Half a season does not make an NFL player’s career, but as a draft analyst it’s only natural I check in on the rookies at the midway point of the regular season, right? Have to do it. Every year.
As I wrote about a while back, the rookie cornerback class has been spectacular, and some of the slower-start rookies have played more effective football of late.
Let’s assign grades for the play of the first-round picks from the 2022 NFL Draft now that we’re just past the halfway point — halftime of the eighth game would technically be halfway for all you mathematicians out there — of everyone’s rookie season. And these grades are strictly performance-based. I did not factor in cost of trading up/down.
The Jaguars were taking the long view with the Walker selection. Everyone knew that. Walker’s an imposing specimen who always hustles, but to win regularly around the corner in the NFL, a variety of methods to beat blockers is needed. Walker simply doesn’t have those yet. His pressure-creation rate of 8.0% is concerningly low, however. Jacksonville has made him a full-time player almost immediately, which the Georgia star wasn’t ready for this early. His 299 pass-rush snaps entering Week 11 are the most among all rookie edge rushers. He’s missed more tackles than expected, too, particularly for a 6-foot-5 defender with over 35-inch arms.
No. 2: Detroit Lions — EDGE Aidan Hutchinson
Hutchinson started slowly, but his play steadied into October. I was worried in September, because Hutchinson was a high-floor prospect. How his NFL career began served as a stark reminder that going from even a Power 5 conference to the NFL is a sizable jump in overall competition. The former Michigan star has been a tick more effective as a pass rusher than Walker (9.3% pressure-creation rate) and held his own as a run defender. The arrow is pointing up, slightly, for Hutch. He has 13 combined pressures in his last four contests — not Hutchinson vs. Ohio State and Iowa good, but he’s playing closer to that caliber than he did at the outset of the season.
No. 3: Houston Texans — CB Derek Stingley
In his coverage area, Stingley has yet to allow a touchdown to date. True to his spectacular LSU form, Stingley’s been around the football quite often, with five pass breakups and an interception on 49 targets. Now, he hasn’t been lockdown. There’ve been some coverage lapses. But — and this is important — before his time in Houston, Stingley rarely played soft, Cover 2 zone. He was a press-man extraordinaire in the SEC. For playing, essentially, a new role at outside corner, Stingley’s been solid.
No. 4: New York Jets — CB Sauce Gardner
Sauce is the Defensive Rookie of the Year frontrunner. Frankly, it’ll be difficult for him to lose the award at this juncture, based on where we are in the season and how stingy he’s played — 20 receptions allowed on 46 targets with two picks and an NFL-leading (not just rookie-leading) 13 pass breakups. Gardner has handled NFL receivers much like he handled those in the AAC over the past three seasons at Cincinnati.
No. 5: New York Giants — EDGE Kayvon Thibodeaux
Thibodeaux didn’t play until Week 3, and it hasn’t been a lengthy acclimation process for the rusher I felt was similar in many ways — size, length, measured athleticism and play style — to that of Danielle Hunter as a prospect. Thibodeaux has registered 18 pressures on 205 pass-rush snaps to date, which is smack-dab between Walker and Hutchinson’s rate. Ideally, a rookie at least gets to to that 10% mark in Year 1. Despite some questions about his love for the game, Thibodeaux has been anything but a lackadaisical defender to start his NFL career. He’s routinely made an impact against the run on the outside and when chasing from the backside.
No. 6: Carolina Panthers — OT Ikem Ekwonu
Ekwonu has come into his own as the left tackle for Carolina over the past month and a half, with a few dominant efforts over that stretch, reminiscent of his time at NC State when he repeatedly overwhelmed defenders in the ACC with violent hands and a powerful lower half that often drove those defenders out of the play. His pass-protection acumen isn’t quite there yet, however. Everything Ekwonu’s done as a rookie indicates he’s on the road to stardom as a blocker.
No. 7: New York Giants — OT Evan Neal
Neal is impossibly large and, in college, frequently won because of the advantages his size provided him. He’s struggled staying balanced against skilled pass rushers with efficient, powerful hand work. The run-game blocking from Neal — mostly fantastic. He’s dealt with some injuries, too, which always curb rookie-year development. Fortunately for the G-Men, Neal’s been more comfortable in his pass sets of late. Overall, Neal has a long way to go before he’s playing at his Alabamian level.
No. 8: Atlanta Falcons — WR Drake London
Look at London’s yards-per-catch average (10.7), and there’s reason to assume he’s been a dud. He hasn’t. The Falcons pass offense has been superpedestrian and epically low volume — Marcus Mariota is averaging 174 aerial yards per game. While it’s true London does not have a single 100-yard-game performance to date as a professional, he leads all rookies with 10 contested-catch wins and has forced a sizable eight missed tackles.
No. 9: Seattle Seahawks — OT Charles Cross
Entering Week 11, Cross has actually been outplayed by Day 2 tackle Abraham Lucas. But it’s not like Cross has been an abomination and Lucas will be an All-Pro in his rookie season. For a younger tackle prospect who played in a quick-strike Air Raid system, Cross has been plenty good, and his athleticism and usually unshakable equilibrium have been the strong points to his game, just like they were at Mississippi State.
No. 10: New York Jets — WR Garrett Wilson
Wilson’s been outstanding this season for the Jets, mostly after the catch. He leads all rookies with 12 forced missed tackles, which aligns with how dynamic he was in space during his illustrious Ohio State career. Wilson gets open, and gets open quickly and often for Zach Wilson. The rookie has been the second-year quarterback’s most consistent target to date.
Olave was thrust into WR1 duties almost instantly due to the early injuries to Michael Thomas and Jarvis Landry. And he’s mostly handled those responsibilities like a seasoned pro. The sharp route-running mastery demonstrated at Ohio State has been on display from the jump in his Saints career. Olave’s 658 yards are over 100 yards clear of No. 2 (Wilson).
No. 12: Detroit Lions — WR Jameson Williams
Williams has yet to play after suffering a torn ACL in the national title game this past January.
No. 13: Philadelphia Eagles — DT Jordan Davis
Davis was … Davis before he landed on IR with an ankle injury — concrete against the run with minimal glimpses getting upfield in a hurry as a pass rusher. The run-stopping impact Davis makes on the defense is as monstrous as Davis is himself. Philadelphia just signed Linval Joseph as a veteran Davis replacement.
No. 14: Baltimore Ravens — S Kyle Hamilton
My No. 1 prospect in the 2022 class has been exemplary to begin his Ravens career. Despite a flashy prospect — tall, chiseled, athletic, etc. — he hasn’t been that type of first-year defender. Hamilton has two pass breakups and no interceptions to date. But he’s rarely been out of position on film and has handled multiple roles as a do-everything safety in Mike McDonald.
No. 15: Houston Texans — OG Kenyon Green
Green was a puzzling pick by the Texans inside the top half of the first round in April, and after a few encouraging efforts in September, the former Texas A&M blocker who stayed local after college has had a rough go for the Texans. He’s allowed 29 pressures of Davis Mills on 311 pass-blocking snaps entering Week 11. Green’s film isn’t without some devastating run-game blocks, yet even those — his speciality in college — have been few and far between.
No. 16: Washington Commanders — WR Jahan Dotson
Dotson’s hardly been healthy — he’s only appeared in five games and has 13 grabs on 21 targets. Yet he’s caught five of his six contested catches and the shiftiness that led to many of his accolades at Penn State, and allowed him to get open so frequently, has translated early in his NFL career.
Can’t blame the Chargers for attempting to built a fortress around Justin Herbert. They’ve gone with a blocker in back-to-back drafts. The construction of that fortress has taken longer than expected, given that Rashawn Slater is done for the year with injury and Johnson hasn’t been as sturdy at right guard as he was at Boston College. His 21 pressures on 435 pass-blocking snaps equates to a decently high pressure rate for an interior blocker (4.8%), but the run-blocking prowess clearly visible on his Boston College film has appeared much more regularly.
Burks played the first month of the season, got injured, and just returned in Week 10. He’s averaging close to 12 yards per game, and his most productive performance came in his NFL debut (three grabs for 55 yards). The YAC dominance Burks demonstrated in the SEC while at Arkansas hasn’t materialized. He’s only forced one missed tackle on his 13 total receptions.
No. 19: New Orleans Saints — OT Trevor Penning
Penning got injured before the season and won’t play until the 2023 campaign.
No. 20: Pittsburgh Steelers — QB Kenny Pickett
It’s fair to look to the leaky offensive line and a conservative weekly game plan as to why Pickett’s started his NFL career so ineffectively. Some of it is on the quarterback. Has to be. The first-rounder has two touchdowns to eight interceptions entering Week 11. No, not all have directly been his fault. However, it’s not as if the majority of them have come on unlikely tip-drill plays. Pickett’s flashed the arm talent that got him drafted this high at times. There’s also been many pre-2021 Pickett-type throws — inaccurate, late, into airtight coverage.
No. 21: Kansas City Chiefs — CB Trent McDuffie
McDuffie played the Cardinals in Week 1 then an injury shelved him all the way until Week 9. In the two appearances back from injury, he’s looked a lot like he did at Washington — steady, reliable, not overly flashy, far from a liability in coverage. McDuffie’s tackled well, too.
No. 22: Green Bay Packers — LB Quay Walker
Walker’s run-stuffing capabilities were a big reason he went this high in the draft. Early in his professional career, we’ve been reminded of how good Walker had it at Georgia with Jordan Davis, Jalen Carter and Devonte Wyatt in front of him. The run-stuffing efforts haven’t been as reliable — probably because he hasn’t been kept as clean at the second level — and, actually, Walker’s made some plays in coverage but altogether has been far from a stud in that facet of the game.
No. 23: Buffalo Bills — CB Kaiir Elam
Elam has a pair of interceptions early in his Buffalo career — one a massive pick of Patrick Mahomes in the end zone — and for a career man-to-man corner, the former Florida Gator has fared well in the Bills’ zone-based attack. He’s allowed one interception in his coverage area along with three pass breakups. The tackling has been inconsistent, which is true for most rookie corners.
No. 24: Dallas Cowboys — OT Tyler Smith
Smith was picked to play guard next to Tyron Smith in Dallas, and after Tyron’s early-season injury, the rookie was the left tackle contingency plan. And, frankly, the former Tulsa standout has held his own. There’ve been plenty of high-caliber reps from the big, athletic blocker and the off-balanced reps have been rare. He’s allowed just 18 pressures on 319 pass-blocking reps.
No. 25: Baltimore Ravens — OC Tyler Linderbaum
Linderbaum looked like a future first-round pick from his first season at Iowa and he’s played well beyond his years in his rookie season in Baltimore. He really feels like a Ravens blocker. Linderbaum’s routinely destroyed linebackers at the second level. Just like he did in the Big 10. The pass-protection performance hasn’t been quite as spectacular. It’s coming along though.
No. 26: New York Jets — EDGE Jermaine Johnson
Johnson hasn’t played much and the positives have come with his edge-setting power and hustle across the field. Par for the course after watching his Florida State film. The pass-rush wins have been infrequent — five pressures on 57 rushes — but he did have his multiple pressure outing against the Bills in Week 9.
No. 27: Jacksonville Jaguars — LB Devin Lloyd
Lloyd started strongly yet his two early, somewhat fluky picks, provide a prime example as to why those type of plays are rarely predictive. Surprisingly, Lloyd’s been an out-of-control tackler. His 13 misses are far and away the most among rookie linebackers. The splash plays ubiquitous on his film at Utah have been missing early in his NFL career. Lloyd doesn’t have any tackles for loss entering Week 11.
No. 28: New Orleans Saints — DT Devonte Wyatt
Even going this late felt a little early in April, and Wyatt’s acclimation process has been a long, arduous one for the former Georgia standout. He’s appeared on less than 90 snaps and has just two pressures. He nearly received an incomplete grade.
While I won’t say Bill Belichick was right, and the rest of the NFL and all analysts were wrong, Strange has certainly not been overwhelmed in his first NFL season to date coming from UT-Chattanooga. The no-gloves-wearing guard has battled like hell in the run game and dealt with talented interior rushes well on the majority of his reps.
No. 30: Kansas City Chiefs — EDGE George Karlaftis
Six pressures in his NFL debut hinted at an impending monster season for the former Purdue stud. It hasn’t happened. While his pressure-creation rate is north of 10%, the clear-cut, one-on-one victories have been rare and he’s been a liability stopping the run. Too often, Karlaftis has been easily moved by blockers and when he’s been in position to make a tackle, the rate at which he’s brought ball carriers to the turf has been relatively low.
No. 31: Cincinnati Bengals — S Daxton Hill
A terrific preseason had many of us — including myself — thinking Hill was in for a massive rookie campaign. Bengals DC Lou Anarumo has made it clear Hill has to earn the stripes on his helmet — if that was a thing — by barely playing Hill to start his career. He has appeared on just 47 defensive snaps to date.
No. 32: Minnesota Vikings — S Lewis Cine
Cine broke bones in his leg in Week 4 while on special teams. He’ll be back in 2023.
This content was originally published here.