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, Shook examines the NFC East.
- (No. 24) Tyler Smith, OG, 17 games/17 starts
- (56) Sam Williams, DE, 15 games/0 starts
- (88) Jalen Tolbert, WR, 8 games/1 start
- (129) Jake Ferguson, TE, 16 games/8 starts
- (155) Matt Waletzko, OL, 3 games/0 starts
- (167) DaRon Bland, DB, 17 games/8 starts
- (176) Damone Clark, LB, 10 games/5 starts
- (178) John Ridgeway, DT, 15 games/4 starts (w/WAS)
- (193) Devin Harper, LB, 3 games/0 starts
Notable free agent signees
- Markquese Bell, S, 5 games/0 starts
- Malik Davis, RB, 12 games/0 starts
- Peyton Hendershot, TE, 17 games/2 starts
Tyler Smith was drafted to play left guard next to Tyron Smith, but a preseason injury to the veteran forced the rookie to man left tackle from Week 1. He didn't get a chance to play his intended position until Dallas decided to insert Jason Peters at left tackle and place Tyron Smith at right tackle following a season-ending injury to usual right tackle Terence Steele. In all, the rookie played well, allowing six sacks, per Pro Football Focus, and accounting for close to a dozen penalties. But considering how he was required to adjust his role while getting his feet underneath him as a green blocker, he did a good job. Entrenched behind DeMarcus Lawrence, Sam Williams didn't see a ton of defensive snaps (273 on defense and 245 on special teams) but showed glimpses of why the Cowboys felt confident selecting him in the second round. He finished with 22 tackles, four sacks, one forced fumble and one pass defensed in his 15 games played, easing his way into the NFL while producing when given the opportunity. Dallas had a need at receiver but waited until the third round to take Jalen Tolbert, who arrived as an athletic playmaker but wasn't polished enough to make an instant impact as a rookie. His slow start and lack of production left the Cowboys with a void, prompting Dallas to explore potentially signing Odell Beckham Jr. before settling on veteran T.Y. Hilton.
With Dalton Schultz playing on the franchise tag, the Cowboys took a couple shots at finding his long-term replacement. Jake Ferguson fit in nicely as a second tight end, catching 19 of his 22 targets for 174 yards and two touchdowns. With Peyton Hendershot also securing a secondary role (11 catches, 103 yards, two touchdowns), Dallas seems to have landed a complementary duo at the position. Matt Waletzsko played three games, with all but one of his 12 snaps coming on special teams. DaRon Bland proved to be a bona fide gem, seizing playing time afforded to him by unfortunate injuries at cornerback and capitalizing with five interceptions, seven passes defensed and 54 tackles. The former Fresno State corner has been overlooked for most of his career, but not anymore -- thanks to his performance as a rookie, Bland will figure into Dallas' 2023 plans and beyond.
Damone Clark wasn't able to play until Week 8, but he quickly became a quality rotational defender, earning five starts and logging 47 tackles and two forced fumbles before reverting to special teams duties in the postseason. John Ridgeway made the final 53-man roster out of camp, but only for a few weeks: He was waived in mid-September and claimed by division-rival Washington. Devin Harper played exclusively on special teams. Markquese Bell recorded one tackle in five games, primarily playing special teams. Malik Davis rushed 38 times for 161 yards and one touchdown, despite being buried behind Tony Pollard and Ezekiel Elliott on the depth chart.
- (43) Wan'Dale Robinson, WR, 6 games/3 starts
- (146) Micah McFadden, LB, 17 games/7 starts
- (147) D.J. Davidson, DT, 5 games/0 starts
- (173) Marcus McKethan, OL, 0 games/0starts
- (182) Darrian Beavers, LB, 0 games/0 starts
Notable free agent signees
Kayvon Thibodeaux lived up to the prime-time persona he exudes, finishing fourth in Defensive Rookie of the Year voting despite totaling just four sacks. He wasn't a game-wrecking edge rusher on an every-down basis, but there were plenty of examples of his potential to become one. His final stat line -- 49 tackles, four sacks, five passes defensed, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and a defensive touchdown -- was certainly good enough to earn praise, and he's just getting started. Evan Neal, on the other hand, wasn't as exciting. He struggled, much like many rookie tackles, and gave up three sacks in one game (Week 3 vs. Dallas), but had a couple of nice performances sprinkled among his 13 games. Above all, Neal needs time to develop.
Wan'Dale Robinson was just getting going when he sustained a season-ending ACL injury in November, finishing with 23 catches for 227 yards and one touchdown. Joshua Ezeudu battled the typical struggles of rookie linemen, giving up three sacks before landing on IR. Cordale Flott saw early playing time, then suffered an injury that led to him being replaced by veteran Fabian Moreau. He had a couple of strong performances after returning from injury and could blossom into a productive defensive back, but he'll need more time to improve. Daniel Bellinger's rookie season was a pleasant surprise that included 30 catches for 268 yards and two touchdowns. He likely would have made an even larger impact had he not missed time due to a freak injury to the face, and he should be a quality contributor in the years ahead. Dane Belton didn't see the field consistently but did make a bit of a difference when he did play. He'll need more reps to determine whether he can be a productive member of the defense in the future.
New York didn't feel confident enough in Micah McFadden to rely on him heavily down the stretch, turning to free agent veterans like Jaylon Smith and Jarrad Davis in favor of the rookie. He'll have to battle for a job in 2023. D.J. Davidson played less than 100 snaps on the year, splitting time evenly between defense and special teams. Marcus McKethan's rookie season ended before it began due to an ACL injury that landed him on IR in early August. Darrian Beavers suffered a similar fate, tearing his ACL in the preseason. Ryder Anderson bounced between the practice squad and active roster before receiving a chance to play in December and January, finishing with eight tackles, two sacks. Tomon Fox played over 500 snaps, recording 24 tackles and earning himself a chance to win a roster spot entering 2023.
- (No. 13) Jordan Davis, DT, 13 games/5 starts
- (51) Cam Jurgens, OL, 17 games/0 starts
- (83) Nakobe Dean, LB, 17 games/0 starts
Notable free agent signees
- Reed Blankenship, S, 10 games/4 starts
- Britain Covey, WR, 17 games/0 starts
- Josh Jobe, CB, 11 games/0 starts
Jordan Davis drew eyes for his renowned power during the preseason and was rising steadily as a rotational defender and promising prospect before an ankle injury interrupted his season in late October. He should be a key part of the Eagles' long-term plans along the defensive front. Cam Jurgens was handpicked by veteran Jason Kelce but didn't see much action as a rookie because of Kelce's well-established reliability. Nakobe Dean spent the vast majority of his rookie season on special teams, making him another rookie who essentially redshirted in 2022. The same was true for Kyron Johnson, who played 265 of his 283 snaps on special teams. Grant Calcaterra caught five passes for 81 yards in an offense that already had an established top tight end in Dallas Goedert and used the rookie largely in jumbo sets.
Reed Blankenship fought his way through a crowded depth chart and seized an opportunity to play, finishing with 34 tackles, two passes defensed and one interception while playing both defense and special teams. Britain Covey brought his elite return talents to the NFL, finishing with over 500 yards between kick and punt returns and posing a constant threat to opposing special teams units. Josh Jobe played 220 special teams snaps but finished with just one tackle. Philadelphia's grade boils down to the fact most of these guys, while carrying plenty of potential, didn't see enough playing time to make a significant difference on a loaded Eagles team.
- (No. 16) Jahan Dotson, WR, 12 games/10 starts
- (47) Phidarian Mathis, DT, 1 game/0 starts
- (98) Brian Robinson Jr., RB, 12 games/9 starts
- (113) Percy Butler, S, 15 games/0 starts
Notable free agent signees
- Armani Rodgers, TE, 11 games/3 starts
- John Ridgeway, DT, 15 games/4 starts (claimed via waivers from DAL)
Jahan Dotson joined a Commanders team that already had a couple of strong talents in Terry McLaurin and Curtis Samuel, yet he still managed to finish with 35 catches for 523 yards and seven touchdowns despite playing with three different quarterbacks. He didn't produce at the levels of Chris Olave or Garrett Wilson, but Dotson deserves commendation for his performance as a rookie. Phidarian Mathis' rookie season met an unfortunate end in Week 1 with a knee injury. Brian Robinson's story is well-known at this point: He appeared set to win the starting running back job, then was shot twice in the leg. He returned to rush 205 times for 797 yards and two touchdowns, falling short of 4 yards per carry but winning the support of football fans everywhere for his journey back to the field.
Percy Butler played more on special teams than defense, but he could become a contributor as a safety in the seasons ahead. Sam Howell spent almost all of 2022 enjoying a front-row seat for the switches between Carson Wentz and Taylor Heinicke before receiving a chance to play in Week 18. He put on a decent showing in the win over Dallas and will enter the 2023 offseason as Washington's top quarterback, at least for now. Cole Turner found himself buried behind Logan Thomas and John Bates -- and even undrafted free agent Armani Rodgers outplayed him in terms of statistical production -- but he should get another chance to earn a spot in 2023. Chris Paul only appeared in one game, registering a slightly below-average PFF grade for his performance in Week 18. Christian Holmes spent most of his rookie season on special teams, making one pivotal play: recovering a fumble to set up Washington's only touchdown in a win over Chicago.
Like Turner, Armani Rogers had to fight for the snaps he saw in a crowded tight end room but may have done enough to earn a second look in 2023. Washington was happy to scoop up John Ridgeway off waivers, giving him over 250 defensive snaps and enjoying the highs and lows of a rookie finding his footing in Year 1. Ridgeway finished with 24 tackles and one key forced fumble that helped Washington upset Philadelphia, but he is also playing on a team loaded with talent up front.