Arians: Grading NFL's Top 5 Offensive Rookies At Midpoint

Photo: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

One of my favorite events of the year is the NFL draft. Fan bases go crazy about the future and the immediate impact of those draft picks on their teams. Unrealistic expectations are abundant. It is tremendously hard for any rookie to live up to such lofty expectations early on in their careers, especially in 2020 with the craziest offseason anyone has ever been a part of. 

There are some rookies, however, making a huge impact on their teams and have been living up to the excitement. I will give my grades on my favorite offensive rookies so far this season. Let’s start with the quarterbacks: Joe Burrow and Justin Hebert. 

As the first overall pick, Burrow is the guy with the most pressure and the task of turning around the Cincinnati Bengals franchise. To say he is on his way to doing that doesn’t do him justice. Burrow has been outstanding, not only for a rookie but I would argue he has been a top-10 overall quarterback so far this season. He is third in the NFL in passing yards through eight weeks and is coming off a big underdog win against the Tennessee Titans. I’m not sure anyone would have guessed he would play at this level this early in his career. He has taken a beating in every game and his toughness has been off the charts. My grade for Burrow: A

Justin Hebert also looks to be the real deal in Los Angeles as well. He had more questions coming into the draft than Burrow and in some ways Tua Tagovailoa, but Herbert has done nothing but answer all those questions and then some. He has handled the controversy of how he became the quarterback of the Chargers with pure class and has turned that into being the leader of this offense and team. His play on the field has been dynamic and getting better weekly. 

With big play after big play, he has put this team on his back. His ability to stand in the pocket and deliver big-time throws downfield has been remarkable. His quiet demeanor led people to question his leadership ability during the draft process. However, that same “keep your head down and just do your job” approach is obviously working for this team now and looks to be the answer for this franchise for a long time. My grade for Herbert: A-

I love the play of Tristan Wirfs of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Graded as one of the top-four tackles entering this past draft, he has been the best of the four first-rounders this season.  Wirfs stepped right into the starting right tackle position in Tampa and hasn’t looked back. Not only has he not looked at all like a rookie, but he would also more than likely make the Pro Bowl if the voting stopped now.

Wirfs handled the pressure of playing tackle for Tom Brady and excelled. He has been athletic, strong, and dominant in both the run and pass game for the Buccaneers. This franchise feels like they hit the lottery with their pick of Wirfs. My grade for Wirfs: A

Minnesota looks to have a home run with their pick of wide receiver Justin Jefferson from LSU. Jefferson had a bit of a slow start but came on in a big way in Week 3 against the Tennessee Titans with 175 yards and a touchdown. Jefferson has been an incredible complementary piece to Adam Theilen. Jefferson is the leading yardage receiver on this Vikings team and is second in catches. My grade for Jefferson: B+

The rookie with the most hype, excitement, and expectations coming into the season was Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Edwards-Helaire was the first running back taken in this draft with the last pick of the first round. I’ve seen the analysis of Edwards-Helaire’s rookie season thus all over the board, and as far down as a C grade. I’m not sure how anyone watching could grade him that low. Maybe the lack of explosive plays or touchdowns is coming into play, but Edwards-Helaire has been exactly what the Kansas City Chiefs hoped he would be. 

Edwards-Helaire burst onto the scene in Week 1 with 25 carries for 138 yards and his first touchdown. He has 100% done everything the Chiefs have asked of him. He has carried the load in two games and been a very solid complementary piece in games when he wasn’t the focal point of the game plan—which he will not be every week when Patrick Mahomes is your quarterback. Edwards-Helaire is dependent on the Chiefs’ game plan weekly and how much Mahomes gets him the ball in the check-down game. That all being said, Edwards-Helaire is third in the NFL in rushing with 579 yards, averaging 4.7 ypc. Add another 25 catches for 204 yards and he leads all rookies in yards gained and is fourth in the NFL in all-purpose yards. My grade for Edwards-Helaire: A-

My offensive rookie honorable mentions are Jedrick Wills, James Robinson, CeeDee Lamb, Laviska Shenault, Tee Higgins, and Mekhi Becton (in no particular order). These guys have also all been very good at times. 

Like I mentioned earlier, it is incredibly tough to make a huge impact in your first eight games in the NFL. These standout rookies have done that and more.