Sports! You gotta love sports! The MLB, NBA and NHL are all back in action. And NFL training camp is underway. We needed this.
Training camp annually represents the dawning of a new football season. Of course, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, players have reported to a new normal at team facilities across the league. While it’s impossible to know what the coming months will hold — in the NFL and, well, around the world — the thought of kickoff is more thrilling than ever before. Ultimately, sports are a joyful distraction — and that’s something we all need right now.
Generally speaking, a new NFL season brings new intrigue in the form of new players. You know: the rookies! The neophyte Class of 2020 should be dynamite. It’s loaded in all phases. I can’t wait to see all these newbies in their new uniforms. Who piques my interest the most? Well, that’s the exact question my editors posed to me for this piece!
With NFL teams assembling across the country, here are the rookies I’m most excited to watch in the 2020 season, Schein Nine style:
1) CeeDee Lamb, WR, Dallas Cowboys
Drafted: Round 1, No. 17 overall
Back on April 23 around noon ET — just hours before the 2020 NFL Draft began — Lamb was a guest on my SiriusXM Radio show, Schein on Sports. Our conversation was superb, and one thing that really struck me was how much he obviously lives for the big moment. He loves having the bull’s-eye on his back. He covets gigantic games, where he can go out and dominate to help his team win. I came away from our talk thinking Lamb’s built to shine on the brightest stage. And then he was drafted by America’s Team.
I don’t know how CeeDee was still available at No. 17, but this selection was highway robbery for Dallas. And the player-team pairing fits like a glove. Lamb has the chops to be a Cowboy and wear the club’s famed No. 88. Put the spotlight on this Oklahoma product — he craves it. Add in his ball skills, acrobatics and dynamic run-after-catch ability, and I think Lamb will become Dak Prescott’s favorite receiver in 2020. Yes, even as a rookie. Yes, even after a highly abbreviated offseason/preseason. Yes, even in a receiving corps that boasted a pair of 1,000-yard guys last season in Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. CeeDee’s that good. I can’t wait to see him at the pro level.
2) Chase Young, Edge, Washington Football Team
Drafted: Round 1, No. 2 overall
College: Ohio State
Washington is going to go bonkers over Young. There are so many great defensive players in this class, but you’re reaching if you try to pinpoint anyone else as the top dog. Young is a natural talent with a fierce work ethic and a true desire to be special. Talking to him on my CBS Sports Network television show, Time to Schein, Young compared his game to that of Julius Peppers. I buy it. And I predict he can be even better. That’s scary.
Young — a Heisman Trophy finalist last year after racking up 17 sacks, 21 tackles for loss and seven forced fumbles in 12 games — is blessed to be coached up by the Washington Football Team’s new defensive brain trust, head coach Ron Rivera and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. They’ll continue to develop this 6-foot-5, 264-pound freak into a bona fide NFL game wrecker. I can’t wait for the show.
3) Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
Drafted: Round 1, No. 32 overall
I think Brian Westbrook is one of the most underrated NFL players in the last quarter-century. He was an excellent all-around RB for Andy Reid’s Eagles. And now the Chiefs have a back Reid said is “better than Brian”? Hoo boy, it’s almost unfair, giving Patrick Mahomes another playmaker to go along with Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, Sammy Watkins, Mecole Hardman and Demarcus Robinson. And yes, fantasy fiends, with Damien Williams opting out of the season, CEH’s going to be a stat-stuffing monster. This guy can do it all. Want proof? Check out the Alabama tape, when he shredded Nick Saban’s defense with 103 yards rushing, 77 yards receiving and four total touchdowns.
This offense is going to be absolutely unstoppable. Like I said last month, see you at the parade in February.
4) Joe Burrow, QB, Cincinnati Bengals
Drafted: Round 1, No. 1 overall
Whatever “it” is, Burrow has it. He oozes it. I’ve never seen a college player have more of it than Burrow, coming off of what I will argue was the single greatest season by a quarterback in college football history. Consider the Heisman Trophy winner’s individual stats (76.3 percent completions, 5,671 yards passing, 60:6 TD-to-INT ratio), team record (15-0 national champions), competition (LSU set a record by beating seven teams ranked in the top 10) … and the pure Joe Cool. How do you go from relative unknown to No. 1 overall pick in one year’s time? You have a season like that.
I think Burrow will be an instant success in Cincinnati, immediately changing the conversation around the Bengals. Cincy has legit offensive weaponry at the quarterback’s disposal, with a Pro Bowl-caliber back in Joe Mixon and a receiving trio of A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd and rookie Tee Higgins. Last year’s 2-14 campaign was rough, but it’s a new day in the ‘Nati.
5) Isaiah Simmons, LB, Arizona Cardinals
Drafted: Round 1, No. 8 overall
Not only is Simmons a unicorn of an athlete and a Swiss Army Knife of a defender, but he’s productive in big spots. Yes, Clemson lost the national title game to LSU in January, but don’t blame Simmons, who stood out on a field absolutely teeming with NFL talent. Lining up all over the place, Simmons piled up seven tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack and two passes defensed. In this analytics age, if someone conjured up a “fun” calculation, Simmons would measure off the charts. And with that in mind, he sure went to the right team …
Back in early April, prior to the draft, I predicted Arizona would be this year’s Cinderella team. With DeAndre Hopkins joining Kyler Murray in Kliff Kingsbury’s Air Raid offense, I fully hopped on the Cards bandwagon. And then Steve Keim went out and grabbed the most unique player in this entire draft class. I’m in love. Gonna be an entertaining season in the desert.
6) Mekhi Becton, OT, New York Jets
Drafted: Round 1, No. 11 overall
My guy is gigantic at 6-7, 364 pounds, and that’s a win for Sam Darnold, whose pass protection in his brief NFL career has fallen in the slim-to-none category. Remember the “seeing ghosts” game on Monday Night Football? Well, in defense of Darnold, his O-line was truly terrifying on that night — as it was for much of the season. Becton should inspire hope for the third-year quarterback — and for long-suffering Jets fans.
Becton was Joe Douglas’ first ever draft pick. And considering the unreal haul Douglas just landed for Jamal Adams — including two first-round draft picks — Becton being a rock will lead to belief in Douglas’ team-building ability from the fan base and the locker room. I believe in Darnold, Douglas and Becton. I think Douglas hit big on the big tackle from Louisville.
7) Jonathan Taylor, RB, Indianapolis Colts
Drafted: Round 2, No. 41 overall
The top running back in college football annually receives the Doak Walker Award, but you’d be forgiven for thinking the trophy had been renamed in Taylor’s honor. The Wisconsin back was a finalist for the prize as a true freshman (when he rushed for 1,977 yards), then took home the hardware in each of the past two seasons (eclipsing the 2,000-yard mark in both). Taylor, who scored a whopping 55 touchdowns during his three years in Madison, was so spectacularly productive in college. No surprise that a bright general manager like Chris Ballard plucked him in Round 2.
With all due respect to Marlon Mack, fresh off his first 1,000-yard campaign in Indy, Taylor is going to become the Colts’ No. 1 back in short order and he’ll thrive behind the top offensive line in the game. Taylor offers a rare blend of power and speed, having blazed a 4.39 40-yard dash at 226 pounds during the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine. I hope he plays with a chip on his shoulder after inexplicably falling to the 41st overall pick.
8) Michael Pittman Jr., WR, Indianapolis Colts
Drafted: Round 2, No. 34 overall
Yup, another Colt. Kind of a fan of this Ballard guy’s work. Oh, sure, there are flashier receivers. There are speedier receivers. Seven wideouts came off the board before Pittman was selected in April. Whatever. Pittman has the height, the hands and the NFL bloodline. The 6-4, 223-pounder was a beast last season at USC, catching 101 balls for 1,275 yards and 11 touchdowns.
As a big-bodied receiver with legit contested-catch chops, Pittman is the perfect complement to four-time Pro Bowler T.Y. Hilton. The rookie has a great opportunity to instantly be a true pro’s pro WR2 for Philip Rivers and the Colts. I’m here for it. I’m thrilled to see it.
9) Patrick Queen, LB, Baltimore Ravens
Drafted: Round 1, No. 28 overall
Think of all of the stud linebackers the Ravens have featured in their 24-year history, from Ray Lewis to Peter Boulware to Terrell Suggs to C.J. Mosley, just to name a few. It’s a position this franchise obviously takes very seriously. Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta just snagged the next great one in Queen.
This is the modern off-ball linebacker: A speed demon with a high football IQ and three-down ability. A sideline-to-sideline tackler, Queen is also very comfortable in pass coverage and creates havoc as an inside blitzer. LSU continues to churn out instant-impact linebackers. Queen will be a highlight-reel guy in Year 1.
Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.
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