As we reach the halfway point of the season, I believe it’s a good point to look back at the 2020 draft class. A class brimming with talent. They have had to deal with a lot (as we all have) and whilst that seems to have effected some – others have thrived. With that in mind, these are the 10 players that I believe have made the largest impact for their draft position this season – or players that will make an impact in the coming weeks. Some (one in particular) have proven me wrong whilst others have lived up to my expectations. This could be an all-time great class.
Joe Burrow QB (Pick 1 – CIN):
It makes sense to start with the first overall pick. The former LSU Tiger jumped up draft boards and into the lap of the Bengals over the 19/20 season due to his record setting year. Burrow is playing behind a bad O-Line – it is awful – it’s currently ranked 31st in pass protection (per Football Outsiders) and 25th in run power rankings. The main issue is seen at the tackle spots, currently maned by Jonah Williams and Bobby Hart, whilst there is promise with Williams (former 11th overall selection – 2019), Hart is top priority to replace. However, Burrow has carried this team around these issues. He was sacked 8 times against the Eagles and 7 times against the Ravens, but he gets up and he throws and throws and carries this team. Using fellow rookie Tee Higgins and running back Joe Mixon (when healthy) to his advantage – Burrow has thrown for 2272yds through 8 games (282yds/game) behind one of the worst O-Lines in the league. He has led the team to 2 wins and a draw with the latest win beating a surprise beat down of the highly talented Tennessee Titans. He is living up to his NO.1 billing, but everyone needs to hope the Bengals don’t ruin him, we don’t want another David Carr or Andrew Luck.
Tua Tagovailoa QB (Pick 5 – MIA):
Tua made his first starting, replacing the magical Fitzpatrick, against the Rams. He passed for only 93yds and 1TD but that was enough to leave with a win. Tua looked shaky and not confident out of the field but he took care of the ball and let the Brian Flores masterclass on defence (he likes playing Sean McVay clearly – see Superbowl 53) takeover. Tua has promise, may worry for him on draft day was how injury prone he was in college but he didn’t take any unnecessary large hits and protected the football. He is a prospect to wait on right now.
Justin Herbert QB (Pick 6 – LAC):
I apologise to Herbert, I believe I gave him my lowest grade of 1st round picks. I did not like him at all and all he has done is balled out. Gone is his lack of anticipation, gone are his hospital passes, gone are his constant 50/50 balls down the sideline. Instead, most of the time, we are seeing a calm, consistent QB. Through 6 games he’s thrown 15TDs to only 5INTs – not bad for a rookie. He went toe to toe with Superbowl MVP Patrick Mahomes and then the GOAT himself Tom Brady, losing each by a single score. He has shown he belongs in this league but there is one issue. The Chargers are blowing leads, Herbert has played well but as the QB he needs to lead this team and come through in the clutch when necessary, this hasn’t happened so far, the losses haven’t been his fault but it’s still his responsibility to win. Having said that he is better already than I imagined he would ever be, and I hope he continues to prove me wrong.
Jedrick Wills T (Pick 10 – CLE):
Wills has slotted in nicely to this much improved Browns team. He has held his own against top pass rushers. He has made some mistakes but for a rookie to have faced the Ravens, Steelers and Washington’s D-Lines and only concede 3 sacks, best for 9th in the league (per Pro Football Focus), that’s not bad – in fact that’s pretty great. He does have an issue with false starts, conceded 5 already but that is a matter of experience, something he will gain. He is well on his way to becoming one of the top tackles in the game, his pass blocking and run blocking for the fearsome due of Hunt and Chubb (when healthy) is far in excess of the usual rookie.
Justin Jefferson WR (Pick 22 – MIN):
There are only two bright spots in all of Minnesota right now – Dalvin Cook and this rookie WR, Justin Jefferson. He exploded onto the scene against the Titans in week 3, securing 7rec for 175yds and a TD. He was drafted to replace Stephon Diggs, all he’s done is excelled beyond in just his rookie season. He has since backed this up with 2 further 100yd games against the Texans and then the Falcons (103yds and 166yds 2TDs respectively). Out of all the rookie WRs, it is Jefferson who has made the largest impact so far on any team. Sadly, the Vikings are struggling with a below par Kirk Cousins and an abnormally leaky Mike Zimmer defence, but if they draft as well on defence as they did with this selection, the Vikings will soon become a contender, Jefferson isn’t a rookie – he plays like a seasoned pro.
Patrick Queen LB (Pick 28 – BAL):
Queen is leading all rookie line backers in tackles right now with 48, 2nd in the entire rookie class (Jeremy Chinn S for the Panthers leads with 67 per ESPN). Queen took a while to warm up, and the week 3 matchup against Andy Reid’s Chiefs did expose him. But since then he has only improved. First against the Bengals when causing Joe Burrow to fumble before his game against the Steelers. Here he penetrated the line to make tackles for loss or at least within a yard or two of the line of scrimmage against the undefeated Steelers. He then made the critical stop on 3rd down to get the ball back to his offense one last time, he came flying round the right tackle to stuff the run before the 1st down marker. Queen is only improving and is the only rookie LB that looks pro ready – Isaiah Simmons has made the odd, nice play but is too inconsistent and that is shown by his lack of snaps.
Antoine Winfield Jr S (Pick 45 – TB):
Winfield has been maybe the most impressive rookie so far. He has had 2 sacks, recorded an INT and a forced fumble. That’s great pace for a rookie safety. He has played lights out so far, always being in the right place at the right time, whether to make a tackle of a pass deflection. This was displayed in last weeks matchup with the giants, disrupting the 2pt conversion which would had tied the game with 28 seconds left – effectively winning the game for the team (no, it was not pass interference – it was just perfect timing to a badly thrown ball). This guy is good, there must be something in that blood with his Father being Antoine Winfield Sr.
Josh Uche LB (Pick 60 – NE):
He may have only played one game but Uche was my draft steal and that one game showed why. During his 12 snaps he played both OLB and MLB (MLB once Bentley was injured) and registered a QB hit and tackled Josh Allen on a 3rd down attempt – pretty damn hard to do that. He also played on special teams so he’s clearly in Belichick’s good books. He is player to watch the rest of the season and indeed the next few.
Antonio Gibson RB (Pick 66 – Was):
Gibson was an intriguing player having played WR at Memphis before transitioning to RB just before the NFL draft. Whilst Gibson may have only topped 50 rushing yards twice and reach 100yds only once, he has still been impressive. Not only because he is behind a sometimes-makeshift Washington O-Line and part of an offense with no passing threat but because he consistently collects 3-4 receptions every game – more often than not for first downs. He has shown the ability to make defenders miss and also find the endzone – 4 times. He will only improve as the team around him does, and now Washington is lead by Riverboat Ron and has a top 5 defence (and maybe the best D-Line, fight it out with Pittsburgh), this teams on the up and Gibson is certainly a big part of it.
Michael Onwenu OL (Pick 163 – NE):
There’s something about the Patriots being able to draft O-Lineman. I thought for many years it may be Dante Scarnecchia but now he is retired, and the Pats keep doing it, that may not be the case. I label Onwenu as “OL” instead of any particular line position because at some point throughout the season so far he has played in 4 out of the 5 positions. He is a mauler, big and powerful at 370 pounds! His quality of play has been high to, he didn’t give up a single QB pressure against the Bills despite playing all 65 offensive snaps. He’s also a regular on special teams. Onwenu was a jewel of a 6th round pick – the Pats also seem to be good at drafting in the sixth round (a guy called Brady rings a bell) – maybe they should trade all draft picks and just buy out the sixth round every year?