In what has been an explosive start to the NFL season in terms of points scored and offensive production, the talented 2020 NFL Draft class has been front and center in their contributions to lighting up the scoreboard.
Former Notre Dame standout and current Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Chase Claypool has already recorded a four-touchdown game, and it came in just his fourth professional contest.
Former LSU and current Kansas City Chiefs running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire put his skills on display immediately during the first game of the 2020 NFL season. Against the Houston Texans in Week 1, CEH racked up 138 yards on the ground and scored his first professional touchdown.
While they have had impressive rookie campaigns so far, Claypool and Edwards-Helaire didn’t even make the cut for the top three Offensive Rookie of the Year favorites at the NFL’s midway point—and neither did Henry Ruggs, Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb or Tee Higgins, showing that this year’s influx of young talent may be the best the league has seen in many years.
Without further ado, let’s review who has the most realistic chance of bringing home the trophy.
3. Justin Jefferson (WR, Minnesota Vikings)
Coming into the draft, LSU prospect Justin Jefferson’s name was lumped into the potentially historic 2020 wide receiver class as someone who could come in and contribute right away, but wasn’t likely to be the best pass-catcher in the draft.
That honor was reserved for the more highly-touted Ruggs, Lamb and Jeudy, who were compared to Tyreek Hill, DeAndre Hopkins and Julio Jones, respectively. Even the WR-desperate Philadelphia Eagles selected TCU’s Jalen Reagor over Jefferson, because they were primarily looking to add speed to their team.
Despite all this, it is Jefferson who has excelled above the crop of players who were thought to be superior, at least so far.
Jefferson already has three games with 100-plus receiving yards, including his monster breakout game against the Tennessee Titans where he posted 7 catches for 175 yards and a touchdown.
Although the Minnesota Vikings’ record (2-5) thus far has not been as impressive as they would’ve liked, Jefferson’s emergence has allowed them to soften the blow of Stefon Diggs’ departure in the offseason. His 18.2 yards per catch ranks 4th in the NFL, and if QB Kirk Cousins, who has had a shaky season so far, can right the ship, Jefferson could be in line for additional beastly stat lines for the rest of the season.
2. Joe Burrow (QB, Cincinnati Bengals)
While Jefferson has had a surprisingly effective rookie campaign, his former LSU teammate has come in and met lofty expectations from Day 1.
Cincinnati Bengals QB Joe Burrow needed to show presence and poise over and above solid statistical performances as the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft, and he’s done just that.
Burrow could have won his first NFL game had his kicker not pulled up lame in one of the most unusual missed field goal attempts you’ll ever see, but he did bring his team down the field to put the Bengals in position to force overtime.
Burrow has been under siege behind a suspect Cincinnati offensive line, and isn’t helped out at all by a porous Bengals defensive unit. But he’s shown a promising ability to use his legs to buy extra time, and orchestrate plays that were not the original play call.
While the Bengals’ record (2-5-1) won’t be pretty at season’s end competing in one of the NFL’s toughest divisions, Burrow has shown flashes of what it takes to be a franchise quarterback in this league. Two looming matchups with the Steelers’ vaunted defense may make or break his OROY candidacy.
1. Justin Herbert (QB, Los Angeles Chargers)
If you asked Los Angeles Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn in September, none of the promise that rookie QB Justin Herbert has displayed in the 2020 NFL season was ever supposed to take place.
Veteran QB Tyrod Taylor was going to lead the offense and potentially keep the Chargers in the playoff mix before eventually handing over the reigns to the former Oregon Ducks standout.
Not too long after that plan was unveiled, Taylor was unceremoniously poked in the wrong spot by Los Angeles team doctors, thrusting Herbert into the starting job ahead of schedule and into the spotlight.
Herbert’s first game against the defending NFL champion Kansas City Chiefs offered a preview into how competitive the Chargers would become under his helm. Since Herbert took over, the Chargers have:
Lost in OT to the Chiefs
Lost by 5 to the Carolina Panthers
Lost by 7 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Lost in OT to the New Orleans Saints
Beat the Jacksonville Jaguars
Lost to the Denver Broncos by 1 on the game’s final play
There are a lot of L’s in that stretch, but had literally one play flipped Los Angeles’ way, it’s possible they could have won at least a couple, if not more of those games. Going toe-to-toe with NFL elites Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady and Drew Brees isn’t easy for anyone, let alone a rookie, but Herbert has shown that he can make enough plays to win.
What helps Herbert’s case for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year is his performance against high-level competition in high-visibility games. He’ll get at least one more chance to square off against Kansas City, and if he shines in that game, that could help him clinch one of the more unlikely OROY bids in NFL history.