Now that draft picks are technically considered NFL rookies, it’s time to decide which are ready to be “instant impact” players — one of my favorite phrases to type this time of year on the NFL calendar. Because now every team is technically in “win-now” mode given how short patience has become in today’s society. It’s become increasingly difficult for franchises that look to be in “tank mode.”
Last year, Micah Parsons was a menace immediately. Rashawn Slater blocked everything in September and never looked back. Creed Humphrey locked down the center spot in Kansas City. And Ja’Marr Chase was sensational for the vast majority of the season.
Two years ago, it was Justin Herbert who erupted out of the gate. And Tristan Wirfs. And Justin Jefferson. And Chase Young. Here’s my list of the top 10 instant impact rookies from the 2022 NFL Draft class.
In 2021, I incorporated a rule to not include quarterbacks because of how outrageously obvious they would’ve been from the 2021 draft class. Because we had the polar opposite quarterback class in 2022, that rule is out the window. This year, only one selection from the top-five picks was allowed.
Honorable Mention: David Bell, WR, Browns
As a draft analyst who respects the way Bell changes speeds to get open because he’s not overly fast or explosive, I’d love to see him thrive in the NFL. Of course, speed does matter at receiver, but had Bell run a few tenths of a second faster at the combine or his pro day, he would’ve been a first-round receiver. Everything else about his game is tremendous. He tracks it naturally over his shoulder and in traffic, and his unshakeable equilibrium makes him a yards-after-the-catch monster. With Deshaun Watson throwing him the ball early in the 2022 season — we think — Bell can be very productive in Cleveland’s offense.
10. Garrett Wilson, WR, Jets
One can look at Wilson’s situation two ways. First, given the presence of Elijah Moore, Corey Davis, Braxton Berrios, and CJ Uzomah, he’ll find himself in advantageous scenarios coverage-wise early on. Or, that trio could be an impediment to Wilson being a central facet of the Zach Wilson-led passing game for Gang Green. I land somewhere in the middle there but probably lean toward the latter. Is Wilson immensely talented? Ab-so-lutely. It just feels like it’ll take time for him to wrestle away a considerable amount of targets, and we haven’t seen sustained high-level play from his young quarterback yet.
9. Breece Hall, RB, Jets
Hall and second-year runner Michael Carter will formulate an ideal duo in the Jets backfield as young runners who complement each other’s style perfectly. The main reason Hall is lower than you probably expected.. New York’s offensive line. Now, fourth-round pick Max Mitchell is an ideal zone-blocking scheme right tackle, but to presume a mid-round rookie will enter the lineup and transform the blocking unit is a bit foolish, and the Jets had a leaky offensive line, which of course directly impacts how efficient a running back is.
8. Chris Olave, WR, Saints
Olave won’t have to shoulder the responsibility of facing the opposition’s No. 1 cornerback thanks to the return of Michael Thomas in 2022, which is an immediate win for the rookie wideout. And, he’ll get Jameis Winston throwing him the football, one of the league’s most aggressive passers. Now, Winston only threw the football 30 or more times in two of his seven starts last season, but given the Saints ascension to grab Olave, it’s safe to assume the pass game will return to being the focal point of New Orleans’ offense, and the crisp route-running brilliance of Olave will lead to productivity out of the gate for the former Ohio State star.
7. Kyle Hamilton, S, Ravens
Hamilton was my No. 1 overall prospect, and landing with the Ravens feels exquisite. He’s a tick lower than his lofty pre-draft ranking would indicate because of the presence of newly signed safety Marcus Williams and Chuck Clark, the latter having been a trustworthy, multidimensional safety for years now in Baltimore. That’s not to suggest Hamilton won’t see the field early with the Ravens. In new defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald’s scheme, he absolutely will. There’s just a reasonable chance the Ravens won’t load Hamilton’s plate immediately. When they do, he’ll flourish.
6. Kaiir Elam, CB, Bills
The Bills will get No. 1 cornerback Tre’Davious White back this season from a torn ACL he suffered on Thanksgiving against the Saints. Elam will assume No. 2 cornerback duties in a defensive scheme that got the most out of former undrafted free agent Levi Wallace and seventh-round pick Dane Jackson. Elam is head and shoulders a better all-around athlete than Wallace and Jackson and will enter the NFL with more coverage polish. In Buffalo’s established scheme, Elam is going to thrive, instantly.
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5. Christian Watson, WR, Packers
The Packers have to replace 248 targets from their 2021 regular season, and the receiver room shouldn’t exactly be brimming with confidence right now. Green Bay traded two second-round picks in the division — to the Vikings — to land Watson at No. 34 overall. Not cheap. But at 6-4 with 4.36 speed, Watson has the physical makeup to be a big-play specialist with long-ball artist Aaron Rodgers hucking the football around Lambeau Field. He’s raw as a route runner and not going to bounce off many tackles, but the athletic profile and opportunity is undeniably there for the former FCS star.
4. Zion Johnson, OG, Chargers
Offensive guards don’t immediately come to mind when we think “instant impact.” But I watched all of Justin Herbert’s drop backs in 2021 for my weekly young quarterback grade series, and repeatedly in my head I thought “the offensive line is losing this game for the Chargers.” Now, that was mostly aimed at the right tackle position, as Rashawn Slater was a Kevlar left tackle. Johnson’s steady play could directly lead to Herbert taking another jump in 2022, which would send him into orbit as a superstar quarterback.
3. Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Lions
It’s layup time. Hutchinson was the No. 2 overall pick to a team in dire need of edge-rushing juice. Beyond that, Detroit had to find a three-down, high-energy defender who could assume a leadership role. All that embodies what Hutchinson will bring to the field in the Motor City. Hutchinson’s swim move, speed-to-power conversion, and impressive bend at nearly 6-7 and 260 pounds will make him an instant-impact rusher in Detroit.
2. Logan Hall, DT, Buccaneers
Hall and Vita Vea together, inside on the Buccaneers defensive front, is how it’s supposed to be. One advanced, penetrating pass-rusher and one enormous block-devourer. Yes, Vea can push the pocket, too. but he’ll initially demand doubles on the interior, and Shaq Barrett is no slouch around the outside.
Hall’s pass-rush move arsenal was the most advanced of any top-tier defensive tackle in this class. That will shallow his learning curve once he’s on an NFL field. Beyond his refinement beating blocks, Hall is a uniquely freaky specimen at 6-6 and 283 pounds with enough flexibility to squeeze through gaps to disrupt the pocket on a consistent basis. That’s what he did over and over in college and what he’s going to do in Todd Bowles’ defense as a rookie.
1. Skyy Moore, WR, Chiefs
This was a pairing decided by the football cosmos. It will become a “well, it’s the rest of the NFL’s fault for letting Moore land in Kansas City” type situation. He was the sixth wideout picked in the second round! How in tarnation did that happen? Moore’s film was riveting, he tested like a high-caliber athlete and doesn’t turn 22 until September. Sure, there’s Travis Kelce, Mecole Hardman, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and JuJu Smith-Schuster in Kansas City. Moore will, sooner than later, stand out as a Patrick Mahomes — and Andy Reid — favorite in the Chiefs’ already dynamic offense. Do other receivers have a more clear-cut path to targets? Sure. But Moore will make the greatest impact among all rookies in 2022.