If Chase Young is as “Chase Young” as they said he would be, then perhaps he is too exceptional to use as an example of how rookies don’t seem to be “behind” despite the unusual offseason. Young took part in two sacks in his NFL debut against the Eagles and forced a fumble, then added another with two tackles for a loss in Week 2 against the Cardinals. The second overall pick in this year’s draft played in only 13 snaps against the Browns before leaving with a groin injury that held him out of last week’s game.
Young returned to practice on a limited basis on Thursday and Washington head coach Ron Rivera said the team will monitor how he feels on Friday before determining his return date. That could be this Sunday at home against the LA Rams.
A matchup of Andrew Whitworth against Chase Young is something we might only see once in our lifetimes.
A long note about how the 2020 rookie class has performed above narrative-driven expectations
Young isn’t the only Football Team rookie who is off to a good start. Third round running back Antonio Gibson played well enough for the team to release Adrian Peterson and the turn main duties to him and JD McKissic. Gibson has scored in each of the last three games and he had four catches for 82 yards in Week 4 against the Ravens. And as teams do most years, Washington has gotten considerable special teams value from their draft class, with seventh round safety Kamren Curl also playing in 35-percent of the snaps on defense.
The Rams can relate to some degree.
Second round running back Cam Akers looked to be the starter in Week 2 until an injury on the first drive forced him out for two games. Akers looks to return this week and despite having less time in camp and no preseason games and then more missed practices over the last two months, he seems like a player that Sean McVay will not be shy to use moving forward.
The same goes for sixth round safety Jordan Fuller, one of the best early season rookies of the McVay era and an immediate starter from day one as if he was a veteran. He didn’t have to be a second overall “Lawrence Taylor comparisons” talent to have an immediate impact because he was an exception. Fuller is an exception, but for different reasons. He was not one pick away from one, he was one pick away from 200.
Now he’s a starting safety in the NFL.
Second round receiver Van Jefferson has seen his playing time decrease as the weeks go on, but that’s nothing worth worrying about at this stage of his career. I also wouldn’t presume that the offseason is related.
Vikings rookie Justin Jefferson has 348 yards, the most by a rookie through his team’s first four games since Anquan Boldin in 2003. The the next three highest after Boldin and Jefferson are Andre Johnson, Julio Jones and Amari Cooper. I’m not saying it’s time to put Jefferson “there” yet but it’s certainly company. The offseason didn’t appear to bump him off his route to 21.8 yards per catch and 17.4 yards per target as an immediate “Yep, right decision” in the Stefon Diggs trade.
CeeDee Lamb isn’t far behind at 309 yards with the Cowboys.
In the last eight years combined, there were only four receivers over 300 yards (Amari Cooper, Kelvin Benjamin, Will Fuller and Marquise Brown) and the number of rookie wide receivers over 150 in 2020 is slightly above average from the previous eight seasons.
“Joe Burrow’s gonna struggle. He’s gonna struggle. He’s so far behind now, lord. This is Bill Parcells: The best way to learn how to play football is to play football. And we played football in training camp - and in OTAs to a certain extent - and we’re not doing that this year. So there will be - no - those guys will have a hard time.”
Joe Burrow’s been pretty good. I mean, he’s no Justin Herbert, but I’d say the Bengals are content with their decision to place him as the starter from day one.
Herbert’s been one of the top passers in the NFL, in some respects, and was officially named the Chargers starter this week. Perhaps that won’t last but he seems ready to learn on the job without a preseason. Burrow’s grasped the Bengals offense well enough to have the second most attempts in the league and he’s been comfortably in the middle of the pack for efficiency.
How could anyone have been able to predict how an unprecedented offseason would affect rookies?
Clyde Edwards-Helaire is sixth in rushing yards, Jonathan Taylor is 16th with 250 yards in four games. This is similar to last season with Josh Jacobs and David Montgomery after four games. There’s also Gibson and Joshua Kelley, a fourth round pick of the Chargers.
Offensive lineman often struggle as rookies and Andrew Thomas of the Giants is one example through the first four games. But Mekhi Becton and Tristan Wirfs have been called two of the best in the league already and Jedrick Wills has been less consistent but also drawn praise for the NFL’s top rushing offense and was PFF’s left tackle on their all-rookie team for the first quarter of the season. Patriots sixth round guard Michael Onwenu has been ranked as PFF’s top rookie through Week 4 and Seahawks third rounder Damien Lewis isn’t far behind him. Solomon Kindley and Jonah Jackson are other midround picks to open their careers as quality starters.
Other defensive rookies to draw high praise already this season include cornerbacks C.J. Henderson and Jaylon Johnson, defensive tackles Javon Kinlaw and Derrick Brown, safeties Julian Blackmon and Antoine Winfield, Jr. and linebacker Krys Barnes. I’ll be surprised if I didn’t leave some names off.
The 2020 rookie class seems to be playing about as well as expected if 2020 was like any other year, if not a little bit better. Even with all that success in the class, Chase Young might have been the leading first year player in the group and he could make his next start against Whitworth and the Rams this Sunday.
Not far behind in immediate readiness has been Jordan Fuller and he does look set to return from a shoulder injury this week. A return that could be significant even for just one play, as we’ve seen with Fuller already.