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.
Baltimore Ravens Rookie Class Impact for 2022
In typical Ravens fashion, they were patient on draft day, targeting safe prospects more often than taking big swings on unproven potential.
Kyle Hamilton (first round) is a unique prospect due to his height (6-foot-4) and athleticism. Tall defensive backs typically fail because they lack the agility to cover smaller, quicker receivers.
The Ravens may have been the ideal landing spot for Hamilton due to their history of moving players around to highlight their strengths and mask weaknesses. Hamilton probably can’t be plugged into one easily-defined role 一 but Baltimore rarely takes that approach with any defender.
Tyler Linderbaum (first round) was a moderately surprising selection due to the Ravens’ tendency to lean on a gap blocking scheme.
An undersized interior lineman like Linderbaum is typically viewed as a better fit in a zone-blocking scheme 一 Iowa used zone blocking on 93% of run plays last year 一 but Baltimore was one of just four NFL teams using zone less than 50% of the time in 2021.
That said, Linderbaum was widely viewed as the top interior lineman in this class and should immediately be plugged in as Baltimore’s starting center.
Due to his torn Achilles suffered in March, David Ojabo (second round) may not see the field in 2022, but the value was easy to justify in the second round. Ojabo was a possible top-10 selection prior to his injury, and Baltimore has reason to believe it won’t get many cracks at drafting in that range of the talent pool in future years.
Travis Jones (third round) was one of the best value selections on Day 2. Jones has a versatile skill set on the interior defensive line, but fits best at nose tackle. In 2021, Brandon Williams and Justin Ellis 一 neither of whom on are the Ravens roster 一 combined for 554 snaps at the zero- or one-tech positions (nose tackle). Michael Pierce was signed this offseason to take on some of that role but Jones, who lined up in those spots on 46% of his snaps at Connecticut last year, will likely factor into the rotation.
At 6-foot-8, 384 pounds, Daniel Faalele (fourth round) is more of a natural fit in the Ravens’ gap blocking scheme than Linderbaum, though not nearly as productive in college. Baltimore had success developing Orlando Brown Jr. with a similar physical build and skill set, so they will likely groom Faalele for the right tackle job.
Morgan Moses was signed to a three-year deal this offseason, but it’s effectively a one-year contract with team options. He’ll likely handle the right tackle job until Faalele proves he’s ready.
Jalyn Armour-Davis (fourth round) was a one-year starter at cornerback at Alabama. Based on route-adjusted coverage data, Armour-Davis allowed a catch rate 4.3% above expected last season. He’ll likely play on special teams in the short term.
Armour-Davis will likely compete for playing time on the outside, while Damarion Williams (fourth round) looks like a better fit in coverage in the slot or potentially at safety.
Tight end Charlie Kolar (fourth round) is a reliable pass-catcher with minimal YAC ability. At 6-foot-7, he could be valuable as a possession receiver, but likely lacks the athleticism to be the primary weapon at tight end.
Kolar will compete for playing time with Isaiah Likely (fourth round) whose offseason workout numbers were shockingly poor and didn’t appear to match his athleticism on the field at Coastal Carolina.
Likely’s route-adjusted YAC production was 23% above expected, while Kolar’s was 24% below expected. So expect Likely to play a more versatile role in the passing game.
It’s difficult to endorse a special teams selection before the late rounds, but Jordan Stout (fourth round) does have the skills to be a valuable asset as Baltimore’s punter. When punting between the 40-yard lines, Stout pinned opponents inside the 20-yard line 95% of the time.
A strong case can be made Baltimore put together the most impressive draft class based on its ability to blend value and need, in addition to the volume of picks used within the first four rounds.
Cincinnati Bengals Rookie Class Impact for 2022
The defending AFC champs didn’t land much in terms of immediate help, but Cincinnati did add depth in a few key areas.
Daxton Hill (first round) has the talent to play anywhere in the secondary. Within that unit, only Chidode Awuzie and Mike Hilton are currently under contract beyond 2022, so Hill’s flexibility gives the team some options as Cincinnati figures out what the secondary looks like beyond this year.
In his final season at Michigan, Hill primarily played slot corner with mixed results. Hill ranked 16th in the Big Ten (out of 24) in yards allowed per coverage snap in the slot.
Hill will be joined in the secondary by Cam Taylor-Britt (second round) and Tycen Anderson (fifth round). Taylor-Britt also provides versatility, with experience at safety early in his career at Nebraska before shifting to an outside cornerback role. In 2021, he ranked fourth in the Big Ten allowing a catch rate 12.5% below expected based on route-adjusted data.
The 6-foot-2 Anderson primarily played the strong safety role at Toledo, but also has some experience in the deep secondary.
Based on each of these selections it appears Cincinnati was focused on adding depth and versatility to the secondary. Though none of these prospects appear to be in line for an immediate role, all three could potentially take on starting jobs in 2023.
Zachary Carter (third round) also brings a versatile skill set, having lined up on the interior defensive line on 35% of his snaps last season at Florida, and playing on the edge the rest of the time.
The Bengals played with a three-man line 47% of the time and a four-man line at a 38% rate, so that versatility is valuable in Lou Anarumo’s defense.
The coaching staff has already discussed Carter bulking up and playing inside at a higher rate, though his versatility is certainly a valuable asset and he could play on the edge in three-man fronts.
Cincinnati somewhat surprisingly did not address the offensive line until landing Cordell Volson (fourth round). Volson primarily played right tackle at North Dakota State but will likely be given an opportunity to compete for the starting job at left guard.
Jeffrey Gunter (seventh round) is a pure edge-rusher who will add to the Bengals depth in that area. He generated a strong 14.2% pressure rate in 2021, while primarily playing in a two-point stance on the edge.
Cincinnati is not known as an aggressive team on draft day, typically preferring to stay put in their draft slots. However, Duke Tobin traded up for both Taylor-Britt and Anderson.
Considering the team was more aggressive than usual, it’s surprising to see this rookie class come together without anyone in position for an immediate role. However, the added depth in the secondary will be useful next offseason as the team determines the future of Vonn Bell, Jessie Bates, and Eli Apple.
Cleveland Browns Rookie Class Impact for 2022
Without a first-round pick due to the Deshaun Watson trade, Cleveland traded down in the second round and was able to use three Day 2 selections. This strategy was critical to replenishing the depth chart with younger, cheaper players as the Browns no longer have the luxury of building around a rookie-contract quarterback.
Martin Emerson (third round) was a surprise selection because there’s no obvious path to playing time with Denzel Ward and Greg Newsome locked into starting roles. It’s unclear who will take over for Troy Hill in the slot, but it’s probably not the 6-foot-2 Emerson. In 2021, Emerson was in the slot on 21% of his snaps, allowing 7.0 yards per target.
Alex Wright (third round) is a developmental prospect, but could see some action as a pass-rush specialist in the Takk McKinley role as a rookie. In his final season at UAB, Wright generated pressure in 2.5 seconds or less on 10% of his pass-rush snaps, the second-highest rate in this year’s draft class. He lacks the well-rounded skill set to be a three-down defender, but adding a pass-rush weapon was likely one of Cleveland’s goals in this draft and Wright fills that need.
Perrion Winfrey (fourth round) could also contribute to the Browns’ pass rush from the interior. Winfrey ranked fourth in the Big 12 among interior defensive linemen with a 9.5% pressure rate last season.
David Bell (third round) fits perfectly into the Jarvis Landry mold as a receiver with modest athletic traits, but efficient route-running technique and reliable hands. Bell lined up in the slot on just 21% of his targets last season at Purdue, but he’ll likely shift into that role at a higher rate in Cleveland. Based on route-adjusted data, Bell’s catch rate was 7.2% above expected throughout his college career, which bodes well for a smooth transition to the league.
Mike Woods (sixth round) also adds to the Browns’ depth at receiver, and is a more dangerous runner after the catch than Bell. Over the last two seasons at Arkansas and Oklahoma, Woods primarily lined up in the slot and picked up 21% more yards after the catch than expected based on route-adjusted data, compared to 11% for Bell.
The selection of kicker Cade York (fourth round) was an uncharacteristic selection by Andrew Berry made out of pure desperation. Cleveland has generated negative EPA on field goal attempts in each of the past two seasons and clearly felt an upgrade at kicker was a necessity. Unfortunately, NFL teams have never been good at identifying the best kicker in a given draft class. York is just the third kicker selected in the fourth round or higher over the last 15 seasons. The others, Roberto Aguayo and Alex Henery, combined to play just four years in the league.
Cincinnati had success with fifth-round kicker Evan McPherson last year, so there are success stories for teams with rookie kickers, but it’s historically been a difficult position to evaluate and college success does not easily translate to the NFL.
Jerome Ford (fifth round) will compete for the third-string running back job and could rise up the depth chart next year after Kareem Hunt hits free agency. Ford is a between-the-tackles runner, which fits well in the Browns scheme.
Considering they didn’t select until the third round, the Browns came away with a solid draft haul and a few role players who should see immediate action. The Browns turned their original second-round selection into the draft picks used on Emerson, Winfrey, and York 一 which already looks like a win, despite the unnecessary risk of selecting a kicker in the fourth round.
Pittsburgh Steelers Rookie Class Impact for 2022
Drafting out of need and desperation is a risky approach, but apparently, Kevin Colbert decided to test out the strategy in his final draft in Pittsburgh.
Kenny Pickett (first round) was never in the early-round draft discussion until 2021 一 when he was a 23-year-old fourth-year starter in the ACC. And yet, despite all that experience, there were still obvious flaws to his game.
Pickett ranked 52nd in the nation in boom-bust ratio under pressure (ratio of plays generating at least +1 EPA to -1 EPA or worse) at .51 一 a concerning rate as a veteran on a conference championship team.
It’s difficult to envision Pickett making a smooth transition to the NFL behind the Steelers’ porous offensive line. It’s equally hard to identify any elite traits which would make Pittsburgh believe Pickett has the developmental upside to turn into a franchise quarterback down the road.
George Pickens (second round) also fills an immediate need at receiver, but comes with significant injury concerns. Pickens returned from an ACL injury late in the 2021 season, but was clearly not himself.
There are also concerns about Pickens’s maturity, relating to multiple on-field incidents and a suspension. The combination of injury and maturity issues is a risky gamble for a rebuilding team to take, though Mike Tomlin certainly has a strong track record of dealing with difficult personalities.
Pickens generated a catch rate 8.7% above expected based on route-adjusted data, so if he returns to full health, he will help the Steelers receiving corps and likely challenge for snaps on the outside immediately.
DeMarvin Leal (third round) was another injury/character risk. The versatile defensive lineman is a former five-star recruit, but has a torn meniscus in his past and was arrested on marijuana charges in December.
Discipline on the field is also an issue for Leal, as he led the Texas A&M defense in penalties in 2021 一 a concerning stat for a three-year starter.
However, the 6-foot-4, 283-pound Leal is a strong fit at defensive end in the Steelers defense, which typically employs a three-man front. In 2021, 73% of Leal’s snaps came at defensive end in a three-man front for the Aggies.
The unexpected retirement of Stephon Tuitt creates an immediate opportunity for Leal.
Calvin Austin III (third round) is an undersized but explosive gadget weapon, who Pittsburgh hopes will have more success than Dri Archer, their 2014 third-round pick who was supposed to fit that same role.
Based on route-adjusted data, Austin generated 28% more yards after catch than expected. Pittsburgh ranked 26th in yards after catch per reception in 2021, so Austin will add a new dynamic to the receiving corps.
It’s difficult to imagine the Steelers selecting Connor Heyward (sixth round) if he weren’t the younger brother of longtime Steelers defensive lineman Cameron Heyward.
The 5-foot-11 Heyward played running back early in his career, but shifted to tight end after Kenneth Walker III transferred to Michigan State in 2021. He lacks the athleticism to play either position in the pros and, in reality, he’s a fullback 一 a position with almost no value in today’s game and the Steelers already have Derek Watt for the five or so snaps per game in which they utilize the position.
Chris Oladokun (seventh round) surprisingly generated a lot of buzz as a developmental quarterback prospect leading up to the draft. He started his career as a backup at South Florida, transferred to Samford (where he lost out on the starting job in 2020) and then spent one season at South Dakota State.
Oladokun will be a 25-year-old rookie, so it’s tough to buy in despite some interesting athletic traits and success as a runner.
This was a rough draft class for Pittsburgh and a disappointing end to a long and successful tenure for Colbert. In a division with Lamar Jackson, Joe Burrow, and Deshaun Watson, do the Steelers really think Pickett gives them a chance to compete?
Following up the Pickett selection with injury/maturity risk prospects further drags down this class. It’s easy to see a potential path to success for both Pickens and Leal, who were once elite high school recruits, but drafting both adds too much unnecessary risk to the draft haul.
Considering the other talent in the division, this class could potentially lock Pittsburgh in the cellar of the AFC North for the foreseeable future.