The GX 2020 NFL All-Rookie Offense
Updated: Jan 13, 2021
GX's 2020 NFL All-Rookie Team: Herbert or Burrow at QB? Did James Robinson do enough? Which of the exciting first year wide receivers made it? Take a look at the offense on the definitive NFL All-Rookie roster.
By Ben Matthews.
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First team: Justin Herbert, Los Angeles Chargers
Justin Herbert only needed 15 games to set myriad new rookie records with 31 passing touchdowns, as well as setting a new single season total touchdown record with 36 as he added five rushing scores. This surpassed Cam Newton’s record set in 2011. Herbert led all rookies in completions with 396 (another record) and completion percentage (66.6%) to cap off a debut season beyond anybody’s wildest expectations.
These numbers alone make him an easy choice to lead this team under center, but he also displayed an excellent ability under pressure and a poise within the pocket that allowed him to launch lasers downfield on a regular basis. The future is bright for the Chargers. Now they must protect their prize asset with utmost urgency.
Second team: Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals
First team: Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts
This was a tough call and if sentiment ruled then the undrafted James Robinson would be the pick here. However, Jonathan Taylor proved in the second half of the season why he was the best running back available in the 2020 NFL draft. He was taken behind both Clyde Edwards-Helaire and D’Andre Swift but displayed the best collegiate all-round game and fell to number 41 overall.
Taylor capped off his year with a monster 253-yard, two touchdown performance against Jacksonville and in doing so, joined Edgerrin James as only the second Colt to have rushed for 200 yards in a single NFL game.
Taylor ended his rookie campaign on a tear, averaging 123.5 yards per contest across his final six matchups which secured a third-place finish in the race for the rushing title with 1,169 yards (alongside 11 touchdowns with one more receiving, for good measure!)
An impressive campaign saw Taylor receive the second-best PFF rushing grade of all first year backs, trailing only Antonio Gibson, whilst he was adjudged by the same site to be the premier rookie receiving back with a grade of 73.3.
Whilst it is true that James Robinson would have had a realistic shot at surpassing Taylor’s rushing yardage total if he played his full quota of 16 games, it must be remembered that Taylor only played one more full game than the Jags’ back and was in a true committee with the likes of Nyheim Hines for much of the season. Taylor’s yards-per-carry average of 5.0 is also slightly betters Robinson’s mark of 4.5.
The sentimentalist’s pick would be the undrafted Robinson but for us, Taylor is the rookie rushing king.
Second team: James Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars
First team: Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings; Brandon Aiyuk, San Francisco 49ers
This selection was probably the easiest pick of the entire roster. There cannot be much of a debate about the inclusion of the phenomenal rookie on this team. Coming out of LSU, Jefferson had huge shoes to fill following the departure of Stefon Diggs.
Labelled as a slot-only receiver, Jefferson proceeded to find immediate success at all levels of the field thanks to his excellent release, silky-smooth route running and ultra-reliable hands, dropping a mere two balls on the year.
The former Tiger did more than simply allay the fears of his pre-draft doubters, he totally and utterly vanquished any lingering memories of being called a ‘reach’ during the 2020 NFL draft as he cruised to a cool 1,400 receiving yards across his debut campaign. This total not only beat Randy Moss’ 1998 franchise record of 1,313 yards, but also pipped Anquan Boldin’s NFL rookie record of 1,373 set in 2003. Heck, the rook was even graded as PFF’s second best receiver in the entire NFL with an elite 90.4 grade, trailing only Davante Adams.
Enough said. Just sit back and enjoy the video below of the offensive rookie of the year elect.
Unlike the first pass catcher above, the second receiver on this team was possibly the toughest selection to make. CeeDee Lamb possessed the best catch rate (66.7%) and most receptions of the remaining options.
Chase Claypool scored a whopping 11 touchdowns, embellished by a magnificent four score game against the Eagles in week 5, but he experienced a statistical lull in the final third of the year and never truly became a lead wideout like our selection did.
Jerry Jeudy showed everyone why he was the best route runner coming out of college, but experienced a horrible case of the dropsies in his debut year (46% catch rate on ten drops).
In the end, it came down to Tee Higgins and Brandon Aiyuk. Higgins emerged early as Joe Burrow’s favourite target, rendering franchise legend A.J. Green redundant and finished third amongst rookies for receiving yards. An impressive feat, as he should provide a reliable target for Burrow for years to come. But what Aiyuk managed to display with the assistance of a series of third string quality quarterbacks across a mere 12 games took home the bacon.
Aiyuk finished with 60 receptions for 748 yards and five receiving touchdowns, whilst adding a further two rushing scores. This dual threat ability meant that Aiyuk was a legitimate threat to take it to the house at any given moment and highlights a rare skillset that will enable the 49ers to utilise him creatively across multiple formations moving forward.
Aiyuk was also the best blocking rookie wideout not named J-Jeff and possessed the best drop percentage (only 5.2%, compared to Higgins at 7.4%) of all rookie receivers bar the Viking standout.
Second team: Chase Claypool, Pittsburgh Steelers; Tee Higgins, Cincinnati Bengals
First team: Harrison Bryant, Cleveland Browns
Few rookie tight ends qualify for this team if we were to limit the selections to a snap count and prior to his injury, the Denver Broncos first year standout Albert Okwuegbunam would have probably ended up waltzing away with this award. In only four games, Albert-O put up a 11/121/1 receiving line and received the highest overall PFF grade for a tight end amongst rookies (83.2). Unfortunately, a season ending injury against Atlanta in week nine curtailed what was becoming a promising year.
Instead, Harrison Bryant gets the nod for his emerging receiving skills. The Browns tight end produced 24 receptions for 238 yards and three scores and was able to move the chains for Baker Mayfield when called upon, netting 14 first downs for his team.
Adam Trautman would have been the choice if we were looking at blocking alone, as his 86.9 PFF run block grade ranks tops in the entire NFL. Unfortunately, a mere 15 receptions highlight a slight lack of dynamism that he will need to display in year two to gain wider recognition for his excellent contribution to the Saints’ offense.
Second team: Adam Trautman, New Orleans Saints
Antonio Gibson, Washington Football Team
Antonio Gibson was likened to Christian McCaffrey during the off season by his head coach, Ron Rivera. Rivera should know this better than most, having worked with Run-CMC in Carolina, but this was high praise for a rookie running back that was largely unheralded coming into the league.
The back had a steady start to his rookie year but seized the lead role in the backfield midway through the season after enjoying a 128-yard scoring effort in a win over divisional rival Dallas in week 8.
After that point, Gibson showed a well-rounded skillset including an ability to catch the ball on a regular basis despite the presence of third down specialist J.D. McKissic, but it was his vision, decisiveness and explosion that really caught the eye as the season progressed.
Unfortunately, a toe injury during the thanksgiving tilt at Jerry World halted Gibson’s progress somewhat late in the year, but he still finished the season as PFF’s highest graded rookie pure rusher (85.3) across the ten games he was the starter.
First team: Tristan Wirfs, Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Mekhi Becton, New York Jets
Wirfs was drafted as the fourth tackle in the 2020 NFL draft, but established himself as the best of the bunch during the 2020 season. The impressive rookie did not miss a single snap for the Bucs and only committed three penalties all season, ranking as PFFs 11th best tackle in the league with a grade of 82.2. The rookie allowed only a solitary sack all year and is comfortably the top pure tackle amongst first year players in 2020.
Becton was the third tackle taken in the 2020 NFL draft and just pips Michael Onwenu to the starting spot as a bookend to Wirfs. Becton has faced injury mismanagement by Adam Gase and his coaching staff during his rookie year, but came out on the other side as a true shining light within what was a forgettable season for the much-maligned franchise.
Becton did give up seven sacks on the year but displayed all of the hallmarks of a dancing bear needed to play the left tackle position for years to come and will protect either a newly drafted quarterback or Sam Darnold with aplomb.
His pass blocking grade per PFF (76.0) ranked higher than Onwenu (72.5), which could be in part due to the fact that Onwenu played both guard spots and right tackle, but in terms of who we’d start as a pure left tackle in this team – it’s Becton.
Second team: Michael Onwenu, New England Patriots; Jedrick Wills, Cleveland Browns
First team: Damien Lewis, Seattle Seahawks; Kevin Dotson, Pittsburgh Steelers
Damien Lewis was drafted as a third-round road-grader and that is exactly what he provided for the Seahawks during his rookie year. The LSU alumni was ranked by PFF as the overall 15th best guard in the NFL in 2020 after starting all 16 games as a rookie.
He excelled as a run blocker with an 81.5 grade across 967 snaps. This puts him as the sixth best run blocker in the league at guard, sandwiched between perennial All-Pros Quenton Nelson and Joel Bitonio. If Lewis can improve his sometimes-heavy feet in pass protection in year two then he could be recognised as a genuine top-10 NFL guard.
Despite some deficiencies in pass protection, he still only allowed three sacks on the year. An impressive return for the rookie and a clear choice as the top rookie guard.
If Lewis is the clear staring guard on the right-hand side of the line, then it is a toss up between who starts opposite him. Ezra Cleveland and Jonah Jackson were considered here, but neither truly excelled in either pass blocking or run blocking in comparison to their peers.
Kevin Dotson on the other hand, despite only playing 358 snaps, did produce at an elite level in pass protection, earning an 87.2 grade in the discipline from PFF. His overall grade finished at 66.2, which was tied with Ezra Cleveland as the second-best rookie in the class. Jackson deserves an honourable mention here as he produced a solid grade overall at 57.1 across a whopping 1,006 snaps despite being relatively unheralded coming into the league amongst other more well-known rookie guards.
Second team: Ezra Cleveland, Minnesota Vikings; Jonah Jackson, Detroit Lions
First team: Tyler Biadasz, Dallas Cowboys
This position could well have been classified as a push, due to the fact that only Biadasz and Lloyd Cushenberry truly qualify. Biadasz gets the nod purely on his comfortably better grades in both pass protection and run blocking, but at 56.0 and 57.0 respectively, they are both a little underwhelming. Next position please….
Next up is the All-Rookie defense to be publised in the next few days.