Analysis

2020 NFL rookie grades, AFC East: Rocky start for Dolphins' first-rounders

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 East below.

Grade
B
New England Patriots
New England Patriots
Total picks: 10 · 7-9

Round 2

Round 3

Round 5

Round 6

Round 7

  • (230) Dustin Woodard, C (retired)


What is it about the Patriots and sixth-round steals out of Michigan? OK, Michael Onwenu's probably not gonna threaten Tom Brady's G.O.A.T. status, but the physical 6-foot-3, 350-pounder started all 16 games in Year 1, excelling at three different positions in the process. Drafted as a guard, Onwenu briefly mauled foes on the left and right sides of the interior, but he actually spent the vast majority of his rookie campaign at right tackle, exceeding anyone's wildest expectations as an edge blocker. In fact, in a highly celebrated bookend class that featured six first-round tackles, Onwenu scored the highest Pro Football Focus mark of all. Shoot, he ranked third in PFF's grading system among ALL rookies, trailing only Justin Jefferson and Chase Young. Heady company for the 182nd overall pick. Uche, who hit Foxborough after spending his college days with Onwenu in Ann Arbor, also made a positive first impression, albeit in a significantly lesser role than Onwenu. Playing in just nine games due to injuries, the twitchy edge rusher generated significant pressure in limited snaps, and also showed the kind of versatility in Bill Belichick's scheme that made stars of Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins. Speaking of versatility, Dugger performed well as a hybrid safety/box dweller. Many questioned how he'd transition from Division II Lenoir-Rhyne to the NFL, but he put all doubts to rest with a promising debut campaign, particularly as a physical presence closer to the line of scrimmage. A third-round double-dip at tight end produced a grand total of five catches for 55 yards and one touchdown, with Asiasi and Keene receiving far fewer snaps combined than 2018 seventh-rounder Ryan Izzo. Needless to say, the Pats still have a Gronk-sized hole at the position. Rohrwasser was the first kicker taken in the draft, but the presumptive Stephen Gostkowski replacement's controversial arm ink was much more of a story than his leg, as he struggled in his first training camp and ended up spending his entire rookie season on the practice squad.

Grade
B
New York Jets
New York Jets
Total picks: 9 · 2-14

Round 1

Round 2

Round 3

Round 4

Round 5

Round 6

Notable Undrafted Free Agents


Hired in June of 2019, Joe Douglas had to wait 10 months before making his first pick as an NFL general manager. Finally on the clock with the No. 11 pick last April, he went big -- real big -- and the Jets reaped the benefits. "Mount Becton" entered the NFL as something of a freak show, a 6-foot-7, 363-pound athletic monster with a college highlight reel so laughably dominant that you had to question the competition. But then he went out in Week 1 and started ragdolling Buffalo Bills like those overmatched ACC pass rushers of yore. The rest of the season played out much the same, with the 21-year-old rookie frequently looking like a man amongst boys, though injuries forced the left tackle to miss some action. Becton's a foundational pillar, and not just because he blocks teammates from the sun. Douglas' second pick was more injured and less impactful, but once Mims' hamstrings began to cooperate, he flashed the chunk-play ability and extensive catch radius that had made him a Draft Twitter darling. The Jets cycled through a cadre of rooks in the secondary, and ex-defensive coordinator Gregg Williams didn't always put them in positions to succeed. (Remember when he put the other Lamar Jackson on an island with speed merchant Henry Ruggs III on the infamous zero blitz call?) Still, Davis showed promise as an athletic, aggressive safety before ending the season on IR, while Guidry looked like a potential find as an undrafted corner with speed to burn. Punters are people, too, and Mann was a serviceable one in Year 1.

Grade
B-
Buffalo Bills
Buffalo Bills
Total picks: 7 · 13-3

Round 2

Round 3

Round 4

Round 5

Round 6

Round 7

  • (239) Dane Jackson, CB, 5 games/2 starts


Lacking a first-round pick due to the Stefon Diggs trade -- which worked out swimmingly for Buffalo, as the wideout led the NFL in catches (127) and receiving yards (1,535) -- Brandon Beane and Co. actually made their best picks on Day 3 of the draft. Midway through the fourth round, Buffalo took Davis as the 17th WR off the board. Despite joining a loaded receiving corps, the rookie carved out a significant role as a big-bodied downfield threat, averaging a robust 17.1 yards per catch while scoring seven touchdowns. And what a wizard he is along the sidelines, producing numerous works of toe-tapping art in Year 1, including two a few seconds apart in his first playoff game. Sixty picks after the Davis selection, Buffalo hooked Bass. The rookie kicker struggled in his NFL debut -- missing field goal attempts of 34 and 38 yards -- but he bounced back and enjoyed a solid regular season ... before missing a pair of kicks in the Divisional Round win over Baltimore. Granted, the great Justin Tucker also missed two FGs in that game, as the kicking conditions were FAR less than optimal. And Sean McDermott still digs his kicker's style. "What I love about him is, he's got the one piece of eye black underneath the eye, he's got a little bit of swagger, he gives the flex after he has a big kick," the head coach recently said on the Pat McAfee Show. Jackson, a cornerback selected in the back half of the seventh round, gained some fans of his own with a playmaking style. While he only saw significant action in three games, Jackson made enough of an impression on Beane that the general manager recently mentioned him as a candidate to fill the perennial CB hole opposite Tre'Davious White. So what about the top two picks in this class? Epenesa was everyone's draft steal when Buffalo scooped him up midway through Round 2, but minimal production has Bills fans hoping for a lot more in Year 2. Moss flashed the physicality and versatility that had some touting him as a dark-horse Rookie of the Year candidate before the season kicked off, but injuries kept him from taking ownership of an uninspiring backfield.

Grade
C
Miami Dolphins
Miami Dolphins
Total picks: 11 · 10-6

Round 1

Round 2

Round 3

Round 4

Round 5

Round 6

Round 7

Notable Undrafted Free Agent

Preseason Trade Acquisition


Miami made three first-round picks ... and all three experienced growing pains in Year 1. Granted, they weren't exactly put in positions to flourish. Let's start with the marquee-topping selection of Tagovailoa -- who, yes, was taken one pick before Offensive Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert. The truth is that Tua wasn't even the best QB on his own team in 2020, as the rookie was outplayed by bearded barnstormer Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB wins be damned. Maybe this shouldn't have been a surprise. Less than a year removed from major hip surgery when he was handed the starting reins, Tua might not have been operating at 100 percent in 2020, which could help explain the lack of zip on some throws. Perhaps he'll come back in the 2021 campaign with more torque in his compact throwing motion. Another thing that would help Tagovailoa in Year 2: a better supporting cast. Miami's skill-position talent is deficient in quality and depth. Sure, DeVante Parker and Mike Gesicki are nice options in the passing game, but neither's a true No. 1 target -- and production fell off a cliff after those two. The front five did the rookie QB no favors, ranking 28th in Pro Football Focus' O-line rankings. Of course, the front five itself was green as can be, with three rookie starters, including Jackson at left tackle. Just 20 years old at the time of his selection, Jackson came into the NFL as an upside play, long on athleticism and short on technical refinement. Thrown into a sink-or-swim situation in Year 1, Jackson kind of just treaded water, with uneven play surrounding a midseason trip to injured reserve (foot). Essentially, the project remains a work in progress. Igbinoghene, Miami's third first-round pick, was actually the youngest player in the NFL this past season -- and he played like it, albeit in a limited role behind established corners Xavien Howard and Byron Jones. Jones' injury early in the season briefly thrust Igbinoghene into the starting lineup, and it didn't go well, with Russell Wilson cooking up a storm at the rookie's expense. Now, as underwhelming as Miami's returns were in Round 1, the Fins got plenty of bang for the buck in Round 2. Many assumed Hunt would be a guard at the NFL level, but injuries led to him starting 11 games at right tackle -- and more than holding his own. Hunt's versatility will be an asset as the Dolphins continue building the OL and looking to get the best five guys on the field. Meanwhile, Davis earned PFWA All-Rookie Team honors, as a 6-foot-7, 330-pound wall in the middle of Miami's defensive front. Now we understand why Brian Flores could barely contain himself on draft night when Davis was available with the 56th overall pick.

Follow Gennaro Filice on Twitter.

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