1st-Round Rookie Report Card Grades at NFL's Midseason Mark

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxCorrespondent INovember 9, 2022

1st-Round Rookie Report Card Grades at NFL's Midseason Mark

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    Giants Edge Kayvon Thibodeaux
    AP Photo/John Locher

    We've reached the midpoint of the 2022 NFL season, which means, of course, that it's time to fairly and definitively declare whether this year's top 32 selections are perennial stars or total busts.

    Of course, we jest.

    It's still too early grade this year's first-round picks with any finality. It takes years to accurately gauge a player at the pro level. We can, however, check in on these players' progress nine weeks into their inaugural campaigns.

    That's what we're here to do, using in-season production as our primary criteria. Factors like draft status, player health, supporting cast and general expectations will also be considered when applicable, but we're largely looking at how these rookies have performed on game days.

    Don't worry if your favorite player isn't getting high marks just yet. For the vast majority of first-round picks, nine weeks is but a small fraction of a playing career. Where does each first-round rookie stand in this progress report? Let's check in. Players are listed in draft order.

1. Travon Walker, Edge, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Travon Walker (44) spurs on his teammates before an NFL football game against the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Gary McCullough)
    AP Photo/Gary McCullough

    Taking Georgia edge-rusher Travon Walker at No. 1 overall was a risky decision by Jacksonville Jaguars general manager Trent Baalke. The 21-year-old was a one-year starter at Georgia who had just 9.5 sacks in three seasons.

    Walker got off to a fast start, with a sack and an interception in his first pro game. He's been more solid than spectacular since then, though his numbers are respectable for a first-year player.

    Through nine games, Walker has 34 tackles, 2.5 sacks, an interception and 13 quarterback pressures.

    The problem is that the Jags needed to ensure that they got a generational player with the top pick in a draft loaded with defensive talent. Walker has been a force against the run, but as an edge-rusher, he hasn't separated himself from the rest of the class just yet.

    Jaguars fans should still be happy to have Walker in the fold, but his grade has dropped a bit since our initial report card at the end of September.

    Grade: B

2. Aidan Hutchinson, Edge, Detroit Lions

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    Detroit Lions defensive end Aidan Hutchinson (97) rushes on defense at Green Bay Packers offensive tackle Yosh Nijman (73) in the first half during an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Rick Osentoski)
    AP Photo/Rick Osentoski

    To get Walker, the Jaguars passed on Michigan product Aidan Hutchinson, and fans can expect these two pass-rushers to be compared for the rest of their careers.

    The Detroit Lions were happy to scoop up the in-state defender, and you can bet that they're pleased to have landed him. The 22-year-old has been more impactful as an edge defender than Walker.

    While Hutchinson only has 20 tackles to Walker's 34, he has racked up 4.5 sacks, three tackles for loss and 14 quarterback pressures in eight games. On Sunday, he added his first career interception by picking off Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers on 4th-and-goal.

    As might be expected of a rookie, Hutchinson's bright moments have come sporadically—he's had three games with one or fewer tackles—so it's too early to call this selection a home run. However, he has shown that he's capable of being the sort of difference-maker the Lions defense needs.

    Grade: A-

3. Derek Stingley Jr., CB, Houston Texans

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    Houston Texans defensive back Derek Stingley Jr. (24) during an NFL football game against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday, October 30, 2022, in Houston. (AP Photo/Matt Patterson)
    AP Photo/Matt Patterson

    The Houston Texans continued the run on defenders at No. 3, taking LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr.

    Like Jacksonville, Houston made a bit of a gamble. Stingley was coming off a Lisfranc injury that limited him to just three games in 2021.

    The 21-year-old got up to speed quickly and was ready to start in Week 1. He has rarely come off the field, playing 98 percent of the defensive snaps in his eight appearances.

    Opposing quarterbacks have tested Stingley early and often (51 times), and the former Tigers standout has surrendered 400 yards in coverage. However, he has yet to allow a touchdown and has logged five passes defended and an interception.

    Stingley has allowed an opposing passer rating of just 78.9. That's impressive for a rookie, especially one who spent the bulk of last season watching from the sideline.

    Houston would undoubtedly love to see a few more turnovers and big pass breakups from Stingley, but he's done little to suggest that he can't be the franchise's long-term top cover corner.

    Grade: A-

4. Sauce Gardner, CB, New York Jets

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    New York Jets cornerback Sauce Gardner (1) celebrates after making an interception during the second half of an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
    AP Photo/John Minchillo

    The New York Jets made it back-to-back cornerback selections when they took Cincinnati's Sauce Gardner at No. 4. While Gardner got off to a bit of a slow start—he had allowed an opposing passer rating of 130.3 when we last graded him—he has since emerged as an early Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate.

    Gardner has tallied a league-high 13 passes defended to go with two interceptions and a spectacular 54.9 opposing passer rating. He's also emerged as a leader in New York's eighth-ranked scoring defense.

    In Week 9, the Jets lost some momentum when quarterback Zach Wilson was strip-sacked in the red zone. Gardner kept his cool and made a game-shifting interception on the ensuing Buffalo Bills drive.

    "Whenever something goes bad, a lot of people start complaining," Gardner said, per Ryan Dunleavy of the New York Post. "But you have to be the ones defensively to say: 'Let's get the ball right back. Why not us?'"

    The Jets have a budding star on their hands, and they should be thrilled with the decision to take Gardner at No. 4.

    Grade: A+

5. Kayvon Thibodeaux, Edge, New York Giants

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    New York Giants defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux (5) signals a teammate during an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, Oct. 23, 2022, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Gary McCullough)
    AP Photo/Gary McCullough

    Oregon pass-rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux was the top-ranked prospect on the Bleacher Report Scouting Department's final big board, and the New York Giants were happy to grab him at No. 5.

    However, he hasn't performed like the draft's best prospect through the first half of the year—though he did get off to a late start.

    The 21-year-old suffered a sprained MCL during the preseason and didn't make his debut until Week 3. He has since appeared in all six games for the surprising 6-2 Giants, and he has flashed on occasion.

    In a Week 6 win over the Baltimore Ravens, for example, Thibodaux logged a sack, three tackles and a forced fumble.

    Thibodeaux hasn't consistently been the disruptor New York was searching for, though. Despite playing 77 percent of the defensive snaps over his outings, the rookie has just 14 tackles, one sack and seven quarterback pressures.

    While the injury has undoubtedly played a role, the Giants likely expected to see more out of Thibodeaux by this point.

    Grade: C

6. Ikem Ekwonu, OT, Carolina Panthers

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    Carolina Panthers offensive tackle Ikem Ekwonu (79) blocks during the first half of a NFL football game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Carolina Panthers, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022 in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Joshua A. Bickel)
    AP Photo/Joshua A. Bickel

    The Carolina Panthers made Ikem Ekwonu the first offensive lineman to hear his name called in April's draft. The NC State product was the first of 49 offensive linemen to be drafted, an honor that brought with it a fair bit of pressure.

    The 22-year-old has faced that pressure admirably, starting all nine games for Carolina and playing 100 percent of the offensive snaps. The early results, however, were a bit mixed.

    According to Pro Football Focus, Ekwonu has been responsible for six penalties and three sacks allowed. On a positive note, he hasn't surrendered a sack since we last checked in on him following Week 3.

    Since experiencing a rocky start—and to be fair, his debut came against All-Pro Myles Garrett—Ekwonu has settled in nicely. Carolina can live with the occasional penalty if the rookie is keeping his quarterback clean, and he's done that since the calendar turned to October.

    In Ekwonu, the Panthers seem to have found a reliable cornerstone for the impending rebuild.

    Grade: A

7. Evan Neal, OT, New York Giants

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    New York Giants offensive tackle Evan Neal (73) talks with a teammate during warm-ups before an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, Oct. 23, 2022, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Gary McCullough)
    AP Photo/Gary McCullough

    The Giants used their second of two first-round picks on Alabama offensive tackle Evan Neal. Like Thibodeaux, the 22-year-old has experienced his fair share of growing pains.

    Neal has started seven games for the Giants and played 100 percent of the offensive snaps in five of those contests. However, he also suffered a knee injury in Week 7. When he was carted off the field against the Jacksonville Jaguars, it seemed like it could have been much worse.

    "Neal is expected to miss 3-4 weeks because of his MCL injury, per source," NFL Network's Tom Pelissero tweeted Oct. 24. "All in all, good news for the first-round pick."

    Before the injury, Neal had experienced an up-and-down campaign. He helped prop up a Giants rushing attack that has averaged 4.9 yards per carry, but he was also responsible for two penalties and five sacks surrendered, according to Pro Football Focus.

    Thus far, Neal has not been the anchor New York was hoping for.

    Grade: C-

8. Drake London, WR, Atlanta Falcons

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    Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Drake London catches a pass against the Los Angeles Chargers during the second half of a NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
    AP Photo/Butch Dill

    The Atlanta Falcons made USC's Drake London the first wide receiver off the board in April. The former Trojan got off to a hot start, catching 16 passes for 214 yards and two touchdowns in his first three games.

    However, London has cooled off considerably since then, as Atlanta has settled on a more run-oriented approach to its offense. The 21-year-old has now caught 33 passes for 369 yards and two touchdowns through nine contests.

    He has provided a passer rating of just 75.7 when targeted.

    While London's recent production hasn't been as impressive as it was early in the season, he's still making an impact. He commands defensive attention, which has helped open up the ground game. Turn on the game tape for a series or two, and you'll likely find London on the perimeter throwing a key block or two.

    Receivers, though, are largely judged on their numbers. While Atlanta should be happy to have London, the early Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate is now being overshadowed by other first-year skill players.

    Grade: B

9. Charles Cross, OT, Seattle Seahawks

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    Atlanta Falcons offensive lineman Drew Dalman is pictured during an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons, Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022, in Seattle. The Falcons won 27-23. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear)
    AP Photo/Stephen Brashear

    Like the two offensive linemen taken ahead of him, Seattle Seahawks tackle Charles Cross has had his share of ups and downs through the first nine weeks.

    Seattle selected the Mississippi State product largely because he was a pro-ready prospect who could start right away.

    "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.

    Cross has started all nine games and has played 100 percent of the offensive snaps in eight of them. He has been responsible for five penalties and four sacks allowed, according to Pro Football Focus, but he's also helped lead a Seattle ground game averaging 5.2 yards per carry (third-most in the NFL).

    While Cross hasn't been spectacular, the 6-3 Seahawks should be content with his play thus far. He and fellow rookie Abraham Lucas are anchoring a Seattle line that is finding success in the post-Russell Wilson era.

    Grade: C+

10. Garrett Wilson, WR, New York Jets

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    New York Jets wide receiver Garrett Wilson (17) during warm up before an NFL football game against the New England Patriots on Sunday, Oct. 30, 2022, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Noah K. Murray)
    AP Photo/Noah K. Murray

    Jets wideout Garrett Wilson is one of those aforementioned skill players who may be pulling away from London in the Offensive Rookie of the Year race. While Corey Davis has largely been New York's top target when healthy, Wilson has entrenched himself as a go-to receiver in his own right.

    In Sunday's shocking upset over Buffalo, the Ohio State product caught an impressive eight catches for 92 yards. On the season, he has 42 receptions for 521 yards and two touchdowns.

    Wilson has provided a passer rating of 95.3 when targeted.

    Like Gardner, the 22-year-old is making an immediate impact for a Jets team that has wildly outplayed expectations in 2022. The Jets have already won as many games this year as they did over the previous two combined.

    New York has a legitimate chance to steal the AFC East from the defending-champion Bills, and they're already on a collision course with the postseason. Wilson has been a huge part of the turnaround.

    Grade: A

11. Chris Olave, WR, New Orleans Saints

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    New Orleans Saints wide receiver Chris Olave (12) lines up during an NFL football game against the Las Vegas Raiders in New Orleans, Sunday, Oct. 30, 2022. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton)
    AP Photo/Matthew Hinton

    Chris Olave is another rookie receiver who has turned heads over the first half of 2022. The New Orleans Saints traded up to take Wilson's Ohio State teammate, and it's safe to say that they haven't been disappointed.

    Olave hasn't been as reliable as Wilson—he's provided a passer rating of only 71.3 when targeted—but he's done a fine job of filling in as a No. 1 target, as both Michael Thomas and Jarvis Landry have missed time with injuries.

    Thomas is expected to miss the rest of the season after having surgery on a dislocated toe.

    Olave experienced his own injury, missing Week 6 with a concussion. However, he's already amassed 43 receptions, 618 receiving yards and two touchdowns.

    While the Saints could use a little more consistency out of Olave, they know that they have found a legitimate playmaker who can take over contests. He and Wilson are the only two rookie pass-catchers who have already posted two 100-yard games this year.

    Grade: B+

12. Jameson Williams, WR, Detroit Lions

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    Detroit Lions' wide receiver Jameson Williams watches before an NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles in Detroit, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2022. (AP Photo/Lon Horwedel)
    AP Photo/Lon Horwedel

    Like New Orleans, the Lions traded up to grab a playmaking wide receiver in the top half of the draft. They moved all the way from No. 32 to 12 to grab Alabama standout Jameson Williams.

    Williams, who suffered a torn ACL in the national title game, has yet to make his NFL debut. The Lions are optimistic that the 21-year-old will see the field as a rookie this season, though.

    "I would say this: We really felt like he's really turned the corner over the last month," head coach Dan Campbell said last month, per ESPN's Eric Woodyard. "We feel like he's really coming on, so I would say we're pretty optimistic that he's gonna play this year."

    We're eager to see what Williams can bring to the Lions, but until he makes his debut, he remains an unknown.

    Grade: Incomplete

13. Jordan Davis, DT, Philadelphia Eagles

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    Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Jordan Davis (90) looks on during the NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys, Sunday, Oct. 16, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Christopher Szagola)
    AP Photo/Christopher Szagola

    The Philadelphia Eagles traded up to grab Georgia defensive tackle Jordan Davis, a move that could give them the heir apparent to Fletcher Cox.

    Cox has been a mainstay on Philadelphia's defensive interior for more than a decade, but Davis has the combination of size and athleticism needed to eventually replace him as a defensive centerpiece.

    "Jordan Davis is a rare prospect based on his measurables alone. There aren't many 6'6", 340-pound players period, let alone those as athletically gifted as he is," Derrik Klassen of the B/R Scouting Department wrote.

    Thus far, though, Davis has been a run-down role player who has been on the field for 33 percent of the defensive snaps. He also recently landed on injured reserve with an ankle injury.

    While Davis hasn't had the production that fans may have anticipated, he's clogged running lanes and shown flashes in limited action (14 tackles, one pass defended, one tackle for loss), providing a possible glimpse of what's to come.

    Grade: C+

14. Kyle Hamilton, S, Baltimore Ravens

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    Baltimore Ravens safety Kyle Hamilton (14) after an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Thursday, Oct. 27, 2022 in Tampa, Fla. The Ravens defeat the Buccaneers 27-22. (AP Photo/Peter Joneleit)
    AP Photo/Peter Joneleit

    The Baltimore Ravens already had a strong safety tandem in Chuck Clark and free-agent addition Marcus Williams when they entered April's draft. However, they still used the 14th overall pick on Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton.

    Unsurprisingly, the Ravens haven't rushed him into a significant role. Even though Williams landed on injured reserve with a dislocated wrist, Hamilton has remained a bit player.

    The rookie has appeared in all nine games this season, but he has played just 42 percent of the defensive snaps. On a positive note, he's been solid when on the field.

    Hamilton has logged 25 tackles, a sack, two passes defended and a forced fumble. He's allowed an opposing passer rating of only 67.4 in coverage. While the 21-year-old hasn't been the prolific game-changer he might be on a different team, that was never the expectation in Baltimore.

    Hamilton has been an above-average role player for the Ravens and could become special if and when he steps into a full-time starting role.

    Grade: B+

15. Kenyon Green, OL, Houston Texans

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    Houston Texans guard Kenyon Green (59) walks off the field at the end of the first half of an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, Oct. 9, 2022, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Gary McCullough)
    AP Photo/Gary McCullough

    The 1-6-1 Texans haven't done much well this season, but they have been able to run the football. Rookie fourth-round pick Dameon Pierce has been the star of the show, and with 678 rushing yards, he is in the Offensive Rookie of the Year conversation.

    Two nights before taking Pierce, however, Houston selected Texas A&M interior lineman Kenyon Green. He's been a big part of the picture too.

    Green made his first start in Week 2 and has started every game since. He's helped open up holes on the interior but has had some struggles with pass protection. According to Pro Football Focus, Green has been called for four penalties and has allowed two sacks.

    Despite leaving the Week 7 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders with a shoulder-pectoral injury, he returned to play 100 percent of the snaps the following week. Durability is important, and while the Texans would prefer a little more consistency in pass protection, having a reliable run-blocker who can push the line of scrimmage is a big benefit in the ground game.

    Grade: B

16. Jahan Dotson, WR, Washington Commanders

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    Washington Commanders wide receiver Jahan Dotson (1) reaches up to catch a touchdown pass in front of Dallas Cowboys cornerback Anthony Brown, rear, in the first half of a NFL football game in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, Oct. 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)
    AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth

    Washington Commanders rookie wideout Jahan Dotson got off to a fast start, with four touchdown receptions and 152 yards in his first four games. A tremendous route-runner, the Penn State product made up for his lack of archetypal size (5'11", 184 lbs) with precision.

    As a complement to Terry McLaurin and Curtis Samuel, Dotson was perfect for the Commanders.

    Unfortunately, he has been out since Week 4 with a lingering hamstring injury that he aggravated ahead of a Week 7 matchup with the Green Bay Packers.

    "Should be all right," Dotson said at the time, per Nicki Jhabvala of the Washington Post. "Just need to rest it."

    Availability is critical, and Dotson has now missed more than half of Washington's games. He's shown that he can be a difference-maker and a fine red-zone target, but the 4-5 Commanders desperately need to see him back on the field.

    Grade: B-

17. Zion Johnson, OL, Los Angeles Chargers

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    Los Angeles Chargers guard Zion Johnson (77) blocks for quarterback Justin Herbert (10) during the second half of an NFL football game against the Denver Broncos Monday, Oct. 17, 2022, in Inglewood. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
    AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

    The Los Angeles Chargers have battled injuries all season, with that of starting left tackle Rashawn Slater (biceps) being one of the most notable. Rookie guard Zion Johnson, however, has been a mainstay along the line.

    The former Boston College standout was immediately plugged in as the starting right guard and hasn't come off the field since his Week 1 debut. The 22-year-old has credited his teammates for a quick NFL transition.

    "The biggest transition is definitely mental, having to adapt and be ready at a moment's notice," Johnson said, per Hayley Elwood of the team's official website. "But you have a lot of support and people around you to help make that transition more seamless."

    Johnson's transition has been relatively seamless, and the rookie has provided some punch to the ground game while holding his own in pass protection. According to Pro Football Focus, Johnson has been responsible for three penalties and only one sack allowed.

    Though L.A. has been missing key pieces like Slater, Joey Bosa and Keenan Allen, Johnson has helped the team push to a 5-3 record.

    Grade: B+

18. Treylon Burks, WR, Tennessee Titans

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    Tennessee Titans wide receiver Treylon Burks (16) covers a kick during an NFL football game, Monday, Sept. 19, 2022, in Orchard Park, NY. (AP Photo/Matt Durisko)
    AP Photo/Matt Durisko

    While it certainly isn't the rookie's fault, Tennessee Titans receiver Treylon Burks entered the NFL with lofty expectations. The team traded starting wideout A.J. Brown for the 18th pick and used the selection on Burks.

    He has not lived up to those expectations. The rough going began in the offseason, when conditioning issues and asthma kept him out of minicamp. To his credit, though, Burks battled back to play in Week 1.

    "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."

    Unfortunately, Burks wasn't much of a difference-maker when he was on the field. In his first four games, he caught just 10 passes for 129 yards. He then landed on injured reserve with a toe injury.

    Burks should be back sooner rather than later, and the Titans have managed to go 5-3. However, his lack of reliability and availability have been glaring, especially with Brown racking up 718 yards and six touchdowns over in Philadelphia.

    Grade: D

19. Trevor Penning, OT, New Orleans Saints

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    New Orleans Saints offensive tackle Trevor Penning (70) participates in drills during training camp at their NFL football training facility in Metairie, La., Saturday, July 30, 2022. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
    AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

    Faced with a tight cap situation, the Saints were forced to let starting left tackle Terron Armstead depart in free agency. Rookie tackle Trevor Penning, taken 19th overall out of Northern Iowa, was supposed to help ease the transition along the line.

    Unfortunately, New Orleans has yet to see what Penning can provide. A torn foot ligament landed the rookie on injured reserve to start the season, and he has yet to make his NFL debut.

    The good news is that Penning may get on the field soon. He abandoned his walking boot in late October and has taken the first steps toward a return.

    "He's started with some cardio stuff on the treadmill and things of that nature," head coach Dennis Allen said, per Luke Johnson of NOLA.com. "He's progressing."

    Ideally, Penning will progress enough to play before the 3-6 Saints fall completely out of contention.

    Grade: Incomplete

20. Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett in action during an NFL football game Philadelphia Eagles, Sunday, Oct. 30, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)
    AP Photo/Derik Hamilton

    It has not been a good campaign for Pittsburgh Steelers rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett. To be fair, the Steelers aren't a good team, and the University of Pittsburgh product has been saddled with a shaky offensive line and a nonexistent running game. Still, his propensity for mistakes is troubling.

    In five games with four starts, Pickett has thrown just two touchdowns with eight interceptions. He has also lost a fumble.

    "Pickett's TD to INT ratio (2-8) is the worst by any first-round QB in the NFL in their first five career games since 2010, according to the NFL research team," Marcus Mosher of Pro Football Focus tweeted.

    It hasn't been all bad for Pickett, who has picked up nine first downs and two touchdowns with his legs while completing 67.9 percent of his passes. However, he hasn't provided the desired spark since taking over for Week 1 starter Mitch Trubisky. Unfortunately for Pickett, there isn't much margin for error.

    If the season ended today, the Steelers would hold the fourth overall pick in the 2023 draft. That means that Pittsburgh could look to go in a different direction at quarterback, as the Arizona Cardinals did in 2019 by drafting Kyler Murray a year after taking Josh Rosen in Round 1.

    Grade: D

21. Trent McDuffie, CB, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Trent McDuffie (21) plays against the Arizona Cardinals during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2022, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)
    AP Photo/Matt York

    For the most part, we've opted to give incomplete grades to players who have missed all or most of their rookie seasons because of injury. However, that's not the route we're taking with Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Trent McDuffie.

    McDuffie has only played in two games for the Chiefs, but he was in the starting lineup for Week 1. After playing 32 defensive spans in the opener, the Washington product was lost to a hamstring injury and subsequently placed on injured reserve. He made his return in Week 9 and was right back in the starting lineup.

    The fact that Kansas City, a team with championship aspirations, trusts McDuffie to start when healthy is huge. The 22-year-old's performance has been big too. He played 96 percent of the defensive snaps in his return and has been more than serviceable in coverage.

    McDuffie has allowed just one reception on four targets with a pass deflection. It's a small sample size, to be sure, but we've seen enough to give McDuffie an above-average mark. If he can stay healthy for the rest of the season, he'll have the chance to bring up his grade substantially.

    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

    The 3-6 Green Bay Packers are not playing well, and their 27th-ranked scoring offense has been particularly problematic. In hindsight, Green Bay probably should have made a better effort to find quarterback Aaron Rodgers a reliable pass-catcher in the draft.

    That's not Quay Walker's fault, however, and the 22nd overall pick out of Georgia has done his job as well as could be expected. He has started eight of nine games and been on the field for 74 percent of the defensive snaps while playing well against both the run and the pass.

    Walker has logged 62 tackles, 40 solo stops, two tackles for loss, two passes defended and two forced fumbles. He's allowed an opposing passer rating of only 72.5 while being credited with a mere three missed tackles (a 4.6 percent miss rate).

    While Green Bay has struggled against the run (4.8 yards per carry allowed), Walker has been one of the few consistent defenders on the field each week. The season isn't going as expected for the Packers, but Walker has been everything Green Bay could hope for in an off-ball linebacker.

    Grade: A

23. Kaiir Elam, CB, Buffalo Bills

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    Buffalo Bills cornerback Kaiir Elam (24) during the second half of an NFL football game against the Tennessee Titans Monday, Sept. 19, 2022, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)
    AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes

    The Buffalo Bills used a first-round pick on Florida cornerback Kaiir Elam in part to help replace star Tre'Davious White, who suffered a torn ACL near the end of last season. While White was activated to the 53-man roster, he did not make his debut in Week 9 as fans may have hoped.

    White should be back soon, though, and fans should hope to see a little less of Elam when he does. The 21-year-old initially split time with sixth-round pick Christian Benford. However, Benford suffered a hand injury in Week 3, and Elam has started every game since, including that one.

    When we last graded Elam, he had allowed 10 receptions on 14 targets through three weeks. Since then, he's allowed 18 receptions on 25 targets, which isn't any better. While Elam has logged a pair of interceptions this season, he's allowed a completion rate of 71.8 percent and surrendered 309 yards and two touchdowns. He also suffered an ankle injury against the Jets in Week 9.

    Elam has a nose for the football (three passes defended) and a tremendous amount of upside. Ideally, though, White's impending return will allow him to step into more of a rotational role, where his rookie growing pains won't be so glaring.

    Grade: C-

24. Tyler Smith, OT, Dallas Cowboys

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    Dallas Cowboys offensive tackle Tyler Smith (73) is seen during the first half of an NFL football game against the Washington Commanders, Sunday, Oct. 2, 2022, in Arlington, Texas. Dallas won 25-10. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)
    AP Photo/Brandon Wade

    Dallas Cowboys rookie lineman Tyler Smith was thrust into an unenviable situation this season. He was supposed to start at guard, but left tackle Tyron Smith suffered an avulsion fracture in his knee before the start of the regular season.

    The younger Smith has started every game at left tackle, and the results have been mixed. He's been a powerful run-blocker, and his ability to move the line of scrimmage is impressive. However, he's also had his fair share of struggles in pass protection and with avoidable mistakes.

    According to Pro Football Focus, Smith has been responsible for four sacks allowed and a whopping seven penalties.

    He has been good enough to hold down the starting job, but the Cowboys may look to move him back to guard when and if Tyron Smith is able to return.

    "We'll see what the future holds," offensive line coach Joe Philbin said, per Layten Praytor of the team's official website. "Kind of cross that bridge when we get there."

    It's been anything but a flawless campaign for Smith, but the 21-year-old deserves a little extra credit for stepping into a tough role unexpectedly and providing mostly solid play.

    Grade: B-

25. Tyler Linderbaum, C, Baltimore Ravens

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    Baltimore Ravens center Tyler Linderbaum (64) looks on during pre-game warm-ups before a NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2022, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Terrance Williams)
    AP Photo/Terrance Williams

    Baltimore found the perfect marriage of need and opportunity with the 25th overall selection. The Ravens needed a new starting center after losing Bradley Bozeman in free agency, and they found one by taking Iowa's Tyler Linderbaum.

    Linderbaum dealt with a foot injury in training camp but returned to start in Week 1. He has played 100 percent of the offensive snaps in eight of nine games this season, playing "only" 97 percent of the snaps against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 5.

    The former Hawkeye has helped spark Baltimore's running game, which averages an NFL-best 5.5 yards per carry. However, he's had a few lapses since we last graded him.

    Through the first three weeks, Linderbaum hadn't allowed a sack or been flagged. In the six weeks since, he's been responsible for three penalties and two sacks surrendered, according to Pro Football Focus.

    Overall, though, the Ravens have to be happy. Linderbaum is durable, physical, athletic and can move the line at the point of attack. He's perfect for Baltimore's run-based offense, and he should be a Ravens mainstay for the foreseeable future.

    Grade: B+

26. Jermaine Johnson II, Edge, New York Jets

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    New York Jets defensive end Jermaine Johnson celebrates a sack against the Pittsburgh Steelers during an NFL football game at Acrisure Stadium, Sunday, Oct. 2, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Penn. (Winslow Townson/AP Images for Panini)
    Winslow Townson/AP Images for Panini

    The Jets traded back into the first round in order to make a third opening-night selection, grabbing Florida State pass-rusher Jermaine Johnson II in the process. While Johnson hasn't stood out as much as Gardner, he's still had an impact on a solid and improving New York defense.

    After ranking dead last in both yards and points allowed last season, the Jets rank seventh and eighth in those categories, respectively.

    The 23-year-old pass-rusher hasn't been a big-time contributor for the Jets, but he has made a few splash plays. An ankle injury kept him out of Weeks 6-8, and he's only played 29 percent of the defensive snaps when healthy. However, he has logged sacks in two of his last three appearances.

    In the Week 9 win over Buffalo, Johnson logged a sack, a quarterback hit and a tackle for loss. In all, he has 13 tackles, 2.5 sacks and three quarterback pressures on the season.

    Johnson isn't going to keep opposing line coaches up at night, but he's fared well in a limited rotational role.

    Grade: C+

27. Devin Lloyd, LB, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Devin Lloyd (33) celebrates near the end of an NFL football game against the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Gary McCullough)
    AP Photo/Gary McCullough

    Jaguars linebacker Devin Lloyd might not have commanded as much attention as future teammate Walker heading into the draft. However, the Utah product has been just as impactful in the first half of the season.

    The 24-year-old battled a hamstring injury in camp but was ready for Week 1 and even went on to be named Defensive Rookie of the Month for September.

    Lloyd got off to a fast start, and he's continued to make game-changing plays throughout the season. In Sunday's win over the Raiders, his game-sealing fumble recovery (really, an intercepted lateral) put the game on ice in the closing seconds.

    In all, Lloyd has racked up a remarkable 69 tackles, 34 solo stops, two interceptions and a fumble recovery. Keeping him from receiving an "A" grade is the fact that he's allowed 346 yards and two touchdowns in coverage.

    He needs to improve on his coverage skills, but as an off-ball chase-and-tackle linebacker, he's been great for Jacksonville's 10th-ranked scoring defense.

    Grade: B+

28. Devonte Wyatt, DT, Green Bay Packers

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    Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Devonte Wyatt (95) battles for the position with New England Patriots offensive tackle Isaiah Wynn (76) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 2, 2022, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski)
    AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski

    In hindsight, the Packers should have used a first-round pick on a receiver, perhaps packaging both selections to go up and get a difference-maker like Olave or Wilson. By No. 28, however, all of the top receivers were off the board. Green Bay took the next wideout, Christian Watson, with the 34th overall selection.

    Regardless of how the board fell, the organization can't be thrilled with its return on defensive tackle Devonte Wyatt. The Georgia product has barely seen the field, playing a mere 67 snaps over the team's nine games.

    Now, Green Bay has established veterans like Kenny Clark, Jarran Reed and Dean Lowry on the defensive line, so Wyatt's lack of usage isn't shocking. However, it's still disappointing, especially since the defense has struggled so mightily against the run.

    The Packers need a spark up front, and Wyatt hasn't been able to provide it. He's logged a mere six tackles and a batted pass while playing no more than 12 defensive snaps in any of his eight appearances. Wyatt can't force himself onto the field, of course, but he hasn't shown enough to entice Green Bay to play him either.

    Grade: D

29. Cole Strange, OL, New England Patriots

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    New England Patriots guard Cole Strange (69) takes the field for the second half of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Phil Pavely)
    AP Photo/Phil Pavely

    The New England Patriots made arguably the most surprising pick of Round 1 when they called on Chattanooga product Cole Strange, the 98th-ranked prospect on the B/R board. While Strange has started every game this season, he hasn't performed consistently.

    When we last graded him, he was looking like a smart pickup by the Patriots. He had allowed just a single sack through three weeks and didn't appear to be in over his head against NFL competition. He's struggled since, though, racking up four penalties and another three sacks surrendered, according to Pro Football Focus.

    Strange was pulled from the game in Week 8 and again in Week 9.

    "I think Cole's a good player, and he's going to be a better player as he gains experience and learns how to play in the league," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said of Strange's benching, per Zack Cox of NESN.

    Indeed, Strange will get opportunities to rebound. However, he may also have hit his rookie wall and be on his way toward being yet another underwhelming first-round selection by Belichick. Isaiah Wynn (2018) and Mac Jones (2021) are the only other Patriots first-rounders still on the roster.

    Grade: C-

30. George Karlaftis, Edge, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Kansas City Chiefs defensive end George Karlaftis (56) during an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Oct. 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)
    AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez

    It looked like the Chiefs may have landed a steal when they grabbed George Karlaftis with the 30th overall pick. The Purdue product was the eighth-ranked player on the final B/R board and was widely considered a top pass-rushing prospect.

    The 21-year-old isn't looking like a steal just yet, however, as his overall numbers are mediocre. Karlaftis has started all eight games and played 71 percent of the defensive snaps but has logged just 16 tackles and a half-sack.

    Raw numbers don't tell the whole story, though, as he has regularly impacted passing plays without getting to the quarterback. He's batted three passes while producing 11 quarterback pressures and four QB hits. Karlaftis can be a disruptive player, even if that doesn't show up on the stat sheet.

    Ideally, he will figure out how to make plays with more consistency down the stretch. The rookie simply needs to learn how to finish. If he starts hitting home, Karlaftis can dramatically improve his grade by season's end.

    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

    Former Michigan safety Daxton Hill hasn't carved out a role in the Cincinnati Bengals defense despite his athletic upside and ability to play multiple positions.

    Hill was thrust into action for 20 snaps against the Cleveland Browns in Week 8 after cornerbacks Chidobe Awuzie (ACL) and Tre Flowers (hamstring) went down with injuries. Awuzie has since landed on injured reserve. Aside from that game, though, Hill has not played more than six defensive snaps in a contest.

    On a positive note, he has only been targeted once in coverage and allowed a completion for only two yards. He has just three tackles, though, and exited Sunday's win over Carolina with a shoulder injury.

    While Hill has seen extensive special teams work (111 snaps), this isn't the role that fans likely envisioned when he was selected. The fact that defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo can't find a spot for the 22-year-old is disappointing, though to be fair, the Bengals rank a respectable 13th in passing yards allowed without much of his help.

    Cincinnati appears to be taking things slowly with its rookie, and while we've seen nothing special from Hill, the best is probably yet to come.

    Grade: C

32. Lewis Cine, S, Minnesota Vikings

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    Minnesota Vikings safety Lewis Cine warms up before an NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Monday, Sept. 19, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
    AP Photo/Matt Rourke

    It's been a disappointing start for Vikings safety Lewis Cine. The Georgia product suffered a knee injury during the preseason and didn't make his debut until Week 2. Once he finally saw the field, he didn't see it often or for long.

    Cine played two defensive snaps in three games, primarily seeing action on special teams. Then he landed on injured reserve. The 23-year-old suffered what appears to be a season-ending leg injury in a Week 4 London game against the Saints and did not immediately return to the U.S. with his team.

    "Lewis Cine underwent successful surgery today to repair the compound fracture he suffered during Sunday’s game," the Vikings said in a statement. "... We look forward to welcoming Lewis back to Minnesota to be around his teammates and coaches and begin the rehabilitation process with the Vikings medical staff in the very near future."

    The fact that Cine couldn't get on the field for a defense that is allowing 6.8 net yards per pass play is disappointing. However, injuries prevent us from giving him any sort of fair grade.

    Grade: Incomplete


    Advanced statistics from Pro Football Reference unless otherwise noted.

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