• OT Evan Neal, New York Giants: Neal earned a sub-50.0 PFF pass-blocking grade in seven of the 15 games he played in 2022.
• WR Tyquan Thornton, New England Patriots: Thornton averaged just 0.76 yards per route run in 2022, the third-lowest mark among the 16 rookie wide receivers who played at least 100 receiving snaps.
• CB Derek Stingley Jr., Houston Texans: While Stingley did progress in his rookie season, his 49.9 PFF coverage grade was the 12th worst among cornerbacks.
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It’s not always easy being a rookie in the NFL. For every Sauce Gardner, a player who immediately looked like one of the best players in the NFL, there are countless players who come out of their rookie seasons under some pressure to step up their game in Year 2.
Here, we look at 10 players who will be looking to take serious leaps forward in their second seasons in the league.
Neal endured some rough moments as a rookie, earning a sub-50.0 PFF pass-blocking grade in seven of the 15 games he played. His 28.1 PFF pass-blocking grade on true pass sets was the lowest among all offensive tackles to play at least 400 pass-blocking snaps in 2022. He only needs to look across the offensive line to see his path to progression, though, with Giants left tackle Andrew Thomas recovering from his own rookie struggles to develop into one of the best tackles in football over the past two seasons.
Fortner ended his rookie season with his two highest-graded performances, earning a 67.9 PFF grade against the Los Angeles Chargers and a 64.4 PFF grade against the Kansas City Chiefs in the playoffs. His 49.6 PFF grade in the regular season was the second lowest among starters at the position, though, so he will need to build upon those playoff performances in 2023 for a Jaguars team that wants to contend in a loaded AFC.
A surprise top-50 selection in the 2022 NFL Draft, Thornton didn’t do much in his rookie season to prove the Patriots right for drafting him higher than many expected. He averaged just 0.76 yards per route run, the third-lowest mark among the 16 rookie wide receivers who saw at least 100 receiving snaps in 2022. With JuJu Smith-Schuster, DeVante Parker and Kendrick Bourne ahead of him on the depth chart, Thornton will have to impress over the summer and into the 2023 season to turn around the early perception of him as a player.
Williams was limited to just 37 receiving snaps as a rookie, which wasn’t unexpected given that he was coming off a serious knee injury at the end of his college career. But his place on this list has less to do with that than the fact he will miss the first six games of the 2023 season due to a suspension. That puts pressure on him to perform immediately when returns to the field, hoping to avoid coming out of his first two seasons with little production to show for it, even if a lot of that is down to bad luck.
The Titans' third-round pick out of Ohio State last year, Petit-Frere has some nice moments but also plenty of struggles as a rookie. His 40.7 PFF pass-blocking grade on true pass sets was the fourth worst among all offensive tackles to play at least 400 pass-blocking snaps last year. As a third-round pick, there’s also less sunk cost, which could see the Titans move on from him quicker than they would if he were a first-round pick.
Green earned the lowest PFF pass-blocking grade on all pass-blocking snaps and on true pass sets among guards to see at least 400 pass-blocking snaps in 2022. The 15th overall selection in the 2022 NFL Draft has all the physical tools to be an All-Pro at the position, but the lack of progress in his rookie year means that he’s going to have to show some serious growth in Year 2.
Heading into the 2022 NFL Draft, there were serious debates over who was the better prospect between Stingley and Sauce Gardner. A year into their careers, Gardner is in the conversation for the best player at the position, coming off a season during which his 90.0 PFF coverage grade was the best among cornerbacks, while Stingley's 49.9 PFF coverage grade was the 12th worst. He did progress during his rookie season, allowing just eight receptions over his final four games after letting up 25 in his first five, but the Texans will be expecting to see more of that growth in 2023.
The 63 receptions allowed by Gordon as a rookie were tied for the sixth most in the NFL last season, and he was the only cornerback to see more than 300 coverage snaps and allow a reception more frequently than once every seven coverage snaps, allowing a catch every 6.5. There were flashes from the Washington product, including games where he earned a PFF coverage grade of 70.0 or better in both Weeks 15 and 16, but he needs to replicate that with more consistency in 2023.
With a 28.3 PFF grade, Harris was the lowest-graded linebacker to play more than 300 snaps in the NFL last year. His 29.1 PFF run-defense grade was fourth worst, while his 29.6 PFF coverage grade was the second worst. He also missed 16.3% of the tackles he attempted and, as a former third-round pick with a new coaching staff in Houston this season, he’s unlikely to see another 700 snaps in 2023 unless he can start to show some progress quickly.
Lloyd didn’t fare much better than Harris in coverage, with his 32.4 PFF coverage grade the fourth worst at the position. He’ll likely be given more time to develop since he was a first-round pick. And we have seen first-round rookie linebackers take time to reach their potential recently, but his performance in coverage needs to take a big step forward in 2023.