2022 NFL Rookies We'd Like to See More of Down the Stretch

Alex BallentineNovember 21, 2022

2022 NFL Rookies We'd Like to See More of Down the Stretch

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    Sam Williams needs more reps in a crowded Cowboys defensive end rotation.
    AP Photo/Ron Jenkins

    The 2022 NFL draft class is already making its mark in the NFL.

    Dameon Pierce is one of the league's top-ten rushers. Aidan Hutchinson is almost on a double-digit sacks pace, and Tariq Woolen is turning out to be one of the leading ball hawks in the league.

    Each of those rookies has taken on prominent roles with their respective teams. Pierce is the lead back—and one of few effective weapons—in the Texans offense. Hutchinson has started every game for the Lions and played 86 percent of the snaps entering Sunday. Woolen is a full-time starter as well.

    Evaluating some other rookies is much more difficult. Whether it's because of injuries or veterans in front of them on the depth chart, multiple first-year players haven't had the opportunity to show what they can do.

    Each of these rookies has only seen limited opportunities to showcase their talents. But with the back stretch of the season quickly approaching, we'd like to see them get their shot.

WR Velus Jones Jr., Chicago Bears

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    Chicago Bears wide receiver Velus Jones Jr. (12) runs against the Dallas Cowboys during an NFL Football game in Arlington, Texas, Saturday, Oct. 30, 2022. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)
    AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth

    It's abundantly clear that the Chicago Bears offense is still under construction in the first year of head coach Matt Eberflus.

    General manager Ryan Poles was tasked with tearing down the roster built by Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy. But that came with the tricky job of giving new offensive coordinator Luke Getsy and quarterback Justin Fields enough talent to build around.

    Thus far, the passing game leaves a lot to be desired. Fields has thrown for over 200 yards just once this season. While he's found success as a runner, the Bears offense hasn't been able to win games as a one-dimensional unit. They are 3-8 and in the middle of a four-game losing streak.

    Then you see the speed and acceleration that third-round rookie Velus Jones Jr. showed on his 55-yard kick return against the Falcons and wonder why he isn't more involved in the offense.

    Jones was among the additions they made at receiver this offseason, but his role in the offense has been non-existent. He has just five targets on the season and hasn't played more than 15 offensive snaps in a game yet.

    The Bears rely a lot on Darnell Mooney and traded for Chase Claypool on the outside. But Jones' speed and burst would make him an ideal candidate to get involved on jet sweeps, screens and the quick game.

    At this point, it's worth it to give him the opportunity and see what he does with it.

QB Desmond Ridder, Atlanta Falcons

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    CINCINNATI, OHIO - OCTOBER 23: Desmond Ridder #4 of the Atlanta Falcons warms up before the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paycor Stadium on October 23, 2022 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
    Dylan Buell/Getty Images

    The Atlanta Falcon's offense with Marcus Mariota at quarterback is just OK.

    All things considered, they have overachieved compared to what the expectations were for the team before the season. They are right in the middle of the pack in offensive expected points added per play and yards per play, per The 33rd Team

    However, Mariota's limitations have been more pronounced recently. On the heels of back-to-back losses to the Los Angeles Chargers and Carolina Panthers, head coach Arthur Smith had to dismiss any notion of a quarterback controversy brewing.

    Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported the Falcons wouldn't be moving on from Mariota unless the team is out of playoff contention.

    Technically, they took another step toward remaining in contention with a 27-24 win over the Chicago Bears. But it was on the heels of another ho-hum day from the veteran quarterback. Mariota went 13-of-20 for 131 yards and a touchdown, adding another 25 yards on the ground with a rushing touchdown.

    At this point, it's hard to see the Falcons doing anything with a playoff spot when they are so limited at quarterback. Third-round pick Desmond Ridder at least has the potential to elevate the offense.

    The quarterback has yet to see any action but brings an athletic profile to the table and was impressive during the preseason. Rapoport reported the Falcons staff likes the development they've seen in the quarterback.

    With the Falcons barely hanging on in the wild-card race and sitting a half-game behind the Bucs, it's time to see what they have in Ridder.

RB Rachaad White, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Rachaad White (29) finds running room on the edge during an NFL football game against the ,Kansas City Chiefs Sunday, Oct. 2, 2022 in Tampa, Fla. The Chiefs defeat the Buccaneers 41-31. (AP Photo/Peter Joneleit)
    AP Photo/Peter Joneleit

    We got a glimpse of what a Rachaad White-led backfield could look like in Tampa Bay, and it wasn't pretty for opposing defenses.

    The third-round pick took over as the lead back because Leonard Fournette suffered a hip injury. He responded with 105 yards on 22 carries, proving that he's a valuable traditional runner in addition to his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.

    According to PFF, he tied for the most forced missed tackles in Week 10 with five.

    White became Tampa's first 100-yard rusher since Week 1, and, most importantly for the Bucs, he was instrumental in a 21-16 win over the Seattle Seahawks.

    Adam Schefter of ESPN reported that Fournette is expected to play in the Buccaneers' Week 12 matchup with the Cleveland Browns. The team shouldn't go back to the same running back rotation, though.

    Before the Week 10 game, White had played less than 40 percent of the snaps in all but one contest. He got the start over Fournette before the injury, so this is a shift that was likely already in motion.

    However, the results of the game and White's performance should hasten the transition to White as the top back in the offense. He's the more dynamic ball-carrier right now and will only serve to keep Fournette healthy and rejuvenated for the final stretch of the season and playoffs.

Edge Sam Williams, Dallas Cowboys

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    Dallas Cowboys defensive end Sam Williams (54) in action during an NFL football game against the Washington Commanders, Sunday, Oct. 2, 2022, in Arlington. (AP Photo/Tyler Kaufman)
    AP Photo/Tyler Kaufman

    Most of the players on this list are rookies who should see more time on struggling or middling teams. Sam Williams has shown he deserves more run even while the Cowboys are in the middle of a playoff push.

    Williams was a second-round pick who was overshadowed in the draft process by the likes of Aidan Hutchinson, Kayvon Thibodeaux and Travon Walker. However, he's proven in a small sample size that he's capable of getting after quarterbacks in the NFL.

    He's tied for second among all rookies in sacks with three. The most impressive part of that is just how little he has played to this point. The Ole Miss product has logged no more than 27 percent of the snaps in all but one game thus far.

    Yet, he's made his presence felt with a 13.6 percent pressure rate on those snaps, per Sports Info Solutions.

    The Cowboys do have a talented stable of pass rushers. Obviously, Micah Parsons leads the way, but the Cowboys sacked Kirk Cousins seven times on Sunday, with Parsons and Dorance Armstrong each accounting for two, and DeMarcus Lawrence and Dante Fowler Jr. each had a sack as well.

    Williams has also dealt with a knee injury that kept him out of the lineup in Week 8 after notching two sacks in Week 7.

    It's hard to criticize the Cowboys too much, given the depth they have at the position. But Williams' potential has stood out, and many of the team's other options are either aging (in the case of Lawrence) or on one-year deals (Fowler).

TE Jelani Woods, Indianapolis Colts

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    Indianapolis Colts' Jelani Woods (80) makes a touchdown reception during the first half of an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
    AP Photo/Michael Conroy

    Jelani Woods was one of the most interesting prospects in the 2022 draft. He had limited production in three seasons with Oklahoma State before racking up 598 receiving yards and eight touchdowns in one season at Virginia.

    Then he blew up the athletic testing with a perfect 10 out of 10 relative athletic score (per Kent Lee Platte) that included a 4.61 40-yard dash at 6'7", 259 pounds.

    Tight end is a position that can have a steep learning curve in the NFL. The demands of blocking at the next level can often slow down the progression of a rookie.

    Still, Woods has found a way to make an impact when he's on the field. He has three touchdowns this season, including two in the win over the Kansas City Chiefs, which has turned out to be one of the few highlights for the Colts this season.

    A shoulder injury hobbled Woods in Week 9 and has kept him out of Weeks 10 and 11. Kylen Granson and Mo Alie-Cox each registered just one catch in a 17-16 loss to the Eagles this week.

    The Colts are showing some fight with interim head coach Jeff Saturday. They won in his debut against the Raiders and were within one point of one of the league's best teams this season.

    When Woods returns from his shoulder injury, they should see what he can do in an expanded role.

DL Devonte Wyatt, 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

    When the Green Bay Packers still had hopes of winning the NFC North and going on a Super Bowl run with Aaron Rodgers and an elite defense, it made sense that first-round pick Devonte Wyatt had to wait his turn.

    That isn't the reality surrounding the Packers anymore.

    The defense that looked so talented on paper has struggled. Injuries and underwhelming execution have the defense 15th in EPA per play, per The 33rd Team, and 21st in the defensive component of ESPN's Football Power Index, which "represents how many points above or below average a team is."

    The team is 4-7 and coming off a 10-point loss to the Tennessee Titans on Thursday Night Football that should be the dagger for the team's playoff hopes.

    Yet, Wyatt only had a career-high 15 snaps against the Titans.

    In the small sample size, Wyatt has posted a respectable 66.0 overall grade from PFF and registered eight tackles with a pass defended. Those aren't staggering numbers, but the team's veterans aren't lighting the world on fire either.

    Dean Lowry (65.2) and Jarran Reed (63.2) have been comparable by PFF's grading metrics. The difference is that the team isn't invested in them for the next four years.

    At this point, the Packers would benefit from going as young as possible and developing the defense for success in 2023. Playing Wyatt a lot more would help in that department.

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