Every NFL season, some rookies surprise and immediately play well.
Last year, players such as Detroit Lions wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, Kansas City Chiefs guard Trey Smith and Las Vegas Raiders slot cornerback Nate Hobbs were among the big Day 3 rookie surprises. Most of the NFL world underrated these three players from the get-go, but their talent and fit within their team played a significant role in their unexpected performances.
Below are six Day 3 picks — three on offense and three on defense — who could surprise in 2022. They all have two things in common: They all have a good chance of serving a key role right away, and they all now play for a team that fits their skill set.
With Davante Adams out of the fold, it was no secret that Aaron Rodgers had one of the worst receiving rooms in the NFL heading into the draft. The team simply had to do something to help fix that, and they came out with North Dakota State’s Christian Watson in Round 2 and Nevada’s Romeo Doubs in Round 4.
Both pass-catchers are expected to be marquee pieces to the Green Bay passing offense. And while it wouldn’t be a surprise to anyone if Watson produces in Year 1, it would be a surprise if Doubs steps up this year, given his standing as a fourth-round pick.
The former Nevada receiver was a big-time vertical threat in college because of his long speed and ball tracking. The 6-foot-2, 204-pound wide receiver led college football in deep receiving touchdowns (15) from 2020 through 2021. With Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling — who combined for 52 deep targets in 2021 — changing teams this offseason, there will be plenty of downfield targets to go around. Both Watson and Doubs could put up solid numbers in this offense, considering their skill sets.
Tennessee’s receiving room is now running dry after they decided to trade away star pass-catcher A.J. Brown.
Veteran Robert Woods — whom the team acquired this offseason — along with rookies Treylon Burks and Kyle Philips will be expected to be key contributors in the receiving room as a result, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the fifth-rounder step up to the challenge.
The UCLA product took over the slot in 2019, and he was one of the most consistent players in the country from that point on. He earned PFF grades of 72.9, 73.1 and 77.6 over those three seasons, recording the second-most slot receptions in the Power Five (145) and producing a 96th-percentile separation rate among the nation's receivers.
The 5-foot-11, 189-pounder then proceeded to earn the highest grade at the position during one-on-ones at the East-West Shrine Bowl. He is a crafty route-runner with sweet short-area quicks and can separate at a high level.
Pierce was one of the most underutilized backs in the 2022 draft class, as he took just 100 carries and 324 snaps for the Florida Gators last season. That didn’t stop him from being a fringe top-100 pick, though. The 107th overall pick can provide value on the ground, as a receiver and as a blocker. And considering the Texans’ current backfield, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the do-it-all back handle a big role sooner rather than later.
Pierce may not have been a workhorse back in 2021, but he still made the most of his touches, earning an FBS-leading 93.5 rushing grade while ranking in the top 10 at the position in receiving grade (83.7). He then went to the Senior Bowl and showcased his pass-protection chops: No running back turned in a higher pass-blocking grade in one-on-ones. The 5-foot-10, 218-pounder plays with brute force and possesses a game that will translate to the NFL.
The new Houston Texan is 40-to-1 to win Offensive Rookie of the Year, according to DraftKings Sportsbook. That’s worth a sprinkle.
New Giants defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale has a “type” at linebacker — and McFadden fits that type.
The former Indiana Hoosier landed in a perfect landing spot that will fully utilize his blitzing prowess. Since 2019, no Power Five off-ball linebacker produced a higher pass-rush grade — he racked up 74 pressures and a 25.6% win rate in that span, both of which also led the position.
McFadden is a physical player who can stack and shed with ease, but he is also innate at getting skinny to avoid contact altogether. The cons with his game have to do with limited range, length and inability to play in space, but he is quick to diagnose and can be a menace in the box. In Martindale's aggressive defense, McFadden could shine in the pass-rush and exceed expectations as a Day 3 rookie.
Butler was a reliable defensive back and special teams ace for the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns. He produced a 77.0-plus PFF grade each year from 2019 to 2021, earning a 90.3 special teams grade over that span.
The 6-foot, 194-pound safety has legit range, as evidenced by his 4.36-second 40-yard dash, and he has displayed sharp read-react ability. Head coach Ron Rivera said Butler would have a shot to play as the team’s “Buffalo Nickel,” a hybrid safety who plays closer to the line of scrimmage.
Butler’s size and tackling will be of some concern in that job, but his athleticism, smarts and aggressive nature could get him to overcome that and get on the field outside of special teams.
Seattle is thin at cornerback and implementing a new defensive system under Clint Hurtt. And while Coby Bryant — Seattle’s selection at 109th overall — can hang at the line of scrimmage, he fits best in a two-high system that will give him a higher rate of off-coverage opportunities — just like the one they'll be running in Seattle this year.
Bryant has an innate feel in zone coverage and wins with his mirror ability and ball skills. Those traits helped him to 47 combined interceptions plus breakups in his career at Cincinnati. With some of his physical limitations — underwhelming speed and length, along with some tightness — Bryant looked like a boom-or-bust player every week in college, but this system could help him find success. I wouldn’t put it past him to be more productive than one could imagine for a Day 3 rookie.