One was a quarterback turned tight end, while the other was was viewed as one of the best defensive prospects in recent memory. Their paths to the Washington Football Team could not have been more different.
"The quarterback-turned-tight end was one of the biggest surprises of 2020," James Fragoza wrote about Thomas, who had one of the most productive seasons by a tight end in franchise history. "Across two seasons in Buffalo and one in Detroit, Thomas caught just 36 passes. In his first year with the Football Team, he doubled that figure with 72 receptions. Despite having a rotating door at QB, he was able to generate the seventh-most receiving yards (670) and fourth-most conversions (36) among tight ends. Whoever is the starting signal-caller in Washington next year will inherit a reliable receiving option."
Using its wins above replacement (WAR) metric, PFF was able to determine which free agent signings, trade acquisitions and draft picks were the most impactful across the league. Some were obvious, like Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady and Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs, but Washington's newcomers were just as deserving at tight end and edge rusher, respectively.
Washington gave Thomas a chance to be a No. 1 tight end, and he responded by finishing as one of the team's most consistent pass-catchers and a physical blocker. He missed just one offensive snap over the final six games, a testament to his importance.
Young lined up along a dominant defensive line yet still found ways to stand out, which has led a litany of postseason honors. He was one of three rookies to make this list after earning an overall grade of 87.5 -- no other defensive rookie eclipsed 75.0 -- to go along with 40 quarterback pressures and four forced fumbles.
"It's not easy for a rookie pass-rusher to come in and make an impact against the wily tackles of the NFL, but that's just what Young did this season," Fragoza wrote. "The second overall pick confirmed all of his pre-draft priors, as his play demonstrated the potential to be an elite edge defender for years to come."
Not included on this list were running backs J.D. McKissic and Antonio Gibson, cornerbacks Ronald Darby and Kendall Fuller and safety Kamren Curl, but each is certainly deserving of recognition based on their individual performances in 2020. Along with Thomas and Young, these newcomers helped Washington set an inspiring foundation in year one of head coach Ron Rivera's tenure.