NFL Rookie of the Year Award final update: Jonathan Taylor surges, Justin Herbert still the favorite

By Andrew Buller-Russ

Welcome to the ultimate NFL rookie of the year tracking guide. Each week we’ll update based on who is hot, leading into award season. So bookmark this post now.

Latest Update: Updated after Week 17.

This season has been one for the record books for many different players. On top of the many individual records set around the league, as a collective, rookies have scored more touchdowns than any other year in NFL history. It’s been a memorable season for a number of reasons, but for the 2020 NFL Draft class, it’s been a year they will never forget.

Now that all regular-season games have been played, the Rookie of the Year race is officially over. With votes being submitted before the playoffs begin, the upcoming performances of rookies will not affect any award chances.

Through Week 17, here are the top NFL Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year candidates.

Check Out: The 5 Most Valuable Football Cards From The 1990s: Including Peyton Manning And Brett Favre.

NFL Rookie of the Year – Week 17

10. Antoine Winfield Jr., safety, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (LW: 10)

NFL Rookie of the Year: Antoine Winfield
Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Antoine Winfield Jr. (31) reacts as New York Giants running back Dion Lewis (33) looks to the official for the pass interference call on the Giants’ two-point conversion attempt late in the game. The Buccaneers defeat the Giants, 25-23, at MetLife Stadium on Monday, Nov. 2, 2020, in East Rutherford. Nyg Vs Tb
  • 94 TKL, 1 TFL, 3 sacks, 4 QB Hits, 1 INT, 6 PD, 2 FF, 1 FR

Starting all 16 games for a Tampa Bay defense that allowed the eighth-fewest points per game, Antoine Winfield Jr. was a serious bargain at the 45th pick in the 2020 draft. According to Pro Football Reference, Winfield Jr. has missed just six tackles this season. He’s great in coverage, gets after the quarterback, and has a knack for making big plays. Winfield Jr. can do it all.

Related: NFL Wild Card Weekend schedule, predictions

9. Chase Claypool, wide receiver, Pittsburgh Steelers (Last Week: Not Ranked) 

  • 62 catches, 873 yards, 9 Rec TDs, 54.6 Yds/Game, 2 Rush TD

Playing a key role for a team that was undefeated for much of the season, Chase Claypool finished with the most touchdowns on the Steelers with nine. Pittsburgh has their new No. 1 receiver, becoming the latest great wide receiver acquisition for Big Ben to benefit from. Possessing a great combination of speed, size and downfield ball skills, Claypool may be the most talented of Pittsburgh’s promising young pass-catchers.

8. Patrick Queen, linebacker, Baltimore Ravens (LW: 7)

NFL Rookie of the Year: Patrick Queen
Dec 8, 2020; Baltimore, Maryland, USA; Baltimore Ravens linebacker Patrick Queen (48) reacts after an interception in the second quarter against the Dallas Cowboys at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
  • 106 TKL, 9 TFL, 3 sacks, 10 QB Hits, INT, 2 PD, 2 FF, 2 FR, 1 TD

There are areas where Patrick Queen can improve, but at just 21 years old, he had a good first season as a starter. Among a cast of star defensive players, Queen led the Ravens in tackles with 106. Queen started all 16 games for a defense that allowed the second-fewest points per game. Once again, Baltimore excels at drafting the linebacker position.

Related: If you’re a fan of the Cowboys, check out #DallasCowboys rumors, rankings, and news here.

7. CeeDee Lamb, wide receiver, Dallas Cowboys (LW: 8)

NFL Rookie of the Year: CeeDee Lamb, Cowboys
Dec 20, 2020; Arlington, Texas, USA; Dallas Cowboys wide receiver CeeDee Lamb (88) reacts after returning an onside kick for a touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers in the fourth quarter at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
  • 74 catches, 935 yards, 5 Rec TDs, 58.4 Yds/Game, KR TD, 1 Rush TD

It’s a shame Dak Prescott got hurt in the fifth game of the year. Imagine what CeeDee Lamb’s stats would be like with a full season of a Cowboys offense that was top-five in the NFL. Both of Lamb’s 100-yard games came in games that Prescott started. Lamb is just 21 years old and is on track to be the next great Cowboy to wear No. 88.

Related: NFL defense rankings – Examining top defenses for NFC and AFC Championship Games.

6. Jeremy Chinn, safety, Carolina Panthers (LW: 6) 

NFL Rookie of the Year: Jeremy Chinn
Nov 29, 2020; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Carolina Panthers linebacker Jeremy Chinn (21) celebrates his fumble return for a touchdown during the third quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
  • 117 TKL, 2 TFL, 1 sack, 5 QB Hits, 1 INT, 5 PD, 2 FF, 2 FR, 2 TD

In a year where the Carolina Panthers were rebuilding, Jeremy Chinn became a star. His 4.45-second 40-yard dash speed flashes all over the gridiron. Chinn gives the Panthers a key piece that can be moved around the field to keep offenses guessing on every down. Watching this 22-year old continue to blow up plays for years to come will be a treat. Chinn was a steal as the 64th pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.

5. James Robinson, running back, Jacksonville Jaguars (LW: 4) 

NFL Rookie of the Year: James Robinson
Dec 13, 2020; Jacksonville, Florida, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars running back James Robinson (30) scores a touchdown as Tennessee Titans cornerback Malcolm Butler (21) looks on during the second half at TIAA Bank Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports
  • 240 rushes, 1,070 yards, 4.5 Yds/Att, 7 Rush TDs, 76.4 Yds/Game, 49 catches, 344 Rec Yds, 3 Rec Tds

Despite missing two games, James Robinson’s 1,414 yards from scrimmage are a record for undrafted rookies. His stats place him fifth in the NFL in rushing yards. Robinson went over the century mark in four games for the Jaguars, who had a lackluster passing attack and overall team to complement him. There wasn’t much Jacksonville did right in 2020, but signing Robinson was an incredible move.

Related: NFL Power Rankings – Ranking each team for NFL Playoffs.

4. Jonathan Taylor, running back, Indianapolis Colts (LW: 5)

NFL Rookie of the Year: Jonathan Taylor
Nov 22, 2020; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor (28) runs the ball in the second half against the Green Bay Packers at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
  • 232 rushes, 1,139 rush yards, 5 Yds/Att, 11 Rush TDs, 77.9 Yds/Game, 299 Rec Yds, 1 Rec TD

Jonathan Taylor finished on a high note in his last game of the regular season. He rumbled his way to 253 rushing yards, the ninth-most for a single game in NFL history. The 41st pick in the 2020 draft ends the season third in the league in rushing yards and seventh in rushing touchdowns. Taylor worked efficiently, gaining five yards per carry and only fumbling once on 268 touches. The Colts have their running back of the future.

The Best of the Best

3. Justin Jefferson, wide receiver, Minnesota Vikings (LW: 2)

NFL Rookie of the Year
Sep 27, 2020; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) retrieves his first career touchdown ball in the third quarter against the Tennessee Titans at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
  • 88 catches, 1,400 yards, 7 TDs, 87.5 Yds/Game, 2 2-Point Conversions

With 1,400 receiving yards, Justin Jefferson had more yards as a rookie than any other player in the Super Bowl era. In an ordinary season, he would have easily won Offensive Rookie of the Year. Jefferson performed like a top-five player at his position, whereas Justin Herbert played like a top 10-15 quarterback. He will get some votes, but Herbert is likely to win ROY honors since quarterbacks tend to be valued higher.

Related: If you’re a fan of the Vikings, check out #SKOL rumors, rankings, and news here.

2. Chase Young, defensive end, Washington Football Team (LW: 2)

NFL Rookie of the Year: Chase Young
Dec 13, 2020; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Washington Football Team defensive end Chase Young (99) returns a fumble for a touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers during the first half at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
  • 44 TKL, 10 TFL, 7.5 sacks, 12 QB Hits, 4 PD, 4 FF, 3 FR, 1 TD

Making the Pro Bowl in his first season in the NFL, Chase Young has had an instant impact on the Washington Football Team. He finished the regular season as PFF’s third-highest graded rookie defender since 2006. With 7.5 sacks on the year, he already has his sights set on his next target, Tom Brady. After a dominant season, Young should get all the votes for Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Related: Top 100 NFL players

1. Justin Herbert, quarterback, Los Angeles Chargers (LW: 1)

NFL Rookie of the Year: Justin Herbert
Dec 6, 2020; Inglewood, California, USA; Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) looks at is play sheet as he goes to the huddle during the seconds quarter against the New England Patriots at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sport
  • 396/595, 66.6%, 4,336 yards, 31 TD, 10 INT
  • 234 Rush yards, 5 TD, 1 Fumble lost

As great as Justin Jefferson was, Justin Herbert plays a position that demands even more excellence. The No. 6 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft was outstanding in almost every game he played. Rarely performing like a rookie, the Oregon alum used his strong arm to set many records along the way. Herbert may have had the best rookie campaign ever for a quarterback. He’s the favorite for Offensive Rookie of the Year after leading the Chargers to four straight wins to close the season.

Rookie of the Year Award Announcement

On February 6th, 2021, during the 10th annual NFL Honors award show, the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year and the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year awards will be announced. The NFL will announce the other award winners such as the MVP, Coach of the Year, and more.

Related: NFL Playoff predictions Week 17 – Closing in on the playoffs.

Looking back at the 2019 NFL Rookies of the Year

This year’s top batch of rookies has brought a few surprises.

In fact, it is very unlikely that anyone in the world had Herbert, Gibson, or James Robinson to be legitimate NFL Rookie of the Year candidates before the season began. Simply put, NFL rookies have been incredible this season, even with fewer reps than normal due to COVID.

In 2019, NFL fans were blessed with dominant rookie performances from both Kyler Murray and Nick Bosa. Right from the start, they both appeared to be frontrunners to win the awards.

Bosa followed that up by finishing the year with 47 tackles, nine sacks, an interception, 16 TFLs, and 25 QB hits. Unfortunately, Bosa tore his ACL in Week 2 of this season and hasn’t been able to build upon a strong rookie season.

Murray on the other hand has taken off since winning the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year award. His completion %, passer rating, yards per game, and total touchdowns have all improved from last season.

It’s going to be fun to see all these young, talented players develop as they gain more experience and break more records as they go along in their NFL careers.