NFL

Young lives up to billing as Herbert outperforms his - The NFL's top rookies and their award-winning numbers

By Sports Desk February 06, 2021

The NFL crowned its two top rookies on Saturday as Chase Young and Justin Herbert claimed deserved recognition for stunning first years in the league. 

Defensive Rookie of the Year Young, the second overall pick in the 2020 draft, had long since been the frontrunner for that award.

His case was helped substantially by the pivotal role he played in propelling the Washington Football Team to an unlikely playoff berth as part of a fearsome defensive front.

Herbert was not given the chance to test himself in the playoffs as the Los Angeles Chargers' mystifying tendency for throwing away leads condemned them to another losing season.

But the Chargers can afford to be confident that better days are ahead, Herbert looked every inch a franchise quarterback as he subverted pre-draft expectations that were not as high as those placed on former Heisman Trophy finalist Young.

Both Young and Herbert look poised to have a defining impact on the NFL over the course of the 2020s and here, using Stats Perform data, we look back on their magnificent maiden years.

Chase Young

Just like his fellow former Ohio State edge rusher Nick Bosa, drafted second overall by the San Francisco 49ers in 2019, Young emphatically lived up to his draft status, becoming the fourth ex-Buckeye to win Defensive Rookie of the Year in the last five seasons (DE Joey Bosa, 2016; CB Marshon Lattimore, 2017; DE Nick Bosa, 2019).

He did so through making the lives of opposing offensive linemen miserable, leading rookies in every metric that measures pass rush.

Young's 7.5 sacks were first among all rookies, while he also led the way hurries (37), knockdowns (12.5), quarterback hits (12) and total pressures (55).

Similarly dominant against the run, Young was first among all rookies with 10 tackles for loss and six stuffs, his performance in the latter category putting him tied-13th among all defenders.

He demonstrated a nose for the football, his four forced fumbles tied third in the NFL. Three of those resulted in turnovers, with only Myles Garrett (4) performing better in that regard.

Young's game-wrecking rookie year proved his pre-draft billing was well deserved and, in the eyes of many, vindicated taking him ahead of the other quarterbacks not named Joe Burrow.

However, the success of the Chargers' gamble on a quarterback seen as a level below Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa raises the question of whether Washington would have been better served taking a chance on Herbert.

Justin Herbert

After making his first start in Week 2 amid unusual circumstances, Herbert's rookie season was one defined by him setting rookie records.

Herbert is the only quarterback in NFL history to throw for 4,000 yards in a season having not played the opener, Week 1 starter Tyrod Taylor sidelined after a team doctor accidentally punctured his lung while administering a painkilling injection.

His 4,336 passing yards rank second all-time among rookie quarterbacks behind Andrew Luck, who racked up 4,374 with the Indianapolis Colts in 2012.

With his completion percentage of 66.6 trailing only Dak Prescott's 67.8 in 2016, Herbert set all-time leading marks for rookie quarterbacks in completions (396), passing yards per game (289.1), passing touchdowns (31) and 300-yard games, of which he recorded eight.

Just three players - Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson and Tom Brady - finished with a higher yards per game average in the regular season in 2020.

Herbert's name already being in such elite company indicates he is primed to make the leap to the upper echelon of NFL quarterbacks, provided Los Angeles can build an ecosystem to make the most of his undoubted gifts, and it unquestionably makes him worthy of being the first Charger to win Offensive Rookie of the Year since Don Woods in 1974.

Few anticipated Herbert outperforming both Burrow and Tagovailoa in his rookie season. While Young's incredible first year is an endorsement for betting on freakish athleticism on defense, Herbert's record-setting start to what the Chargers hope will be a storied career serves as further evidence of the significantly more imposing challenge that comes with evaluating quarterbacks.

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