NFL Draft News & Analysis

Projecting the most impactful 2022 rookie classes

The New York Jets' first-round picks Jermaine Johnson, Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner and Garrett Wilson are introduced at a press conference. Syndication The Record

Draft grades are too often synonymous with draft capital. If you have a bunch of top picks, congratulations, you got a great grade!

Every year, we at PFF try to evaluate the actual decisions in our draft grades article and not give too much credit for mindlessly easy picks — e.g., the Detroit Lions taking Aidan Hutchinson.

That being said, sometimes it’s the picks teams don’t have to think about that make the biggest impact on the football field. These are the draft classes I expect to move the needle the most in 2022. Spoiler: it helps to have multiple first-rounders.

1. NEW YORK JETS

The Jets were always going to come away with a haul because of the draft capital they came in with, but this seemed to surpass even that expectation.

Gardner may very well be the single biggest defensive rookie upgrade in the NFL, given his talent vs. what the Jets were throwing out across from Bryce Hall last season.

However, the player in line to produce the most is running back Breece Hall. He gets slotted behind a burgeoning offensive line that should come as a breath of fresh air for him, considering what he ran behind at Iowa State. Hall led the entire draft class with 196 career broken tackles, and he did it in only three seasons.

2. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

After having one of the most impactful rookie classes in 2021, the Chiefs look poised to do it again.

They got Day 1 starters with their first three picks — at three valuable positions. The most intriguing of the bunch is Western Michigan receiver Skyy Moore. He won’t replace Tyreek Hill, per se, but with 4.41 speed and high-end YAC ability, Moore can fill the same role in the offense. The pick was a necessity with two more limited receivers on the roster in JuJu Smith-Schuster (power slot role) and Marquez Valdes-Scantling (vertical threat).

The name to keep an eye on later in the draft is Kentucky tackle Darian Kinnard. The Chiefs took advantage of a faller from the SEC in last year’s draft and got one of the best rookie guards with Trey Smith in the sixth round. Kinnard could very easily win the starting right tackle job from Lucas Niang, who has shown little to inspire confidence in his 524 career snaps.

3. GREEN BAY PACKERS

As much as Walker was seen as a reach by some, there’s no doubting he is a perfect scheme fit for them defensively — he immediately expands the playbook over what Krys Barnes could do. According to the PFF draft board, Wyatt was one of the biggest steals of the first round and comes NFL-ready after earning a 90.3 overall grade against top SEC competition.

The wild card here is Watson. He enters into an impeccable situation to produce early on with Aaron Rodgers and a clear-cut path to the football field. The only question is how ready he will be for NFL-level physicality after facing FCS competition throughout his career. With 4.36 speed, though, he should at least be able to replace Valdes-Scantling’s role in the offense. 

4. DETROIT LIONS

The only thing keeping this from being No. 1 or No. 2 on this list is Williams’ health. Hutchinson should be the resounding favorite for defensive Rookie of the Year honors, and Williams immediately slots in as the No. 2 across from D.J. Chark once he recovers from the ACL tear he suffered in the National Championship Game.

The names to keep an eye on who could outplay their draft stock are Paschal and Rodriguez. Neither fits the prototypical mold for their respective positions, but both produced when called upon in college.

The 6-foot-2, 270-pound Paschal earned a 90.0 overall grade last year despite playing inside more than he did outside. He could be a versatile piece on third downs for their defensive line.

Rodriguez’s 6-foot-1 wingspan will be one of the smallest of any linebacker in the NFL, but he’s got 4.52 speed to make up for it. He led the Power Five with 66 defensive stops last season and could see time early in a weak linebacker corps.

5. BALTIMORE RAVENS

The Ravens may not have attacked high-value positions, but they knocked it out of the park from a talent perspective.

It wouldn’t surprise me whatsoever if Hamilton and Linderbaum are already considered among the best in the NFL at their respective positions by the time their rookie year is over. While I’m not ready to go that far with Jones, he wasn’t too far off the two defensive tackles who went Round 1 on the PFF draft board. Expect all three of them to be immediate impact starters, while Ojabo will take a little longer after his Achilles tear.

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