly what they were getting when they drafted Nick Bosa out of Ohio State. A phenomenal athlete coming out of college, Bosa did have an injury cloud over his head to start the season. After what we saw, he revitalized the 49ers defense.
Bosa ended the regular season with 47 tackles, nine sacks, three pass deflections, two fumble recoveries, and an interception. He is in line to win the Defensive Rookie of the Year, following in his brother’s footsteps from 2016. There has been no end of praise for Bosa, with multiple Hall of Fame players heaping the praise about how he plays.
Trevor Pryce put it quite nicely when he was asked about Bosa for a New York Times piece, when describing Bosa as a player. “I had a coach my rookie year who said he loves playing rookies because they’re too stupid to know they’re not supposed to be that good. And I think Nick Bosa doesn’t understand that he’s not supposed to dominate the game the way that he has”.
Terry McLaurin- WR, Washington Redskins
Terry McLaurin, otherwise known as ‘Scary Terry’, has lived up to his nickname. The rookie receiver had 919 yards receiving this season, racking up seven touchdowns. He very quickly turned into a primary option after a 125-yard performance with a touchdown in Week 1.
A dominant target on the Redskins offense, McLaurin had twice as many yards as the next-highest receiver (RB Chris Thompson, 378 yards). With Ron Rivera now at the helm of the Redskins, there is a chance to revamp this offense.
AJ Brown- WR, Tennessee Titans
The Titans have found themselves the receiver for the future with AJ Brown being the only rookie this season to reach 1,000 receiving yards. Brown also led all rookie receivers, alongside New York’s Darius Slayton, with eight receiving touchdowns. Coming out of Mississippi, fans were excited by his potential.
While he only averaged 3.3 receptions per game, Brown totaled just over 65 yards per game. In five games, Brown hit 100+ receiving yards, with four of those games coming in the final six weeks of the regular season. His average of 20.2 yards per catch was second in the league for all receivers, only behind Los Angeles’ Mike Williams.
While there is no doubt that Brown was helped by the implement of Ryan Tannehill after Week 7, he had plenty to do in order to earn those stats. If Brown is able to continue this over his sophomore year, Tennessee will likely extend his contract past the 2022 season.
Deebo Samuel– WR, San Francisco 49ers
This may be controversial, with Samuel taking the spot that could have gone to Seattle’s DK Metcalf. The one thing that stands out between those two is that Samuel has a catch percentage of over 73%, while Metcalf only hit 58% this season.
In a passing attack that has a tight end as the first choice receiver, and someone like Emmanuel Sanders playing as WR1, the fact that Samuel was able to hit 800+ yards remains impressive. In addition, the check down ability of Raheem Mostert and Matt Breida remains as competition for targets. Samuel has the ability to run with the jet sweep; causing a multitude of issues for opposing defenses.
Samuel ended up fourth in receiving yards among rookie receivers, with three receiving touchdowns and three rushing touchdowns. A deep threat from within his own half, Samuel has every opportunity next season to double his touchdown tally and rack up 1,000+ receiving yards.
Josh Jacobs- RB, Oakland Raiders (Offensive Rookie of the Year)
The only rookie running back this season to rush for over 1,000 yards, Josh Jacobs came to Oakland knowing that there would be pressure on him to shine from the start. From what we saw, he dominated opposing defenses up until his season-ending shoulder injury.
Averaging nearly five yards per carry, Jacobs ran for 1150 yards in 13 games for Oakland. That put him at eighth in the league for total rushing yards, with a measly 242 carries on the season. The only rusher that had more yards on less attempts was the dual-threat in Lamar Jackson.
Jacobs also went for seven touchdowns; the most of any rookie running back this season. With five games over 100 yards rushing, and only two under 50, the Raiders found a diamond with the 24th pick. Should Jacobs stay healthy throughout next season, we could see him total elite numbers.
Gardner Minshew- QB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Drafted in the sixth round, we were not expecting to see ‘Minshew Mania’ enter in Week 1 of the regular season. When Nick Foles went down after 33 minutes, fans were sweating bullets.
Instead, we saw the emergence of what could be the franchise quarterback going forward. Out of the three rookie quarterbacks that saw 200+ snaps this season, Minshew had the highest passer rating with 91.1.
Minshew also had 21 touchdowns to go with just six interceptions on 3,272 passing yards. Despite Nick Foles coming back briefly, the Jaguars put Minshew in as the starter moving forward. It would not be surprising to see Minshew starting come September if he can build upon his rookie year.
Kyler Murray- QB, Arizona Cardinals
After the disaster that was Josh Rosen’s rookie season in 2018, Arizona bit the bullet once again with their first pick to draft Kyler Murray. The former Heisman winner had the weight of the franchise on his shoulders, and he did not disappoint.
Despite Arizona ending up with a 5-10-1 record on the season, the Cardinals can feel confident with Murray under center. There has been some growing pains along the way, but he is progressing. In five of the team’s losses, it was a one-possession game.
Arizona have their future quarterback in Murray. Arguably, was one of the top three rookies alongside Nick Bosa and Josh Jacobs. With another offseason under his belt, Arizona may be back in the playoffs for the first time since the 2015 season.
Photo Credit- San Francisco Examiner