The 2022 NFL rookie class continues to look extremely strong through nine weeks. Four running backs are already over 400 rushing yards, while six receivers have surpassed 300 receiving yards. Nine first-year defenders have multiple sacks, seven have multiple interceptions, and the class has combined for 48 sacks and 28 picks to date. Four quarterbacks have gotten at least one start, and teams are getting mostly effective play from their rookie offensive linemen.
So how do the rookies stack up so far? Let’s rank the top 10 at midseason. We polled our own Matt Bowen, Jeff Legwold, Matt Miller and Jordan Reid for their personal lists and combined them to make a consensus ranking of the top 10 rookies. Our experts then weighed in on each player who made the list, along with a few who fell just short. Finally, they picked out a riser to watch, an underperforming first-rounder and an overperforming late-rounder, and took a quick look at the first-year quarterback situations.
Let’s jump in at No. 1 with a standout cornerback.
1. Sauce Gardner, CB, New York Jets
Stats: 44 tackles, 2 INTs, 13 passes defended
Drafted: No. 4
Why he’s here: Gardner had a bit of a learning-curve moment on Sunday when he allowed a 42-yard reception to Bills receiver Stefon Diggs on Buffalo’s first play from scrimmage. But then he did what he has done all season — settle in and do quality work, including hauling in his second interception of the season. His completion percentage against over expectation is minus-10.1%, per NFL Next Gen Stats. — Legwold
Going forward: He might have gotten off to a slow start to the season, but he has since emerged as not just the best rookie cornerback but also one of the NFL’s best cornerbacks in general. Look for more of the same the rest of the way as Gardner continues to get acclimated to the pro game. He could finish 2022 as one of the top five corners in the NFL and is certainly a Pro Bowl candidate. — Miller
2. Chris Olave, WR, New Orleans Saints
Stats: 43 catches, 618 yards, 2 TDs
Drafted: No. 11
Why he’s here: Smooth in the route tree and showcasing the vertical stretch ability to float past defenders, Olave has impressed as a perimeter target early in his NFL career. The rookie has already logged seven explosive-play receptions this season, and his ability to separate opens up opportunities at the second level of the field, too. — Bowen
Going forward: Despite the Saints’ inconsistencies at quarterback, Olave has quickly turned into the team’s top pass-catcher and leads all rookies with 14.9 air yards per target. With Michael Thomas (toe) and Jarvis Landry (ankle) battling injuries, expect the rookie to continue to play a big role. — Reid
3. Dameon Pierce, RB, Houston Texans
Stats: 148 carries, 678 rushing yards, 20 catches, 98 receiving yards, 4 total TDs
Drafted: No. 107
Why he’s here: Pierce is the offense in Houston, and even as defenses load up to stop him, his powerful style of running keeps the chains moving. His 40 rushing first downs are not only far and away the most among rookies but also fourth overall among all NFL players. Pierce’s power, vision and effort as a runner are outstanding, and he’s a legit Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate. — Miller
Going forward: He is sixth in the league in rushing, has a 75-yard touchdown run this season and consistently pounds out the yards after contact (2.1 per carry) with a growing pile of broken tackles already in his wake. The future is bright for Pierce. — Legwold
4. Kenneth Walker III, RB, Seattle Seahawks
Stats: 111 carries, 570 rushing yards, 12 catches, 48 receiving yards, 7 total TDs
Drafted: No. 41
Why he’s here: He didn’t begin the season as the starter, but Walker has quickly entrenched himself as one of the Seahawks’ key offensive playmakers. With seven rushing TDs — all coming in the past five games — he’s on a quick path to outplaying his second-round draft slot. He joins the Jets’ Breece Hall as the only rookies averaging over 5 yards per carry. — Reid
Going forward: Walker is the closer for this Seattle offense as a rookie with veteran traits. His lateral quickness, body control and finishing power show up late in games. In the fourth quarter, he has scored six of his seven touchdowns and is averaging 7 yards per tote. And he can handle the volume to wear down opposing defenses. — Bowen
5. Tariq Woolen, CB, Seattle Seahawks
Stats: 31 tackles, 4 INTs, 8 passes defended, 1 TD, 2 fumble recoveries, 1 blocked kick
Drafted: No. 153
Why he’s here: Another Seahawk on the list here. Woolen has played every defensive snap for the Seahawks in six of the past seven games. And for a player some expected to take a little more time to get acclimated — he was a cornerback for only one full season in college — he has been calm in coverage. He consistently makes plays on the ball, intercepting or defending 20% of the targets thrown his way, per NFL Next Gen Stats. — Legwold
Going forward: Woolen has the length, physicality and instincts to excel no matter the assignment. He has a strong Defensive Rookie of the Year case, and he looks like a Pro Bowl-caliber player and a franchise building block moving forward. — Miller
6. Garrett Wilson, WR, New York Jets
Stats: 42 catches, 521 yards, 2 TDs
Drafted: No. 10
Why he’s here: A prime target in New York’s defined pass game, Wilson is a sudden mover with dynamic playmaking traits. And his recent run of production shows his ability to work all three levels of the route tree. He trails only Green Bay’s Romeo Doubs among rookie wide receivers with 4.7 yards after the catch per reception, and he has picked up 25 first downs. — Bowen
Going forward: Quarterback Zach Wilson has been inconsistent since returning from injury, but his rookie wideout is already one of his favorite targets. Garrett Wilson’s 68 targets trail only Olave among rookies (35 of which came from Zach Wilson). Finding the end zone is the next step of his development, but the yards are already coming in bunches for the Ohio State product. — Reid
7. Jack Jones, CB, New England Patriots
Stats: 24 tackles, 2 INTs, 5 passes defended, 1 TD, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery
Drafted: No. 121
Why he’s here: Who would have thought that Jones, a fourth-round draft pick, would be a seamless replacement for premier free agent J.C. Jackson in New England? Well, Patriots coach Bill Belichick, for one. Jones has been a rock star as a nickel cornerback and is the Patriots’ long-term future at the position. When teams target him in coverage, they have minus-11.9 expected points added, which trails just Gardner among rookie corners (NFL Next Gen Stats). — Miller
Going forward: It’s difficult for any rookie to earn Belichick’s trust, especially on defense, but Jones has done just that. He has been especially effective in the Patriots’ zone looks and on special teams, and his explosiveness means he will block some kicks in his career. — Legwold
8. Aidan Hutchinson, DE, Detroit Lions
Stats: 20 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 1 INT, 22 pressures
Drafted: No. 2
Why he’s here: Hutchinson has been one of the few bright spots for a defense that has struggled mightily this season, displaying tremendous effort and showcasing a knack of getting to the QB. He has made game-changing plays for Detroit, including an interception of Aaron Rodgers at the goal line on Sunday. — Reid
Going forward: Watch for more impact plays from Hutchinson versus the run and the pass. We know he can set an edge, with strong hand usage and physical play. And he’s showing development as a pass-rusher, too, with the ability to disrupt the pocket. — Bowen
9. Tyler Linderbaum, C, Baltimore Ravens
Stats: 9 starts, 93.7% pass block win rate
Drafted: No. 25
Why he’s here: Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Linderbaum is “all ball,” and it’s true through nine weeks. Baltimore is the league’s No. 2 rushing team (168.1 yards per game), thanks in part to Linderbaum’s 76.5% run block win rate (fifth among rookies). He has played all but two snaps this season (549 of 551). — Legwold
Going forward: Much like Kansas City’s Creed Humphrey did last year, Linderbaum has solidified an offensive line at center. He was considered one of the most all-around solid players in the 2022 draft class, but he’s still exceeding expectations, playing as one of the top centers in the league and potentially receiving Pro Bowl attention. — Miller
10. Drake London, WR, Atlanta Falcons
Stats: 33 catches, 369 yards, 2 TDs
Drafted: No. 8
Why he’s here: London has the 6-foot-4 physical profile to stretch the seams or isolate as a boundary target in the pass game. London leads the Falcons in routes run (187) and targets (56), but Atlanta’s lack of throwing volume has limited his total production. The Falcons are last in pass-play percentage at just 46.9% and average 22.3 pass attempts per game. So we still haven’t seen London reach his rookie ceiling in that offense. — Bowen
Going forward: The first receiver drafted this year has flashed when given opportunity, making the most of his role in a run-heavy offense. Twenty-two of his 33 catches have gone for a first down, but more volume could open up another level of his game. — Reid
Travon Walker, DE, Jacksonville Jaguars: The No. 1 overall pick in April’s draft has flashed rare physical traits, posting 2.5 sacks — including 1.5 over his past three games — an interception and 16 pressures. The Jaguars have asked a lot of him, too. Walker has dropped into coverage on 49 snaps this season. — Legwold
Devin Lloyd, ILB, Jacksonville Jaguars: Lloyd leads all rookies in tackles (69 after nine games), while also pulling down two interceptions, defending seven passes and recovering a fumble. He was tossed into the deep end right from the start after getting drafted 27th overall and hasn’t played fewer than 90% of the defensive snaps in any game. — Legwold
Charles Cross, OT, Seattle Seahawks: With fellow rookie tackle Abraham Lucas on the right side, Cross has started from Day 1 at left tackle in a resurgent offense. The ninth overall pick has played all but four of the Seahawks’ offensive snaps, and his 89.0% pass block win rate and 76.1% run block win rate both rank among the league’s top six rookies. — Legwold
Also received votes: Kyle Hamilton, George Pickens, Breece Hall, Jamaree Salyer, Jalen Pitre, Kaiir Elam, Derek Stingley Jr., Jaquan Brisker, Jordan Davis, Abraham Lucas
Which rookie is rising through nine weeks?
Legwold: Abraham Lucas, OT, Seattle Seahawks (No. 72 pick). We just talked about Cross on the left side, but Lucas has put some quality train-coming-down-the-tracks moments on the game tape on the right side. His 92.9% pass block win rate is tops among rookie tackles, second among all rookie offensive linemen (Linderbaum) and in the top 50 leaguewide. He saw more than 450 pass-block snaps in his final season at Washington State, but Lucas is now also showing a physical presence in the run game.
What is going on with the rookie quarterbacks?
Bowen: Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett — the class’ lone first-round QB — has made some poor decisions with the ball (eight interceptions), but I do see plenty of poise in the pocket. He has completed 67.9% of his passes for 962 yards and two touchdowns. And he does a good job using his mobility when necessary, scoring twice more on the ground.
The tape on New England’s Bailey Zappe shows us he can operate as a rhythm passer, delivering the ball on time. And Tennessee quarterback Malik Willis’ lack of throwing volume makes it tough to truly evaluate his progress at this point.
Which first-rounder is underperforming right now?
Miller: Treylon Burks, WR, Tennessee Titans (No. 18 pick). Selected to be the team’s replacement for A.J. Brown, Burks has yet to live up to expectations. There were struggles in training camp, and now Burks has been out with a turf toe injury since Week 5. Olave and Wilson have become go-to targets for their teams, but Burks hasn’t produced much for the Titans. He has just 10 catches for 129 yards and zero touchdowns over four games played.
Which late-rounder is overperforming right now?
Reid: Jamaree Salyer, OT, Los Angeles Chargers (No. 195). Rashawn Slater is not an easy offensive lineman to replace, but since stepping in for the injured franchise left tackle, Salyer has been outstanding. The sixth-rounder has been consistent in pass protection, posting an 89.2% pass block win rate (fifth among rookies), but he has been just as reliable as a run-blocker.
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