12 Nov Jake Luton – NFL Rookie of the Year Wild Card
With the halfway mark of the season now concluded, we are starting to see cases for Rookie of the Year solidify. The obvious headliners of the group are two of the top three quarterbacks selected in the 2020 NFL Draft – Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert. While Tua Tagovailoa is a late addition to the competition, he should not be ignored.
The same can be said for Jake Luton who has yet to attempt a pass. Here we will look at why these players are in the thick of the race and what needs to happen for them to secure votes for Rookie of the Year.
Joe Burrow has not been perfect this season but he is as advertised as far as his leadership, football acumen, and his improv ability may have improved during his brief stint in the NFL. Burrow is currently atop the AFC North in QBR, but at the bottom of the division with a 2-5-1 record. All hope is not lost because four of those games were only one-score losses; the Bengals have been much more competitive than their record shows.
Through eight games Burrow trails only Andrew Luck, Cam Newton, and Nick Mullens for most passing yards by a rookie with 2,272. The Bengals offense has not been the model of consistency, but Burrow, like all great signal-callers has transcended the injuries around him and elevated the play of the offense.
Bengals head coach Zac Taylor has not coddled Burrow in the offense, allowing him to air it out frequently. Burrow is currently leading in the NFL in attempts with 330, completing 67% of those throws, and slightly outpacing the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes, Kyler Murray, and Tom Brady.
With four of his starting lineman out, Joe Burrow may have pulled off one of the most unlikely upsets of the season defeating the Tennessee Titans. While the Titans are not a dominant pass rush group they had several occasions to get to Burrow, but he showed a spectacular and innate ability to dodge pressure while staying omniscient of his receivers down the field.
One of his best plays was probably the most improbable, dodging multiple defenders on his way to a seven yard gain. While it is not a home run play you see Burrow exhibit ideal pocket movement stepping up to evade the initial rush. This Titans win was especially impressive because the Bengals were without the services of their top weapon Joe Mixon. If Mixon can remain healthy the next eight games, the sky is the limit for the Cincinnati offense.
Three of the Bengals’ final eight games are against teams with a winning record. If the Bengals secure a wild card spot Burrow will have a vice grip on the Rookie of the Year as he has done the most with the least consistently.
While I believe Burrow will win the Rookie of the Year award, Justin Herbert has a solid chance to win the competition due to his wow factor and tough remaining schedule.
Herbert showed flashes of his arm talent at Oregon, but he is truly shining now with NFL weapons around him and play-calling tailored to his talents. At the moment Burrow’s Bengals and Herbert’s Chargers both have two wins and sit at the bottom of their respective divisions. Herbert has been stellar for the most part but his propensity to seek out the big play rather than play it safe has hurt his team on occasion.
Herbert is learning you cannot go broke taking a profit which is something Burrow has mastered. Herbert’s arm talent cannot be understated, from off-platform throws, rainbows down the field, to dead eye darts. Herbert has shown throwing versatility and underrated mobility but this has not lead to team success.
While Herbert has shown himself to be a legitimate signal-caller the team has struggled to parlay that into wins and the road ahead doesn’t get any easier the rest of the season. Over the next nine games, the Chargers will face four teams with winning records including the Raiders twice and Chiefs in the season finale.
While the back nine on the Chargers schedule presents its own challenges, Hebert has faired well so far. Against top defensive units like the Buccaneers, Panthers, and Chiefs, Herbert has thrown for at least 290 yards, completed 66% of passes, and has at least one touchdown pass (and interception) in each game.
Herbert’s close games against top tier QBs such Tom Brady and Drew Brees showcased his ability to make plays in pressure situations. Only thing now is to turn that on-field success into winning, which has not been a problem for our third candidate Tua Tagovailoa.
A wise man once said “you play to win the game,” and Tua did just that in his first start versus the Los Angeles Rams. Tua’s first snap was a forgettable one as he was quickly introduced to Aaron Donald. While Herbert and Burrow have amassed fandom with Houdini acts of escapism and a Howitzer right arm, they need to win more games to separate themselves as a rookie of the year.
Tua has an advantage that supersedes arm talent and draft status. The Miami Dolphins currently possess the number one scoring defense, which could propel this team into a playoff run as they are currently second in their division at 4-3. While Tua’s Rookie of the Year campaign has started later than others I believe his case hinges mainly on three games.
In two of those games, Tua will have home-field advantage as he faces Burrow Week 10 and Herbert Week 13, and there is no better way to state your case for Rookie of the Year than to beat the other guys head-to-head. Those two games will be pivotal in how this race plays out, but with a slew of winnable games down the stretch and the Dolphins being second in their division, their playoff appearance could hinge on the last game of the season against the conference-leading Bills.
If Tua can lead his team into the playoffs and beat Burrow and Herbert head-to-head, I do not see how much stronger his case can get. Barring something unforeseen Tua will not be able to close the gap in raw stats between Burrow and Herbert, but being a playoff contender holds a lot more weight than big numbers on a team not in contention or with a losing record.
The Bengals, Chargers, and Dolphins all have chances at the playoffs while our last entry, Jake Luton, is only a wild card contender if everything breaks perfectly.
Jake Luton could look to replicate the same storyline that saw the emergence of Gardner Minshew in Jacksonville. Luton is a 6th round draft pick like Minshew, hailing from Oregon St. Coming in at 6’6 and 224 pounds, Luton is the more prototypical QB compared to Minshew. He possesses ideal arm strength and a willingness to test tight windows in coverage and the red zone.
There will be a night and day difference in the mobility of Minshew compared to Luton, but the rookie is no statue and his arm strength will allow him to attempt throws Minshew simply cannot make. Jake Luton is a big-armed passer who managed to avoid turnovers throughout his career, never throwing more than four interceptions in any season and posting a 29/4 slash in his final season.
The Texans defense will be the first test for Luton and it could be an easy one. Over the last three games only the Jaguars and Jets have surrendered more passing yards than the Texans. The Texans are 31st in rush yards allowed per game, allowing over 165 yards which feeds into the Jaguars’ strengths.
While the other three rookies can kind of look ahead to future contests, Luton will need to perform well weekly to maintain the starting job. The schedule he will face is daunting with several playoff-contending teams along the way such as the Steelers, Ravens, Browns, Packers, and division rival Colts and Titans.
This schedule does not feature too many games you could deem winnable for Jacksonville, but if Jake Luton can bring a pulse back to the offense and make a good first impression against a porous Texans defense, he has an outside shot of winning Rookie of the Year. He will need to upset several teams to even be considered but it all starts this Sunday versus the Texans.