The 2022 NFL rookie class has wowed through five weeks. Twelve first-year players have already caught at least one touchdown pass and nine have rushed for one. Thirteen have an interception and 14 have at least one sack in their early pro careers. A pair of rookie quarterbacks have even gotten a start and plenty of 2022 draft picks are playing prominent roles for their teams.
So how do the rookies stack up so far? Let’s rank the top 10 coming out of Week 5. We polled our own Matt Bowen, Jeff Legwold, Matt Miller and Jordan Reid for their personal lists and combined them to make a consensus ranking of the top 10 rookies. Our experts then weighed in on each player who made the list, along with a few who just fell short. Finally, they picked out a riser to watch, an underperforming first-rounder and an overperforming late-rounder and took a quick look at the first-year quarterback situations.
Let’s jump in at No. 1 with a standout receiver.
Top 10 | Just missed
Stats: 25 catches, 389 yards, 2 TDs
Drafted: No. 11
Why he’s here: Olave suffered a concussion in the Saints’ Week 5 win over the Seahawks, so his availability in the near term will be determined by how he moves through the concussion protocol. But he has been a bright spot in a Saints offense that has been without Michael Thomas for two games and was without Jarvis Landry this past Sunday. Olave’s 13.5-yard average length of reception is good for sixth in the league. — Legwold
Going forward: Olave was the No. 11 overall pick in the draft for a reason and has quickly paid dividends for the Saints. He’s a legitimate deep threat who also has silky smooth footwork on underneath routes. His ceiling might not be as high as that of Minnesota’s Justin Jefferson, but he can be a very similar type of player and might end up top 10 at the position by season’s end as the Saints’ top receiver. — Miller
Stats: 20 tackles, 1 INT, 6 passes defended
Drafted: No. 4
Why he’s here: Gardner can challenge in man coverage, and there’s plenty of lockdown potential here. But he’s also playing with backfield vision and technique in the Jets’ zone schemes. Gardner has the look of a No. 1 corner who can impact an offensive game plan. He hauled in his first career interception in Week 5, picking off Miami’s Skylar Thompson, and he has at least one pass breakup in every game so far. — Bowen
Going forward: A strong argument can be made that Gardner is already the Jets’ best defensive player. He has been even better than advertised when he was the fourth pick of the 2022 draft. New York has been searching for a lockdown corner and seems to have found its answer. — Reid
Stats: 86 carries, 412 rushing yards, 13 catches, 57 receiving yards, 3 total TDs
Drafted: No. 107
Why he’s here: Pierce was very underused at Florida, but the Texans are making him their go-to running back. He’s producing with a power and urgency to his game that was previously missing from this backfield. Pierce leads all rookies in rushing yards and has been the lone bright spot for the Houston offense. He already has nine carries for at least 10 yards, and his 2.2 yards after first contact per carry is 16th in the NFL. — Miller
Going forward: He went from 11 carries in Week 1 to 26 carries this past Sunday, so the role is expanding. He has also caught nine passes over the past two games. Pierce breaks tackles, finishes runs with bad intentions and is now fifth overall in the league in rushing. The Texans can throw everything at him as a true RB1. — Legwold
Stats: 56 carries, 275 rushing yards, 17 catches, 213 receiving yards, 3 total TDs
Drafted: No. 36
Why he’s here: New York eased him into a bigger workload over the first three weeks of the season (no more than eight carries in each game), but the Jets have now completely taken the training wheels off Hall in their offense, giving him at least 19 touches in back-to-back weeks. The first running back selected in April’s draft has taken full advantage of his opportunities. He was three rushing yards shy of gaining 100 both on the ground and through the air on Sunday. — Reid
Going forward: Hall has the dual-threat traits and explosive play ability to leap past Michael Carter as the No. 1 back in the Jets’ backfield, and his workload suggests he already has taken over as the top option. His 4.9 yards per carry leads all rookies through five weeks. An easy mover who can be decisive and sudden as a ball carrier, Hall also gives the Jets’ formation versatility as a receiver. — Bowen
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Stats: 49 tackles, 2 INTs, 6 passes defended
Drafted: No. 27
Why he’s here: Lloyd has played all but eight of the Jaguars’ defensive snaps this season. He led the team in tackles in the season opener (11) and hasn’t looked back, averaging nearly 10 per game. Lloyd has been active at the point of attack, and when he is asked to work in coverage, he finds the ball quickly. He’s the only player — rookie or otherwise — in the league with at least 40 tackles and two interceptions. — Legwold
Going forward: He is a building block and anchor for the Jacksonville defense and has played up to expectations. As he gets more comfortable with the speed and schemes of the NFL, Lloyd should see his tackle totals continue to trend up and pull down a few more interceptions. In each of the Jaguars’ two wins, he had a pick and broke up three passes. — Miller
Stats: 17 tackles, 3 INTs, 4 passes defended, 1 TD, 1 fumble recovery, 1 blocked kick
Drafted: No. 153
Why he’s here: The on-the-ball production jumps out on tape for a rookie. He now has an interception in three straight games (tied for second in the NFL) and he took one to the house in a Week 4 win over Detroit. With his rare physical tools for the position, Woolen has tremendous upside as a playmaking defensive back. — Bowen
Going forward: Considering his 6-foot-4, 210-pound size and explosive traits, many were surprised to see Woolen slip to the fifth round. But he sure seems like a steal so far as a starter for the Seahawks. Woolen has been one of the bright spots on a lackluster defense, and he has a lot of upside as he continues his development. — Reid
Stats: 23 catches, 282 yards, 2 TDs
Drafted: No. 10
Why he’s here: Wilson has seen playing time with both Zach Wilson and Joe Flacco under center this season, but regardless who is at quarterback, he has shown dynamic playmaking ability. Opposing defenses must always account for him, and he caught the game-winning touchdown in Week 2’s wild comeback win over the Browns. Once the two Wilsons get on the same page, the rookie should be the team’s clear WR1. — Reid
Going forward: Wilson is wrestling with a little more attention from opposing secondaries since his 102-yard effort in Week 2, but his route running proficiency and ability to consistently win contested catches point to continued production since those are the two most important transitions for a younger receiver in the NFL. He is already seeing 23.8% of the Jets’ targets, per NFL Next Gen Stats. — Legwold
Stats: 18 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT, 2 passes defended
Drafted: No. 1
Why he’s here: There was a lot of chatter after Walker became the No. 1 overall pick — he had a lot of top-tier traits coming out of Georgia, but the production numbers weren’t eye-popping. But Walker has made multiple flash plays through five games and continued to improve each week as both a pass-rusher and run defender. His length and playmaking ability have given the Jaguars defense a significant boost. — Reid
Going forward: Look for a boost in total production and more impact plays with Walker. The physical traits and explosiveness fit here, and the rookie is playing in a fast and disruptive front seven in Jacksonville. He already has eight pressures. — Bowen
Stats: 22 catches, 266 yards, 2 TDs
Drafted: No. 8
Why he’s here: London missed three weeks of practice in the preseason with a knee injury, but since his return, he leads the Falcons in targets, receptions and receiving yards and he is tied for the team lead in touchdowns. His 36.8% target-per-route rate leads the entire NFL, and 15 of his 22 catches have gone for a first down. — Legwold
Going forward: The Falcons are playing better each week (even if they aren’t winning), and London will benefit from a more well-rounded offense. He should continue to lead the team in targets while becoming a bigger red zone threat once he and quarterback Marcus Mariota find better chemistry. He only has four targets on plays from inside the 20 through five games. — Miller
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Stats: 39 tackles, 2 INTs, 1 sack, 2 passes defended
Drafted: No. 37
Why he’s here: An urgent safety with multidimensional traits, Pitre is constantly around the ball for a reason. He’s a three-level defender who can create disruption in both the run and pass game. He is the only player in the NFL with multiple interceptions, at least one sack and 35-plus tackles. — Bowen
Going forward: Pitre has been an early vocal leader for Lovie Smith’s defense and impacted multiple areas of the game. The Texans are utilizing his versatility all over the field. He has 201 snaps at safety, 99 snaps at outside linebacker, 29 snaps as a slot corner, 23 snaps as an outside corner and five as an inside linebacker. I expect the creativity to continue as he gains more comfort in the Houston scheme. — Reid
Jack Jones, CB, New England Patriots: Jones should be on the list for a rare pick-six against Aaron Rodgers alone. But just look at the production. In 171 defensive snaps this season — 112 of those coming in the past two games — the fourth-rounder has two interceptions, a touchdown return and a forced fumble. — Legwold
Tyler Linderbaum, C, Baltimore Ravens: Sometimes it comes down to a combination of body work and degree of difficulty. Linderbaum has started since Day 1 at one of the most challenging positions on the field for a rookie outside of the quarterback room. He has played all but two snaps this season and has a 97.3% pass block win rate. — Legwold
Aidan Hutchinson, DE, Detroit Lions: The list of defensive struggles for the Lions is a long one, and there are times when Hutchinson doesn’t look all that comfortable with what he’s being asked to do, but his three-sack performance in Week 2 against Washington was a quality glimpse of his potential. If he maintains his high-effort work in the weeks to come, it should be rewarded. — Legwold
Also received votes: Quay Walker, Romeo Doubs, Abraham Lucas, Charles Cross, George Pickens, Tyler Smith, Malcolm Rodriguez, Kyle Hamilton, Dylan Parham, Kaiir Elam, Jahan Dotson and Derek Stingley Jr.
Which rookie is rising through five weeks?
Legwold: Kaiir Elam, CB, Buffalo Bills. He has started the past three games for one of the league’s best defenses since fellow rookie Christian Benford fractured his hand. The Steelers went at Elam with purpose this past Sunday with some success, but the first-rounder did have his first career interception in the game. Elam’s prognosis is good because you can see him adjust in real time and keep grinding. He has 25 tackles and two passes defended to go along with his interception.
What is going on with the rookie quarterbacks?
Bowen: In a very small sample size and on a struggling offense, Pittsburgh Steelers rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett has shown flashes of his ability to make second- and third-level throws. And he has the movement skills to manage pressure. Pickett has a 46.1 QBR with 447 passing yards — but he still doesn’t have a TD throw and has tossed four interceptions.
Don’t sleep on Patriots quarterback Bailey Zappe, though. The rookie made his first start for an injured Mac Jones in Week 5, throwing the ball in rhythm on schemed concepts and using subtle movements in the pocket to reset his passing window. Through two games, he has completed 75% of his passes for two touchdowns and one interception. But his 18.3 QBR would rank only above Carolina’s Baker Mayfield if it qualified.
Which first-rounder is underperforming right now?
Miller: Evan Neal, OT, New York Giants. The No. 7 pick has seen his share of struggles as the Giants’ right tackle, notably surrendering four sacks to the Cowboys in Week 3. As the Giants have exceeded expectations, Neal’s six sacks and 31 pressures allowed are concerning. But it took teammate Andrew Thomas a season to acclimate to the NFL game, so there’s still hope for Neal to turn things around.
Which late-rounder is overperforming right now?
Reid: Malcolm Rodriguez, ILB, Detroit Lions: The sixth-round pick quickly climbed the Lions’ depth chart and opened the season as the team’s starting weakside linebacker. His physicality, instincts and toughness have all been on display through five games. He is second on Detroit in tackles (36) and has proven reliable against the run, as a blitzer and in pass coverage.