Super Bowl LVI's in the books, ending the longest season in NFL history. How did the new guys perform in the expanded 285-game slate? Gennaro Filice and Nick Shook are taking a division-by-division look at each team's rookie class, providing grades and analysis on Year 1 production. Shook examines the AFC West below.
- (No. 58) Nick Bolton, LB, 16 games/12 starts
- (63) Creed Humphrey, C, 17 games/17 starts
- (144) Joshua Kaindoh, DE, 3 games/0 starts
- (162) Noah Gray, TE, 16 games/1 start
- (181) Cornell Powell, WR, 0 games/0 starts
- (226) Trey Smith, OG, 17 games/17 starts
Kansas City's grade is all about maximizing picks. The Chiefs sent their first-round pick in 2021 and other selections to Baltimore to acquire left tackle Orlando Brown (assets well spent), then nailed their second-round pick by choosing Bolton, a Pro Football Writers of America All-Rookie Team selection who graded out as the 13th-best linebacker in the league, per Pro Football Focus. Kansas City followed that up by finding its center of the future in Humphrey, who began his NFL career by performing better than any other player at the position, per PFF. He also earned PFWA All-Rookie honors. Kaindoh missed most of his rookie season, having landed on injured reserve in early October with an ankle injury. Gray saw some playing time at tight end behind Travis Kelce and Blake Bell while also playing special teams regularly. Powell was cut at the end of camp and returned as a practice squad member before signing a reserve/future contract in February. And finally, a premier Day 3 find came in the form of Smith, who teamed with Humphrey and Joe Thuney to make an excellent interior trio. Smith also earned PFWA All-Rookie recognition and will be an important part of Kansas City's offensive line for years to come.
- (No. 9) Patrick Surtain II, CB, 16 games/15 starts
- (35) Javonte Williams, RB, 17 games/1 start
- (98) Quinn Meinerz, OG, 15 games/9 starts
- (105) Baron Browning, LB, 14 games/9 starts
- (152) Caden Sterns, S, 15 games/2 starts
- (164) Jamar Johnson, S, 3 games/0 starts
- (219) Seth Williams, WR, 2 games/1 start
- (237) Kary Vincent Jr., CB, 2 games/1 start (w/ PHI)
- (239) Jonathon Cooper, DE, 16 games/5 starts
- (253) Marquiss Spencer, DE, 1 game/0 starts
Well, the Broncos certainly knocked their first two picks out of the park. Surtain quickly validated Denver's selection with his first career interception in Week 2. He finished with four picks, made the PFWA All-Rookie Team and was PFF's 41st-graded corner in 2021, just behind Colts Pro Bowler Kenny Moore. Williams is Denver's long-term answer at running back, having averaged 4.4 yards per carry while scoring seven scrimmage touchdowns and breaking 1,200 scrimmage yards. Meinerz has a promising future ahead of him after appearing in 15 games (nine starts) and earning a top-40 PFF grade among guards. Browning was an effective player, transitioning from a special-teams contributor to a starter from Week 8 onward. Sterns figures to replace Kareem Jackson (33 years old and headed for free agency) going forward, and he showed potential with a couple of interceptions in 2021. Johnson appeared in three games solely as a special-teams player. Williams appeared in two games, catching one pass for 34 yards. Vincent was shipped to Philadelphia ahead of the trade deadline. Cooper was a nice Day 3 discovery, tallying 38 tackles (four for loss) and 2.5 sacks as a rotational player while also filling a special teams role. Spencer was released as part of final cuts before joining the practice squad and signing a reserve/future contract in January.
- (No. 17) Alex Leatherwood, OT, 17 games/17 starts
- (43) Trevon Moehrig, S, 17 games/17 starts
- (79) Malcolm Koonce, DE, 5 games/0 starts
- (80) Divine Deablo, S/LB, 17 games/5 starts
- (143) Tyree Gillespie, S, 11 games/0 starts
- (167) Nate Hobbs, CB, 16 games/9 starts
- (230) Jimmy Morrissey, C, 5 games/4 starts (w/ HOU)
The Raiders' biggest swing and miss came with their most valuable pick. Most everyone saw Leatherwood as a player who was taken ahead of where his evaluation suggested he should have been, and he ended up playing as such, eventually moving to guard (where he appeared to be a better fit) during his rookie season. As for the rest of the class, a good portion stepped up at different times. Moehrig was an effective player for nearly the entire season, finishing with a top-25 PFF grade among all safeties (ahead of the likes of Jeremy Chinn, Juan Thornhill and Kyle Dugger) while earning PFWA All-Rookie honors. Deablo progressed from a special teams player to a starting linebacker right around the time the Raiders began their frantic playoff push and should be penciled in as a starter in 2022. Koonce was another late bloomer, not seeing the field until Week 13 but recording a sack in each of his first two NFL games. Gillespie played just 13 defensive snaps, filling a special teams role. Hobbs was an excellent late-round find, but the good vibes from his impressive rookie season were overshadowed by off-field issues in early 2022. Morrissey was released during final cuts and ended up being signed off the Raiders' practice squad by Houston in October; he appeared in five games with the Texans.
- (No. 13) Rashawn Slater, OT, 16 games/16 starts
- (47) Asante Samuel Jr., CB, 12 games/12 starts
- (77) Josh Palmer, WR, 17 games/5 starts
- (97) Tre' McKitty, TE, 11 games/4 starts
- (118) Chris Rumph II, OLB, 16 games/0 starts
- (159) Brenden Jaimes, OT, 11 games/0 starts
- (185) Nick Niemann, LB, 17 games/0 starts
- (198) Larry Rountree III, RB, 12 games/0 starts
- (241) Mark Webb Jr., DB, 7 games/0 starts
The debate between Slater and Penei Sewell, who was ultimately the first tackle selected, taken seventh overall by Detroit, didn't gain a ton of steam during the draft process, but after one season of play, they're a lot closer than most likely expected. Slater was a stellar tackle from the start of his NFL career, finishing as the eighth-highest-graded tackle in the league (Sewell was 23rd) and earning PFWA All-Rookie Team honors. The Chargers now have a trustworthy tackle in place to protect Justin Herbert. Samuel began his NFL career on a strong note but ended up fighting through a tumultuous season that included time missed due to injury. Palmer finished fifth on the team in targets (49) and put up strong production when helping to fill in for Keenan Allen and Mike Williams down the stretch. McKitty saw a decent amount of snaps as a rookie but caught just six passes for 45 yards. Rumph was a rotational player who spent most of his time behind Uchenna Nwosu, recording 19 tackles (two for loss) and one sack in 16 games. Jaimes saw minimal action, largely on special teams. Speaking of special teams, Niemann was a standout in that phase of the game, leading the Bolts in special teams snaps and earning PFWA All-Rookie Team honors for his efforts. Rountree played a supplemental role behind Austin Ekeler, Joshua Kelley and Justin Jackson, totaling 36 carries for 87 yards and one touchdown on the year. Webb spent his first season almost exclusively on special teams before landing on injured reserve in November.