2022 NFL Rookie Awards from Bleacher Report Staff

NFL StaffContributor IMay 3, 2022

2022 NFL Rookie Awards from Bleacher Report Staff

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Now that the 2022 NFL draft is in the books, the newest class of rookies will soon get to work. 

    Over the past few days, our NFL experts—Gary Davenport, Maurice Moton and Brent Sobleskihave sized up each team's incoming group of rookies. Here, they'll make their early picks for awards favorites and statistical leaders.

    With only one quarterback selected within the first two rounds, you'll see a variety of nominees for Offensive Rookie of the Year. Who's in the best situation to lead the rookies in rushing? Which top prospect will look like a flop in 2022? 

    Let's go to the selections and commentary from our voters.

Most Passing Yards

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    Jeffrey McWhorter/Associated Press

    Desmond Ridder, Atlanta Falcons (2 votes)

    In a bit of a surprise, Ridder edged Kenny Pickett for the most passing yards among the rookies. Moton and Davenport voted for the former, while Sobleski picked the latter.

    Davenport explained why he chose Ridder over Pickett.

    "At first glance, Pickett feels like an easy pick here," he said. "After all, he's the only quarterback that was drafted in the first round. But Pickett wasn't my No. 1 QB or the No. 1 QB, per Bleacher Report's scouting department. Ridder was.

    "The Falcons got ridiculous value in Round 3 with Ridder. Just like Russell Wilson, who beat out Matt 'Clipboard King' Flynn in 2012, Ridder is a third-round QB who is going to beat out Marcus Mariota in Atlanta. In three years, the biggest takeaway at quarterback from this class will be 'why wasn't Ridder the first quarterback drafted?'"

    While Falcons head coach Arthur Smith plans to hand the offense over to Mariota, he didn't definitively call him the opening-week starter. 

    "As with any position, the best guy is going to play," Smith said via The Athletic's Josh Kendall. "With Marcus being the veteran, that's the way it'll go for now."

    When Smith took over as the offensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans in 2019, the team benched Mariota for Ryan Tannehill. If Mariota struggles again, Smith might demote the veteran signal-caller for Ridder, who's also mobile (he had 2,180 rushing yards and 28 touchdowns in college) and just led the Cincinnati Bearcats to the College Football Playoff.

    Over the last two years with the Las Vegas Raiders, Mariota threw only 30 passes in the regular season and dealt with injuries. Given the veteran quarterback's rust and durability issues, we could see Ridder sooner than later. 

    Others Receiving Votes: Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh Steelers (1 vote)

Most Rushing Yards

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Dameon Pierce, Houston Texans (2 votes)

    This year's rookie running back class doesn't feature a true star, which makes it difficult to predict the rushing leader at the moment. Davenport and Moton chose Pierce, while Sobleski cast his ballot for Kenneth Walker III.

    Walker could take on a heavy workload given Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll's tendency to lean on the ground attack. Carroll remains uncertain about the status of veteran running back Chris Carson, who's recovering from a December neck surgery, per Gregg Bell of The News Tribune.

    "We won't know for some time here (with Carson), and we can't predict it yet," Carroll said. "So there is a little bit of uncertainty that we are waiting on." 

    Seattle re-signed fellow tailback Rashaad Penny this offseason, but he also has a lengthy injury history, having played in only 37 out of 65 games through his four NFL seasons. Walker may be the Seahawks' most reliable running back in terms of full-season availability.

    With that said, Pierce faces little competition for the lead role in Houston. He'll battle Rex Burkhead, who led the Texans in rushing with 427 yards last year and turns 32 years old in July, along with Marlon Mack.

    Mack led the Indianapolis Colts backfield in 2018 and 2019, but he tore his Achilles early in the 2020 season and then backed up last season's rushing champion, Jonathan Taylor. The 26-year-old ball-carrier has logged only 32 carries for 127 yards over the past two seasons. 

    Pierce never had more than 106 carries in any of his four seasons at Florida, but he could see an expanded role with the Texans.

    Others Receiving Votes: Kenneth Walker III, Seattle Seahawks (1 vote)

Most Receiving Yards

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    Titans wide receiver Treylon Burks
    Titans wide receiver Treylon BurksAssociated Press

    Treylon Burks, WR, Tennessee Titans, Chris Olave, WR, New Orleans Saints, Alec Pierce, WR, Indianapolis Colts (1 vote each)

    Our experts couldn't come to a consensus here, although they all made reasonable picks. 

    Sobleski went with Pierce, a 6'3", 211-pounder who's capable of beating defensive backs downfield with his 4.41-second 40-yard dash speed. If new Colts quarterback Matt Ryan develops a stronger rapport with him than Michael Pittman Jr. early in training camp, the rookie could post big receiving numbers.

    Davenport made a smart call with Burks. The Titans acquired Robert Woods from the Los Angeles Rams this offseason, but they released Julio Jones and dealt A.J. Brown to the Philadelphia Eagles in a blockbuster draft-day deal. 

    Without Brown, who led the Titans in targets for each of the past three seasons, and Woods on the mend from a torn ACL, Burks should see plenty of looks in the passing game. 

    Moton leaned on pertinent analysis from The Athletic's Katherine Terrell for his pick, Olave.

    "The Saints are going to expect Olave to play early and often," Terrell wrote. "They feel like they are a team that can contend for the playoffs again this year if they can stay healthy, and the wide receiver cupboard was bare enough that he can get his share of catches right away." 

    Though Michael Thomas (ankle surgery) could rejoin the team after he missed the entire 2021 season, the two-time All-Pro doesn't have a strong rapport with quarterback Jameis Winston, who claimed the starting job last year.

    Even if Winston and Thomas click, the big-armed signal-caller proved he can air it out when he threw for a league-high 5,109 yards, 33 touchdowns and 30 interceptions during his final season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2019. Although the Saints were starved for pass-catchers last season, they may have two 1,100-plus-yard receivers this year, much like the 2019 Buccaneers.

Most Tackles

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    Eagles linebacker Nakobe Dean
    Eagles linebacker Nakobe DeanIcon Sportswire/Getty Images

    Troy Andersen, LB, Atlanta Falcons, Nakobe Dean, LB, Philadelphia Eagles, Christian Harris, LB, Houston Texans (1 vote each)

    This category comes down to defenders who can stay healthy and play on all three downs.

    Most mock drafters expected Dean to be a first-round pick, but that didn't happen in part because of injury concerns, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. Instead, he fell to the Eagles in the third round.

    However, Eagles executive vice president and general manager Howie Roseman isn't concerned about Dean's availability moving forward (h/t NBC Sports Philadelphia's Reuben Frank):

    "We know that people had some concerns, but Nakobe Dean is going to be on the field this week when we have rookie mini-camp. He has a pec injury that does not require surgery. He's going to be on the field this weekend. We don't anticipate missed time now. He'll come in here and take a physical, and we'll double-check all those things."

    Apparently, Davenport sides with Roseman over the draft-day chatter.

    In Andersen, Sobleski said the Falcons got a "more athletic Foyesade Oluokun." Though he questioned how much of an impact the Montana State product will have on the Falcons defense, he expects Andersen to "rack up numbers and plenty of tackles" because of his athleticism. 

    Meanwhile, Moton took a look at the Texans' depth chart and projected Harris as a Day 1 starter. 

    "Going into the draft, the Texans had a mediocre linebacker corps with Christian Kirksey, Kamu Grugier-Hill and Jalen Reeves-Maybin atop the depth chart," he said. "Harris can win a starting job and become an every-down outside linebacker this year. He’ll see additional snaps because of his pass-rushing ability."

    Whoever plays the most snaps will likely win this category.

Most Sacks

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    Noah K. Murray/Associated Press

    Kayvon Thibodeaux, Edge, New York Giants (2 votes)

    Unlike the Jacksonville Jaguars, Davenport couldn't pass up on Aidan Hutchinson, who went to the Detroit Lions at No. 2. 

    Leading up to the draft, we tended to hear more about Hutchinson's high floor than his upside. However, he's technically skilled and knows how to set up his pass-rushing moves to beat offensive linemen for four quarters. Every player needs a good coaching staff, but the Michigan product knows what he's doing with his hand usage and counter tactics. 

    Meanwhile, Sobleski gave the Giants an A-plus for selecting Thibodeaux with the fifth overall pick in his Round 1 grades.

    "Thibodeaux will now be placed in Don 'Wink' Martindale's aggressive scheme," Sobleski wrote. "He can play from a two- or three-point stance. His versatility is ideal for the system."

    Moton commented on Thibodeaux's supporting cast.

    "Opposing offensive linemen have to keep an eye on Azeez Ojulari, who recorded eight sacks as a rookie last year," he said. "Defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence will occupy blockers on the interior, and Leonard Williams will command attention as well. Thibodeaux should feast with those playmakers and big bodies around him."

    Thibodeaux may have landed in the ideal situation, which could allow him to become an immediate star.

    Others Receiving Votes: Aidan Hutchinson, Edge, Detroit Lions (1 vote)

Most Interceptions

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    Jets cornerback Ahmad Gardner
    Jets cornerback Ahmad GardnerJohn Locher/Associated Press

    Andrew Booth Jr., CB, Minnesota Vikings, Trent McDuffie, CB, Kansas City Chiefs, Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner, CB, New York Jets (1 vote each)

    In a three-way split, our voters nominated two of the top three cornerbacks selected and a second-rounder.

    Even though McDuffie had only two interceptions during his three seasons at Washington, he's an aggressive cover man, which will allow him to get his hands on several passes thrown in his direction. As the Chiefs' potential lead cornerback in place of Charvarius Ward, the Washington product should see a lot of targets in the upcoming campaign.

    Sobleski believes Booth could take cues from cornerback Patrick Peterson while starting opposite of him over Cameron Dantzler. Even if he doesn't win a starting job right away after undergoing core muscle surgery and battling a quad injury, The Athletic's Chad Graff thinks the Clemson product may still play a significant number of snaps.

    "If Booth is ready and healthy, he could be a day-one starter for the Vikings," Graff wrote. "... But Dantzler has been injury-prone, so Booth will probably get plenty of playing time at some point, even if he doesn’t win a training camp competition for a starting job."

    Booth had five interceptions during his final two seasons at Clemson, so he has the ball skills to routinely make impact plays. 

    Meanwhile, Moton placed an emphasis on Gardner's steady ball production. 

    "Gardner picked off three passes in all three of his seasons at Cincinnati," he said. "He's a confident cornerback who can bounce back from allowing a big catch and then force a turnover with his ability to track the ball."

    Gardner has the competitive makeup to handle expectations as the No. 4 overall pick and deliver with impact plays.

Biggest Flop

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    Michael Hickey/Getty Images

    Travon Walker, Edge, Jacksonville Jaguars (3 votes)

    The Jaguars started the draft with a big swing on potential by choosing Walker over Michigan edge-rusher Aidan Hutchinson.

    Sobleski hasn't bought into the hype yet.

    "In this particular case, a 'flop' should be viewed through the lens of expectations, not the caliber of play," he said. "The Jaguars chose Walker with the No. 1 overall pick knowing he's a risky investment based on his lack of production during his time at Georgia. Even the lack-of-production argument should include a qualifier because Walker was never used as a traditional edge-rusher at the collegiate level. 

    "If the Jaguars faithful and those who cover the league expect Walker to be an elite edge-defender from the onset of his career, he's going to disappoint. However, he can be a physical tone-setter who plays all over the line of scrimmage in Mike Caldwell's defensive scheme. Given time, Walker has the traits to develop into an elite edge. He just isn't that type of player right now." 

    Nearly three weeks ago, Moton made the case that Walker would be a "massive mistake" if a team selected him with a top-three pick. Suffice it to say, he doesn't approve of the Jaguars taking him in the No. 1 spot.

    The panel doesn't discount Walker's traits and potential upside, but they don't believe he'll play up the expectations of a No. 1 overall pick as a one-year starter (and rotational defensive lineman) out of college.

Surprise Star

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    Falcons running back Tyler Allgeier
    Falcons running back Tyler AllgeierRick Bowmer/Associated Press

    Tyler Allgeier, RB, Atlanta Falcons, Dameon Pierce, RB, Houston Texans, Desmond Ridder, QB, Atlanta Falcons (1 vote each)

    Davenport went deep into the fifth round to pick his surprise star in Allgeier, who's in a decent situation with Damien Williams and part-time running back/wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. The latter led the Falcons in rushing with 618 yards last season.

    Allgeier has a fair chance to usurp a 30-year-old ball-carrier who's yet to finish a season with more than 498 rushing yards and a hybrid playmaker on the depth chart.

    Moton's pick for leading rusher foreshadowed his vote here. The Texans selected Pierce in the fourth round. If he leads the 2022 class in yards on the ground, the Florida product may claim the title of biggest Day 3 steal. 

    Sobleski has an interesting take that looks at the bright side of an underwhelming quarterback group.

    "The incoming quarterback class experienced a rude awakening as this year's draft unfolded. Outside of Pittsburgh's Kenny Pickett, none of the prospects heard their name called before the third round. That's OK. NFL teams knew it was a weak overall group and didn't buy into the predraft hype. However, lowered expectations can bring greater returns. 

    Bleacher Report's scouting department graded Ridder as the class' QB1. His standing developed as a mature prospect and excellent athlete, who was asked to do the things NFL quarterbacks must do to succeed. While a little inconsistent with his mechanics and ball placement, Ridder stood tall in the pocket, stared down pressure and layered his throws. More importantly, he entered an ideal situation to unseat a bridge quarterback in Marcus Mariota. 

    Ridder can win the starting job outright in Atlanta. If or when he does, the rookie will be throwing to the likes of wideout Drake London and tight end Kyle Pitts, which is an exciting proposition."

    If Ridders wins the starting job, he could go up and down the field against defenses with Pitts and London.

Offensive Rookie of the Year

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    Saints wide receiver Chris Olave
    Saints wide receiver Chris OlaveJohn Locher/Associated Press

    Chris Olave, WR, New Orleans Saints, Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers, Desmond Ridder, QB, Atlanta Falcons (1 vote each)

    Davenport and Sobleski picked their respective passing-yards leaders to win the Offensive Rookie of the Year award, but Moton thinks a wide receiver will earn the honor for the second straight year.

    "Olave showed consistency in a prominent role at Ohio State, posting big numbers with quarterbacks Justin Fields and C.J. Stroud, so he should adjust well to the NFL," Moton said. "The Saints traded up for Olave, which suggests they plan for him to contribute immediately.

    "The Saints desperately needed receiving help last year. Olave should soak up a ton of targets and yards if new offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr. lets quarterback Jameis Winston push the ball downfield. Olave is in a position to top 1,200 yards and score double-digit touchdowns as a rookie."

    New Orleans may have to rely heavily on the passing game to start the 2022 season. The NFL could suspend running back Alvin Kamara, who's facing a felony charge of battery resulting in substantial bodily harm.

Defensive Rookie of the Year

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    Stephen Brashear/Associated Press

    Kayvon Thibodeaux, Edge, New York Giants (2 votes)

    Moton and Sobleski picked Thibodeaux to lead the 2022 rookie class in sacks, and they also expect him to win Defensive Rookie of the Year.

    But like he did the sacks category, Davenport went in another direction with Detroit Lions edge-rusher Aidan Hutchinson.

    "This pick feels lazy, but it's impossible for me not to pick Hutchinson here," he said. "He may not have Thibodeaux's athleticism or Travon Walker's mythical ceiling, but Hutchinson has shown he can produce, plays like his hair is on fire every snap and has an attitude that will make him a favorite of head coach Dan Campbell and a leader in Detroit's locker room in short order.

    "The Lions also have the talent to line up opposite Hutchinson in veteran Charles Harris (a highly underrated player) and second-round pick Josh Paschal. Hutchinson is pro-ready. He's going to hit the ground running, stuff the run to the tune of 40-plus stops, rack up 10-12 sacks and coast to Defensive Rookie of the Year."

    Arguably the most polished edge-rusher among the rookies, Hutchinson could become a high-impact defender in the Lions' front seven. They need him to play up to expectations after their defensive unit finished with the third-fewest sacks and fourth-lowest pressure rate in 2021. 

    Others Receiving Votes: Aidan Hutchinson, Edge, Detroit Lions (1 vote)

Rookie of the Year

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    Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett
    Steelers quarterback Kenny PickettGene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers, Desmond Ridder, QB, Atlanta Falcons Kayvon Thibodeaux, Edge, New York Giants (1 vote each)

    As expected, the B/R experts chose their Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year candidates to emerge as the top player in this year's draft class.

    Sobleski, who also nominated Pickett to lead the rookies in passing yards, offered more insight as to why he expects the Steelers quarterback to have an impressive rookie campaign.

    "A process of elimination can be used with this particular selection," he said. "Quarterbacks hold an edge over every other group when it comes to awards because of how the position affects the game. The Steelers are all-in with Pickett, too. Mitch Trubisky should be a speed bump along the way as the organization transitions away from the Ben Roethlisberger era.  

    "Pickett was the only quarterback to hear his name called in the first round (or second round, for that matter), and Pittsburgh has the pieces in place for the first-year signal-caller to put up numbers and experience some success. The offensive line is still somewhat of a concern, but Pickett will have running back Najee Harris, tight end Pat Freiermuth and wide receivers Chase Claypool, Diontae Johnson and fellow rookie George Pickens to do some damage."

    While on The Rich Eisen Show, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said Pickett "certainly has a chance" to start for Week 1. If the rookie signal-caller leads the huddle in the season opener, he has the supporting cast to run away with this award.


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