Ranking the Bucs’ 2022 rookie class: Was the punter the premier newcomer?

For now, the sample size remains modest. The Bucs brass probably won’t determine which of its 2022 rookies register as keepers or clunkers after only 18 games.

And who knows, Thursday’s staff purge may affect the group’s future development to a degree. But for the sake of deliberation, we as keen observers can rank them based on their respective contributions this past season.

Whether this group evolves into the revered class of 1995 (Derrick Brooks, Warren Sapp) or the ridiculed one of 2016 (Vernon Hargreaves III, Roberto Aguayo) will be determined at a much later date.

So here goes, our 2022 rookie ratings, in ascending order. For the sake of this exercise, we’re including Deven Thompkins, by far the most significant contributor of the undrafted rookies.

8. WR/KR/PR Deven Thompkins

Bucs undrafted rookie wide receiver Deven Thompkins (83) gets a reception during training camp in August. Thompkins was elevated from the practice squad for the final five games, handling punt and kick returns.

Round: Undrafted

Key regular-season stats: 10.2 yards per punt return, 21.9 yards per kick return

We relegate Thompkins to No. 8 because he appeared in only five regular-season games. But during that stretch, the smallest guy on the roster (5-foot-8, 155 pounds) more than carried his weight. Assigned to the practice squad after a dazzling training camp, Thompkins was promoted after the team waived second-year return specialist Jaelon Darden in early December, and had a 54-yard kick return in his debut. In five games, Thompkins’ kick and punt return averages basically mirrored Darden’s 23-game numbers (10.5, 22.3). Moreover, Thompkins had nearly as many catches (five) as Darden totaled in almost two full seasons (eight).

7. CB Zyon McCollum

Bucs cornerback Zyon McCollum (27) tackles Cowboys punt returner KaVontae Turpin (9) during the third quarter of Dallas' 31-14 win last Monday in an NFC wild-card game.

Round: Fifth

Key regular-season stats: 24 tackles, one pass defended

This speedster from Sam Houston State had a minimal impact and didn’t play a defensive snap in the last three regular-season games that mattered, but possesses too much upside to consider a bust at this point. Remember, Ronde Barber foundered in his rookie season, too. Not to suggest McCollum will evolve into a Ring of Honor recipient, but his physical tools suggest a breakthrough at some point.

6. DL Logan Hall

Bucs rookie defensive end Logan Hall (90) sacks Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota (1) during the third quarter of Tampa Bay's 21-15 triumph Oct. 9 at Raymond James Stadium.

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Round: Second

Key regular-season stats: 12 tackles, 2.5 sacks

The draft’s 33rd overall pick appeared to break through in Week Five against Atlanta (three tackles, two for loss, one sack) before essentially vanishing. In the last 13 games (including the playoff contest), Hall totaled eight tackles and half a sack. And while coach Todd Bowles said just before Christmas that Hall was evolving into “a full three-down player,” his snap totals reflected the opposite. Subtract the regular-season finale against the Falcons (when many starters were pulled early or held out altogether), and Hall appeared in no more than 38% of the defensive snaps in the last 10 games (including the playoff loss).

5. LG Luke Goedeke

Bucs rookie left guard Luke Goedeke (67) started the season's first seven games before being replaced by Nick Leverett. He returned to start the final two games, including last Monday's playoff loss to the Cowboys.

Round: Second

Key regular-season stat: Two holding penalties in 523 offensive snaps

Fans generally don’t blame Goedeke for his glaring early-season struggles as much they do the staff for thrusting a rookie from Central Michigan — who played only two full Division I-A seasons — into the starting lineup. The starter for the first seven games, Goedeke’s pass-block grade from Pro Football Focus was 65th among 74 eligible guards, and his run-block grade was 68th (of 77). Replacing Ali Marpet was going to be a stern task for almost anyone. For an unpolished product such as Goedeke, it was too much to ask.

4. TE Ko Kieft

Bucs rookie tight end Ko Kieft, drafted primarily for his blocking skills, nonetheless had seven catches (including this touchdown against the Browns) in 2022.

Round: Sixth

Key regular-season stats: Seven receptions, 11 tackles

Drafted for his blocking chops, Kieft resuscitated the H-back role in the offense while becoming a fixture on special teams. As a bonus, his seven receptions (including one for a touchdown) were only five fewer than he totaled in five seasons at the University of Minnesota. Kieft never will be an elite tight end, considering how the position has evolved, but he’ll remain gainfully employed in the NFL if he keeps progressing as an in-line blocker.

3. TE Cade Otton

Bucs rookie tight end Cade Otton (88) scores on a 1-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady (12) in the final seconds of a 16-13 triumph against the Rams on Nov. 6. at Raymond James Stadium.

Round: Fourth

Key regular-season stats: 42 catches, 391 yards

Otton had a far rougher season off the field than on it. He lost his mom, Sally, to Parkinson’s disease at age 50 only two days after making his first NFL catch in a Week Two win at New Orleans. Two months later, in arguably the season’s most poignant moment, he caught a 1-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady with nine seconds remaining to clinch a 16-13 win against the Rams. Though far from consistent, and hardly a Gronk-level blocker, Otton displayed promising savvy and athleticism, while adding eight tackles on special teams.

2. P Jake Camarda

Bucs rookie punter Jake Camarda averaged 48.8 yards per attempt this past season, which ranked fifth in the NFL.

Round: Fourth

Key regular-season stat: 48.8 yards per attempt (fifth in the NFL)

On some offensively-challenged Sundays (and there were several), Camarda was arguably the Bucs’ most valuable player, consistently flipping the field with towering blasts that gave the defense a chance. He was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week after his de facto clinic against the Rams (six attempts, 59.5-yard average) that included a 74-yarder from his own goal line. And the athleticism he brandished in the waning moments against Carolina — fielding a low snap, scrambling left, and getting off a punt that rolled inside the 5-yard line — helped preserve a division title-clinching win.

1. RB Rachaad White

Bucs rookie tailback Rachaad White carries against the Panthers during his team's 30-24 triumph on New Year's Day.

Round: Third

Key regular-season stats: 129 carries, 481 yards

After spending the first two months providing a periodic breather for Leonard Fournette, White exploded in his first NFL start against the Seahawks in Germany (22 carries, 105 yards) and remained the starter the rest of the way. To the bewilderment of many Bucs fans, he continued alternating possessions with the slower, sturdier Fournette, which perhaps impaired his ability to find a rhythm. Nonetheless, White evolved into a solid safety-valve target for Tom Brady in the regular season (50 catches, 290 yards, two touchdowns) and averaged 4.1 yards a handoff (98 carries, 405 yards) over the final nine games (including the playoff loss).

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

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