NFL News & Analysis

One rookie to watch on every NFL team during 2022 preseason: QB Desmond Ridder, WR Treylon Burks and more

Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder (4) works on the field during OTA at Falcons Training Complex. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

• Targets are ripe for the taking in Green Bay with Davante Adams gone, making WR Romeo Doubs the team's rookie to watch.

• Rookie quarterbacks Desmond Ridder (Falcons), Kenny Pickett (Steelers) and Sam Howell (Commanders) will be looking to boost their stock this season in their battles to become starters.

• Learn more about every notable rookie with PFF's 2022 NFL Draft Guide.


You’ve probably heard that situation can be as important as talent in the NFL draft.

But just because a player enters into an ideal team environment, though, doesn’t guarantee their success. Let’s take a look at the rookie on each team who is worth watching closely throughout training camp and the preseason because of the opportunity in front of them.

JUMP TO A TEAM:

ARZ | ATL | BLT | BUF | CAR | CIN | CHI | CLE | DEN | DAL | DET | GB | HOU | IND | JAX | KC | LVR | LAC | LAR | MIA | MIN | NE | NO | NYG | NYJ | PHI | PIT | SF | SEA | TB | TEN | WSH


ARIZONA CARDINALS: EDGE Cameron Thomas

The Who: 

Thomas dominated in his senior season for the Aztecs from start to finish. He led the 2022 NFL Draft class with 77 pressures, including 12 sacks and 21 hits. He’s a bigger defensive end at 6-foot-4, 267 pounds with outside-inside versatility as a rusher. Thomas ranked 78th on the PFF draft board and fell to the third round after an injury sidelined him for the entire pre-draft process.

The Why:

Chandler Jones ain’t walking through that door. J.J. Watt is 33 years old and coming off yet another serious injury, this time to his shoulder. The Cardinals have a serious need for someone who can get after opposing passers. Thomas' move set at San Diego State was very similar to what Watt employs at the NFL level, which means he’s getting an opportunity to learn from the best. It’s difficult for a rookie edge rusher to make an impact, but it would be a massive win for the Cardinals' defense if Thomas can do so.

ATLANTA FALCONS: QB Desmond Ridder

The Who:

Ridder was QB3 and the 41st-ranked player overall on PFF’s 2022 draft board. He was a four-year starter at Cincinnati and improved every single year of his career, finishing with a 90.7 overall grade in 2021. In an admittedly weak quarterback class, Ridder was the most NFL-ready of the lot.  

The Why:

The Falcons' transition plan from Matt Ryan was either non-existent or got scrapped when they decided to pursue Deshaun Watson. Either way, they were left grasping at straws after trading away their franchise quarterback. Ridder was one of those straws and, for only the 74th overall pick, didn’t take a hefty investment. If he can win the job outright from a veteran in Marcus Mariota, that would be a great sign going forward.

BALTIMORE RAVENS: C Tyler Linderbaum

The Who:

Linderbaum was PFF’s highest-graded college center in both 2021 and 2020. He’s the best center prospect we’ve seen in our eight years of college grading. While slightly undersized, he’s one heck of an athlete for the position and as good as it gets on the move.

The Why:

While Lamar Jackson took the brunt of the criticism last year, he also dealt with quite easily the worst offensive line of his young NFL career. The once dominant run-blocking unit we saw in 2019 was a shell of itself. Linderbaum could and should change that around quickly once he gets healthy.

BUFFALO BILLS: RB James Cook

The Who:

Cook was never “the guy” in a crowded Georgia backfield, but he still consistently provided explosive plays on the ground and through the air. He averaged 10.7 yards per reception over his career and 1.95 yards per route — both excellent figures for a running back. Maybe more importantly, he dropped just one pass on 68 catchable targets during his college career.

The Why:

Josh Allen has been more than willing to target running backs in the passing game, but the Bills have not had anyone at the position worth targeting. Zack Moss and Devin Singletary are decidedly not the kind of backs you want to be throwing to consistently. Singletary, in particular, averaged only 5.7 yards per reception last year and has a career drop rate of 10.5%. Cook was the best receiver of the top backs in this class and should immediately be an upgrade if given the opportunity.

CAROLINA PANTHERS: OT Ikem Ekwonu

The Who:

The first offensive lineman drafted in a very top-heavy offensive tackle class, Ekwonu was more known for his run blocking than what he did in pass protection. While he led the Power Five in big-time run blocks, Ekwonu finished with only a 78.3 career-high pass-blocking grade in 2021. 

The Why:

You may have heard that the Panthers' offensive line was bad last season. Like, 31st overall in the final PFF rankings bad. It’s undergone quite the overhaul this offseason, but the most important position is still being filled by a rookie. How Ekwonu looks in the preseason against likely backups will be a good indicator of how ready he is for Sundays. 

CHICAGO BEARS: WR Velus Jones Jr.

The Who:

Jones was a journeyman kick returner in college who took until Year 6 to break out as a receiver. He spent four years at USC before transferring to Tennessee for his final two college seasons. In 2021, he hauled in 62 passes for 807 yards with seven scores and 16 broken tackles. Despite running a blazing 4.31-second 40-yard dash at the combine, Jones hauled in only three deep catches last season.

The Why:

The Bears' receiving corps currently consists of Darnell Mooney, numerous cast-offs from other teams around the league and Jones. Chicago finished dead last in PFF’s preseason receiving corps rankings. And as a 25-year-old rookie, Jones better be NFL-ready or there may not be much more developmental potential in the tank. 

CINCINNATI BENGALS: S Daxton Hill

The Who:

Hill was a multi-year starter in college who lined up all over for Michigan's defense. In 2021, he earned a career-high 76.2 overall grade as a primary slot cornerback. He’s slightly built for an all-around safety at 6-foot and 191 pounds, but his wingspan and elite athleticism make him a versatile coverage weapon.

The Why:

The Bengals didn’t really have any starting spots in the secondary up for grabs when they took Hill at the back end of the first round. His usage at Michigan led some to evaluate him as a cornerback, while others called him a safety. Where he ultimately fits on the backend, and if he can overtake an incumbent starter, will be worth monitoring.

CLEVELAND BROWNS: WR David Bell

The Who:

Bell was the Purdue passing offense last season. He racked up 93 catches for 1,275 yards as a junior in 2021 with 25 broken tackles. He’s a solidly built 6-foot-1, 212 pounds and racked up production at the catch point with 41 career contested catches in college. He’s limited from a vertical perspective and ran only a 4.65-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine. 

The Why:

The Browns desperately need a No. 2 wide receiver to pair with Amari Cooper. Bell may not be your do-it-all No. 2, but he can at least be a reliable replacement for Jarvis Landry’s role in the offense. Building a rapport early on in the preseason with Deshaun Watson will be crucial. 

DALLAS COWBOYS: WR Jalen Tolbert

The Who:

Tolbert was a late bloomer at South Alabama. It took until his redshirt junior season to crack the 1,000-yard mark, and then he took it to another level as a redshirt senior in 2021. Last year, he racked up 82 catches for 1,474 yards with eight scores. He’s a rangy deep threat with a big catch radius. Even though he fell to 88th overall in the 2022 NFL Draft, Tolbert ranked 54th on the final PFF draft board

The Why:

The Cowboys' No. 2 wide receiver spot is up for grabs while Michael Gallup recovers from his ACL tear and James Washington is sidelined with a broken foot. Tolbert provides a vertical threat that Noah Brown does not, as well as a more well-rounded game than Simi Fehoko.

DENVER BRONCOS: EDGE Nik Bonitto

The Who:

Bonitto at No. 64 overall was the Broncos' first 2022 NFL Draft pick. He’s an undersized speed rusher at 6-foot-3 and 248 pounds. He was also the single most productive pass rusher in the FBS over the past two seasons, with 101 pressures on 449 pass-rushing snaps. Just don’t expect him to be an every-down player due to his work in the run game.

The Why:

There’s not a team in the NFL that couldn’t use more pass rushers. That was abundantly clear in the second half of the 2021 season for Denver after Von Miller was traded away. Bonitto and Randy Gregory off the edge bring a level of juice that’s going to be difficult for opposing tackles to handle, and it could also allow Bradley Chubb to rush more on the interior.

DETROIT LIONS: LB Malcolm Rodriguez 

The Who:

Rodriguez was the linchpin to the dominant Oklahoma State defense in 2021. His 66 defensive stops were the most of any Power Five player in the country last year. The reason he fell to the sixth round is simple: he’s 5-foot-11 and 232 pounds It's difficult to find many other knocks on his tape that aren’t directly related to his lack of size.

The Why:

Linebacker is quite easily the weakest position of the Lions' defense at the moment. If there is anywhere a sixth-rounder can ascend to the top of the depth chart, it’s there. Detroit needs Rodriguez and/or 2021 fourth-rounder Derrick Barnes to work their way into starting roles this preseason.

GREEN BAY PACKERS: WR Romeo Doubs 

The Who:

Doubs may very well have been drafted earlier and ended up higher on the PFF draft board had he not suffered an injury early on in the pre-draft process. He finished as PFF’s 100th-ranked player in the 2022 class because of his ability to get vertical for a bigger-bodied receiver. The 6-foot-2, 201-pounder went for over 1,000 yards in each of the past two seasons, racking up 23 deep receptions over that span. 

The Why:

Green Bay has PFF’s second-worst ranked receiving corps heading into the 2022 season. And even that might be kind. The Packers' No. 1 receiver hasn’t had over 700 yards in a season since 2015 (Sammy Watkins), and their No. 2 has never gone for more than 513 yards in any of his four seasons (Allen Lazard). Targets are ripe for the taking with Davante Adams gone, and early reports from training camp indicate Doubs is earning them.

HOUSTON TEXANS: S Jalen Pitre

The Who:

Pitre was the single most prolific defensive back in college football last year. His 50 stops not only led all defensive backs last year, but they were also the most we’ve seen from a cornerback or safety in our eight years of college grading. Pitre can flat out find the football, and that’s why he checked in at 31st overall on the 2022 PFF draft board

The Why:

Pitre was a slot-only in Baylor’s defense. While that’s still a position in the NFL, it’s not near the every-down role it is for college defenses. Where exactly he lines up for Lovie Smith’s defense and how he adapts from the role he played in college will be important to keep an eye on.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: OT Bernhard Raimann

The Who:

Raimann started his career at tight end before putting on over 50 pounds the past two years to turn into the second-highest graded tackle in the FBS last season. The improvements he made in such little time were jaw-dropping and a big reason why he checked in at 18th on the final PFF draft board. He possesses all the athletic tools necessary to be a high-level tackle, but the Senior Bowl practices showed he may not be quite NFL-ready.

The Why:

The left tackle position is the one sore spot on an otherwise impressive offensive line. With 2021 starter Eric Fisher still unsigned, the Colts are going to give the rookie every opportunity to sink or swim in camp and potentially take the starting left tackle job from Matt Pryor

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: C Luke Fortner

The Who:

Fortner was the seventh-highest graded center in the country last year (85.0 overall). It was a bit of a breakout season after he started at both guard spots the previous two years. Fortner is a thickly built center who brings the size to hold up to the kind of power he’ll face in the NFL.

The Why:

The Jaguars fielded a bottom-10 offensive line in the NFL last season, and their best player among that starting five, Brandon Linder, retired. A rookie being the man closest to franchise quarterback Trevor Lawrence will be a little worrisome. Fortner is a seasoned veteran, though, at 24 years old with three years of starting experience. The Jags are banking on him playing like one out of the gate.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: CB Joshua Williams

The Who:

There are so many possibly impactful rookies in Chiefs camp that it was difficult to narrow this down to just one player. Williams is ultimately the choice here because of how intriguing his performance was at the Senior Bowl. Hailing from D-II Fayetteville State, Williams didn’t blink when going against top competition in Mobile, Alabama. He’s a long press cornerback and is exactly what defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is looking for at the position. 

The Why:

Williams may very well unseat incumbent Rashad Fenton for playing time when it’s all said and done. He’s not a speedster by any means, but he plays with tremendous balance for a taller cornerback at 6-foot-3. We thought he was a terrific value pick in the fourth round. 

LAS VEGAS RAIDERS: RB Zamir White 

The Who:

White was one of the most explosive running backs in the 2022 draft class. At 6-foot and 214 pounds, he ran a 4.4-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine. He’s a no-nonsense, downhill runner — perfect for the run schemes new Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels employed in New England

The Why:

There have been conflicting reports as to whether the new Raiders regime is looking to shop former first-round running back Josh Jacobs after trotting him out in the Hall of Fame game. Even if Jacobs is still on the roster, McDaniels' offenses have been heavily running back by committee. That means that White will be firmly in the mix for touches in any situation.

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS: G Zion Johnson 

The Who:

Johnson was a three-year starter for Boston College after transferring from Davidson. He allowed a grand total of six pressures last season and put up some of the cleanest college offensive line tape you’ll see. While we didn’t see his selection at No. 17 overall as a value pick, per se, with him checking in at 24th on the PFF draft board, we agree with the assessment that he was about as safe a pick as we saw in the first round.  

The Why:

Johnson may very well be the only rookie who factors into the playing time equation for the now-loaded Chargers roster. He also was billed as incredibly NFL-ready based on his tape at Boston College. So far, that’s been the case. 

LOS ANGELES RAMS: G Logan Bruss 

The Who:

Bruss was a multi-year starter at right guard and right tackle for Wisconsin with 2,281 career snaps to his name. He hails from an NFL-style rushing attack that prepared him as well as any in the country would to hit the ground running in the league.

The Why:

The Rams need a right guard. 2019 third-rounder Bobby Evans has not produced when called upon, so Los Angeles is desperate for Bruss to be an upgrade. With limited draft capital, the Rams don’t have many other options.

MIAMI DOLPHINS: OT Kellen Diesch

The Who:

This choice of a UDFA is a little off the wall, but the pickings were slim with the Dolphins not having a top-100 selection in 2022. Diesch was one of the best pass protectors in America last season, with only eight pressures allowed on 413 pass-blocking snaps at Arizona State and zero pressures allowed in the one-on-ones at the Shrine Bowl. He has below-average length for the position (32 1/4-inch) arms but well above-average athleticism. 

The Why:

Plain and simple, the Dolphins need to improve along the offensive line. Signing Terron Armstead and Connor Williams this offseason is a start, but now it’s on the numerous youngsters the team has drafted the past few years to show some development. With the tape Diesch put up at Arizona State and the Shrine Bowl, he could very well back up Armstead. And that’s a position that’s gotten forced into a starting role on a yearly basis with Armstead’s injury history.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS: G Ed Ingram

The Who:

Ingram was starting at LSU way back as a true freshman in 2017. He’s battle-tested against the best competition in America. Even still, he took a sizable performance leap in 2021 with an 82.6 pass-blocking grade.

The Why:

In his seven-year career, Jesse Davis has never earned an overall grade higher than 62.6. He is not the long-term answer up front and, hopefully, not even the short-term one. A second-round guard should be a starter in Year 1, and that’s what you want to see play out in camp with Ingram. 

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: CB Marcus Jones

The Who:

Jones is yet another player on this list whose knocks revolved around his size more than his on-field performance. He earned coverage grades of 87.4 and 88.9 the past two seasons at Houston. The problem: He’s 5-foot-8 and 174 pounds. How that translates to the NFL remains to be seen.

The Why:

New England is desperate for help at cornerback. Jalen Mills, Terrance Mitchell, Malcolm Butler and Jonathan Jones aren’t striking fear into any opposing quarterback. At the very least, Jones should be able to take control of the return man spot with how impressive he was in that regard at Houston. 

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: LT Trevor Penning

The Who:

Penning earned the highest run-blocking grade from a college offensive lineman in the PFF College era. In fact, he maxed out the scale with a 99.9 grade in that regard. He is a nasty 6-foot-7, 325-pounder who has already started multiple fights in camp and been kicked out of practice.

The Why:

The leap Penning is being asked to make going from Northern Iowa to the NFL is not an easy one. It’s tough going from SEC competition to the NFL (ask Andrew Thomas), let alone from the FCS to the pros. How he fares protecting Jameis Winston‘s blind side will go a long way to the Saints' offensive success in 2022.

NEW YORK GIANTS: WR Wan’Dale Robinson

The Who:

Robinson was the heart of Kentucky's passing offense last season. He accounted for 45.7% of the Wildcats' passing yardage in 2021 (1,342 yards). He’s a dynamic playmaker with the ball in his hands and broke 22 tackles after the catch in 2021.

The Why:

Robinson’s usage is going to be worth monitoring. He was a slot-only at Kentucky and profiles as such in the NFL, considering he’s only 5-foot-8. While Brian Daboll’s offense in Buffalo had a defined slot role, that is also where Kadarius Toney and Sterling Shepard do their best work. How Robinson fits in that log jam remains to be seen. 

NEW YORK JETS: EDGE Jermaine Johnson

The Who:

Johnson was a rumored top-10 pick in the 2022 draft after a massive Senior Bowl week. He had to transfer from Georgia to Florida State to get full-time starter reps, but he blossomed once he did. He finished with 46 pressures, including 14 sacks, for the Seminoles last season.

The Why:

The Jets traded up to nab Johnson despite having two entrenched starters along the edge in Carl Lawson and Jonathan Franklin-Myers. They are both getting paid probably too much to be backups, but at the same time, Johnson’s NFL readiness was his calling card. We'll see how he shakes out in the snap rotation on the edge.

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: LB Nakobe Dean

The Who:

In a loaded Georgia defense, it was Dean who finished as the unit's highest-graded player. He unseated 2021 third-round pick Monty Rice as the full-time linebacker in the Bulldogs' defense when he was only a sophomore. He is, however, 5-foot-11 and 229 pounds. That’s not the kind of frame many teams would want at the linebacker position.

The Why:

The linebacker position in Philadelphia has been much maligned for years now. While T.J. Edwards has emerged as a quality starter, the other linebacker spot is very much up for grabs. Dean fell due to injury and not performance, meaning he should be able to take control of that job if training camp and the preseason go as expected.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS: QB Kenny Pickett

The Who:

Pickett was considered a late-round prospect before breaking out with a 92.2 overall grade last season. From start to finish in 2021, Pickett never flinched. His lowest-graded game still garnered a 69.3 passing mark. He’s also a plus athlete who made a bunch of plays outside the pocket for Pittsburgh.

The Why:

When your competition is Mitchell Trubisky and Mason Rudolph, you better be able to win that competition — especially considering Pickett is already 24 years old. Early returns haven’t been great, but head coach Mike Tomlin is also not one to rush in rookies just because they were drafted early. 

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: RB Tyrion Davis-Price

The Who:

Davis-Price declared early after a breakout junior season that saw him go for 1,015 yards on the ground for LSU. He was taken in the third round only a year after the 49ers took a similar third-round back in Trey Sermon, who has yet to pan out.

The Why:

Davis-Price is a decidedly different back than incumbent Elijah Mitchell. He’s more of a “grind out tough yards with vision and patience” type of running back, while Mitchell is a home-run hitter. How that duo will be deployed by head coach Kyle Shanahan remains to be seen. 

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: RT Abraham Lucas

The Who:

Lucas is a nimble, 6-foot-6, 315-pound tackle who played 3,006 snaps in his Washington State career. On 660 pass-blocking snaps the past two seasons, Lucas allowed only 13 pressures. It was surprising he lasted to the third round, as he was the 49th-ranked player on the PFF draft board.  

The Why:

Lucas is the dreaded Air Raid offensive tackle. The scheme doesn't prepare linemen for many of the things they’ll be asked to do in an NFL run game, but it definitely still racks up the reps in pass protection. Lucas is the starting right tackle by default and should at least show it in pass protection during the preseason.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: RB Rachaad White

The Who:

White is a joy to watch with the ball in his hands in the open field. He gained 456 yards on 43 receptions with 16 broken tackles for the Sun Devils last season. While his vision is a work in progress as a pure runner, he has very natural receiving ability. 

The Why:

Bucs fans have been begging for a receiving back ever since Tom Brady came to town, and now they have one. White should be able to unseat 31-year-old Giovani Bernard for a passing-down role if he can pick up the playbook and get in Brady’s good graces quickly enough.

TENNESSEE TITANS: WR Treylon Burks

The Who:

Burks spearheaded the Arkansas passing attack. So much so that when the Razorbacks sensed a zero blitz, the play auto-checked to a go-ball Burks’ way. At 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds, he can change angles with his speed after the catch and broke 14 tackles on 65 receptions last year.

The Why:

Getting traded for A.J. Brown is quite the way to start your NFL career. Those are massive shoes to fill for a player I’d describe as a project based on the route tree he ran at Arkansas. The Titans flat out don’t have better options, though, so it’s sink or swim for the rookie first-rounder.

WASHINGTON COMMANDERS: QB Sam Howell

The Who:

Howell transformed the Tar Heels' offense in his three years there. He was the deep-ball king, with far and away the most big-time throws of any quarterback in college football the past three seasons. The offense he came from, however, is comical by NFL standards and did little to prepare him for leading an offense in the league.

The Why:

Carson Wentz is, well, Carson Wentz. He’s been a roller coaster from a performance perspective the past two seasons. While Howell isn’t going to unseat him this season, Wentz's cap number is $26 million in 2023, of which none is guaranteed. If Howell can show enough to take the backup job from Taylor Heinicke, he could very well make Wentz expendable after the season.

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