Sometimes its talent, other times its luck, but no matter how you look at it, any prospect can become the next big NFL name. However, more often than not, the most significant factor that will help rookies become immediate impact players is where they land.
Scheme fit, lack of surrounding talent, depth, and many other factors play a role in the production of first-year rookies. Some players will thrive in their new schemes, while others will be too quickly thrust into a starting role.
A player’s fit might be more important than their overall talent. Confidence is crucial, and for some, starting their careers off on the wrong note might be the first sign that they’re not cut out for the next level. These eight prospects could either become immediate impact NFL rookies or busts thanks to their draft location.
Who are the immediate impact NFL rookies in 2020?
Best: Miami Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa
Tua Tagovailoa might be the best quarterback prospect from this class when all is said and done. Why? Well, he’s in the best system. The former Alabama signal-caller might have fought for the No. 1 selection if not for a season-ending hip injury getting in the way. However, that might be his saving grace down in South Beach.
The Dolphins won’t have to rush Tagovailoa back under center anytime soon. Despite the team spending top dollar in the free-agent market, there are still holes in the offensive line that could keep the team in the AFC East’s cellar. With Ryan Fitzpatrick and former top-10 pick Josh Rosen on the roster, starting the year with them calling the shots and giving Tagovailoa ample time to rest could benefit their long-term goal.
This is Tua Tagovailoa's 24th touchdown pass of the season. He still hasn't thrown an interception.
That is absurd. pic.twitter.com/u76dXO2PIP
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) October 20, 2018
Talent-wise, Tagovailoa has the makings of a premier pocket-passer. That, however, shouldn’t mean Miami is desperate to risk their future by playing him early behind that type of protection.
Worst: Cincinnati Bengals QB Joe Burrow
Joe Burrow might go down in NCAA history as one of the greatest quarterbacks all-time. However, that might not translate over the Paul Brown Stadium for the Cincinnati Bengals as it did for the Bengals of the Bayou. While it’s a great homecoming story, Burrow’s other pieces aren’t going to help him early.
Joe Burrow records set tonight:
– Most Pass TD in a season in FBS history
– Most TD responsible for in a season in FBS history
– Most TD responsible for in a BCS/CFP title game
– Most pass yards in a BCS/CFP title gamepic.twitter.com/SQVg73MS3R
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) January 14, 2020
The Bengals are handing the keys over to the No. 1 pick before taking a snap, already putting enough pressure on his immediate impact and success as an NFL rookie. If that pressure doesn’t get to him, expect the offensive line that allowed 48 sacks in 2019 to enable defenders into the backfield. As for his weapons, there’s no telling what could happen outside of 1,000-yard receiver Tyler Boyd. A.J. Green has missed 23 games in the past two seasons, while John Ross is still inconsistent with both his health and production.
Burrow has the talent to make Cincinnati better, but the roster is filled with holes. Having Jonah Williams back will help, but it could be a long season for the reigning Heisman winner in the Jungle.
Best: Denver Broncos WR Jerry Jeudy
Taking pressure off a rookie will always boost their confidence. For Jerry Jeudy, there should be little to no trouble during his rookie season in Mile High. The 15th overall pick might have all the tools to become a No. 1 target, but there’s little pressure on him to reach that level with the Broncos immediately.
A few clips that show why Jerry Jeudy was among the best route runners at Alabama. pic.twitter.com/33xYY4w9QQ
— Michael Casagrande (@ByCasagrande) April 13, 2020
Drew Lock will be looking to build off his impressive 4-1 campaign year. Having a polished and productive route-runner like Jeudy will help, but the coverage will be on Courtland Sutton. The rising wideout finished last season with his first 1,000-yard season to go along with six scores and a Pro Bowl nod. After him, there are massive expectations for 2019 first-rounder Noah Fant to transform into the NFL next top tight end.
Jeudy will soon grow into that top tier potential, but his first year could be a building block. So long as he makes critical plays throughout the season, it’ll be considered a successful start to a promising career.
Worst: Atlanta Falcons CB A.J. Terrell
Once again, the Falcons will look to contend as a heavyweight in the NFC. Despite having their offense in line, the defensive side continues to be a lingering problem when it comes to setting the tone. In the secondary, first-round A.J. Terrell will have to make an immediate splash in replacement for a Pro Bowl talent.
Atlanta parted ways with Desmond Trufant to clear cap space. The former first-rounder finished leading the team with four interceptions and seven pass breakups in what was considered a down year at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Fourth-round pick Kendall Sheffield flashed potential in the slot while second-year pro Isaiah Oliver still has adjusted to life as a starter.
Ja’Marr Chase using a “forearm pull” to get rid of the shoulder contact by Clemson CB AJ Terrell. Allows Chase to hold his redline and track the ball over his shoulder mostly free of contact (note: this is really good coverage) pic.twitter.com/zPop0V1aa1
— Brad Kelly (@BradKelly17) January 14, 2020
Overall, outside of the National Championship, Terrell has a sound season in coverage for Clemson. However, if coverage against Ja’Marr Chase was an indication of his future, the 21st ranked pass defense is only going to drop lower by December.
Best: Dallas Cowboys WR CeeDee Lamb
If you’re not a Cowboys fan, you hate them, but you have to give them credit for a solid draft. The Cowboys hit all their needs on all three days of the draft, building a contender in the making. However, the grand prize of winning the CeeDee Lamb sweepstakes is only going to better the offense beyond belief.
Lamb excelled in his final season for the Sooners, playing a mix on the perimeter and in the slot. For the Cowboys, the 6-foot-2 wideout should be able to mix in with Amari Cooper as a larger interior target while growing against press cornerbacks. Lamb’s brute strength also allowed him to cause 26 missed tackles, second-most in the FBS last season.
— First Down Training (@DownTraining) August 30, 2019
The Cowboys now have a third receiver that will play like a No. 2. Even with Cooper and Michael Gallup already prime targets, having the pressure on them should free Lamb for big-time plays wherever he lines up.
Worst: Philadelphia Eagles WR Jalen Reagor
The Eagles probably thought they had a chance at Lamb falling to No. 21. Instead, they’ll face him twice a season. Still, while perhaps not a prime target, Jalen Reagor should be a pivotal factor to Doug Pederson’s offense in 2020 – which could be a problem.
TCU WR Jalen Reagor:
– Dynamic athlete
– Great deep speed
– Electric Vertical threat
– Extremely dangerous after the catch
– Return ability
– Can climb the ladder and win jump balls
– Wins at all three levels of the field
– High Football IQ Player
— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) March 14, 2020
Carson Wentz is looking to regain that MVP mojo from 2017. Part of the reasoning for his struggles is due to the lack of talent at wide receiver. Last season in the Wild Card game, former AAF star Greg Ward Jr. was the highlighted target. Reagor, whose speed will allow him to control the “Z” position, best be ready to take the top off defenses with his 4.47 40-time in man coverage.
The Eagles will contend with Reagor, a questionable Alshon Jeffery, and inconsistent DeSean Jackson and Marquise Goodwin. If the latter three struggle, that’s a ton of pressure on the TCU star to transform into an immediate impact NFL rookie and become a WR1 overnight.
Best: Los Angeles Chargers LB Kenneth Murray
The Chargers nailed their first pick with Justin Herbert long-term but struck gold by trading back in for Kenneth Murray. While the former Oklahoma star might see action before the future gunslinger, there’s no rush to play him right away.
Several concerns around Murray’s overall game dealt with his decision-making. If playing the “MIKE” backer, he’ll need to decipher where the ball is headed on his initial read. Denzel Perryman still has one-year left on his contract, so perhaps Murray could start outside and work on his coverage while learning how to better read and react.
The #Chargers got the best true LB in the draft in, Kenneth Murray!!
Future perennial pro bowler!
— Emmanuel Acho (@EmmanuelAcho) April 24, 2020
Murray has the skills to be a well-round off-ball backer in the NFL. Learning multiple roles should only help with his development as he eventually takes over as the man in the middle for the Chargers’ front seven.
Worst: Detroit Lions RB D’Andre Swift
Kerryon Johnson seemed destined to become the next great Lions running back after finally breaking the 100-yard game curse in 2018. After two injured-ridden seasons, Detroit elected to add another runner into the mix by selecting Georgia’s D’Andre Swift early in round two. Swift might be one of the more talented runners in the class, but there are still concerns moving forward.
— ESPN (@espn) April 24, 2020
Part of Swift’s success was due to the offensive line at Georgia. Ranked the top unit in College Football during 2019, the 5-foot-9 runner complied 1434 total yards and eight scores for the Bulldogs. The NFL’s 21st-ranked run game might have only diminished this season as Graham Glasgow is now in Denver, and Halapoulivaati Vaitai might be a downgrade from Rick Wagner.
Matthew Stafford is coming off a back injury and could never return to Pro Bowl form. If the Lions want to contend, they could rely on Swift’s short bursts to keep drives alive. That offensive line is far from the one he had in Athens, likely causing him to take a step back in his first NFL season.