The 2020 NFL season has been unlike any other for all involved, including rookies. The coronavirus pandemic resulted in a largely virtual offseason and no preseason games to get first-year players up to speed with the NFL game. But that hasn’t stopped a slew of rookies from making an impact through the first half of the season. Three rookies are starting — and thriving — at quarterback. The class of receivers has been stellar and there have been some immediate contributors on defense.
There’s still a long way to go to determine success or failure with all 255 draft picks, but the midseason point is a good time to check in on their progress. Here’s how every drafted player and some notable undrafted rookies have fared, according to ESPN’s NFL Nation reporters.
Rd. 2 (54): AJ Epenesa, DE, Iowa — Epenesa has slowly worked his way into the rotation after being a healthy scratch to start the season. He’s improving but not ready for starter snaps just yet.
Rd. 3 (86): Zack Moss, RB, Utah — As expected, Moss has split carries with incumbent starter Devin Singletary to form a two-pronged backfield. He has missed three games with a toe injury but has been a far better runner over the past three games than he was to start the season.
Rd. 4 (128): Gabriel Davis, WR, UCF — The star of Buffalo’s training camp has carved a nice role as one of the Bills’ top four targets. He looks like a steal in the fourth round and is clearly the team’s top rookie through nine games.
Rd. 5 (167): Jake Fromm, QB, Georgia — Fromm has not been active for any of the Bills’ nine games this season, instead serving as Buffalo’s emergency quarterback. He practices separately from the team during the week and remains socially distant from the other Bills QBs inside the facility.
Rd. 6 (188): Tyler Bass, K, Georgia Southern — Bass beat out Stephen Hauschka in training camp and has been strong recently after a shaky start to the season. He set a franchise record by nailing six of eight field goal attempts against the Jets in Week 7.
Rd. 6 (207): Isaiah Hodgins, WR, Oregon State — He made a couple of plays in training camp but was placed on the physically unable to perform list to start the season.
Rd. 7 (239): Dane Jackson, CB, Pittsburgh — Jackson was thrust into a one-week starting role in Week 7 and made the most of it, defending two passes and recording his first interception. He likely won’t beat out a healthy Levi Wallace, but he can realistically push Josh Norman, who has battled injuries throughout the season.
Undrafted: Reggie Gilliam, TE/FB, Toledo — Gilliam took advantage of an injury to last year’s starting fullback, Pat DiMarco, during training camp and earned a roster spot, scoring a touchdown against the Dolphins in Week 2. He is used sparingly on offense but is carving out a role on special teams.
— Marcel Louis-Jacques
Rd. 1 (5): Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama — There’s only a two-game sample size on Tagovailoa as a starter, but boy, was his second game electric (283 total yards, two touchdowns, 87.6 QBR in a Week 9 win at Arizona). Tagovailoa is showing he’s healthy, mobile, accurate and has the star potential to be the one to answer the Dolphins’ quarterback questions. He has to continue it now.
Rd. 1 (18): Austin Jackson, LT, USC — He’s an immediate Week 1 starter who has played well, especially given many of his pre-draft questions were about his strength and NFL readiness. While Jackson missed three games with a foot injury and gave up his first sack Sunday vs. the Cardinals, the Dolphins appear to have found a long-term left tackle.
Rd. 1 (30): Noah Igbinoghene, CB, Auburn — It has been a rocky start for Igbinoghene, who was consistently exposed early in the season when filling in for an injured Byron Jones. Quarterbacks have 118.8 passer rating with him as the nearest defender. His speed, size and age (youngest player in the NFL at 20) will allow him to improve.
Rd. 2 (39): Robert Hunt, RT, Louisiana — On the bench for the first month of the season, Hunt has emerged as the Dolphins’ starting right tackle. He has played well enough to keep the role, and he could be a long-term option to protect Tagovailoa’s blind side.
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