Which 2022 NFL Rookies Will Be Immediate Matchup Nightmares?

Alex KayContributor IMay 3, 2022

Which 2022 NFL Rookies Will Be Immediate Matchup Nightmares?

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    Steve Luciano/Associated Press

    The 2022 NFL draft is in the rearview, making this the ideal time to assess which teams landed the most impactful prospects.

    While some squads drafted players for their upside and potential who aren't expected to contribute right away, others picked up pro-ready prospects who appear poised to make a strong first impression.

    Let's focus on the latter, highlighting some rookies ready to take the NFL by storm.

    Because of their combination of skills and landing in an ideal situation to maximize that talent, these players will be matchup nightmares for opponents to deal with during the 2022 campaign.

Skyy Moore, WR, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Skyy Moore is a star in the making.

    The Western Michigan wideout wasn't selected until the third round, but he's still a great bet to emerge as one of the top rookies at his position.

    Moore's selection by the Kansas City Chiefs is a major reason for this projected production. He's joining a passing attack led by quarterback Patrick Mahomes that has ranked inside the top five each of the past four seasons. It's also one that had a major hole after trading away superstar WR Tyreek Hill earlier in the offseason.

    While Moore has some big shoes to fill, he should be up to the challenge. One of the most consistent knocks on Moore during the lead-up to the draft was his slight 5'10" stature, which is the same height as Hill, but he'll be able to overcome that limitation easily with his pace, power and catching ability.

    The Broncos product may not be nearly fast as Hill—his 4.41 40-yard dash time didn't jump off the page like his predecessor's 4.29—but his route-running ability and toughness will make him a handful for cornerbacks to deal with.

    More importantly, Moore has been in lockstep with his quarterbacks. The wideout turns his eyes towards the signal-caller quickly out of the break, and Mahomes is the perfect passer to find him as soon as the slightest separation is created.

    It would surprising if Moore and Mahomes don't forge an instant rapport. The battery projects to be one of the more dangerous in the league next year and should result in some eye-popping numbers posted by the rookie.

Kyle Hamilton, S, Baltimore Ravens

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    Steve Luciano/Associated Press

    The Baltimore Ravens had one of the best collective drafts of any team this year.

    The crown jewel was landing Kyle Hamilton at No. 14 overall, securing a player who many analysts had at or near the very top of their big boards—including the Bleacher Report Scouting Department, which ranked him No. 7 overall—towards the middle of Round 1.

    Hamilton wasn't just the top safety in this class, but arguably one of the best prospects at the position in quite some time.

    At 6'4", 220 pounds, the Notre Dame product has elite size and length for the position. He's a hard-hitter who will light up pass-catchers over the middle of the field but is fluid and quick enough to cover anyone.

    There's still room for improvement here as well. Hamilton has a bit of work to do when it comes to his anticipation and he can look vulnerable to certain routes when he's on an island in coverage. Those are ultimately minor knocks on a player who has Pro Bowl potential in his rookie year.

    Baltimore's secondary now projects to be one of the best in the league with this addition. Hamilton rounds out a starting lineup that includes marquee free-agency pickup Marcus Williams at safety and incumbent corners Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters.

    Expect Hamilton to serve as a key piece of a secondary that has potential to rival the peak "Legion of Boom" Seattle Seahawks in their collective fearsomeness and effectiveness.

Evan Neal, OT, New York Giants

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Evan Neal was the top tackle prospect in the 2022 class and perhaps the best value selection of the entire draft despite coming off the board at No. 7 overall. He was ranked No. 2 overall on the B/R Scouting Department's final big board, a testament to Neal's incredible talents. 

    The New York Giants have to be pleased with landing a player who some felt could go as high as No. 1 overall this year with the second of their two first-round picks.

    Neal is almost certain to be a Day 1 starter on the right side, creating a formidable tandem opposite of left tackle Andrew Thomas.

    The Alabama product is one of the smoothest athletes at the position, a trait made even more impressive by his hulking size—he stands over 6'7" and tipped the scales at 337 pounds—and immense power.

    Neal notably neutralized No. 1 overall pick Travon Walker in their head-to-head matchups this past season, showing he can handle his own against top-flight competition with ease.

    The 21-year-old already plays with veteran savvy—aided by three years of starting experience in multiple offensive line spots during his time in Tuscaloosa—and should only continue to improve at the professional level.

    With his pedigree, versatility, athleticism and sheer size, Neal will have little trouble translating his game to the NFL. He's fundamentally sound and should excel in both pass protection and run blocking from the jump.

    While the Giants still need to sort out their quarterback position, a huge piece of the offensive puzzle is now in place with the selection of Neal. He'll make life much easier for whoever the team deploys under center by dominating the competition as a rookie.

Nakobe Dean, LB, Philadelphia Eagles

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    The Philadelphia Eagles got one of the true steals of the 2022 draft when they picked up Nakobe Dean at No. 83 overall.

    The Georgia star is a prototypical three-down linebacker who is built to shine in the modern era with his combination of athleticism and instincts.

    PFF's Anthony Treash called Dean the "one of the most instinctive players to come out of college in recent memory" and noted his importance to a top-notch Georgia defense.

    The Bleacher Report Scouting Department ranked Dean as the top linebacker in the class and the No. 22 overall player on their big board.

    The biggest caveat with Dean is his health. The linebacker reportedly put off shoulder surgery plus saw pectoral and knee issues come to light during the pre-draft process.

    These injury concerns are the main reason Dean didn't come off the board until the third round. The Bulldogs product is also slightly undersized for the position and may not possess the power to go head-on against some of the massive blockers he'll face in the pros.

    If healthy and full strength, the 2021 Butkus Award winner and first-team All-American will still make plays all over the field thanks to his quickness and speed. These are assets that allow him to excel even in congested space.

    Dean has also proven to be excellent on blitzes and should rack up sacks in Philadelphia's defensive scheme, adding even more value this selection.

    The Eagles had a considerable need for a talented off-ball linebacker and it's almost certain Dean will become a mainstay on the field for the club and a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate if he can stay healthy.

Jeremy Ruckert, TE, New York Jets

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    Although tight ends were far from the strength of the 2022 draft class—only one came off the board in the first two rounds—several prospects have the potential to be stars.

    Jeremy Ruckert, the No. 101 pick out of Ohio State by the New York Jets, is one.

    The Buckeyes product boasts good size (6'5", 250 lbs), above-average athleticism, solid hands and toughness as a blocker that combine to make him one of the more complete tight end prospects in this draft. While Ruckert's traits will assist him in getting on the field early, the situation he landed in will help him become the top rookie tight end in 2022.

    While this can be a tough position to make the jump from college to the pros and can often take several years to adapt to, Ruckert is in a rather unique position to make an early impact.

    According to SI.com's Connor Orr, the Buckeyes product was tasked with similar responsibilities "down to some of the minute, arc-motion-style blocking" that the San Francisco 49ers require from their tight ends. Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur spent four years working on that scheme as the Niners' passing game coordinator before being hired by Gang Green last year.

    Thanks to Ruckert's familiarity with those concepts, he should have a much easier time earning his way into the starting lineup for a squad that desperately needs a tight end with some upside. The Jets recently signed a pair of sturdy veterans in C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin to bolster the position, but neither possesses Ruckert's potential star power.

    Orr described this as a "real plug-and-play scenario" for New York, a luxury most teams do not get with their rookie tight ends.

    With quarterback Zach Wilson's potential to improve in Year 2, a promising wideout corps in Corey Davis, Elijah Moore, Braxton Berrios and first-round pick Garrett Wilson surrounding him, and a pair of proven vets to learn from, Ruckert has a real opportunity to shine out of the gate.

Rachaad White, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Thanks to the return of Tom Brady from his short-lived retirement and a veteran-laden supporting cast featuring several Pro Bowlers, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a great bet to employ the league's most dangerous passing attack this coming season.

    Those odds were further boosted after the organization selected Rachaad White at No. 91 overall. The Arizona State product was the top pass-catching back in his class and adds an immediate edge to the Bucs offense.

    White could play an Alvin Kamara-like role for the Buccaneers. He may not be as athletic as the New Orleans Saints superstar, but he's like having another wideout on the field who can also make plays as a rusher.

    The 6'0", 214-pound back emerged as a major part of the Sun Devils' offense last season, racking up 1,000 yards and 15 scores on 182 totes while adding an additional 456 yards and a score on 43 receptions.

    If White were younger—he's already 23 years old—and slightly more consistent, it's possible he could have been the first running back off the board this year.

    White still projects as an elite third-down back for the Bucs, playing a big role alongside veteran starter Leonard Fournette.

    While Tampa still has Giovani Bernard under contract, the rookie should eventually usurp the aging veteran on the depth chart and emerge as the team's go-to option on passing downs.

    There's a strong historical precedent with Brady and his pass-catching backs putting up big numbers. The future Hall of Famer has long been maximizing the talents of these types of players, displaying incredible chemistry with the likes of Kevin Faulk, Shane Vereen and James White over the years.

    White should be the next to shine in this role, tallying up tons of catches, yardage and first downs as Brady's safety valve.

Drake London, WR, Atlanta Falcons

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Drake London stood out as the top wideout in a year that was loaded with quality prospects at the position. He became the first taken when the Atlanta Falcons drafted him at No. 8 and should reward that selection with a huge rookie showing.

    London should still heavily contribute even with the team forging into the post-Matt Ryan era with Marcus Mariota and rookie Desmond Ridder competing for the starting job.

    Regardless of which signal-caller ends up winning the job, both can use their legs to extend plays and throw a quality deep ball, assets that play directly to London's strengths.

    He's a lengthy wideout with a basketball background, using his big body to seal off defensive backs while positioning himself to make contested grabs look easy.

    London landed with a club that will immediately pencil him in as its No. 1 WR, so it's no shock that the 6'4", 219-pound receiver quickly emerged as the Offensive Rookie of the Year favorite on DraftKings Sportsbook.

    In addition to London, Atlanta boasts several complementary weapons that will make its offense one of the most intriguing in the league.

    Tight end Kyle Pitts is poised for a breakout 2022 campaign and should draw plenty of defensive attention. Cordarrelle Patterson can create mismatches out of the backfield and can split out wide.

    While London is likely to command coverage from the opposition's top cornerbacks, he's talented enough to win those battles and tilt 50-50 balls heavily into his favor.

    London should have plenty of highlight-reel catches and a mountain of touchdowns on his resume by the time his first season concludes.

Aidan Hutchinson, Edge, Detroit Lions

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Although Aidan Hutchinson didn't get selected at No. 1 overall this year, the Michigan product has a fantastic shot at finishing his first year as the league's most productive rookie pass-rusher.

    Hutchinson, a Plymouth native, grew up a lifelong Detroit Lions fan and acknowledged that there weren't many great memories of the team in that span. He's hoping to change the culture, joining a squad that has been playing hard under head coach Dan Campbell but is still struggling to win games.

    That could shift in 2022 with Hutchinson wreaking havoc in opposing backfields. Detroit struggled to get after opposing quarterbacks last year, with its 30 sacks ranking as the third-fewest in the NFL.

    Hutchinson alone posted 14 sacks—a Wolverines single-season record—16.5 tackles for a loss and a whopping 74 pressures, the third-most in the nation, across 14 games as a senior in 2021.

    While the 6'7", 260-pound edge-rusher wasn't perceived as having as much upside as Travon Walker, his Georgia counterpart who was selected one pick ahead, Hutchinson's floor is still sky-high.

    Hutchinson may not dominate NFL competition with as much ease as he did at the collegiate level and still needs to add a few more nuances to his pass-rushing repertoire, but he's as ready as any first-year edge-rusher could hope to be.

    He's already looking like a nightmare for opposing linemen to deal with from Week 1 of the 2022 campaign and should only improve his production as he refines his skillset with experience. 

    Per DraftKings Sportsbook, the 21-year-old has the best odds of winning the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award for a reason. Hutchinson is as close to a can't-miss prospect as a team can find, boasting an enviable blend of measureables, skill, toughness and football IQ that will be on display from the start.


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