Susan Walsh/Associated Press
It has been a banner year in 2020 for offensive rookies in the NFL. Whether it has been Joe Burrow of the Cincinnati Bengals and Justin Herbert of the Los Angeles Chargers slinging the rock, Chase Claypool of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Justin Jefferson of the Minnesota Vikings catching it or Clyde Edwards-Helaire of the Kansas City Chiefs and James Robinson of the Jacksonville Jaguars toting it, a number of first-year players have made a major impact.
Still, where the Offensive Rookie of the Year race was concerned, it appeared to be a two-horse race between Burrow and Herbert.
At least, it was until Sunday, when Burrow suffered what appeared to be a season-ending knee injury against the Washington Football Team. With the first overall pick in the 2020 draft apparently finished for the season, Herbert is now the clear front-runner to win OROY.
But it’s far from a foregone conclusion, and with six weeks left in the regular season, we could be looking at one of the more interesting races for that hardware in recent memory.
Entering Week 11, it was Herbert who had the best odds to win Offensive Rookie of the Year, according to Vegas Insider. Burrow was right behind him after throwing for 2,485 yards and 12 scores over his first nine games.
But Burrow’s candidacy ended against Washington when he took a wicked shot to the knee and was carted off the field in the second half.
There has been no definitive indication that Burrow’s 2020 season is over, but Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network wrote that the initial diagnosis is a torn ACL, and the young quarterback’s own tweet after the game made it clear we won’t see Burrow again until 2021.
“Thanks for all the love,” Burrow wrote. “Can’t get rid of me that easy. See ya next year.”
With Burrow done, Herbert becomes the clear front-runner to win OROY. Since taking over as the Chargers starter under center in Week 2, he has been lighting up the stat sheet. Entering Sunday’s matchup with the New York Jets, Herbert was averaging over 290 passing yards per game. The sixth overall pick out of the University of Oregon had four games with over 300 passing yards and an equal number of games with three or more touchdown passes. His passer rating was a robust 102.8, and per Sunday’s telecast on CBS, there wasn’t a player in the NFL with more passes of 50-plus yards this season.
Not Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks. Not Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs. Not anyone.
As NFL Research pointed out, against the Jets on Sunday, Herbert had the most productive first half we’ve seen from a first-year quarterback in three decades.
CBS analyst and 2002 MVP Rich Gannon has been impressed by how complete Herbert’s game already is (via CBS LA).
“The one thing that stands out is he’s been very consistent. That’s unusual for a rookie quarterback. He’s gone out and played at a high level each week, taking care of the football and putting up impressive numbers. He’s throwing for 300 yards every week, he hasn’t turned the ball over very much. He’s been very good in situational football whether it’s two-minute offense, third down, the red zone. He makes quick decisions, the ball is out fast and he’s very accurate. For a bigger quarterback, he’s got very good mobility, he runs for a couple of first downs every week. He’s got good toughness.”
Herbert has indeed been impressive. But his team hasn’t been—Sunday’s win over the Jets was just Herbert’s second as the starting quarterback. And that lack of team success could open the door for another contender.
Tua Tagovailoa and the Miami Dolphins offense admittedly struggled in a Week 11 loss at Denver (so much so that Ryan Fitzpatrick entered the game in the second half), and Tagovailoa hasn’t posted the sort of stats that Herbert has. But Tagovailoa is 3-1 as the starter for a 6-4 Miami team that is one of the league’s bigger surprises in 2020.
If a combo platter of team and individual success is more your speed, then Claypool is your guy. The youngster from Notre Dame has been a key component of the passing game for the undefeated Steelers. Per the team’s Twitter feed, Claypool made some history of his own against the Jaguars on Sunday.
Claypool isn’t the only first-year receiver having a big season, either. Jefferson caught a 39-yard score Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys and entered Week 11 with four 100-yard games. The former LSU standout is on pace to eclipse 1,350 yards this year, and to say he has softened the blow from the loss of Stefon Diggs in Minnesota is an understatement.
The running backs haven’t been left out of the fun, either. Clyde Edwards-Helaire was the first back selected in the 2020 draft, and he’s played well for the defending Super Bowl champs, averaging 4.7 yards per carry and gaining yardage at a rate that would see the LSU product exceed 1,000 yards.
The biggest surprise of the bunch has to be James Robinson, though. The undrafted running back from tiny Illinois State actually has better odds to win OROY than any non-quarterback except Jefferson. It’s not hard to see why—Robinson came into Week 11 ranked fifth in the NFL in rushing yards and went over 1,000 total yards for the season Sunday against the Steelers.
All of those other players face an uphill battle—after torching the Jets for 366 yards and three scores Sunday, there’s little question that Herbert is the favorite to win Offensive Rookie of the Year—especially with Burrow on the shelf.
Jae C. Hong/Associated Press
But there’s still well over a month left in the season. Time for one of the other names listed here to strengthen their case. Or for a long shot like Denver Broncos wide receiver Jerry Jeudy or fellow wideout CeeDee Lamb of the Dallas Cowboys to catch fire and shoot up the board.
It’s terrible that Burrow’s season ended the way it did. But it doesn’t take away from a rookie class in 2020 that has been exceptional.
And there will still be plenty of intrigue in the OROY race down the stretch.