Buying or Selling Latest Buzz on 2022 NFL Rookies

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxCorrespondent IJuly 28, 2022

Buying or Selling Latest Buzz on 2022 NFL Rookies

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    2022 NFL training camp season is officially underway! The majority of teams had veterans report on Tuesday, which means that padded practices are on the horizon and the preseason isn't far away.

    The Hall of Fame Game, which kicks off the exhibition action, is set for Thursday, August 4.

    In the coming weeks, we'll learn a lot more about how teams are stacking up ahead of the regular season. Even now, though, there's plenty to ponder. Teams have held organized team activities (OTAs), and minicamps and many had rookies report to camp early—a full list of report dates can be found here.

    Today, we'll focus on some of those rookies, examining the latest buzz and the biggest standouts at the start of camp. Who's standing out? What are teammates, coaches and team insiders saying? Do we buy the latest rumblings? Let's dive in.

Travon Walker Looking the Part of a No. 1 Pick in Jaguars Camp

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    We'll kick off our list with a look at the No. 1 overall pick in April's draft, edge-rusher Travon Walker. The Jacksonville Jaguars raised a few eyebrows when they took the athletically-gifted but relatively raw Georgia product with the top pick.

    Walker was a five-star recruit entering college but didn't become a full-time starter until his final season. So far this offseason, though, he has impressed teammates and generated buzz on the practice field.

    "Outside linebacker Josh Allen spoke after practice and continued to praise No. 1 overall selection Travon Walker's work ethic and ability," J.P. Shadrick of the team's official website wrote. "Walker certainly looks the part so far, but I'm really excited to see him in pads for the first time over the weekend."

    As Shadrick noted, things will get very interesting once Walker gets into pads and starts taking live reps. That's where the struggles could begin.

    Walker blew away the scouting combine—running a 4.51-seccond 40-yard dash at 6'5" and 272 pounds. However, his attributes didn't consistently translate to the field at Georgia. Walker was a rotational lineman for most of his college career, and he finished it with only 9.5 sacks.

    Looking good in shorts and having a strong work ethic is great, but Walker still has a lot of developing to do. No. 1 overall picks are expected to be stars right away, and for Walker, it's likely going to take some time.

    Verdict: Sell

Trent McDuffie Will Be a Major Chiefs Contributor as a Rookie

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    While Walker may not be poised to dominate out of the gate, the Kansas City Chiefs are expecting big things from rookie first-round pick Trent McDuffie. The former Washington corner recently discussed the multiple roles he's filled this offseason.

    "I'm all over the place,” McDuffie told reporters, "Inside, outside, wherever the coaches need me. I tell them wherever you need me to play I'm going to do my best to make sure I'm ready for my opportunity."

    ESPN's Adam Teicher believes that McDuffie will emerge from camp as a star and pointed to the rookie's strong offseason performances as the reason why.

    "The Chiefs asked a lot of McDuffie in offseason practice as he worked at both outside cornerback and in slot coverage," Teicher wrote. "He handled it all well, leaving the Chiefs encouraged he could have a big rookie season. McDuffie looked more like a veteran as he was rarely caught out of position."

    McDuffie was a playmaker at Washington, notching six passes defended, four tackles for loss and a sack last season. He was also the 16th-ranked prospect on the final Bleacher Report Scouting Department big board and was listed as the draft's "most versatile" corner.

    The Chiefs, who lost starter Charvarius Ward in free agency, can give McDuffie plenty of early opportunities. We have no reason to believe that the rookie isn't equipped to take full advantage.

    Verdict: Buy

Chigoziem Okonkwo Can Be a Weapon for the Tennessee Titans

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    Fans won't typically get too excited about a fourth-round tight end, but Maryland product Chigoziem Okonkwo could give Tennessee Titans fans a few thrills during camp and the preseason.

    According to quarterback Ryan Tannehill, Okonkwo has been spectacular in early offseason workouts and could be a significant contributor as a rookie.

    "Just physically," Tannehill said, per ESPN's Turron Davenport. "To see his size, his strength, his speed, how he's able to play through contact, he definitely gives us another weapon."

    While the Titans did add a quality receiving tight end in Austin Hooper this offseason, Okonkwo can make his mark on the offense. While Okonkwo didn't produce eye-popping numbers at Maryland—he had 447 yards and five touchdowns last season—he's a versatile player with physical upside.

    At 6'2" and 238 pounds and with 4.52 speed, Okonkwo can be a size-speed mismatch against safeties and linebackers. According to Devenport, Okonkwo has lined up "across the formation" this offseason.

    By moving Okonkwo to different spots, the Titans will be able to find those mismatches, especially in two-tight-end sets with Hooper and alongside wideouts Treylon Burks and Robert Woods.

    Expect Okonkwo to be a big piece of the passing puzzle as Tennessee moves on from former No. 1 receiver A.J. Brown.

    Verdict: Buy

Treylon Burks' Conditioning Won't Be an Issue in Titans Camp

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    Burks is expected to replace Brown as Tennessee's new No. 1 receiver. One potential problem with that is the rookie's reported history of poor conditioning. Burks is also dealing with asthma, but conditioning issues may have played a role in him being limited most of the offseason.

    "I’m assuming he didn’t go in there in great shape," Burks' Arkansas coach Sam Pittman told 104.5 The Zone (h/t Mike Moraitis of Titan Wire). "It's the same way when he was a sophomore,” Pittman said. "He wasn't in good shape, he couldn't last practice and all. And it's not that he just quit, he just couldn't do it anymore."

    According to head coach Mike Vrabel, the Titans don't envision Burks' conditioning being a camp issue.

    "I don't foresee anything," Vrabel said, per John Glennon of FanNation. "But things can always come up."

    ESPN's Dianna Russini also noted that the buzz on Burks has been positive.

    "I've heard he’s in shape, I've heard he's lost weight. I've heard there's been so much growth already. And this is from an organization that doesn't like to share," Russini said on The Athletic Football Show.

    Here's the thing, though. If the Titans don't like to share, why are they so eager to praise their first-round pick? The reality is that while Burks did pass a conditioning test, he probably isn't where he should be in terms of playing shape.

    Let's not forget that Burks missed all of minicamp only a month ago.

    This doesn't mean that Burks won't still have a great rookie campaign. He could. However, it's hard to believe that Burks is where he would be had he been in shape and practicing all offseason.

    Verdict: Sell

New York Giants Tight End Daniel Bellinger Was Underutilized in College

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    Like the Titans, the New York Giants could get early contributions from a rookie tight end this season. That rookie, fourth-round pick Daniel Bellinger, may play a much bigger role than he ever did in college.

    Last season at San Diego State, Bellinger caught just 31 passes for 357 yards and two touchdowns. However, his low production may have been due to a lack of opportunities and not a lack of talent.

    "The rookie fourth-round pick got plenty of opportunities with the first team this spring and caught the ball well," ESPN's Jordan Raanan wrote. "It seems likely, given his hands and the way he was moving at OTAs and minicamp, he was underutilized at San Diego State."

    We can buy the idea, based on Bellinger's measurables—clocking a 4.63-second 40-yard dash and a 34-inch vertical at 6'5" and 253 pounds—and his performances in offseason workouts.

    The problem right now is that Bellinger heads into camp on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list due to a quad injury. If the rookie can return to the practice field soon, though, he should be able to earn a significant offensive role.

    Ricky Seals-Jones and Jordan Akins are serviceable tight ends, but neither has been a high-level starter. Bellinger has all the tools needed to become the sort of big-play threat that Dawson Knox became for the Buffalo Bills under Giants head coach Brian Daboll.

    Verdict: Buy

Nik Bonitto Can Get on the Field Early for Denver

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    The Denver Broncos scooped up pass-rusher Randy Gregory after he reversed course with the Cowboys in free agency. He and Bradley Chubb should form one of the AFC's better pass-rushing duos, but that doesn't mean that Denver won't ways to get rookie second-round pick Nik Bonitto on the field.

    ESPN's Jeff Legwold believes that Bonitto will see early playing time, based on the buzz he's already generated this offseason.

    "During the team's offseason program, Bonitto showed an explosive first step with an already mature variety of pass-rush moves. That is the recipe for a pass-rusher to contribute quickly," Legwold wrote.

    Bonitto has a tremendous athletic profile—he recorded a 4.54-second 40-yard dash at 6'3" and 248 pounds—and is coming off a seven-sack campaign at Oklahoma. With an advanced repertoire of moves, there's little reason to think that Bonitto won't make an impact as a rookie.

    Having the third piece in the pass-rushing rotation is always a bonus, and it's worth noting that Gregory has appeared in only 22 regular-season games over the past three years due to suspension (violation of the league's drug policy) and a 2021 calf injury.

    Bonitto will be a valuable piece of insurance, and fans should expect to see him on the field early and often in 2022.

    Verdict: Buy

Kenny Pickett's Lack of Arm Strength Will Be Detriment If He Starts for the Steelers

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers are set to have one of the most anticipated camp battles. Longtime starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has retired, and the Steelers must choose among Mitch Trubisky, Mason Rudolph and rookie first-round pick Kenny Pickett to be the Week 1 starter.

    One rival executive believes Pickett's subpar arm strength will be a problem if the rookie starts in 2022.

    "My biggest concern is he doesn’t have a strong arm," the unnamed executive said, per Matt Lombardo of Heavy. "He has a nice sense of timing, is fairly accurate and has decent mobility. If he starts, the Steelers better be sure his supporting staff can carry him."

    Pickett is a rookie, so yes, the Steelers should surround him with a strong supporting cast. However, his arm strength won't be a fatal flaw.

    Roethlisberger's arm strength was lackluster in 2021, and the Steelers still made the postseason. Rival Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow doesn't have a rocket arm, but he lit up the league over the second half of last season with his vision, timing, accuracy and anticipation.

    Pickett's arm strength may limit the offense to a degree, but it won't stop him from succeeding—it certainly didn't at Pitt, where he threw for 4,319 yards and 42 touchdowns last season.

    Trubisky, who has the most NFL experience of the trio and a 29-21 starting record, appears to be the favorite to win the job. However, the Steelers will allow the process to play out over the next month-plus with a big-picture approach.

    "The depth chart will not rest on every throw," head coach Mike Tomlin said, per Chris Adamski of TribLive. "I know that (the media) will want to ask me every day and every throw, but we're going to be a little bit more steady than that."

    If Pickett is under center in Week 1, the Steelers will believe that he gives them the best chance to win now.

    Verdict: Sell

Desmond Ridder Is the Falcons' Backup Entering 2022

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    Like Pickett, Cincinnati product Desmond Ridder was selected in April's draft because he has future NFL starter potential. However, while the Steelers have been a bit vague about their quarterback plans, the Atlanta Falcons recently made things clear.

    Ridder is opening camp as the clear-cut backup behind Marcus Mariota.

    "Obviously, we've got a plan for each of them. Marcus is the starter," quarterbacks coach Charles London said following Atlanta's first practice of camp, per Josh Kendall of The Athletic. "That's how we're going into this thing."

    Are the Falcons being coy while trying to push Ridder to earn the job? Probably not. First-round quarterbacks like Pickett are generally expected to start early. Third-round quarterbacks like Ridder don't face the same expectations.

    Mariota, meanwhile, has 61 starts on his resume and experience under head coach Arthur Smith. Smith spent four years as the Titans tight ends coach and one as offensive coordinator with Mariota on the roster.

    This isn't to say that Ridder won't start at some point in 2022 or that he can't claim the job before the end of the preseason. He performed well at Cincinnati and helped lead the Bearcats to the College Football Playoff this past season.

    However, it makes perfect sense for Atlanta to spend the early days of camp preparing the more experienced and scheme-familiar quarterback for the starting job. That's the plan, according to the Falcons, and we believe them.

    Verdict: Buy


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