There has perhaps never been a tougher year to be a rookie in the NFL.

With the coronavirus pandemic decimating offseason practice schedules and preventing any preseason games from taking place, 2020’s crop of first-year players will start their pro careers having had very little time to adapt.

Yet, even in exceptional circumstances, there are still plenty of players from a talented rookie class with the chance to excel in their maiden season.

Here we look at 10 rookies to watch in the 2020 campaign.

 

Joe Burrow – QB, Cincinnati Bengals

The first overall pick in the 2020 draft will look to carry arguably the greatest season by a quarterback in the history of college football into his rookie year into the pros. Should he succeed, it will likely result in a quick turnaround for a moribund Bengals franchise. The reports from training camp suggest he is a position to do just that.

KEY STAT: Burrow’s 60 passing touchdowns for National Champions LSU were the most in a single season by a college football quarterback.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire – RB, Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs used the final pick of the first round to select Burrow’s former LSU team-mate. With Super Bowl hero Damien Williams opting out of the season, Edwards-Helaire has been a consensus first-round pick in fantasy drafts and – entering the league’s most explosive offense – this do-it-all running back is in a situation to enjoy a monster rookie season.

KEY STAT: Of running backs selected in the 2020 draft, only Raymond Calais (7.5) – a seventh-round pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – had a higher yards per touch average than Edwards-Helaire (6.9) in 2019.

Chase Young – DE, Washington Football Team

Young was an easy pick for Washington with the second overall selection. Some believe his upside is greater than last season’s Defensive Rookie of the Year Nick Bosa, who was taken in the same spot by the 49ers in 2019. Playing on a defensive line stacked with first-round talent, Young has the ability to replicate the impact his former Ohio State team-mate had for San Francisco with a Washington team that has few bright spots.

KEY STAT: Despite serving a two-game suspension Young’s 16.5 sacks were the most in the NCAA last season.

Tua Tagovailoa – QB, Miami Dolphins

Tagovailoa will have to wait for his NFL debut after veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick was named the 2020 starter. That is not much of a surprise given Tagovailoa has not played a game since dislocating his hip for Alabama in November. However, given the frenetic nature of Fitzpatrick’s play, the fifth overall pick should eventually get a chance to prove he, and not Burrow, was the best quarterback in the class.

KEY STAT: Tagovailoa led the NCAA in touchdown percentage in 2019, with 33 (13.1 per cent) of his 252 pass attempts resulting in scores.

Brandon Aiyuk – WR, San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers traded up from 31 to 25 to select wide receiver Aiyuk with their second pick of the first round. When a play-caller of Kyle Shanahan’s talents makes such a move, the rest of the league needs to take notice. Aiyuk has reportedly started to vindicate that decision with impressive performances in training camp and has the skillset to make one of the league’s premier offenses even more devastating in 2020.

KEY STAT: Aiyuk averaged 18.2 yards per touch in 2019 for Arizona State. Of wide receivers selected only CeeDee Lamb (19) – the first-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys – averaged more.

Isaiah Simmons – LB, Arizona Cardinals

Aiming to help the Cardinals slow down the 49ers offense will be Cardinals first-round pick Simmons, who can operate as a linebacker, safety and even occasionally as a cornerback. His remarkable blend of size and athleticism gives Simmons the potential to be a true position-less player on defense and the key to him thriving as a rookie will be defensive coordinator Vance Joseph making the most of his physical attributes.

KEY STAT: Simmons showed his versatility in his final season at Clemson, recording eight sacks, three interceptions and eight pass breakups.

Antoine Winfield Jr. – S, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

While there has been so much focus on the Buccaneers’ offense following the arrival of Tom Brady, the defense also looks championship-ready and Winfield can be a crucial contributor in his first year. The second-round pick is the son of former Pro Bowl defensive back Antoine Winfield Sr. and the same playmaking ability his father had has been apparent in Tampa Bay’s preparations for a season where expectations will be extremely high.

KEY STAT: Winfield’s seven interceptions for Minnesota in 2019 were the fourth-most in college football.

Jalen Hurts – QB, Philadelphia Eagles

Hurts’ selection in the second round by the Eagles caused a stir, but Hurts will not be displacing Carson Wentz as starter, at least not yet anyway. It is likely, though, that the Eagles use Hurts as runner in the red zone, the former Alabama and Oklahoma quarterback having the dual-threat ability to add another dimension to the Philadelphia offense.

KEY STAT: The 3,274 rushing yards Hurts gained from 2016 to the end of the 2019 season were the third-most by a quarterback in that span.

Cam Akers – RB, Los Angeles Rams

With Todd Gurley now a member of the Atlanta Falcons, second-round pick Akers will carry much of the burden of reviving the Rams’ running game in 2020. Having excelled in college despite playing behind a poor offensive line at Florida State, Akers should be confident of making a successful transition to the pros for a Rams team that also had a fair share of struggles in the trenches last season.

KEY STAT: Akers averaged 93.3 scrimmage yards per game in three seasons at Florida State, with that number the third-highest among running backs in the Atlantic Coast Conference between 2017 and 2019.

Jonathan Taylor – RB, Indianapolis Colts

Second-round pick Taylor is set to step into a heavy-duty role in the Colts backfield as a rookie. He should get a larger share of the carries than team-mate Marlon Mack, who is a free agent at the end of the season, and will be the favoured back in the red zone. If he performs as he did during a stellar collegiate career at Wisconsin, Taylor will be in the Offensive Rookie of the Year conversation.

KEY STAT: Taylor averaged 150 rushing yards per game during in his career at Wisconsin (2017-19), the highest average of any running back in college football in that timeframe.