Getting thrown into the fire is no small task for NFL rookies. After lining up against college competition for the last three to five years, they now must face veteran pros in the prime of their careers.
It is no surprise that the top performers among rookies have typically been first-, second- or third-round selections, at least according to All-Rookie Teams as selected by the Pro Football Writers of America. The position players in the 2021 edition were comprised of 14 first-rounders, seven second-round picks and one Day 3 pick (Chiefs guard Trey Smith). All-Rookie squads from past years have included a handful of players from Rounds 4 through 7, however, and the occasional undrafted rookie, too.
As you'll see, my projection for the 2022 All-Rookie Team leans heavily on early-round picks, as well. They have the talent -- and just as importantly, the opportunity that most middle-to-late round picks lack -- to impress during their initial professional season.
Drafted: Round 1, No. 20 overall
Pickett was the third-string quarterback in OTAs and minicamp, playing behind veterans Mitchell Trubisky and Mason Rudolph. That could be a very temporary placement for the rookie, though. I suspect that Pickett -- the only quarterback selected in the first two rounds of this year’s draft -- will take over the starting job before too long in 2022, leaning on his experience and athleticism to garner all-rookie honors.
Drafted: Round 2, No. 63 overall
Buffalo selected a running back in the third round of the draft in 2019 and 2020 (Devin Singletary, ‘19; Zack Moss, ‘20), but I thought they would have interest in Cook late in the second round this year because of his all-purpose value. Expect Cook to approach 1,500 total yards from scrimmage in 2022, taking handoffs when he isn’t catching the ball out of the backfield or from the slot.
Drafted: Round 4, No. 107 overall
Pierce has an excellent opportunity to earn a lot of carries for the Texans this year if veteran Marlon Mack doesn't grab the reins. Pierce’s tough running and underappreciated short-area quickness allow him to move the chains and excel in short-yardage/goal-line situations.
Drafted: Round 2, No. 52 overall
In his final draft before retiring as the Steelers’ general manager, Kevin Colbert once again landed a bargain receiver in the second round. Pickens is already impressing, showing off his skills during OTAs. Expect whoever lines up at quarterback for Pittsburgh to regularly lean on his speed and strong hands to make big plays downfield.
Drafted: Round 2, No. 34 overall
After trading Davante Adams to Las Vegas and allowing Marquez Valdes-Scantling to depart for Kansas City in free agency, the Packers desperately needed a big-play threat at receiver. So they traded up in the second round to draft Watson, an explosive 6-foot-5, 208-pound pass-catcher. He doesn’t need to get 40 yards downfield to make a big play, though; I suspect he and Aaron Rodgers will work the short passing game early on and go for the big shots as the defense allows.
Drafted: Round 3, No. 80 overall
The Broncos have a talented collection of wide receivers for quarterback Russell Wilson to find downfield in Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick and Jerry Jeudy. However, Dulcich has a chance to see a lot of snaps as either a starter or the running mate of Albert Okwuegbunam at tight end. The former Bruins star could become a safety valve and red-zone threat for Wilson. Remember when Jimmy Graham had 16 TDs in his final two seasons in Seattle (2016-17)?
Drafted: Round 1, No. 9 overall
Speaking of the Seahawks, their selection of Cross filled a huge gap at left tackle (as did their selection of right tackle Abraham Lucas in the third round). It won't be a surprise if the former Mississippi State Bulldogs' steady pass protection reminds Seattle fans of a healthy Russell Okung.
Drafted: Round 1, No. 7 overall
If the Giants are to take a step forward in 2022, the offensive line must improve. Neal's power on the right side points them in the right direction. Saquon Barkley could be in for a rebound year running behind the massive Neal and new starting right guard Mark Glowinski.
Drafted: Round 3, No. 104 overall
Bruss started at right tackle and right guard at Wisconsin but his best NFL fit is on the interior because of his power and mobility for the position. The Rams are projected to start three former Badgers on their offensive line, with incumbents David Edwards (left guard) and Rob Havenstein (right tackle) welcoming Bruss to the right guard spot.
Drafted: Round 1, No. 17 overall
The Chargers were in dire need of improving the right side of their offensive line, so their selection of Johnson to shore up the guard spot made sense. He'll work together with whichever veteran wins the right tackle job (potentially Storm Norton or Trey Pipkins) to protect quarterback Justin Herbert against a tough group of AFC West pass rushers.
Drafted: Round 1, No. 25 overall
Losing Bradley Bozeman in free agency left a big void at center, so the Linderbaum pick was a no-brainer after the Ravens traded down from No. 23 to No. 25 and the former Hawkeye was still available. Though he's not the biggest pivot, his intelligence, athleticism and toughness make him a natural Day 1 starter.