With the 2022 NFL season now officially in the books, all eyes turn toward the 2023 NFL Draft. But before a new wave of talent hits the league, Eric Edholm and Nick Shook are taking a team-by-team look back at the rookie class of 2022.
Today, Edholm examines the AFC East.
- (No. 4) Sauce Gardner, CB, 17 games/17 starts
- (10) Garrett Wilson, WR, 17 games/12 starts
- (26) Jermaine Johnson II, DE, 14 games/0 starts
- (36) Breece Hall, RB, 7 games/2 starts
- (101) Jeremy Ruckert, TE, 9 games/0 starts
Notable free-agent signees
- Zonovan Knight, RB, 7 games/4 starts
UPDATE: Upon review, after weighing the grades of all 32 teams, I felt this Jets class clearly deserved to stand alone as the top group, bumping them up from an A-.
The Jets were armed with draft-pick munitions, making seven picks in the first 117 selections, including four in the first 36 picks, and called it a draft. The good news is that most of their early decisions look extremely promising after one year.
Top-10 picks Sauce Gardner and Garrett Wilson were two of the best rookies at their respective positions, with each taking home a Rookie of the Year honor, and it didn't hurt that they pushed each other in some strong training camp battles. Gardner looks like a star and a rare shutdown corner. Wilson could be the Jets' WR1 for years to come, proving to be excellent despite subpar QB play after the Jets struck out on trading for Tyreek Hill.
Breece Hall was on a path toward being an Offensive Rookie of the Year favorite prior to his ACL injury. Assuming he returns to full health, the state of the Jets' running game appears strong. The nice addition of undrafted rookie Zonovan Knight only bolsters the position further.
Jermaine Johnson II and Michael Clemons had steady reserve roles as rookies on a deep Jets D-line, but each flashed on defense and blocked a punt that resulted in a score. Their arrows are up. Max Mitchell struggled in his early snaps before blood clots ended his season. Jeremy Ruckert figures to get more chances eventually with his athletic profile but showed little in Year 1.
- (No. 23) Kaiir Elam, CB, 13 games/6 starts
- (63) James Cook, RB, 16 games/0 starts
- (89) Terrel Bernard, LB, 16 games/1 start
- (148) Khalil Shakir, WR, 14 games/2 starts
- (180) Matt Araiza, P (released)
- (185) Christian Benford, CB, 9 games/5 starts
- (209) Luke Tenuta, OL, 3 games/0 starts (now w/GB)
- (231) Baylon Spector, LB, 6 games/0 starts
The Bills' 2022 rookie class offered immediate returns -- in a few cases, out of sheer need -- but might be best judged in a few years' time. It appears on the surface to be a promising draft haul, yet one with a ceiling.
First-rounder Kaiir Elam was a surprise inactive at one point, but he finished the season strong with two good playoff showings, serving as a launching pad for Year 2. Fellow CB Christian Benford started fairly well before an oblique injury derailed his rookie campaign, but there has been talk of moving him to safety next season with uncertainty at that position.
James Cook fumbled his first NFL touch and found the doghouse early. But by year's end, he'd carved out a nice role and flashed some real game-breaking ability in extended duty against the Patriots and Bears. He's on the rise, for sure, just as Khalil Shakir might be. Similar to Elam, Shakir stepped up his game in the two postseason contests and could be in the regular WR rotation in 2023, with changes likely coming at that position in Buffalo.
The rest of the class might carry limited future potential, and there's already the sting of one wasted pick (Matt Araiza). A core special-teamer as a rookie who made a big block on Nyheim Hines' emotional kick-return TD vs. New England, Terrel Bernard could factor in more heavily on defense if Tremaine Edmunds walks in free agency.
- (No. 29) Cole Strange, OL, 17 games/17 starts
- (50) Tyquan Thornton, WR, 13 games/9 starts
- (85) Marcus Jones, DB, 15 games/4 starts
- (121) Jack Jones, CB, 13 games/2 starts
- (127) Pierre Strong, RB, 15 games/0 starts
- (137) Bailey Zappe, QB, 4 games/2 starts
- (183) Kevin Harris, RB, 5 games/1 start
- (200) Sam Roberts, DT, 5 games/0 starts
- (210) Chasen Hines, OG, 0 games/0 starts
- (245) Andrew Stueber, OT, 0 games/0 starts
The Patriots received reinforcements from their 2022 rookie class via multiple contributors. But the question remains over just how high the ceiling is for this group.
First-rounder Cole Strange was a much-maligned pick at the time. He started all 17 games, and though Strange was benched briefly a few times, he appeared to be stronger by season's end. Two DBs stepped up for New England. Marcus Jones beat the Jets with a walk-off punt-return TD and made eye-opening plays on offense, defense and special teams. Jack Jones had a pair of picks and flashed early, but a late-season suspension dampened his forecast a bit.
After that, this rookie class has a wait-and-see quality, but it might never be a special group. Tyquan Thornton's deep ability could be unleashed more under Bill O'Brien, so it's hard to judge him too critically. RBs Pierre Strong Jr. and Kevin Harris remain projects with some upside but some questions. Zappe's relief appearances showed he could at least be a quality backup, but is there more than that?
- (No. 102) Channing Tindall, LB, 16 games/0 starts
- (125) Erik Ezukanma, WR, 1 game/0 starts
Notable free agent signees:
Because of the Tyreek Hill trade, the Dolphins were left with a mere four picks in the 2022 NFL Draft. Only one of them played any significant snaps as a rookie, too: seventh-rounder Skylar Thompson, who made three surprising starts (including the 34-31 wild-card loss) as one of the final picks last spring. His play wasn't particularly inspired, and he soon turns 26, but Thompson was prepared, kept Miami in every start and is worth keeping around.
It's hard to know what to make of the remainder of their picks. Ezukanma saw minimal action (10 snaps), catching one 3-yard pass after showing some promise in the preseason. Tindall played extensively on special teams but barely saw the field on defense. Both Ezukanma and Tindall reportedly needed time to absorb NFL terminology and concepts.
But the consolation was that Kohou ended up being a shockingly valuable undrafted gem. With injuries to Byron Jones and Nik Needham, the rookie from Texas A&M-Commerce stepped in and looked like a pro from Jump Street as the team's second corner. Miami's secondary will undergo changes this offseason, but his emergence puts him firmly in the 2023 plans.