In late-April of last year, we witnessed 262 NFL rookies enter the league through the 2022 NFL Draft and another several hundred signed as undrafted free agents in the days that followed. Unfortunately, most of those players never saw the light of day and were cut, released, or waived well before the season started.
While that was the case for most, several NFL rookies rose to the occasion and proved they belonged in the league. Some of them showed their value right away, while others came into their own as the season went on. Some of them earned a starting role, while others relished as backups or special teams players.
Either way, every NFL rookie is going to have their own path and journey into the NFL. And just like every other season, the 2022-23 campaign saw a slew of NFL rookies mark their territory as they work their way towards that long-term, guaranteed contract. Sometimes all they need is a little opportunity and trust.
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Who Were the Most Impressive NFL Rookies in 2022-23?
Of all the NFL rookies to see action in the 2022-23 regular season, only a few established themselves as some of the best at their position. For example, only one rookie quarterback played more than 10 games, two rookie receivers surpassed the 1,000-yard mark, and two running backs surpassed 1,000 yards.
On defense, there were three rookies with at least 6.0 sacks, four rookies with at least 100 tackles, and five rookies with at least four interceptions. Quality NFL rookies are rare, but they are out there and are putting up big numbers on a regular basis. You never know when someone is going to finally break out.
And it usually happens to the most unexpected players. Of the 20 NFL rookies we’re about to list below, only nine of them were drafted in the first round and one of them was named Mr. Irrelevant when he was drafted with the final pick – No. 262. With that said, let’s meet who the best NFL rookies were last year!
20. QB Kenny Pickett
Kenny Pickett was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers with the No. 20 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. He became the team’s starter during Week 4 and, while he went just 2-5 in his first seven starts, he led Pitt to five wins in their final six games – he threw four touchdowns and 1 interception during that span.
Pickett finished the season with 2,404 passing yards, 7 touchdowns, 9 interceptions, 237 rushing yards, and 3 rushing touchdowns. He had a 7-5-0 record as starter – four of those wins were a result of a game-winning drive by Pickett and three of them were fourth-quarter comebacks. Not bad for a rookie.
19. OL Abraham Lucas
Abraham Lucas was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in the third round (No. 72 overall) of the 2022 NFL Draft. He was a day-one starter for the team, which isn’t easy for a rookie offensive tackle. With that said, he held his own and did everything that was asked of him – including starting 16 of their 17 games.
All in all, Lucas played 975 snaps, allowing nine sacks and 28 pressures – he was also called for 7 penalties. Pro Football Focus graded him a 68.5 on the season, which is a good mark for someone in year one. His blocking up front helped lead the way for another rookie on this list – he’s a running back.
18. WR George Pickens
George Pickens was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the second round (No. 52 overall) of the 2022 NFL Draft. You can tell him and Kenny Pickett are going to have great chemistry moving forward – he played in 17 games and averaged just under five targets per game. That number will increase next year.
Pickens finished the season with 52 catches on 84 targets for 801 yards and 4 touchdowns – he also had 24 rushing yards for 1 rushing touchdown. Two of his receiving touchdowns came in the final three games of the season and he also snagged THE catch of the year – an incredible, impossible one-handed catch.
17. RB Isiah Pacheco
Isiah Pacheco was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in the seventh round (No. 251 overall) of the 2022 NFL Draft. He scored a rushing touchdown in his Week 1 debut, but wasn’t the team’s starting running back until Week 7 – at which point he went off and established himself as a reliable option on any down.
Pacheco finished the season with 830 rushing yards, 5 rushing touchdowns, and 130 receiving yards in 17 games (11 starts). He fumbled the ball four times, which is something he’ll have to address in the offseason, but he’s a great compliment to what Patrick Mahomes is able to do under center.
16. S Kyle Hamilton
Kyle Hamilton was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens with the No. 14 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. He wasn’t the team’s starter until Week 15, but still managed playing time as his coaches found a role for him. He continued to get better as the season went on and started the final four games of the season.
Hamilton recorded 62 tackles (46 solo), 4 tackles for loss, 5 QB hits, 2.0 sacks, 5 passes defensed, and 1 forced fumble. He does a great job of limiting receivers with elite coverage skills, but is also an explosive blitzer when coming off the edge and doesn’t have a problem bringing down big running backs.
15. LB Devin Lloyd
Devin Lloyd was drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars with the No. 27 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. He was a day-one starter for the team, finishing with 11 tackles in his debut. He went on to record at least 11 tackles in two more contests – Weeks 4 and 5 – and had two interceptions in his first three games.
Lloyd finished the season with 115 tackles (59 solo), 2 quarterback hits, 2 fumble recoveries, 8 passes defensed, and 3 interceptions in 17 games played (15 starts). He also gained valuable experience with 13 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 2 quarterback hits, and a pass defensed in the Jaguars’ two playoff games.
14. LB Quay Walker
Quay Walker was drafted by the Green Bay Packers with the No. 22 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. He was a day-one starter for the team and continued to improve as the season went on – playing in all 17 games and starting 16 of them. He had at least 11 tackles on three occasions – Weeks 7, 11, and 12.
Walker finished the season with 121 tackles (75 solo), 5 tackles for loss, 4 quarterback hits, 1.5 sacks, 7 passes defensed, 3 forced fumbles, and 1 fumble recovery. He recorded his first half-sack during a Week 11 loss to the Titans and had his first full sack in a Week 15 win against the defending champion Rams.
13. WR Christian Watson
Christian Watson was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the second round (No. 34 overall) of the 2022 NFL Draft. His season got off to the worst start, dropping a wide open catch that would’ve been an easy 75-yard touchdown for the first play of the regular season. Aaron Rodgers wasn’t too happy.
By Week 10, he was Rodgers’ favorite target and was receiving between 6 and 8 targets per game. He finished with at least 100 yards three times and scored 7 touchdowns in a four-week span midway through the season. He had 41 catches for 611 yards and 7 touchdowns, as well as 2 TDs rushing.
12. LB James Houston IV
James Houston IV was drafted by the Detroit Lions in the sixth round (No. 217) overall of the 2022 NFL Draft. He didn’t make his debut until Week 12, but he was one of the best pass rushers in the league once he did. He had at least one sack in 5 of the final 7 games of the season, including 3.0 sacks in Week 17.
Houston IV finished the season with just 12 tackles, but managed to couple that with 7 tackles for loss, 11 quarterback hits, 8.0 sacks, 1 forced fumble, and 1 fumble recovery. He established himself as a force to be reckoned with alongside another rookie on this list – that LIons’ defensive line is going to be scary!
11. S Jaquan Brisker
Jaquan Brisker was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the second round (No. 48 overall) of the 2022 NFL Draft. He was a day-one starter for the team and an absolute blessing as the season went on. He had at least 10 tackles on three occasions, including in Week 2 vs. the Packers and Week 18 vs. the Vikings.
Brisker finished the season with 104 tackles (73 solo), 5 tackles for loss, 4 quarterback hits, 4.0 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, and 1 interception in 15 games played (15 starts). He has a chance at becoming a cornerstone player for this Bears’ defense moving forward and an anchor at free safety.
10. WR Jahan Dotson
Jahan Dotson was drafted by the Washington Commanders with the No. 16 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. In his first four games, Dotson recorded 12 catches for 152 yards and 4 touchdowns – he was a TD-scoring machine, including two in his debut! Unfortunately, injuries kept him sidelined until Week 10.
Dotson played the rest of the season and became a featured part of the Commanders’ offense by WEek 13. He scored a touchdown in three consecutive games between Week 13 and 16, including 100 yards in Week 15. He also showed versatility in different situations, completing a 2-pt conversion in Week 2.
9. WR Chris Olave
Chris Olave was drafted by the New Orleans Saints with the No. 11 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. While he didn’t start every game, he was a factor every single time he stepped on the field – appearing in all 17 games for the Saints. He had at least 100 yards three times and at least 12 targets four times.
Olave finished the season with 72 receptions on 119 targets for 1,042 yards and 4 touchdowns. He averaged 70 yards per game and 9 yards per target, with his longest catch being a 53-yarder. He was consistently getting his team first downs, finishing with 48 first downs and 14.5 yards per reception.
8. RB Dameon Pierce
Dameon Pierce was drafted by the Houston Texans in the fourth round (No. 107 overall) of the 2022 NFL Draft. No one expected him to break out the way he did, but he played rather consistently – with the exception of a few games. Hr rushed for at least 130 yards on two occasions – Weeks 4 and 9.
Pierce finished the season with 939 rushing yards (61 yards short of 1,000 yards), 4 rushing touchdowns, 56 first downs, 30 catches, 165 receiving yards, and 1 receiving touchdown. He had a season-long rush of 75 yards and averaged 72.2 yards per game. He fumbled the ball four times, but he’ll get smarter.
7. S Jalen Pitre
Jalen Pitre was drafted by the Houston Texans in the second round (No. 37 overall) of the 2022 NFL Draft. He was a day-one starter for the team and proved to be one of their most consistent players on defense – anchoring the team’s secondary and finishing with at least 10 tackles in five games.
Pitre finished his 2022-23 campaign with a whopping 147 tackles (99 solo), 5 tackles for loss, 1 QB hit, 1.0 sack, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, 5 interceptions, and 8 passes defensed. He had at least 12 tackles in four of his last six games, including a career-high 16 tackles in Week 13 against the Browns.
6. DE Aidan Hutchinson
Aidan Hutchinson was drafted by the Detroit Lions with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. He paired very well with James Houston IV from above and they’re going to make a scary duo next season. They’re going to anchor that defense for several years, at least, and cause a problem for quarterbacks.
Hutchinson finished the season with 52 tackles (34 solo), 9 tackles for loss, 15 quarterback hits, 9.5 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries, 3 interceptions, and 3 passes defensed. He was extremely reliable, playing in all 17 games, and had a season-high 3.0 sacks against the Commanders in just his second career game.
5. CB Tariq Woolen
Tariq Woolen was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in the fifth round (No. 153 overall) of the 2022 NFL Draft. He was a day-one starter for the team and wound up being one of, if not, the best cornerback in the league this past season. He started all 17 games and even started the Seahawks’ two playoff games.
Woolen finished his 2022-23 campaign with 63 tackles (46 solo), 1 tackle for loss, 1 fumble recovery, 16 passes defensed, a league-leading 6 interceptions, and 1 defensive touchdown. He earned a Pro Bowl appearance in his first season in the NFL and had an interception in four straight games early in the year.
4. QB Brock Purdy
Brock Purdy was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the seventh round (No. 262 overall) of the 2022 NFL Draft – he was Mr. Irrelevant. He only threw 9 passes in the team’s first 12 games, but was thrust into the starter role during Week 13 after Jimmy Garoppolo went down with an injury. And he shined.
Purdy not only threw two touchdowns to lead his team to a win in Week 13, but he threw two touchdowns in each of the next four games and then three touchdowns in the next two games – all while leading the 49ers to an 8-0 record in that span. And now he’s playing in the NFC Championship Game, as a rookie.
3. WR Garrett Wilson
Garrett Wilson was drafted by the New York Jets with the No. 10 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. It didn’t seem to matter who was under center for the Jets – Joe Flacco, Mike Smith, Zach Wilson – he was getting the ball and he was doing something with it. Sure, he had a few lousy games, but everyone does.
Wilson finished the season with 83 catches on 147 targets for 1,103 yards and 4 touchdowns in 17 games played (12 starts). He had at least 11 targets in five different games and surpassed the 100-yard mark three times – including a season-high 162 yards in Week 13. He also had two two-touchdown games.
2. CB Sauce Gardner
Sauce Gardner was drafted by the New York Jets with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. He was a day-one starter for the team and quickly established himself as a lockdown defender – he wasn’t scared to match up with anyone and accepted any challenge that came his way, fearlessly at that.
Gardner finished the year with 75 tackles (51 solo), 3 tackles for loss, 1 quarterback hit, 2 interceptions, and a league-leading 20 passes defensed in 17 games (17 starts). He was named a First Team All-Pro and was named to the Pro Bowl in his first season – an incredible feat for a rookie cornerback.
1. RB Kenneth Walker III
Kenneth Walker III was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in the second round (No. 41 overall) of the 2022 NFL Draft. He didn’t start the season as the team’s lead back, but he definitely finished the season in that role as he continued to impress week after week. He surpassed 100 yards seven times last year.
Walker III finished his 2022-23 campaign with 1,050 rushing yards, 9 rushing touchdowns, 27 catches, 165 receiving yards, and 57 first downs. What’s even more incredible is he didn’t fumble the ball once the entire season – despite rushing the ball 228 times. That’s exactly what you want out of your running back.
Predicting the Best NFL Rookies in 2023-24
Like we mentioned in the intro, we never really know how NFL rookies are going to pan out until they hit the field. Even then, things can change in an instant – much like we saw from James Houston this year. Either way, there are definitely several future NFL rookies we have our eye on leading up to the draft.
Some of those names include QB Bryce Young, DT Jalen Carter, QB Will Levis, EDGE Will Anderson Jr., QB C.J. Stroud, OT Paris Johnson, OT Peter Skoronski, EDGE Myles Murphy, EDGE Tyree Wilson, CB Christian Gonzalez, TE Michael Mayer, RB Bijan Robinson, and WR Jaxon Smith-Njiba.
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Those players are bound to have good rookie seasons, but they’ll have to prove it first – after all, they’re not even in the NFL yet. We’ll get to watch them take stage at the 2023 NFL Draft on April 27-29 in Kansas City as they wear their team’s gear for the first time. But first, we have a Super Bowl to watch!
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