2022 NFL 1st-Round Draft Picks Still Working Toward Key RolesDecember 2, 2022
2022 NFL 1st-Round Draft Picks Still Working Toward Key Roles
As soon as a prospect's name is called in the NFL draft, teams, fans and media members immediately begin thinking about what impact the player might have.
Sometimes, however, the rookie year is an exercise of patience.
Maybe the player needs more time to adequately adapt to the speed or lifestyle of the NFL. Perhaps the depth chart is crowded. Injuries are a common setback, too.
Many first-round prospects from the 2022 NFL draft have made an immediate impact. But for the above reasons and more, a few rookies are still waiting for their breakout opportunity.
Jameson Williams, WR, Detroit Lions
Whenever Detroit Lions wide receiver Jameson Williams makes his NFL debut, you can probably cross him off this list. It should be only a matter of time before the Alabama product is a core piece of the Lions' receiving corps.
At Bama in 2021, Williams reeled in 79 passes for 1,572 yards—an incredibly dynamic 19.9 per catch—with 15 touchdowns. He also returned two kickoffs for scores. But his college career ended with a torn left ACL in January's national championship loss to Georgia.
The Lions understood when they took Williams with the No. 12 overall pick that he would be unavailable for most, if not all, of the 2022 season. Typical ACL recovery time is 9-12 months.
The bright side, though, is that Williams is back at practice and ramping up for his return, per Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. He'll be in the lineup soon.
Plus, next year, the Lions may need to replace DJ Chark's snaps. He'll return to free agency this offseason.
Trevor Penning, OL, New Orleans Saints
When the New Orleans Saints chose Trevor Penning with the 19th pick, they envisioned him shoring up an on offensive line needing to replacing free-agent departure Terron Armstead.
However, Penning had a rocky training camp, and he started fights in three consecutive days. He might not have opened the season as the starter anyway, but a turf toe injury sidelined Penning until Week 12 against the San Francisco 49ers.
In his debut, the Northern Iowa lineman played only six offensive snaps and one on special teams.
Penning remains the Saints' long-term plan at left tackle, but veteran James Hurst has performed well at the spot this season. Penning will likely spend most of his rookie campaign as a reserve.
Lewis Cine, S, Minnesota Vikings
Minnesota Vikings rookie safety Lewis Cine struggled to crack the depth chart early in the season. Camryn Bynum started opposite Harrison Smith, and Josh Metellus temporarily replaced Smith when the All-Pro safety sat in Week 3.
Cine, the No. 32 selection out of Georgia, played almost exclusively on special teams in his first two appearances. A gruesome injury in London then abruptly ended his season in Week 4. He underwent multiple surgeries to repair a compound fracture to his left leg.
According to Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press, Cine said doctors expect him to rehab and return in 2023.
"Next season, for sure,"’ Cine told Tomasson. "That’s for sure. … Nothing is going to keep me from playing next season, so I'll do what I got to do in rehab and come back."
Smith, Bynum and Metellus all remain under contract next season, so Cine has an uphill climb to a major role.
Jermaine Johnson II, DE, New York Jets
Three months into the 2022 season, it's clear the New York Jets crushed two of their three first-round selections. Sauce Gardner has emerged as a lockdown corner, and Garrett Wilson is a highly productive wideout.
The last piece of the puzzle is Jermaine Johnson II.
After Johnson's breakout year at Florida State, the Jets selected him with the 26th overall pick. He has held a steady role, playing between 15 and 23 snaps in all eight of his appearances. (He also missed three games with an ankle injury.)
Johnson has produced in that limited action, recording 17 tackles and 2.5 sacks. But he's still trying to earn a more substantive role ahead as the main contributor opposite Carl Lawson.
Dax Hill, S, Cincinnati Bengals
Through 11 games, the Cincinnati Bengals safeties Jessie Bates III and Vonn Bell are logging just about every snap possible. That has relegated No. 31 overall pick Dax Hill to only 54 defensive snaps.
Hill is still contributing as a regular on special teams (120 snaps). Although he has only three tackles on the season, he also sits in front of veteran Michael Thomas as the Bengals' top backup at safety.
That situation may change dramatically this offseason, though.
Bates is playing under the franchise tag, and Bell is set to become an unrestricted free agent. If either Bates or Bell leaves, Cincinnati will likely plug Hill in as the replacement.
Devonte Wyatt, DT, Green Bay Packers
In the first round, the Green Bay Packers snagged a pair of defenders from Georgia. While linebacker Quay Walker has locked down a featured job, defensive tackle Devonte Wyatt's role has room to grow.
Not only are Kenny Clark and Jarran Reed the Packers' starting defensive tackles, but they're regularly handling 70-plus percent of snaps. Second-year player Tedarrell Slaton is the main backup with a 31 percent share, leaving only 15 percent of snaps for Wyatt in his rookie year.
Wyatt has registered nine tackles and one pass defense in that limited action for the floundering Packers.
Clark and Slaton are likely to return to Green Bay in 2023, but Reed—who signed a one-year contract this past offseason—has probably earned a raise that the Packers can't afford. If he leaves in free agency, Wyatt may be battling Slaton for a first-string nod next year.