Grading Every 2022 1st-Round Rookie in the NFL

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxCorrespondent ISeptember 30, 2022

Grading Every 2022 1st-Round Rookie in the NFL

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    LAS VEGAS, NV - APRIL 28: Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan poses with his jersey as he is selected as the overall number two draft pick by the Detroit Lions during the NFL Draft on April 28, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Speer/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Lions rookie Aidan Hutchinson (Jeff Speer/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    We haven't seen much from every 2022 NFL rookie just yet, as we're only three full weeks into the regular season. However, we've seen enough from most to provide early grades for all 32 first-round selections.

    For this exercise, we're diving into everything that has transpired since draft night, including camp reports, injuries and roster situations, where applicable. Naturally, though, regular-season production is the dominant criteria here.

    Don't fret if your favorite team's top rookie isn't grading out well thus far. It's a long season, and many of these first-year players will go on to have lengthy careers.

    The 2022 class is in session, so let's check in! Players are listed in draft order.

1. Travon Walker, EDGE, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    LANDOVER, MARYLAND - SEPTEMBER 11: Linebacker Travon Walker #44 of the Jacksonville Jaguars returns an interception 	against the Washington Commanders at FedExField on September 11, 2022 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    It was fair to wonder if the Jacksonville Jaguars would get an instant impact from No. 1 pick Travon Walker. The Georgia product was a one-year starter in college and did not have elite production.

    "At non-quarterback positions, there has never been a first pick with only one season as a starter since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970—that is, there hadn't been until the Jaguars selected Walker," The Ringer's Ben Solak wrote. "It's not that first picks have to be experienced players—rather, it's that first picks are usually so dominant at the college level, there's no way they don't start for a couple of seasons. But that wasn't true for Walker."

    Taking Walker was a risky decision by Jaguars general manager Trent Baalke, but it's paying off. Walker logged a sack and an interception in his inaugural NFL game. Through three weeks, he has eight tackles, five solo stops, two passes defended, a sack and a pick to go with five quarterback pressures.

    The 21-year-old is an early difference-maker, which is exactly what you expect from a No. 1 overall pick.

    Grade: A

2. Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Detroit Lions

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    MINNEAPOLIS, MN - SEPTEMBER 25: Detroit Lions Defensive End Aidan Hutchinson (97) looks on before the NFL game between the Detroit Lions and the Minnesota Vikings on September 25th, 2022, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, MN. (Photo by Bailey Hillesheim/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Bailey Hillesheim/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Michigan's Aidan Hutchinson was a more prolific college player than Walker, and the Detroit Lions were happy to scoop up the in-state product with the No. 2 pick.

    Hutchinson is a tough, versatile defender who perfectly fits head coach Dan Campbell's vision for the Lions. While Hutchinson might not bite any kneecaps on gamedays, he brings an edge to Detroit's defensive front.

    In Detroit's Week 2 win over the Washington Commanders, Hutchinson had a huge performance. He logged three sacks, two tackles for loss and five solo stops. The 22-year-old played through a thigh injury in Week 3 and was less impactful in a close loss to the rival Minnesota Vikings.

    Overall, Hutchinson has been as advertised with seven tackles, three sacks and six quarterback pressures. Expect Walker and Hutchinson to spend the season in a neck-and-neck race for Defensive Rookie of the Year.

    Grade: A

3. Derek Stingley Jr., CB, Houston Texans

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    INGLEWOOD, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 19: Derek Stingley Jr. #24 of the Houston Texans stretches prior to kickoff of a preseason game against the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium on August 19, 2022 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images)
    Joe Scarnici/Getty Images

    The Houston Texans took a gamble when they made former LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. the first defensive back off the board in April. Stingley was coming off of a Lisfranc injury that limited him to only three games in 2021.

    However, the Texans were able to get Stingley up to speed in time for the regular season, and the former Tigers standout has rarely come off the field. Stingley has started all three games for Houston and has played an impressive 98 percent of the defensive snaps.

    Stingley has been all over the field, too, racking up 18 tackles, three passes defended and a sack. In coverage, he hasn't disappointed, allowing an opposing passer rating of just 78.9.

    It hasn't been all perfect, as Stingley spent much of Week 2 battling Denver Broncos receiver Courtland Sutton, who finished with seven receptions and 122 yards. However, Stingley has carried himself well overall.

    It's too early to say Houston nailed the selection or that Stingley is primed to be the next great cover corner. However, he's done nothing to discourage Houston fans and has stepped directly into the role of reliable starter.

    Grade: A-

4. Sauce Gardner, CB, New York Jets

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    EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 25: Sauce Gardner #1 of the New York Jets celebrates after the play against the Cincinnati Bengals at MetLife Stadium on September 25, 2022 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)
    Cooper Neill/Getty Images

    The New York Jets followed Houston by taking another highly touted defensive back. In New York's case, the selection was former Cincinnati star Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner.

    The Jets quickly decided that Gardner would have to earn his nickname.

    "He's Ahmad until the season starts and he makes a play," linebacker C.J. Mosley said in August, per Ryan Dunleavy of the New York Post.

    Gardner has made a few plays as a three-game starter, but he hasn't been nearly as impressive as Stingley. It's fair to point out that the rookie has gone against top receivers like Amari Cooper and Ja'Marr Chase to begin his career, but he's also allowed an underwhelming opposing passer rating of 130.3.

    Still, Gardner has played 97 percent of the defensive snaps and has been targeted only 13 times through three games, so it's not as if opposing passers are picking on him. Gardner may not be a star just yet, but there's nothing wrong with being an above-average starter as a rookie.

    Grade: B

5. Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, New York Giants

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    EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - JULY 30:  Kayvon Thibodeaux (5) New York Giants linebacker during training camp on July 30, 2022 at Quest Diagnostics Training Center in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Oregon pass-rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux was the top-ranked prospect on the Bleacher Report Scouting Department's final big board, and it felt like the New York Giants may have gotten a steal at No. 5.

    And New York may have, but we haven't seen Thibodeaux shine in games just yet. The rookie suffered a sprained MCL during the preseason and didn't make his debut until Week 3. Despite playing 58 percent of the defensive snaps in that contest, Thibodeaux failed to make a significant impact.

    One game into his career, Thibodeaux has just one tackle and one pass defended on his resume.

    The return on investment for New York has been minimal thus far, but Giants fans should see better results as the season goes on. It's worth noting that Thibodeaux impressed during training camp. The former Duck gets an average grade for now, but we expect a much different take by season's end.

    Grade: C

6. Ikem Ekwonu, OT, Carolina Panthers

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    EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 18: Ikem Ekwonu #79 of the Carolina Panthers looks on prior to the game against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium on September 18, 2022 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
    Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

    The Carolina Panthers made Ikem Ekwonu the first offensive lineman off the board in April, and they bet on the NC State product's upside. While Ekwonu has tremendous physical traits, he was not the most polished prospect in the draft.

    "Ekwonu will need to learn to harness his aggressive nature and play with better precision before reaching his full potential at tackle," Brandon Thorn of the Bleacher Report Scouting Department wrote.

    As one might expect—he started his NFL career against Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney—Ekwonu is off to a rough start. According to Pro Football Focus, he has been responsible for two penalties and three sacks allowed already this season.

    Ekwonu has been far from a complete disaster, though, and has played 100 percent of the offensive snaps. While he hasn't done the best job of keeping Baker Mayfield clean, he is in no danger of losing the starting job.

    Grade: C+

7. Evan Neal, OT, New York Giants

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    EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 18: Evan Neal #73 of the New York Giants blocks Brian Burns #53 of the Carolina Panthers at MetLife Stadium on September 18, 2022 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
    Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

    While Ekwonu has experienced his fair share of growing pains, Giants rookie tackle Evan Neal has experienced even more. Like his Panthers counterpart, Neal has played 100 percent of the offensive snaps...and that's the biggest positive we have seen through three weeks.

    According to Pro Football Focus, Neal has been responsible for one penalty and four sacks allowed through Week 3. He was absolutely embarrassed by Micah Parsons, Demarcus Lawrence and the Dallas Cowboys defense on Monday night.

    "There's no other way to call it. I can get technical with you guys [in the media] all day long, but I just gotta play better," Neal said, per Tom Rock of Newsday.

    Neal was supposed to immediately upgrade Daniel Jones' pass protection, but it's clear that he'll need some time to settle in. That's fine, as making the jump from college to the NFL is a tall order for linemen. However, Giants fans can't be particularly pleased with the line's new anchor thus far.

    Grade: D+

8. Drake London, WR, Atlanta Falcons

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    SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - SEPTEMBER 25: Drake London #5 of the Atlanta Falcons looks on during the third quarter against the Seattle Seahawks at Lumen Field on September 25, 2022 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
    Steph Chambers/Getty Images

    The Atlanta Falcons made Drake London the first wide receiver off the board in April, and there might not have been a more perfect pairing between player and team. The Falcons had a new quarterback in Marcus Mariota and had lost No. 1 receiver Calvin Ridley to an indefinite suspension for gambling on the NFL.

    London has been every bit the No. 1 receiver that Atlanta needs him to be. The USC product has caught 16 passes for 214 yards and two touchdowns while providing a passer rating of 101.1 when targeted.

    It's early in the year, but it appears London has officially supplanted tight end Kyle Pitts as the Falcons' go-to guy. The rookie has been targeted 25 times, or roughly 33 percent of Atlanta's throws this season.

    What's impressive is that opponents largely know the ball is either going to London or Pitts (18 targets) and still can't completely contain the former Trojan. London should be considered the early front-runner for Offensive Rookie of the Year.

    Grade: A+

9. Charles Cross, OT, Seattle Seahawks

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    Seattle Seahawks offensive tackle Charles Cross (67) warms up before an NFL football game against the Denver Broncos, Monday, Sept. 12, 2022, in Seattle. The Seahawks beat the Broncos 17-16. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)
    AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson

    Charles Cross may have been the third offensive lineman off the board, but the Seattle Seahawks rookie has outperformed both Ekwonu and Neal through the first three weeks.

    The Mississippi State product has allowed three sacks, according to Pro Football Focus, but he has yet to pick up a penalty. Cross has also begun his NFL career playing 100 percent of the offensive snaps.

    While Cross hasn't been perfect, he's largely lived up to his billing as a pro-ready prospect.

    "Overall, Cross has a strong case for being the most polished and talented pass-blocker in the draft despite only 22 starts under his belt," Brandon Thorn of the Bleacher Report Scouting Department wrote before the draft.

    Cross has done a solid job of anchoring a line that features rookie third-round pick Abraham Lucas starting on the right side. There's room for improvement here, but Cross is already playing like an above-average left tackle.

    Grade: B

10. Garrett Wilson, WR, New York Jets

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    New York Jets wide receiver Garrett Wilson (17) warms up before an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)
    AP Photo/Adam Hunger

    The second wide receiver off the board—and the second of three Jets first-round picks—Garrett Wilson has wasted little time establishing himself as a go-to No. 1 receiver.

    The Ohio State product has quickly emerged as the top target in New York's passing offense, and he's helped the Jets field the league's fifth-ranked passing attack, despite having aged veteran Joe Flacco under center.

    Though he missed part of Week 3 with a rib injury (he eventually returned to the game), Wilson has already amassed 18 receptions, 214 yards and two touchdowns. He's been responsible for 34.8 percent of New York's total team targets (92) and leads the team in both receptions and receiving yards.

    Wilson has provided a passer rating of 97.7 when targeted, too.

    While London has been slightly more consistent than Wilson, the Jets definitely found their No. 1 receiver and a legitimate Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate when they drafted Wilson.

    Grade: A

11. Chris Olave, WR, New Orleans Saints

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    New Orleans Saints wide receiver Chris Olave (12) walks the sideline during an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, Sep. 25, 2022, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Rusty Jones)
    AP Photo/Rusty Jones

    The New Orleans Saints made it back-to-back Buckeyes receivers when they traded up to No. 11 to snag Chris Olave. While the 22-year-old hasn't quite earned the No. 1 role as Wilson has, he's been a huge piece of the passing puzzle in New Orleans.

    Despite sharing the load with Michael Thomas and Jarvis Landry, Olave has already tallied 268 yards on 17 receptions.

    Olave had a huge outing in Week 3, finishing with nine receptions and 147 yards, though it's worth noting that his production came in a game New Orleans trailed and ultimately lost.

    The only real knocks on Olave are his inability to find the end zone and a lack of chemistry with Saints quarterback Jameis Winston. Three passes intended for the rookie have been picked off, and Olave has provided a passer rating of only 49.9 when targeted.

    Still, Olave has flashed his playmaking potential, and fans should expect more consistent results as he becomes more comfortable in the offense.

    Grade: B+

12. Jameson Williams, WR, Detroit Lions

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    Detroit Lions wide receiver Jameson Williams catches a ball after an NFL football practice in Allen Park, Mich., Thursday, June 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
    AP Photo/Paul Sancya

    Like the Saints, the Lions traded up to land their next playmaking receiver. Detroit moved all the way from No. 32 to No. 12 to snag Alabama's Jameson Williams—a player with tremendous upside coming off a torn ACL.

    "Overall, Williams will be an immediate weapon for any NFL offense due to his speed and explosiveness and will walk into the league as one of its fastest and most dangerous players," Nate Tice of the Bleacher Report Scouting Department wrote.

    Williams may indeed be an instantly menacing NFL receiver once he gets onto the field. However, the 21-year-old suffered his injury in January's national title game and has yet to make his debut for Detroit.

    Grade: Incomplete

13. Jordan Davis, DT, Philadelphia Eagles

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    Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Jordan Davis (90) before an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions in Detroit, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2022. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)
    AP Photo/Duane Burleson

    The Philadelphia Eagles traded up to grab Georgia defensive tackle Jordan Davis, a decision that should pay big dividends in the future. While Davis is far from a finished product, his 6'6", 341-pound frame and tremendous strength are impossible to coach.

    "Size, strength, right? Just a big man who is still figuring out the NFL," Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni said in August, per Dave Zangaro of NBC Sports Philadelphia. "That's an ongoing process."

    Davis hasn't become an integral defender for Philadelphia just yet, though that's not a massive surprise. Fletcher Cox remains the Eagles' big man in the middle. The rookie has played just 32 percent of the defensive snaps, but he has flashed his potential when on the field.

    Through three weeks, Davis has logged four tackles, one pass defended and one quarterback pressure—solid numbers for a rotational defender playing on the interior. While Davis hasn't really stood out, he hasn't disappointed either, and fans should expect the splash plays to come as Davis' role increases.

    Grade: C+

14. Kyle Hamilton, S, Baltimore Ravens

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    Baltimore Ravens safety Kyle Hamilton (14) walks off the field following an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Sunday, Sep. 25, 2022, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Stew Milne)
    AP Photo/Stew Milne

    Did the Baltimore Ravens need to grab Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton 14th overall? With veteran Chuck Clark and free-agent acquisition Marcus Williams manning the back end of the defense, the answer is no.

    However, Hamilton is a versatile defender with a ton of upside whose selection will likely pay off in the long run. Thus far, it's been a bit up-and-down for the rookie.

    Hamilton has played on a heavy rotational basis (43 percent of the snaps) and has produced both good and bad plays. He has one pass defended and a forced fumble, but he has also allowed an opposing passer rating of 96.7 in coverage.

    The rookie was part of a blown coverage on Miami Dolphins receiver Tyreek Hill in Week 2 that helped Miami erase a 21-point fourth-quarter deficit in a comeback win. Despite having three talented safeties, the Ravens rank last in passing yards allowed.

    Hamilton has all of the tools needed to develop into a consistent playmaker, but so far, he has performed like an inexperienced rookie.

    Grade: C

15. Kenyon Green, OL, Houston Texans

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    HOUSTON, TEXAS - AUGUST 25: Kenyon Green #59 of the Houston Texans stands on the sidelines during a preseason game against the San Francisco 49ers at NRG Stadium on August 25, 2022 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)
    Logan Riely/Getty Images

    With their second first-round selection, the Texans grabbed Texas A&M interior lineman Kenyon Green. While he was a three-year starter in college, Green carried some questions about his pro-readiness into the draft.

    "Green has key foundational traits to become a longtime, high-quality starting guard in the NFL, but he needs to clean up some bad habits and polish up his footwork and hands before reaching his potential," Brandon Thorn of the B/R Scouting Department wrote.

    Perhaps unsurprisingly, Green didn't start in Week 1, though he did play 54 percent of the offensive snaps. Since then, the rookie has started and hasn't come off the field for an offensive down.

    Since earning the starting job, Green has performed like a polished pro. He has provided some pop to the ground game and hasn't been responsible for any penalties or sacks allowed, according to Pro Football Focus. While this may not be a great season for the 0-2-1 Texans, Stingley and Green will help provide a great foundation for the future.

    Grade: B+

16. Jahan Dotson, WR, Washington Commanders

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    LANDOVER, MD - SEPTEMBER 25: Washington Commanders wide receiver Jahan Dotson (1) looks on during the game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Washington Commanders on September 25, 2022 at Fedex Field in Landover, MD. (Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Commanders rookie wideout Jahan Dotson may not have the prolific receiving numbers expected from a high draft pick (nine catches, 109 yards), but his polished route-running, reliable hands and red-zone ability (three TDs) have boosted Washington's passing attack significantly.

    The hype surrounding the Penn State product began back in training camp.

    "Carson [Wentz and] the quarterbacks like throwing the ball to him," offensive coordinator Scott Turner said, per Sam Fortier of the Washington Post. "There's a lot of things we'll be able to do with him."

    Considering Dotson is a 5'11", 178-pound receiver who isn't Washington's top target—Terry McLaurin still fills that role—his contributions as a role player are rather impressive. He, McLaurin and Curtis Samuel give Washington one of the better receiving trios in the NFC.

    Grade: B+

17. Zion Johnson, OL, Los Angeles Chargers

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    Los Angeles Chargers guard Zion Johnson (77) during an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Inglewood, Calif., Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
    AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

    The Los Angeles Chargers looked to shore up their offensive interior by taking Boston College guard Zion Johnson with the 17th pick in the draft. The rookie has done exactly that since Day 1.

    "He hasn't really had a bad day since he's been here," Chargers offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said, per Omar Navarro of the team's official website. "We keep saying when he blocks people, they usually stay blocked."

    Johnson has played 100 percent of the offensive snaps thus far, and he's done so at a high level. According to Pro Football Focus, he hasn't allowed a sack or been flagged. The 22-year-old has done nothing to suggest that his reliable play through the first three weeks is a fluke.

    The only real question L.A. should have with Johnson is whether there's any possible way he could play left tackle. Starter Rashawn Slater was recently lost for the season to a torn biceps tendon. While a position switch is unlikely, Johnson did log multiple starts at left tackle in college.

    Grade: A

18. Treylon Burks, WR, Tennessee Titans

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    NASHVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 25: Treylon Burks #16 of the Tennessee Titans carries the ball past Maxx Crosby #98 of the Las Vegas Raiders during an NFL football game at Nissan Stadium on September 25, 2022 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images)
    Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

    The Tennessee Titans traded star receiver A.J. Brown to Philadelphia for the 18th pick in the draft and immediately used the selection on Arkansas product Treylon Burks. It's obviously not fair to compare Burks to Brown, but the rookie has largely disappointed since the series of draft-night events unfolded.

    Conditioning issues and asthma kept Burks out of minicamp, though the 22-year-old took accountability for not being in peak physical shape.

    "I should have taken a better attack on that," Burks said, per ESPN's Turron Davenport. "But now that I am, you can tell a big difference."

    The problem is that Burks hasn't made a big difference on the field—and he certainly hasn't been the go-to No. 1 receiver that Brown was. He's caught eight of 13 targets for 115 yards with no touchdowns while providing a passer rating of 90.2 when targeted.

    While no one (should have) expected Burks to outright replace Brown, his production pales in comparison to the other first-round rookies who have seen the field.

    Given his slow start to the offseason, though, it may take some time for Burks to change the narrative. The good news is that Burks has 14 more games to do just that as a rookie.

    Grade: C

19. Trevor Penning, OT, New Orleans Saints

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    New Orleans Saints offensive lineman Trevor Penning (70) looks to block during an NFL preseason game against the Houston Texans on Saturday, August 13, 2022, in Houston. (AP Photo/Matt Patterson)
    AP Photo/Matt Patterson

    The Saints lost longtime starting left tackle Terron Armstead to the Dolphins in free agency. Part of their solution was to use the 19th pick in the draft on former Northern Iowa offensive tackle Trevor Penning.

    Though not the most pro-ready tackle in the daft, Penning came in with an intriguing skill set.

    "Penning has ideal size with high-level power, above-average athletic ability and the demeanor to be a quality starter right away," Brandon Thorn of the B/R Scouting Department wrote. "He can become an impact starter if he can learn to play with more discipline, consistent leverage and hand placement."

    While Penning may develop into an impact starter, we haven't seen it yet. A foot ligament injury landed the rookie on injured reserve to start the season, meaning he won't be eligible to return until after Week 4.

    Grade: Incomplete

20. Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 22: Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett (8) on the field prior to the National Football League game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns on September 22, 2022, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, OH. (Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    The Pittsburgh Steelers tapped former Pittsburgh standout Kenny Pickett to be their quarterback of the future. However, Pickett couldn't wrest the starting job away from free-agent addition Mitch Trubisky in training camp and has yet to see the regular-season field.

    The good news for Steelers fans is that Pickett looked the part of a franchise quarterback during the preseason. He ended exhibition action 29-of-36 for 261 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.

    Of course, Pickett rarely faced first-team defenders or anything other than a vanilla defensive scheme. The Pittsburgh faithful have every reason to remain high on their rookie quarterback, but it's impossible to grade Pickett until we've seen him in real, meaningful action.

    Grade: Incomplete

21. Trent McDuffie, CB, Kansas City Chiefs

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    KANSAS CITY, MO - AUGUST 25: Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Trent McDuffie (21) before an NFL preseason game between the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs on August 25, 2022 at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, MO. (Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    The first of two Kansas City Chiefs first-round selections used on the defense, cornerback Trent McDuffie generated plenty of buzz during training camp.

    "[He has done a] great job," defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said, per John Dillon of Chiefs Wire. "I think he's done an outstanding job."

    Unfortunately, the momentum McDuffie built before the season didn't last long. After playing 32 defensive spans in the opener, the Washington product was lost to a hamstring injury and subsequently placed on injured reserve.

    In his debut, McDuffie was targeted twice and allowed one completion for 32 yards—not great, not a disaster.

    While we've only seen a limited amount of what McDuffie can do, Kansas City has found a cornerback it trusts to start and play a substantial role. However, we'll have to wait until McDuffie returns from injured reserve to see if he can be more than just an above-average starter in that role.

    Grade: C+

22. Quay Walker, LB, Green Bay Packers

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    Green Bay Packers linebacker Quay Walker (7) on the field prior to the start of an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2022 in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Stacy Bengs)
    AP Photo/Stacy Bengs

    Once again, the Green Bay Packers opted not to draft a wide receiver in the first round. However, this year's Packers are looking to lean on their ground game and defense—along with Aaron Rodgers, of course—and they used both of their first-round selections on defenders.

    The first of two Day 1 selections yielded Georgia linebacker Quay Walker, and the rookie wasted little time making an impact as a rotational linebacker.

    Walker has started two of three contests and played 74 percent of the defensive snaps. While he hasn't provided as many of the splash plays (interceptions, sacks) as his pass-rushing rookie brethren, Walker has been tremendous in a sideline-to-sideline role.

    The former Ute has tallied 18 tackles, a pass defended, one forced fumble and allowed an opposing passer rating of 81.2 in coverage. His Week 2 chasedown of Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields on 4th-and-goal was a thing of beauty.

    Off-ball linebackers don't regularly become stars, but Green Bay has found a good one in Walker.

    Grade: A

23. Kaiir Elam, CB, Buffalo Bills

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    MIAMI GARDENS, FL - SEPTEMBER 25: Buffalo Bills cornerback Kaiir Elam (24) during the game between the Buffalo Bills and the Miami Dolphins on September 25, 2022 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fl. (Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    The Buffalo Bills used a first-round pick on former Florida cornerback Kaiir Elam, in part, to help replace star Tre'Davious White. White suffered a torn ACL toward the end of last season and opened the year on the physically unable to perform list.

    However, White didn't claim a starting role out of the gate, instead splitting time in the opener with sixth-round pick Christian Benford.

    "They both had good training camps for us," defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said before Week 1, per Grace Heidinger of the team's official website. "We'll mix it up in the ballgame and see how things are going as the game goes on."

    The fact that Elam couldn't cleanly beat out a sixth-round rookie was concerning, as has Elam's play thus far. He has allowed 10 receptions on 14 targets and an opposing passer rating of 111.6 in coverage.

    Elam finally started in Week 3, and he may have to start moving forward, as Benford suffered a broken hand in the loss to Miami. Hopefully, he'll perform better than he has to this point.

    Grade: D+

24. Tyler Smith, OT, Dallas Cowboys

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    Dallas Cowboys offensive lineman Tyler Smith (73) warms up during the NFL football team's rookie minicamp in Frisco, Texas, Friday, May 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)
    AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth

    The plan for Dallas Cowboys rookie Tyler Smith was to start at guard in 2022. However, left tackle Tyron Smith suffered an avulsion fracture in his knee before the start of the regular season, which left the rookie playing in his stead.

    Tyler Smith has largely been impressive as the Cowboys' new anchor. Penalties have been a bit of a problem, though that's par for the course in Dallas. According to The Football Database, the Cowboys have been flagged 23 times, tied for third-most in the NFL after three weeks.

    Smith has performed admirably as a pass protector, though. According to Pro Football Focus, Smith has been responsible for three penalties but only one sack surrendered.

    Considering Smith spent much of training camp preparing to start at guard, his steady play thus far has been splendid. The Tulsa product hasn't been perfect, but Dallas has to be happy with a player it drafted to be the left tackle of the future, not the present.

    Grade: B+

25. Tyler Linderbaum, C, Baltimore Ravens

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    EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 11: Tyler Linderbaum #64 of the Baltimore Ravens in action against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium on September 11, 2022 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
    Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

    The Ravens needed a new starting center after losing Bradley Bozeman in free agency. They found one by taking Iowa's Tyler Linderbuam with the 25th pick in the draft. While Linderbaum missed part of training camp with a foot injury, he vowed to be ready for Week 1 of the regular season.

    "Obviously, it's frustrating, but that's a part of football; injuries are going to happen," Linderbaum told reporters after his debut in Baltimore's preseason finale. "I have no doubt that I'll be a full, 100 percent come Week 1."

    Linderbaum was indeed ready for Week 1, and he hasn't missed an offensive snap since. He has helped the Ravens average an impressive 5.6 yards per carry and has more than held his own in pass protection.

    According to Pro Football Focus, Linderbaum has yet to allow a sack or receive a penalty. Interior linemen don't usually generate a ton of draft buzz, but the Ravens likely landed a 10-year starter when they selected Linderbaum.

    Grade: A+

26. Jermaine Johnson II, EDGE, New York Jets

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    EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 25: Jermaine Johnson #52 of the New York Jets gets set against the Cincinnati Bengals at MetLife Stadium on September 25, 2022 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)
    Cooper Neill/Getty Images

    The Jets traded back into the first round in order to make a third Day 1 selection, grabbing former Florida State pass-rusher Jermaine Johnson II. During the offseason, it appeared that Johnson would pair with the likes of John Franklin-Myers and Quinnen Williams to give New York a ferocious pass rush.

    "He's phenomenal, bro," Williams said of Johnson in July, per Dennis Waszak Jr. of the Associated Press. "He's a very vocal guy, a very explosive guy, a very talented guy."

    However, Johnson has struggled to make a big-time impact on the Jets defense. The 23-year-old has played just 32 percent of the defensive snaps—though he has been productive in a limited role. Johnson has logged eight tackles, a half sack and one quarterback pressure, which isn't bad for a part-time player, but it's likely not what fans expected from a first-round pick.

    Johnson is a solid addition to the Jets' rotation, but he isn't poised to be an immediate star.

    Grade: C+

27. Devin Lloyd, LB, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    INGLEWOOD, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 25: Devin Lloyd #33 of the Jacksonville Jaguars runs the ball during the first half against the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium on September 25, 2022 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    The Jaguars went all-defense in the first round, and that decision is paying dividends. Jacksonville is now 2-1 and has allowed just 38 points over three games.

    While Walker has gotten much of the rookie attention, linebacker Devin Lloyd has been equally impressive for the Jags. In some ways, the Utah product has been even more impressive than the No. 1 overall pick.

    Lloyd has started all three games for Jacksonville and has played 96 percent of the defensive snaps. He didn't come off the field defensively in either Week 2 or Week 3. The 23-year-old has already tallied 24 tackles, two interceptions and a league-leading (tied) six passes defended.

    With an opposing passer rating of just 28.5, it's not unreasonable to say that Lloyd is already one of the NFL's top coverage linebackers. This is looking like a home-run selection for Jacksonville.

    Grade: A+

28. Devonte Wyatt, DT, Green Bay Packers

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    GREEN BAY, WISCONSIN - AUGUST 19: Devonte Wyatt #95 of the Green Bay Packers in action against the New Orleans Saints in the first half during a preseason game at Lambeau Field on August 19, 2022 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
    Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

    While the Packers appear to have found a defensive centerpiece in Walker, they largely don't know what they have in 28th overall pick Devonte Wyatt. The former Georgia defensive tackle has physical upside to spare.

    "Wyatt's game is defined by how well he comes off the ball. He can explode up the field to knock a lineman back, as well as rip across the line of scrimmage into a different gap," Derrik Klassen of the B/R Scouting Department wrote.

    However, Wyatt has only gotten onto the field for a total of 23 defensive snaps. He has logged a single tackle through three games.

    To be fair, Wyatt is stuck behind a talented defensive line group, one that includes defensive tackles Kenny Clark and Jarran Reed. However, the fact that the former Bulldog can barely crack the rotation is disappointing. Even worse, Wyatt saw more reps in the opener (12) than in the past two games combined (11), which doesn't suggest he'll see extensive playing time soon.

    Grade: C-

29. Cole Strange, OL, New England Patriots

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    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - AUGUST 19: Cole Strange #69 of the New England Patriots looks on after the preseason game between the New England Patriots and the Carolina Panthers at Gillette Stadium on August 19, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
    Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    The New England Patriots turned a few heads when they used the 29th overall pick on Chattanooga product Cole Strange. The 98th-ranked prospect on the B/R board, Strange was not on many folks' radar on opening night.

    However, it's looking like New England made a solid decision by snapping up Strange earlier than expected. The rookie has started all three games and has been a factor in the Patriots' 13th-ranked rushing attack.

    While Strange has allowed one sack, according to Pro Football Focus, he hasn't been flagged and at no point has appeared in over his head.

    "The rookie first-round pick was unfazed by lining up against a fierce Pittsburgh line that had generated seven sacks in Week 1," Jim McBride of the Boston Globe wrote after New England's Week 2 win. "The left guard was nonplussed as he dug in and often found himself opposite Cameron Heyward, one of the best defensive tackles the Patriots will face this season."

    Bill Belichick doesn't have the best track record of making first-round selections, but Strange may buck that trend.

    Grade: B+

30. George Karlaftis, EDGE, Kansas City Chiefs

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    KANSAS CITY, MO - SEPTEMBER 15: Kansas City Chiefs defensive end George Karlaftis (56) celebrates after a near safety in the third quarter of an NFL game between the Los Angeles Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs on September 15, 2022 at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, MO.  Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Icon Sportswire

    The Chiefs made Purdue's George Karlaftis the final pass-rusher taken in the first round. This was a tad surprising as Karlaftis, the eighth-ranked player on the final B/R board, was widely considered a top defensive prospect.

    You can bet Kansas City is thrilled Karlaftis fell to them.

    While the rookie has yet to produce a sack—and this is your reminder that sacks don't tell the whole story—Karlaftis has been a difference-maker for the new-look Kansas City defense. He has played 79 percent of the defensive snaps and logged six tackles, two passes defended, two quarterback hits and an impressive seven quarterback pressures.

    Kansas City ranks seventh in net yards per pass allowed (5.1) after ranking 26th a year ago, and Karlaftis has played a big role in the turnaround.

    Would it be nice to see Karlaftis finally notch a quarterback takedown? Sure, but the 21-year-old has done absolutely nothing to disappoint.

    Grade: B+

31. Daxton Hill, S, Cincinnati Bengals

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    Cincinnati Bengal Daxton Hill speaks at a press conference introducing him as the NFL football team's first round pick in the 2022 NFL draft Friday, April 29, 2022, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Jeff Dean)
    AP Photo/Jeff Dean

    When the Cincinnati Bengals took Michigan defensive back Daxton Hill, they got a bit of a hybrid defender who could provide depth at multiple positions.

    However, we haven't seen much of Hill at any position for Cincinnati thus far. He played just 13 defensive snaps through the first three weeks and has primarily been used on special teams.

    Now, Hill not playing at safety hasn't been a surprise. The Bengals have entrenched starters in Vonn Bell and franchise-tagged standout Jessie Bates III.

    Still, it's a bit disappointing that defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo hasn't found some sort of rotational role for the rookie. Cornerbacks Eli Apple and Chidobe Awuzie aren't exactly all-stars, and inconsistent pass defense helped lead to Cincinnati's 0-2 start—late drives delivered wins for both the Steelers and the Cowboys.

    We've seen nothing special from Hill thus far, though he'll likely see a much bigger role when and if Bates departs in the offseason.

    Grade: C

32. Lewis Cine, S, Minnesota Vikings

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    PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 19: Minnesota Vikings safety Lewis Cine (6) looks on during  game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Philadelphia Eagles on September 19, 2022 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia PA. (Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    We haven't seen a ton from Vikings safety Lewis Cine thus far, though it's not entirely the rookie's fault. The Georgia product suffered a knee injury during the preseason and didn't make his debut until Week 2.

    Still, we expect that Vikings fans have been disappointed with Cine's first impression. While he has appeared in each of the past two games, he's primarily seen time on special teams. The 22-year-old has played just one defensive snap and 30 special-teams snaps in two outings.

    Not every first-round rookie is going to get off to a fast start, of course, but the problem here is that Minnesota desperately needs Cine to be a difference-maker. The Vikings are surrendering an average of 276 passing yards per game, and starting safety Camryn Bynum has often been a liability.

    Bynum has allowed an opposing passer rating of 158.3 in coverage this season. The fact that Cine cannot get on the field defensively is a real concern.

    Grade: D

    *Advanced statistics from Pro Football Reference unless otherwise noted.


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