Analysis

2020 NFL rookie grades, AFC South: Colts prosper; Texans, Titans flounder

Super Bowl LV's in the books, bringing an unprecedented NFL season to a close. So, how did the new guys perform in this uniquely challenging 269-game slate? Gennaro Filice and Nick Shook are taking a division-by-division look at each team's rookie class, providing grades and analysis on Year 1 production. Filice examines the AFC South below.

Grade
A
Indianapolis Colts
Indianapolis Colts
Total picks: 9 · 11-5

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Round 3

Round 4

Round 5

Round 6

Notable Undrafted Free Agent


Halfway through his rookie campaign, Taylor was a disappointment, running indecisively to the tune of just 3.8 yards per carry over his first nine games. But he seemed to find his NFL footing around Thanksgiving, and over the final seven weeks of the regular season, there wasn't a better NFL running back this side of Derrick Henry. Taylor averaged a healthy 6.2 yards per carry in this span, carrying Indianapolis into the playoffs with a franchise-record 253 rushing yards in a Week 17 win over Jacksonville. Standing 5-foot-10, 226 pounds with 4.39 speed, Taylor's a load to bring down and a constant home run threat. In Year 1, he alleviated two major pre-draft concerns -- ball security and receiving skills -- with only one fumble and one drop in the regular season. (Though he did drop two passes in the wild-card loss to Buffalo. Playoff debut jitters?) In an RB era defined by specialization and committee usage, Taylor looks like the rare bell cow. One potential concern for Colts brass and humanity at large: Taylor might have manipulated some kind of midseason body swap with Blackmon, given how antithetically their respective debut campaigns played out. By midseason, Blackmon had surprisingly thrust himself into the Defensive Rookie of the Year conversation as a ball-hawking playmaker. But in the stretch run, right when Taylor was taking off, Blackmon appeared to hit a rookie wall. Supernatural factors must be considered. And potentially feared. Pittman -- Indy's top selection who missed three games with an unsettling creeper of a leg injury -- was a pretty consistent producer. The big-bodied wideout is quite spry after the catch, and he knows how to use his 6-4, 220-pound frame as a run blocker, to boot. (Just ask noted tough guy Johnathan Abram, who ate a Pittman pancake on this Colts touchdown.) With a well-rounded game, Pittman feels like a Year 2 breakout candidate, depending on what Indy does at the quarterback position. The cherry on top of another fine draft haul for Chris Ballard: special teamers Rodgers, Glasgow and Blankenship all joining Taylor on the PFWA All-Rookie Team.

Grade
B-
Jacksonville Jaguars
Jacksonville Jaguars
Total picks: 12 · 1-15

Round 1

Round 2

Round 3

Round 4

Round 5

Round 6

Round 7

Notable Undrafted Free Agents


Let's begin at the end -- as in, the last name on that list just above: James Robinson. The Jaguars made 12 of the 2020 draft's 255 selections, but their most productive rookie -- by a wide margin -- was a guy nobody picked. Signed as a priority free agent after a decorated FCS career at Illinois State, Robinson was a revelation in 2020, racking up 1,070 rushing yards at a healthy 4.5 yards per carry. Don't forget: The Jaguars went 1-15 this past season. They were outscored by an average of 11.6 points per week. The offense was bad, the defense worse. You try running the football in that environment. And yet, the 5-foot-9, 219-pounder tied for fifth in rushing yards, adding 49 catches for 344 yards and three receiving touchdowns for good measure. Robinson wasn't the Jags' only scrapheap hit, either. Costin ended up taking former first-round pick Taven Bryan's starting spot at the 3-technique and was stout against the run. So, what about the dozen players Jacksonville actually drafted? Well, the two first-rounders didn't exactly knock anyone's socks off. Henderson started with a splash, recording three pass breakups and a pick in the Jaguars' season-opening upset of Indianapolis. But like the 2020 Jags as a whole, Week 1 ultimately proved to be the season's highpoint for the No. 9 overall pick. The rest of the year was marred by injuries and inconsistency. Chaisson played the entire season, but if you blinked, you missed his one sack. Those pre-draft fears about him being more raw athlete than refined pass rusher? Yep, they were founded. Chaisson looked undersized and underprepared as a 4-3 defensive end in the NFL. On the flip side, Shenault looked right at home in today's league, flashing enticing ability as a pure playmaker with a physical edge at 230 pounds. His rookie numbers -- 58 catches for 600 yards and five touchdowns, 18 rushes for 91 yards -- don't blow you away, but underwhelming quarterback play and unimaginative play-calling didn't help. With Urban Meyer rolling into town, it's impossible not to envision Shenault operating as a denser Percy Harvin for presumptive No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence.

Grade
D-
Houston Texans
Houston Texans
Total picks: 5 · 4-12

Round 2

Round 3

Round 4

Round 5


Unfortunately, at this point, the best thing to come out of Bill O'Brien's one and only draft as Texans general manager is his Zoom room explosion, which reportedly spawned from the Lions backing out of a trade. The virtual draft produced a cornucopia of viral moments, but in hindsight, nothing captured the state of a franchise better than O'Brien blowing up and storming off. In a disastrous, dysfunctional year for Texans football, the rookie class contributed next to nothing. Granted, the group was significantly downsized by O'Brien's curious wheeling and dealing -- related story: BOB was relieved of his general manager and head coach duties just four weeks into the 2020 season -- but the five newbies combined to play just 847 snaps in 2020. Unsurprisingly, that was the lowest total for a rookie class in 2020, per Pro Football Focus, and about a third of the NFL-wide average of 2,555 snaps. The Texans' first four picks started one game apiece, while Blacklock and Greenard were the only rookies to eclipse 150 total snaps. What exactly did Blacklock and Greenard contribute? A grand total of five QB hits, one sack and one ejection (courtesy of a Blacklock punch in Week 2). Not ideal. And further devaluation of the Texans' defensive front, which has gone from a massive strength to a crippling weakness in just a few years' time.

Grade
F
Tennessee Titans
Tennessee Titans
Total picks: 6 · 11-5

Round 1

Round 2

Round 3

Round 5

Round 7


The Titans lost right tackle Jack Conklin to free agency last March. They lost left tackle Taylor Lewan to a season-ending injury in October. They lost Lewan's replacement, Ty Sambrailo, to a season-ending injury in November. And yet, Wilson was only activated for one game this past season, logging three kneel-down snaps in Tennessee's Week 12 win at Indianapolis. So, what happened to the first-round pick? Well, honestly, his selection at No. 29 overall raised eyebrows to begin with. Widely viewed as a developmental prospect whose mammoth size distracted from shoddy technique, Wilson ranked just 66th on NFL.com analyst Daniel Jeremiah's final big board, behind nine other offensive tackles. So, from an on-field standpoint, it felt like a reach from jump street. The off-field stuff, though -- that's where it really went off the rails. Wilson landed on the reserve/COVID-19 list at the start of training camp. A short time later, he received a trespass warning when police broke up a party at Tennessee State. Then he hit the reserve/COVID-19 list again just before the season kicked off. During his second stint away from the team, Wilson was arrested for driving under the influence. In Week 13, he was suspended for violating club rules. The following week, Wilson was placed on the reserve/non-football illness list, where he spent the rest of the season. At his season-ending press conference last month, Mike Vrabel was asked about the first-round pick. "I can't comment on Isaiah," the Titans coach said. "I wouldn't even begin to be able to eloquently have an answer for you." Veteran OL teammate Rodger Saffold offered some choice words on the same day: "We have a certain way of doing things here. We have a blue-collar mentality where you work. And everything you get, you earn. So sometimes the decisions that you make, you have to live with the consequences." Long story short: Wilson's debut season went about as poorly as possible. Meanwhile, Fulton missed 10 games due to injuries and a trip to the reserve/COVID-19 list. Evans missed 11 games with groin and hamstring ailments. Jackson, the latter of Tennessee's two seventh-round picks, probably provided the best ROI just by participating in 11 games. The future is a beautiful mystery for all NFL players, of course, but the task in this exercise is to grade each rookie class' Year 1 performance. And in that sense, there's just no denying that this group failed.

Follow Gennaro Filice on Twitter.

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