5 Rookies Ready To Shine During NFL Training Camps

Alex KayContributor IJuly 20, 2022

5 Rookies Ready To Shine During NFL Training Camps

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    NFL rookies have begun to report to training camps, and veterans will join them next week. It’s an exciting time for both fans and these young prospects as preparations begin for the 2022 campaign.

    Some first-year players are better positioned to shine during training camp than others. Whether they landed in an ideal spot to maximize their abilities or are too pro-ready and gifted to keep off the field, several rookies are poised to take the league by storm.

    Training camp will be the first stop in showcasing these talents. That can serve as a springboard into a dominant preseason, culminating in a memorable campaign that will set these first-year players up for sustained success.

    The following five rookies—presented in alphabetical order—are ready to emerge as superstars early in their careers.

    Rookie of the Year odds courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook.

Ahmad 'Sauce' Gardner, CB, New York Jets

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    Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner wasn't the first defender or even the first cornerback to come off the board in the 2022 draft, but the Cincinnati product is dripping with superstar potential.

    The 6’3”, 200-pound defensive back is brimming with confidence and possesses the skill set to back it up. Gardner showed plenty of playmaking skills with three interceptions in each of his three seasons as a starter for the Bearcats. He’s also a well-rounded corner, as evidenced by his top-10 Pro Football Focus grade in both coverage and run defense as a junior in 2021.

    The New York Jets worked relentlessly this offseason to improve their defense following a disappointing 2021 campaign, one in which they ranked dead last in both points and yards allowed. Gardner should serve as a key cog in this overhaul.

    Gardner appears to be a surefire starter for this revamped Gang Green defense as he gears up for his first training camp. He’s perfectly set up to excel in this role thanks to his otherworldly athleticism and immense talent while playing a position where rookies with these traits tend to thrive.

    The 21-year-old already gave a sneak peek at his abilities during minicamp, which he punctuated with a pick-six on the final day.

    While Gardner isn’t a Defensive Rookie of the Year favorite—he’s currently in a four-way tie for the sixth-best odds at +1000—the Jets cornerback will be locking down his marks and making big plays from Day 1.

Aidan Hutchinson, Edge, Detroit Lions

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    The Detroit Lions have been one of the NFL's most inept franchises over the last few decades. The tides could be changing in 2022 in part thanks to the addition of one of the most talented edge-rushing prospects to enter the league in years.

    Aidan Hutchinson may not be able to change Detroit’s fortunes all by himself, but few players will do more to bring the Lions back to relevance than this year’s No. 2 overall draft pick. After finishing a standout career at Michigan—capped off by a school-record 14-sack performance in 2021—the Plymouth native enters the league ready to dominate opposing offensive linemen.

    With incredible size at 6’7” and 264 pounds and a nonstop motor augmenting a diverse set of moves and strong instincts, Hutchinson is the complete edge-rushing package. He’s the co-favorite—alongside New York Giants pass-rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux—to win the Defensive Rookie of the Year award and will immediately begin showing why he was so hyped upon entering training camp.

    Detroit has sorely lacked the type of elite pass-rushing production that Hutchinson now brings to the table. The team notched a meager 30 sacks last year—the third-fewest leaguewide—and tallied up only 24 the prior season.

    Hutchinson was widely regarded as one of the top overall prospects in his class during the predraft process. Although the Jacksonville Jaguars ultimately elected to roll the dice on Travon Walker’s upside with the first pick, Hutchinson might have the most impact of any rookie on his team’s success in 2022.

Drake London, WR, Atlanta Falcons

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    Drake London was the first of the record-breaking six wideouts to come off the board in the top 20 of the 2022 draft. While all six have superstar potential, London stands as a cut above the rest, and he landed in a situation where he can make a massive impact from the jump.

    The No. 8 overall pick is entering training camp as the Atlanta Falcons’ projected No. 1 overall receiver. The club had a severe need for talent at the position after Calvin Ridley was suspended for at least the entire 2022 season and Russell Gage signed with the rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    London should be able to answer the call, teaming with tight end Kyle Pitts, the No. 4 overall pick in 2021, to form the nucleus of a new-look Falcons passing game.

    Atlanta's quarterback situation leaves something to be desired, as free-agent pickup Marcus Mariota and third-round rookie Desmond Ridder will vie for the starting job. There should be no shortage of volume for the USC product to capitalize on, though.

    London is one of the top candidates to win the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award. His +800 odds tie him with Treylon Burks—the wideout whom the Tennessee Titans took 10 picks after London—for the third-best on the board.

    Expect the 6’4”, 213-pounder to give plenty of glimpses at the contested catches and spectacular grabs he can make early in camp, setting him up for a fantastic first year as a pro.

Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    In a draft class largely lacking quality quarterbacks, Kenny Pickett stood out as one of the few prospects with franchise potential. The Pittsburgh Steelers capitalized on his availability at No. 20 overall, bringing in him as the potential heir to Ben Roethlisberger following the longtime veteran’s retirement this spring.

    Pickett now heads into what may be the most important training camp of his career with a real chance to earn the QB1 job. He’ll have to beat out free-agent signee Mitchell Trubisky and incumbent backup Mason Rudolph for the role, a competition that the 24-year-old is more than capable of winning.

    A familiarity with his surroundings could help Pickett as he works to win this critical battle. The Pittsburgh product spent the last four years starting for the Panthers at Acrisure Stadium (the former Heinz Field), racking up nearly 7,000 passing yards and 44 touchdown passes at home.

    While Pickett was buried on the Steelers' depth chart and mostly practiced with third-stringers during OTAs, his Offensive Rookie of the Year odds suggest an overwhelming belief that he’ll win the starting role. At +600, Pickett is the favorite to take home the hardware.

    That line could shift significantly in the coming weeks, but there’s a strong chance it moves closer to even money if Pickett lives up to his potential in camp and opens the 2022 campaign as Pittsburgh’s starter.

Kenneth Walker III, RB, Seattle Seahawks

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    The Seattle Seahawks made the decision to enter a rebuild by trading away perennial Pro Bowl quarterback Russell Wilson this offseason. While the roster now lacks a quality option under center, it did pick up a running back who can shoulder the offensive load while the team tries to unearth its next franchise signal-caller.

    With the second-round selection of Kenneth Walker III, the Seahawks added a versatile prospect with the upside of becoming one of the few true bell-cow backs in the league.

    Walker flashed that ability during his lone season at Michigan State, racking up 1,636 yards and 18 touchdowns on 263 carries. He showed great balance, burst and quickness during his short tenure with the Spartans, attributes complemented by power and toughness that will allow him to stand up to the rigors of a high-volume workload.

    The Wake Forest transfer wasn’t utilized heavily in the passing game—he caught only 13 passes for 89 yards and a score as a junior—but he displayed strong hands out of the backfield when called upon. Walker should only improve in that area as he gets more experience in the pros.

    Although Seattle does have Rashaad Penny coming back following a strong finish to the 2021 campaign, the veteran back has spent more weeks sidelined with injuries than he has been active for. If Penny goes down, Walker will be ready to take on a large share of the touches for this backfield.

    It would be a shock if the 5’9”, 211-pound back doesn’t prove himself with a big training camp to start his rookie year.

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