With 2022 NFL training camps now here, we’re starting to get an idea of how these draft classes will impact each roster this fall.
In this series, we’ll break down the most likely instant-impact rookies from each class, while also providing some insight into why certain early picks may not see the field.
And while we won’t assign a specific grade to each draft class, we’ll offer a quick assessment of the overall draft haul for each team and some thoughts on their draft process.
AFC East | AFC North | AFC South | AFC West
NFC East | NFC North | NFC South | NFC West
Buffalo Bills Rookie Class Impact for 2022
The injury to Tre’Davious White last year highlighted the Bills’ lack of depth in the secondary and Kaiir Elam (first round) is the perfect addition to the unit.
Over his final two seasons at Florida, Elam allowed a catch rate 28% below expected, while producing a ball-hawk rate 32% above expected.
He also played man coverage at a relatively high rate for college corners (28% in 2021), while allowing just 0.7 yards per coverage snap.
Expect Elam to start immediately opposite White, replacing Levi Wallace, who signed with Pittsburgh.
James Cook (second round) provides a skill set that appears to overlap with Devin Singletary. Since Buffalo also tried to sign J.D. McKissic this offseason, it seems as though the team may want to scale back Singletary’s role in the passing game and Cook will likely see some action on passing downs.
However, in recent years the Bills’ front office has not been in the business of making luxury picks, so it’s reasonable to assume Cook will be given an opportunity to earn a larger role in the offense.
Cook could also bring some explosive ability to the Bills’ run game. Buffalo running backs ranked 22nd with just 8.9% of their carries producing 10 or more yards. Cook picked up at least 10 yards on 16% of his attempts last season at Georgia.
Terrel Bernard (third round) is an undersized off-ball linebacker who drew rave reviews from two Baylor coaching staffs about his football intelligence and leadership skills.
Bernard will likely serve as a versatile backup this season, but could step into a starting role next year.
Tremaine Edmunds, who wears the green dot for the Bills’ defense, is in the final year of his contract. Matt Milano is also potentially in the final year of his deal, as he’ll be a cap casualty candidate next offseason 一 especially if Buffalo invests in Edmunds with a long-term deal. Either way, a job is likely to open up for Bernard in 2023.
Khalil Shakir (fifth round) will compete with Jamison Crowder and Isaiah McKenzie for reps at slot receiver, as they attempt to replace Cole Beasley’s production.
Crowder has a strong track record as a possession receiver in the slot and McKenzie has been a highlight in training camp, but Shakir’s explosive ability could add a new dimension to the Bills’ offense. Based on route-adjusted data, Shakir generated 8% more yards after the catch than expected last season. Meanwhile, Buffalo’s receivers ranked 30th in the NFL, 14% fewer yards after the catch than expected.
Matt Araiza (sixth round) is well known for his huge leg and is expected to take over punting duties from Matt Haack.
On punts inside their own 40-yard line, Buffalo ranked dead last in yards per punt (42.5), nearly six yards below the average rate (48.3). In that situation at San Diego State, Araiza averaged 57.2 yards and even put 33% of those punts inside the 20. He will undoubtedly help Buffalo in the field position game in those scenarios.
Brandon Beane landed his annual FCS prospect in Christian Benford (sixth round) out of Villanova. Beane has drafted five prospects from non-FBS programs over the last five years 一 Chris Ballard and Les Snead are the only GMs with more.
Benford has good length and size for a cornerback but did not run well in workouts. He’ll likely compete for a spot on special teams, and may be given an opportunity at safety.
Luke Tenuta (sixth round) is the third 6-foot-8 offensive lineman drafted by Buffalo over the last two years, joining Spencer Brown and Tommy Doyle. They certainly have a type, but it will be difficult to keep three 6-foot-8 linemen on the roster, as they likely do not have the versatility to play guard.
Buffalo blended need and value as well as anyone in the first round with the addition of Elam and put together a strong class overall. They were able to address some immediate needs, while also adding some depth and versatility to other position groups.
Miami Dolphins Rookie Class Impact for 2022
Miami essentially punted on the 2022 draft class a year ago, when it traded up for both Jaylen Waddle and Liam Eichenberg, and then further sold off picks in the Tyreek Hill trade.
Channing Tindall (third round) adds depth at inside linebacker and could potentially push Elandon Roberts for playing time. Tindall’s strength is his coverage ability, which is a critical trait for linebackers and defensive backs in the Miami defense given their tendency to blitz at a high rate.
Erik Ezukanma (fourth round) is a big target at 6-foot-2 and knows how to use his size to his advantage. He brings a valuable skill set to Miami to complement Hill and Waddle.
In his three years as a starter at Texas Tech, Ezukanma generated a catch rate 6% above expected, based on route-adjusted metrics. He was also surprisingly productive after the catch for a bigger receiver, picking up 12% more YAC than expected.
Cameron Goode (seventh round) typically played on the edge in Cal’s 2-4-5 defensive formations. He might be too small to be a pure edge-rusher in the NFL, but due to Miami’s tendency to blitz, Goode may be able to carve out a role as a situational pass-rusher.
Miami’s depth on the edge is lacking, so Goode should find a roster spot so long as he demonstrates some versatility and special teams production in training camp.
Skylar Thompson (seventh round) will compete to be the third quarterback behind Tua Tagovailoa and Teddy Bridgewater.
Although he’ll be a 25-year-old rookie, Thompson is an interesting developmental prospect due to his combination of accuracy and mobility.
Thompson’s route-adjusted on-target rate was 10% above expected in 2021 and 5% above expected over the last three years combined.
Miami took a questionable approach to the draft this year and came away with a class unlikely to contribute in any meaningful way. Although the Rams are another team notorious for trading away early-round picks, Los Angeles regularly stocks up on late-round picks as a way to continue adding depth to the roster.
Cleveland is another example of a team that did not use a first or second-round pick, but made trades to recoup that value and made eight selections in total.
A four-man draft class is a risky decision, especially when one of the four is a third-string quarterback unlikely to ever see the field. Over the last two years, Miami has added just 11 draft picks to the roster.
That said, each prospect selected was added in a spot where the value was strong and Tindall, Ezukanma, and Goode will provide some depth in key areas.
New England Patriots Rookie Class Impact for 2022
The Patriots’ selection of Cole Strange (first round) was one of the most shocking picks of the draft. Though Strange was expected to be a Day 2 selection, his name was rarely, if ever, brought up in pre-draft conversations as a potential first-rounder.
Since drafting Logan Mankins in the first round in 2005, Belichick had taken only one interior offensive lineman with a top-100 pick (Joe Thuney, third round in 2016). So the pick was not only a reach, but also addressed a position Belichick typically does not invest in heavily.
Although the Patriots undoubtedly took Strange earlier than was necessary, Belichick does have a strong track record of drafting and developing offensive linemen. Over the last five seasons, nine linemen have played at least 1,000 snaps for New England, and only Trent Brown was not drafted (or signed as an undrafted free agent) by the Patriots.
Strange will likely start at left guard, with Michael Onwenu shifting to right guard.
While Belichick deserves some benefit of the doubt with the Strange selection based on his track record, he does not get that luxury with the selection of Tyquan Thornton (second round).
Belichick has an abysmal track record of drafting wide receivers. During his tenure in New England, Belichick has only drafted three receivers to eclipse the 600-yard mark in a season (Julian Edelman, Deion Branch, and David Givens). The list of busts is far longer: Aaron Dobson, Bethel Johnson, Branton Tate, Chad Jackson, Taylor Price, etc.
Thornton is a track star with limited football skills at this stage of his career. Despite blazing speed (4.28 40-yard dash) Thornton was not a threat after the catch at Baylor. Based on route-adjusted data, Thornton produced 44% fewer yards after the catch than expected. Although there is a path to playing time for Thornton, it’s difficult to envision him as anything more than a pure deep threat as the fourth or fifth option in the passing game.
Marcus Jones (third round) was a better selection based on value, though his upside is limited due to his size (5’8”, 174 pounds). On defense, he’ll be limited to a role in the slot 一 though that job is locked down by Jonathan Jones, assuming a return to full health after a season-ending shoulder injury.
Though Jones may play some slot corner, he was likely drafted for his special teams production. He is among the most prolific return men to enter the draft in recent years, and will likely return kicks and punts for New England as a rookie.
Jack Jones (fourth round) was a surprising selection as another undersized cornerback but without the athletic upside of Marcus Jones. The 24-year-old originally played at USC before leaving due to academic issues and rule violations. He then sat out a year before enrolling at Arizona State where he was also suspended for team rule violations. Belichick has never been afraid to take risks on players with past issues, but reaching for a 171-pound cornerback is tough to justify, even in the fourth round.
Pierre Strong Jr. (fourth round) has the athletic profile of a potentially dangerous weapon, but he joins a crowded backfield in New England. He’ll likely be given an opportunity to compete for a James White-like role in the offense. Strong will be joined in the backfield by Kevin Harris (sixth round), who is a downhill runner and looks redundant on a roster with Rhamondre Stevenson and Damien Harris.
The Patriots landed a developmental quarterback in Bailey Zappe (fourth round), who will likely be the third-string quarterback as a rookie. Zappe played in a gimmicky version of the air raid offense at Western Kentucky and Houston Baptist under the same offensive coordinator (Zach Kittley).
In 2021, 48% of Zappe’s dropbacks were zero/one-step drops or RPOs. Last year in New England, Mac Jones used zero/one-step drops or RPOs just 12% of the time, so Zappe will need time to learn a new offensive system.
New England likely landed an immediate starter in Strange and a valuable special teams weapon on Marcus Jones. However, the rest of this 10-man class is underwhelming and it’s unclear if they added any meaningful depth. Few, if any, teams used their draft capital less efficiently than the Patriots.
New York Jets Rookie Class Impact for 2022
It’s impossible not to get excited about a draft class, which features the consensus top player at three positions (cornerback, wide receiver, and running back).
Ahmad Gardner (first round) is a special prospect, who blends size, athleticism, and production as well as any cornerback prospect to enter the draft in the last decade. Over the last two seasons, Gardner allowed a catch rate 19% below expected based on route-adjusted data. He has the traits to start immediately and be treated as the Jets’ top cornerback.
Garrett Wilson (first round) is the perfect receiver for Mike LaFleur’s offense, which relies on weapons who can do damage after the catch. Last season at Ohio State, Wilson generated 22% more yards after the catch than expected, which ranked third in the Big Ten. Wilson will likely line up on the outside the majority of the time, but he also has experience in the slot and can rotate into that role as well.
Jermaine Johnson (first round) will factor into the Jets’ rotation on the defensive line, though expectations for his rookie year should be limited. In his one year as a starter at Florida State, Johnson feasted on poor competition. Against Jacksonville State (FCS school) and Boston College (ranked 113th in pressure rate allowed), Johnson generated a 21.4% pressure rate 一 against everyone else: 10.8%.
Breece Hall (second round) wins with a combination of size and athleticism, and can contribute in the passing game, making him a well-rounded weapon in the backfield. When the blocking is there, Hall takes what’s given and sometimes a little more 一 but he lacks the elite traits to consistently create for himself.
When contacted at or behind the line of scrimmage, Hall averaged 0.8 yards per attempt last year, which ranked 10th out of 11 qualified running backs in the Big 12. Jets running backs were contacted at or behind the line of scrimmage on 49% of carries (ranked 28th), so this is an issue that could limit Hall’s immediate production.
LaFleur lacked a weapon at tight end to attempt to replicate George Kittle’s role in the offense, but Jeremy Ruckert (third round) could potentially be groomed for that role. Ruckert played a small role in the Ohio State passing game due to the Buckeyes’ playmakers at receiver, but was often a weapon in the red zone. Ruckert had an 87% catch rate on catchable targets during his college career and has the tools for a larger role as a pass-catcher.
Max Mitchell (fourth round) was a three-year starter at right tackle at Louisiana and may be needed sooner rather than later, depending on the future of Mekhi Becton. Although he lacks high-end traits, Mitchell’s consistent college production provides some optimism he could hold his own if forced to play early.
Micheal Clemons (fourth round) spent seven years in college and was arrested twice within the past year. Clearly there are concerns, but the Jets hope he provides some immediate pass-rush value. In 2021, Clemons generated a strong 16.2% pressure rate 一 although as a 24-year-old man competing against teenagers, that’s slightly less impressive than the average college athlete producing similar numbers.
This draft class has the potential to be one of the most impactful in recent Jets history, with three players likely set for immediate starting roles (Gardner, Wilson, Hall) and two others (Johnson, Ruckert) with a path to significant immediate playing time and future starting jobs.