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
Dallas Cowboys Rookie Class Impact for 2022
Thanks to Jerry Jones accidentally showing us the Cowboys’ draft board, we know Tyler Smith (first round) was ranked 16th overall by Dallas, but with a second-round grade.
Normally Dallas might have traded down 一 or drafted Lewis Cine, who was still available with a first-round grade 一 but the only other guards on the board Jones showed us were gone (Zion Johnson and Kenyon Green). So while Smith is a raw prospect and was a reach in the late first round, Dallas felt it was a position that needed to be addressed immediately.
If training camp goes as expected, Smith will start at left guard, but early expectations should be low. Smith played left tackle at Tulsa, and showed flashes of dominance but still made rookie mistakes on a regular basis. Smith led the nation with 12 holding penalties last season.
Sam Williams (second round) was a surprising second-round selection given the felony sexual battery arrest on his record. Charges were later dropped, but obviously, most franchises are treating prospects linked to sexual assault charges with caution.
As an edge rusher, Williams ranked sixth in the SEC with a 14.5% pressure rate last season. He’ll compete for an immediate starting role and, at worst, should see significant action on passing downs.
Jalen Tolbert (third round) lined up in the slot on 47% of his targets last season at South Alabama, and likely sees significant action in that role to help replace Amari Cooper. Tolbert is a weapon with the ball in his hands, picking up 20% more yards after the catch than expected based on route-adjusted data. He’s also a threat on the deep ball, as the go route was his second most common route last season. On go routes, Tolbert hauled in 91% of his catchable targets.
Jake Ferguson (fourth round) has limited upside based on his modest athletic profile, but he fits the mold of a typical Cowboys tight end and will provide depth behind Dalton Schultz. With Schultz set to hit free agency after the year, Ferguson’s performance could play a role in how aggressively Dallas pursues an extension with Schultz.
Matt Waletzko (fifth round) was a four-year starter at left tackle at North Dakota State. At 6’8” he likely does not have much position flexibility, but he’ll provide depth at both tackle spots and could potentially push Terence Steele for the job at right tackle.
DaRon Bland (fifth round) adds some depth to the secondary and will be a developmental cornerback for Dan Quinn. Bland has the length and athleticism Quinn covets in defensive backs for his system, but had just one year of experience at the FBS level after transferring to Fresno State from Sacramento State.
John Ridgeway (fifth round) will likely compete for reps at nose tackle. Dallas lined up with three defensive linemen on 48% of snaps last season, with a number of players rotating in at defensive tackle.
Dallas will likely be without Damone Clark (fifth round) due to the spinal fusion surgery he underwent in March. Prior to the surgery, Clark was viewed as a likely top-100 pick due to his anticipation skills and football intelligence. With Leighton Vander Esch on a one-year contract, Clark could be in line to take over that role in 2023.
There’s a wide range of outcomes for the immediate impact of this class. Smith, Williams, and Tolbert all have the potential to start immediately, but there’s reason to have reservations about their readiness.
In terms of long-term outlook, Dallas landed a talented class with a nice mix of immediate contributors and players with developmental potential (Bland, Clark).
New York Giants Rookie Class Impact for 2022
Despite vague reports questioning Kayvon Thibodeaux’s (first round) personality and love of the game, the Giants didn’t overthink things and selected the most explosive pass-rusher in the draft.
Thibodeaux led the Pac-12 in pressure rate in each of his three seasons at Oregon, and will immediately improve a Giants pass-rush unit, which ranked 24th in the league in pressure rate.
Evan Neal (second round) will step in at right tackle for the Giants, taking over for Nate Solder. In the long term, this should be an upgrade but it may not improve Daniel Jones’s protection immediately. Last season, the Giants ranked ninth in the league in pressure rate allowed by right tackles (5%).
Neal could provide immediate help in the run game, however. Giants running backs averaged just 3.5 yards per carry when running to the right side of the line, ranked 28th.
Wan’Dale Robinson (second round) was an aggressive choice for a rebuilding team. He’s a fun gadget weapon to have on offense, but at 5-foot-8, he’s nothing more.
Robinson has experience at running back and receiver, so Brian Daboll will likely find creative ways to incorporate him into the offense.
Given his experience at running back, Robinson’s lack of production with the ball in his hands is surprising and should be considered a red flag. Based on route-adjusted data, Robinson gained 0.4% more yards after the catch than expected last season, and just 2.7% over the course of his career.
Joshua Ezeudu (third round) will provide depth across the offensive line as a rookie, but likely fits best at guard in the long run. He’s already taken some reps filling in for Andrew Thomas at left tackle this offseason. Ezeudu started at both guard and tackle at North Carolina, primarily on the left side of the line.
Cordale Flott (third round) will compete with Darnay Holmes for the starting slot corner job. During his two years as a starter at LSU, Flott lined up in the slot on 64% of his coverage snaps, allowing 9.4 yards per target.
Although Flott’s production wasn’t consistently there, his athleticism and ability to play the run make him an interesting developmental prospect for the Giants.
Daniel Bellinger (fourth round) is a developmental tight end prospect, who saw limited action in the passing game in a run-heavy offense at San Diego State.
Bellinger averaged just 13 routes per game, but flashed some athleticism on his limited opportunities. Based on route-adjusted metrics, Bellinger picked up 27% more yards after the catch than expected 一 a fantastic rate for a tight end of his size.
There’s not much in front of him on the depth chart (Ricky Seals-Jones, Jordan Akins), so Bellinger could force his way into an immediate role with a strong training camp. He started camp on the PUP list, but has already been activated.
Micah McFadden (fifth round) and Darrian Beavers (sixth round) add depth at linebacker, and will specifically improve the Giants’ blitz production.
Beavers blitzed on 28% of his snaps against the pass last season at Cincinnati with a 20% pressure rate, while McFadden blitzed at a 34% rate with a 29% pressure rate for Indiana. Beavers also played on the edge early in his career at Connecticut.
For McFadden to see the field, however, he needs to cut down on the missed tackles. McFadden missed 16.5% of his tackle attempts last season, the fifth-worst rate among Big Ten linebackers.
The Giants clearly improved the roster with this draft class, adding two immediate starters (Thibodeaux, Neal) and a handful of others who could see the field early (Robinson, Flott, Belton).
If there’s anything to nitpick about this class, it’s the decision to spend two Day 2 selections on a gadget receiver (Robinson) and a slot corner (Flott). There’s limited upside in those types of prospects, and a rebuilding franchise would probably benefit more by taking a chance on prospects with more high-impact potential.
Philadelphia Eagles Rookie Class Impact for 2022
The Eagles’ addition of A.J. Brown was arguably the most meaningful move of draft weekend, but we’re going to primarily focus on their new rookies in this discussion.
Philly jumped the Ravens on draft night to acquire Jordan Davis, parting with their first, a fourth, and two fifth-round picks. It was a bold move to acquire a space-eating nose tackle with conditioning concerns.
Despite the athletic upside displayed at the combine, Davis was regularly pulled off the field on passing downs. In 2021, Davis played just 7% of Georgia’s defensive snaps in 3rd-and-long situations. For Davis to be worth the investment, he needs to produce on passing downs. Fortunately, there won’t be any immediate pressure for him to ramp up his playing time thanks to the presence of Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave.
The Eagles likely expect Davis to play in the rotation as a rookie, before taking on a more substantial role after Hargrave hits free agency next offseason.
GM Howie Roseman enlisted the help of Jason Kelce to scout centers this offseason, and he aided in the decision to select Cam Jurgens (second round) as his replacement. Jurgens was a three-year starter at Nebraska and will spend the season learning behind Kelce before, presumably, Kelce steps away at season’s end.
Nakobe Dean (third round) fell significantly further than initially expected, likely due to injury concerns. Dean has dealt with shoulder and knee injuries which some teams believed to be chronic issues with the potential to shorten his career or limit his availability and production.
Even if the Eagles share some of those concerns, it’s easy to justify the gamble in the third round. The Georgia coaching staff raved about Dean’s football intelligence and, if healthy, he has the traits to challenge T.J. Edwards or Kyzir White for a starting role as a rookie.
Dean will be joined on the depth chart at linebacker by Kyron Johnson (sixth round), who is likely relegated to special teams duties as a rookie. Johnson played on the edge at Kansas, but at 6’0”, 235 pounds he lacks the size for that role in Philly. He will likely serve as a backup to Haason Reddick, and could benefit from Reddick’s experience making a similar transition from undersized edge-rusher in college to a more traditional linebacker role in the pros.
Grant Calcaterra (sixth round) adds depth at tight end and could potentially earn the backup role behind Dallas Goedert. Calcaterra could be a sleeper in this class, but has a long history of concussions and was medically retired in 2020 before returning last season at SMU.
Despite using just five selections, the Eagles landed three potential starters, plus A.J. Brown, and were able to acquire an extra 2023 first-round pick from the Saints.
That extra first-round pick next year could prove to be the most critical addition Roseman made this offseason. Though the Eagles are moving forward with Jalen Hurts, for now, there’s significant pressure on him to prove he’s their long-term quarterback this season.
If Hurts fails to show significant development, the Eagles have the extra draft capital necessary to make an aggressive move up for a quarterback in next year’s draft.
Washington Commanders Rookie Class Impact for 2022
Washington traded down from its original spot in the first round, picking up an extra third- and fourth-round pick before selecting Jahan Dotson (first round). Adding another weapon made sense, but Chris Olave and Jameson Williams were both on the board when Washington initially traded down. Dotson should start immediately and improves the depth at receiver, but he’s not on the level of Olave or Williams.
Dotson is built in the same mold as Olave, but smaller and less explosive. Based on route-adjusted metrics, Dotson’s catch rate was 9% above expected last season, but his yards after the catch were 8% below expected. He should serve as the number-two option behind Terry McLaurin, but he’ll get a challenge from last year’s third-round pick Dyami Brown, who is a significantly more explosive weapon, albeit less reliable.
Phidarian Mathis (second round) may have been a best-available selection, as it’s difficult to see how he’ll earn significant playing time on an already strong defensive line. However, the selection also raises questions as to how they’ll handle Da’Ron Payne, who becomes a free agent after the season.
Payne and Jonathan Allen, who signed a long-term extension last offseason, started every game at defensive tackle last year. Perhaps Washington does not want to over-invest in the defensive line, and is now willing to let Payne walk, with Mathis stepping in as his replacement in 2023.
Brian Robinson Jr. (third round) joins a crowded backfield with Antonio Gibson and J.D. McKissic. Robinson is a between-the-tackles runner, who will probably be used to ease the early-down workload on Gibson. Robinson averaged 5.5 broken/missed tackles forced per 20 carries last season, ranked second in the SEC. He’ll add an element of power to the run game which Washington has lacked when Gibson is off the field.
Percy Butler (fourth round) will provide depth in the deep secondary, but likely makes his presence felt most on special teams. Butler is undersized and primarily played in a free safety role at Louisiana, but does have some experience in the slot.
Sam Howell (fifth round) will be given an opportunity to develop behind Wentz, but his lack of development in college raises doubts about his ability to elevate his game any further. Howell was impressive as a true freshman starter at North Carolina, but regressed through the remainder of his career.
Despite Howell’s issues late in his career, Washington may have been the ideal landing spot for him. Early in his career at North Carolina, he had a strong connection with Dyami Brown, especially on the deep ball. During Howell’s freshman and sophomore years, the two connected on 12 touchdowns on throws 20 or more yards downfield.
Washington will attempt to further develop Cole Turner into a tight end, after he spent the majority of his career as a receiver at Nevada. With Logan Thomas returning from an ACL injury, Turner should see significant reps in training camp and will have an opportunity to impress the coaching staff. The team clearly wants to surround Wentz with the weapons he needs to be successful, so Turner should be taken seriously as a threat to Thomas’s job.
Chris Paul (seventh round) played every position on the offensive line except center during his days at Tulsa, and will compete for a backup role.
Christian Holmes (seventh round) was a four-year starter as an outside corner at Missouri and Oklahoma State. Despite modest athletic traits, his football intelligence allows him to consistently locate and play the ball. Based on route-adjusted data, he generated a ball-hawk rate 25% above average over his two seasons at Oklahoma State.
Ron Rivera has stated a commitment to putting Wentz in the best position to succeed, so we probably should have anticipated a first-round wide receiver. But ending up with Dotson, when Olave and Williams were available, is a disappointment.
The extra picks acquired by trading down netted them Robinson and, after another trade down, Howell and Turner. Perhaps those moves work out in the long run, but if the goal was to immediately upgrade the weapons around Wentz, it was a questionable decision.
Washington likely ended up with only one immediate starter (Dotson), a possible year-two starter (Mathis), and some nice developmental prospects. It’s an acceptable draft class, but not likely to be a group that alters the direction of this sputtering franchise.