• Daniel Butler

The 2020 Offensive Rookie Class - The Best Yet?


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The 2020 NFL season has already been unlike any other. The unheard of addition of the seventh playoff seed heated up the playoff race. The season has brought turbulent ups and downs for the NFC East division. There have been more fourth-quarter blown leads than anyone thought was possible. To put it simply, this NFL season has given us storylines on-par with the craziness of 2020. Perhaps the most intriguing is the dominant performance of this year's offensive rookie class. This power comes from not only the star players at the top of the pack, but also the seemingly endless depth of talent in the rookie class.


But how stacked are the 2020 rookies compared to other classes in NFL history? Will they be remembered as the best of all time? It seems like they may earn that title.


At first glance, this year's draft class has a player clearly at the top for each skill position: quarterback, running back, and wide receiver. Noting the strength of this rookie class, I created charts displaying these players' stats comparing them with superstar rookies in their respective positions during the Super Bowl Era.


The quarterback is widely regarded as the most important piece to any football team, making it imperative to build around the position after spending a first round pick on one. The LA Chargers appear to have implemented this strategy successfully as their new QB, Justin Herbert, is putting up all-time great numbers for a rookie. Below is a chart comparing his numbers to the stats of the most widely regarded "best rookie QBs" of all time, including another member of this year's class, Joe Burrow* of the Cincinnati Bengals.


[Note: "Herbert2" is the statistics of the Chargers QB outside of his Week 13 game against the Patriots in which he lost 0-45. This game is a significant outlier to all the rest so I thought it was fair to see his pace without it included.]


KEY: Y/G = Yards per Game | TD/G = Touchdowns per Game | TD/I % = Touchdown-Interception Ratio | RATE = Passer Rating | R Y/G = Rushing Y/G | R TD/G = Rushing TD/G


The takeaway here is that the Chargers new gunslinger may actually be the new best rookie QB in NFL history. With two weeks left in the season, Herbert is currently on pace to set a record for both yards per game and touchdowns per game for a rookie, and it's not even close! What makes it even more shocking is that outside of the outlier 0-45 loss to the Patriots, he would be at least in the top 3 all time for all four major passing stats. The former Oregon Duck is on pace to handily win the OROY Award, making him the cream of the crop of this stacked class.


On top of the OROY frontrunner, Joe Burrow adds even more to how impressive these rookies are. Before going down with a brutal leg injury against the Washington Football Team, he was also putting up more Y/G than any rookie in history. Even Dolphins rookie Tua Tagovailoa currently has a 9-1 TD/INT with a 95.2 passer rating in 6 games. This year would very well go down as the "year of the rookie QB" if it weren't for a few other studs.


One of these studs comes at the running back position with James Robinson of the Jaguars. The interesting thing about Robinson is that he isn't a part of this draft class. He went undrafted, got an opportunity to fill a freshly vacated hole at RB for the Jags, and never looked back as he is currently one of the best in the game today.


KEY: Y/C = Yards per Carry | Y/G = Yards per Game | ScrimY/G = Scrimmage Y/G

TD/G = Touchdowns per Game | Tch/G = Touches per Game


At first glance of this chart, it's obvious that the Jags rookie doesn't quite stack up with the best rookies of all time as 4/5 of the ones shown went on to be All-Pros in their first year. However, what stood out to me was that his role in the passing game was maybe greater than anyone here. Despite this, he still is on the low-end of touches per game, showing that the Jaguars don't give him as many carries as rushers of his caliber should be getting. Could he be just as great if he got the same amount of chances as Eric Dickerson? Maybe not, but he certainly would come close.


Like the quarterback position, their isn't just one standout rookie. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Jonathan Taylor, and Antonio Gibson are all first-years in the top 15 for yards from scrimmage with Gibson being known as the "steal of the draft" after falling to the 3rd round for the Washington Football Team (and the 8th round for my fantasy team). Even lesser known rookies like D'Andre Swift, Cam Akers, and JK Dobbins all have over 600 yards, placing 7 rookies in the top 30 of this category.


Moving on to the wide receiver position, it may get even more impressive than the others. This year's group has been heavily anticipated for years. After so many awe-inspiring plays at the college level, this WR class took the NFL by storm. Six were taken in the first round while the second round tacked on seven more, and so far, they have not disappointed. However, the far and away front-runner of the group is Vikings wideout Justin Jefferson out of LSU.


KEY: Y/R = Yards per Reception | Y/G = Yards per Game

R/G = Receptions per Game | TD/G = Touchdowns per Game


Over the off season, the Minnesota Vikings traded star WR Stefon Diggs to the Bills, leading to them eventually drafting Jefferson. After a slow start to the year, the young slot receiver exploded for 175 yards against the Titans in Week 3 and hasn't looked back since. He easily stacks up against some of the best rookies of all time, having stats very similar to those of future Hall of Famer, Anquan Boldin.


This bunch of wide receivers goes far beyond Jefferson too. The 13 taken in the first two rounds of the draft and even some later picks have made their names known in the NFL this season. Their talent has gathered so much attention that I decided to put their stats up against the 2014 WR rookie class, which is widely known to be the greatest of all time.

The two classes are extremely close on a yards per game basis with 2020 being slightly better on an efficiency per catch basis and 2014 trumping them at being more efficient scorers. But the main takeaway from the data is this: this year's WR class matches up well with the class known as the best ever. Unless the football gods come down and cast a spell on all of the rookie receivers before these final two weeks, there will always be a discussion of which class is truly better.


Since this article is looking at the entirety of the offensive rookie class, I also need to mention tight ends and offensive linemen. Unfortunately for tight ends, there isn't much to discuss. There are no full-time starting rookies at the position and the most productive is Harrison Bryant who has only put up a mere 182 yards on 19 catches. Maybe one of them will find their place and break out in the future. But this year, they're more lackluster than anything.


Offensive linemen, on the other hand, have shown flashes of greatness this season. A whopping 7 went in the first round of the 2020 draft and many have proven their worth. Players like Meckhi Becton, Tristan Wirfs, and Jedrick Wills have been huge pieces on improving lines of teams that desperately needed it. Even Michael Onwenu of the Patriots, who was drafted 182nd overall, has been a fantastic addition for New England.


Overall, the analysis shows that this class should go down as at least one of the best rookie offensive classes of all time if not the best. While a case can be made that no single rookie this season is the best in their position, it's unheard of for there to be even an argument for three different positions. After a bit of digging, I couldn't find a rookie QB/RB/WR combo nearly as good as this year's. In addition to this spectacular top of the class, the depth is as good as it gets too with wide receivers from all over making their mark in year one of their careers.


I look forward to seeing how these phenomenal rookies end their one of a kind season and watching them grow and dominate the league for years to come.