Back-to-back odds-on favorites have won Offensive Rookie of the Year in Saquon Barkley and Kyler Murray, and this year there are a plethora of players who, on paper, look like legitimate candidates for the award.
Let's rank the likely Offensive Rookie of the Year candidates for the 2020 season.
Next to each player is his OROY odds, set by William Hill Sports Book.
12. Justin Jefferson, WR, Vikings (+2000)
I was much lower on Jefferson than the masses, valuing him as a late second-round selection. Despite his monstrous production as as a junior, Jefferson only accounted for a touch over 25% of LSU's receiving production, a modest figure, and much of that production was on schemed-open deep crossers, RPOs, or screens.
He probably doesn't play to his 4.43 speed and has good, not great yards-after-the-catch ability and strength to beat press at the line. I, too, believed his incredible contested-catch rate was more due to Joe Burrow's immaculate accuracy than Jefferson out positioning/muscling/jumping defensive backs.
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Regardless of all that, I saw a pretty explosive, good-sized, well-rounded wideout ready to contribute from the slot as a rookie. And Jefferson steps in for the traded Stefon Diggs in Minnesota's offense, a passing attack that has 110 "available" targets from its 2019 figures, per John Daigle of Rotoworld, a reasonably large amount. While the Vikings drafted receiver K.J. Osborn in Round 5, no pass-catching options were added in free agency or via trade, so a solid opportunity sits in front of Jefferson. He's of course bound to see No. 2 cornerbacks and slot defenders given the presence of Adam Thielen. And in Gary Kubiak's play-action based offense, Jefferson is bound to get schemed open on bootlegs across the field.
Beyond my thoughts on Jefferson as a player, he's this low on the list is because he's in an offense with a clear-cut No. 1, a young star back in Dalvin Cook, and plenty of offensive line investment of late. It's unlikely Jefferson will be able to get the volume needed to get serious Offensive Rookie of the Year consideration, but he should produce.
11. Justin Herbert, QB, Chargers (+2000)
Herbert was my No. 3 quarterback and a Top 15 overall prospect on my final Big Board. I liked him more than most.
Sure, there were lapses in accuracy, decision-making and confidence in his long, illustrious career at Oregon. But there were many more instances of stellar displays of arm strength, athleticism, and pinpoint ball placement. Just a hunch here, but I do believe he was told to play more conservatively in 2019 than he had during his sophomore and junior seasons due to Oregon's bulldozing offensive line, and his playing style last season raised concerns about his ability to carry an NFL team. But I witnessed him carry some average Ducks squads and make big throws when needed (at times) as a senior. Herbert's strengths fit with the modern-day NFL is asking of its quarterbacks.
He's quite low on this list for a quarterback picked in the top 10 for a few reasons. Quarterback hasn't dominated OROY recently like it used to, with just two passers taking home the award in the past seven years after five quarterbacks won in the seven seasons before that. More importantly, he has Tyrod Taylor in front of him, a passer with a strong connection to Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn, and Taylor's someone who's not going to make many mistakes that typically lead to a starter getting yanked.
If Herbert doesn't start the season under center, it'd be difficult for him to do enough to become a viable OROY candidate.
10. Laviska Shenault, WR, Jaguars (+3300)
Shenault is a moose in space. At 6-1 and 227 pounds, he's almost the identical size of Joe Mixon and has running back-like contact balance and stop-and-start capabilities.
A few weeks ago, I listed Shenault as an instant impact rookie because his YAC-monster reputation pairs ideally with Gardner Minshew's propensity to distribute the football short, and D.J. Chark and Chris Conley are mostly downfield options. No, I haven't forgotten Dede Westbrook, but even as the penciled-in No. 4 receiver out of the gate, Shenault provides a new element to Jacksonville's offense which will allow him to get on the field early.
And the Jaguars are probably going to be in many obvious passing scenarios in 2020 due to their defense. Last year, even with rookie edge rusher Josh Allen reaching double-digit sacks, Jacksonville finished 29th in Football Outsiders' defensive DVOA and lost Calais Campbell, A.J. Bouye, and Marcell Dareus. Rookies K'Lavon Chassion, C.J. Henderson, and Davon Hamilton step in as replacements. While they could flash, it's a young, unproven unit. Good news for Shenault's chances at OROY.
9. Cam Akers, RB, Rams (+2000)
Akers was my RB2 in the 2020 class. He's so naturally elusive. Dynamic burst once he receives the handoff. Serious long speed to turn 30-yard gains into 60-yard touchdowns. Outstanding vision between the tackles. High-end contact balance. To me, he was a complete running back prospect.
While his elementary statistics don't jump off the screen -- 4.9 career yards per carry -- during his time at Florida State (especially 2018 and 2019), the Seminoles labored through a program rebuild, and the offensive line was mostly an abomination. Citing Pro Football Focus' Draft Guide, Akers forced 76 missed tackles in 2019, a staggering number given how poor his blocking was.
Despite his immense talent and opportunity with only Darrell Henderson in front of him on the depth chart, Akers is low on my list because of the offensive line in Los Angeles. The Rams simply weren't the same in 2019 without Rodger Saffold at guard, and left tackle Andrew Whitworth is now 38. The center spot is still a major question mark too.
8. Denzel Mims, WR, Jets (+3300)
Mims was a top 50 prospect on my board, and no receiver had a better pre-draft process. He dominated the Senior Bowl then pieced together the most impressive all-around workout among wideouts at the combine with 4.39 speed and a 6.66 three-cone drill.
The former Baylor star is -- obviously -- extremely explosive and has a tremendous "my ball" mentality when he has to go up and get it. He has a flair for to make the circus grab but does have a tendency to drop some easy throws. He's more linear than lateral after the catch, yet will run away from most. He's a feisty, powerful run blocker too. Because of the simplicity of Baylor's system, it'll take him time to learn intricate routes. Mims does have the twitch to be a good route runner though.
While his quarterback, Sam Darnold, has been mediocre at best through two seasons in the NFL, the Jets lost 183 targets from 2019, the third-highest number in the NFL, and Mims immediately fills the vacancy created by Robby Anderson signing with the Panthers. Anderson, an underrated deep threat who averaged exactly 15 yards per grab and caught 11 touchdowns over the past two seasons with New York.
In 2019, Darnold averaged 8.6 Intended Air Yards, which tied for the 12th-highest in the NFL, that bodes well for Mims' downfield prowess.
7. D'Andre Swift, RB, Lions (+1800)
Swift didn't do it for me. Just didn't. I thought he was mostly the product of an incredibly bulldozing offensive line at Georgia -- tackles Andrew Thomas and Isaiah Wilson went in Round 1 and left guard Solomon Kindley was picked in Round 4. Great, stocky build and flashes of stellar cutting ability, but I didn't see a particularly elusive back, and his contact balance seemed average.
Anyway, he went near the top of Round 2, and he does possess NFL-ready pass-catching ability, which will help his statistical output as a rookie. Kerryon Johnson was picked in Round 2 in 2018 but has only appeared in 14 games in two seasons and averaged 3.6 yards per tote in 2019. There's a clear path for Swift to get the bulk of the carries in Detroit.
When Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell was in Seattle, the Seahawks averaged finishing ninth in rushing attempts per season. Detroit wants to run it. Good news for Swift's OROY candidacy. I just don't think he's going to see the massive lanes he had at Georgia.
6. Jonathan Taylor, RB, Colts (+1200)
Taylor was my RB1 in the 2020 class. The nitpicking with him got out of control as we got close to the draft. Wisconsin's line was good but not as dominant as usual during his time in Madison, yet he ran for 1,700-plus yards in all three seasons there. Beyond the numbers, Taylor's traits are elite across the board -- contact balance, cutting ability, natural elusiveness, vision, and long speed.
Oh, and he tested like Nick Chubb at the combine -- with 4.39 speed -- yet his performance barely made waves for reasons unbeknownst to me.
And he lands behind Indianapolis' offensive line, one of the best units in football that returns all five starters from 2019. If Marlon Mack wasn't on the roster, Taylor would be much higher on this list. But Mack has shown franchise back ability when healthy in his first three seasons in the NFL. But he has missed at least two games each year. He's the roadblock in front of Taylor's OROY candidacy, yet it wouldn't surprise me if Taylor gets some buzz for the award because of his talent and Indianapolis' magnificent offensive line.
5. Jerry Jeudy, WR, Broncos (+1600)
Jeudy possesses a rare combination of explosiveness, twitch, and route-running savvy, and he's entering the NFL as a 21-year-old true junior (who played the entirety of his final season at Alabama at 20).
His cuts are razor sharp, and, vitally, Jeudy has the lightning-quick feet and advanced hand work to beat press at the line, although he didn't see that aggressive coverage often in college. While not unbelievable after the catch, he does have moments of brilliance with the football in his hands, and he plays to his 4.45 speed on the field.
And in Denver, Drew Lock is ready to pop. He completed 64% of his passes with seven touchdowns and three interceptions in his five starts down the stretch with 13 pass plays of 20 or more yards, tied for the 16th-most in that span of games.
Jeudy undoubtedly has the talent and polish to be a legitimate OROY contender. However, the Broncos only lost 58 targets from the 2019 squadron, tied for the fourth-lowest figure in the NFL. There's Courtland Sutton. And Noah Fant. And second-round pick K.J. Hamler and former Lock go-to-target Albert Okwuegbunam. Lots of mouths to feed in Denver. The lack of volume will probably hinder Jeudy's OROY chances.
4. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB, Chiefs (+600)
Edwards-Helaire was the most dynamic security blanket in the country in LSU's run to the national title. He caught 55 passes for 453 yards and averaged a hefty 6.6 yards per carry. His lateral cuts are phenomenal, and his contact balance is elite. Tackle attempts don't faze him. He's capable of deploying a variety of moves when he sees a linebacker in the hole or a defensive back down the field.
And he's in the most explosive, big-play offense in the NFL. That'll mostly help him but could hurt too because Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce can be penciled in for around 100 targets each.
But, Hill and Kelce will draw defenders -- especially down the field -- thereby leaving the underneath portion of the field mostly devoid of defenders. And that's where Edwards-Helaire will feast. What's good for his OROY candidacy too is the fact that Andy Reid is a madman when it comes to generating running back production. He loves utilizing them in the pass game. And for as much as Patrick Mahomes is known for his bazooka arm, he's not too proud to check it down.
In 2019, Chiefs backs had 90 catches for 654 yards with four touchdowns during the regular season. Sure, Damien Williams is in front of him on the depth chart, but that's it, and Kansas City's scheme puts backs in ideal situations on the ground. Williams saw the fourth-lowest loaded box rate last season. LeSean McCoy came in 7th in that Next Gen Stat. Rushing against light boxes is every running back's dream.
3. Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Dolphins (+800)
Tagovailoa arrives in South Beach with immense hype, and even though he's rehabbing from a unique hip injury that robbed him of playing in his final Iron Bowl and the bowl game against Michigan, there's going to be mass pining for him to see the field as a rookie.
Had he not gotten injured, he would've contented with Joe Burrow to be the No. 1 overall overall pick in the 2020 Draft. His arm isn't great, and he's not a supreme athlete, but he's amazingly accurate and has innate pocket-drifting ability.
He's not No. 2 here because he does technically start his NFL career behind Ryan Fitzpatrick. And while Miami tripled up at offensive line in the draft -- Austin Jackson in Round 1, Robert Hunt in Round 2 and Solomon Kindley in Round 4 -- the Dolphins' blocking unit is very much a (young) work in progress.
Tagovailoa will have a respectable -- and at times dynamic -- group of receivers at his disposal if (see: when) he plays as a rookie. DeVante Parker is fresh off a 1,200-plus, nine-touchdown 2019. Second-year tight end Mike Gesicki quietly reeled in 51 passes for 570 yards with five scores. As an undrafted rookie, Preston Williams had 32 grabs in for 428 yards with three touchdowns in eight games before tearing his ACL. And Jakeem Grant is super explosive.
2. CeeDee Lamb, WR, Cowboys (+1400)
This is nearly the perfect marriage of talent and opportunity. Lamb was my WR1 in the 2020 class because he was the most electric, complete wideout on film. His yards-after-the-catch prowess was unmatched. He flashed outstanding ball-tracking abilities too. Per PFF's Draft Guide, Lamb forced 26 missed tackles in 2019, the second-most among draft-eligible wideouts.
Sure, he'll need to acclimate to facing press coverage much more often than he saw it in the Big 12, but Lamb has the twitch and burst to free himself and create separation at any level of the field, although he's not an absolute burner (4.50 speed).
And even with Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup, two 1,000-yard wideouts last season, in front of him in the target pecking order, the Cowboys lost 190 targets from 2019 (33.1%), so there's ample room for Lamb to produce at a high volume on a high-profile team with a quarterback in Dak Prescott who threw for 4,902 yards at 8.2 yards per attempt in 2019.
1. Joe Burrow, QB, Bengals (+225)
Going chalk for the second-straight year. A season ago, going with the easy preseason pick proved to be right (Kyler Murray). Burrow having just one year of elite production scares me a bit. But from a trait perspective, he's phenomenal in every aspect of playing the quarterback in the modern-day NFL. Pinpoint accuracy. Stellar pocket management. Rapidly getting through his reads. Awesome improvisational skill. He's got it all.
And he lands in Cincinnati with a returning A.J. Green, first pick of the second round Tee Higgins, the underrated 1,000-yard wideout Tyler Boyd in the slot, and monster high-pointer Auden Tate returning from injury after a minor breakout season in 2019.
The offensive line should be better than it was a season year ago with Jonah Williams ready for his first NFL action, and Joe Mixon's presence should keep defenses honest. Truly, it'll be surprising if Burrow doesn't win Offensive Rookie of the Year.