Justin Herbert – not Joe Burrow – headlines NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year race

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October 14th, 2020

Joe Burrow was a lock to be selected first overall in the 2020 NFL Draft, but winning the Offensive Rookie of the Year will be far more of a challenge. 

The Cincinnati Bengals quarterback no longer headlines the conversation for that award. He’s been surpassed, for now, by Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert, who was taken sixth overall in the 2020 NFL Draft despite facing his fair share of criticism.  

Making this race even more interesting is the emergence of a number of rookie wide receivers, including two that flew under the radar in the spring. 

Here are the current frontrunners for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Justin Herbert (QB, Los Angeles Chargers)

Justin Herbert began the season as the Chargers’ back-up quarterback behind veteran Tyrod Taylor, but that situation quickly changed.

Taylor was a late scratch from the Chargers’ lineup in Week 2 against the Kansas City Chiefs after his lung was reportedly punctured by a team doctor while administering an injection. 

Herbert was thrust into the spotlight, and has progressed nicely in each of his four starts since then, even if the wins haven't been there. Herbert has completed 68% of his passes for 1,195 yards so far, to go with nine touchdown passes and three interceptions. 

He has seven touchdown passes in his last two games, including four against the New Orleans Saints on Monday Night Football to wrap up Week 5. 

Joe Burrow (QB, Cincinnati Bengals)

Burrow, the LSU Tigers product that won a national championship to cap the 2019-20 college season, has performed nicely but hasn’t lit it up like he did last season prior to getting taken first overall by the Bengals. 

Burrow had three consecutive games in which he passed for 300-plus yards, but was brought back to reality by the Baltimore Ravens in Week 5. Burrow was held to 183 yards passing, no touchdowns and one interception against a Ravens team that has its sights set on the Super Bowl. 

Burrow has passed for 1,304 yards, but only six touchdowns and three interceptions so far this season.

CeeDee Lamb (WR, Dallas Cowboys)

CeeDee Lamb was in the running to be the first receiver off the draft board in April, and now he’s in the running to be one of the top receivers in the NFL this season. 

Lamb, drafted 17th overall out of Oklahoma, has 29 catches for 433 yards through five weeks. His receiving yards total is the sixth highest in the NFL, which puts him among elite company that includes DeAndre Hopkins, Stefon Diggs and D.K. Metcalf. 

Lamb is also second in the league with nine catches of over 20-plus yards. 

The devastating injury to Dak Prescott, however, may impact how Lamb’s season goes from here. The Cowboys offense didn’t have any issues putting up points through five weeks, with Prescott airing it out, but he is done for the season, which puts Andy Dalton behind center as the starting QB in Dallas. 

Chase Claypool (WR, Pittsburgh Steelers)

Now we’re into the candidates that started the season under the radar – or off of it completely. 

Chase Claypool, the Notre Dame product by way of Abbotsford, B.C., Canada, has officially entered the Offensive Rookie of the Year conversation. 

The Steelers’ rookie wide receiver only has 13 catches and his target share had been low entering last weekend’s tilt with the Philadelphia Eagles. However, Claypool had 11 targets on Sunday – two more than he had in the three previous weeks combined – and turned in seven catches for 110 yards and three touchdowns. He also had a rushing touchdown on three carries, as the Steelers opened up the playbook to him. 

Claypool was a second-round pick in April’s draft, but a four-touchdown performance just a few weeks into your NFL career will grab people’s attention in a hurry. 

Justin Jefferson (WR, Minnesota Vikings)

The Minnesota Vikings took some flak for trading Stefon Diggs to Buffalo, but the returns on rookie receiver Justin Jefferson have helped to justify that decision.

Taken 22nd overall in the NFL Draft, Jefferson has stepped into the Vikings offense and has two 100-yard receiving games under his belt already. 

That includes seven catches and 175 yards receiving in Week 3 against the Tennessee Titans. He certainly has the potential in Minnesota's offense to put up big numbers, which would bode well for him as an underdog candidate for Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Jefferson had a nice matchup against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 5, but couldn’t take advantage with three catches for 23 yards. 

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