2022 NFL rookie grades, AFC South: Jury still out on top picks; Texans snag a stud at running back

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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.

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Today, Shook examines the AFC South.

Grade
B
Tennessee Titans
Tennessee Titans
Total picks: 9 · Record: 7-10

Round 1

  • (No. 18) Treylon Burks, WR, 11 games/6 starts

Round 2

  • (35) Roger McCreary, CB, 17 games/17 starts

Round 3

  • (69) Nicholas Petit-Frere, T, 16 games/16 starts
  • (86) Malik Willis, QB, 8 games/3 starts

Round 4

  • (131) Hassan Haskins, RB, 15 games/1 start
  • (143) Chigoziem Okonkwo, TE, 17 games/8 starts

Round 5

  • (163) Kyle Philips, WR, 4 games/0 starts

Round 6

  • (204) Theo Jackson, CB, 11 games/0 starts (w/MIN)
  • (219) Chance Campbell, LB, 0 games/0 starts

Notable free agent signees:

  • Ryan Stonehouse, P, 17 games
  • Tre Avery, CB, 14 games/3 starts
  • Jack Gibbens, LB, 5 games/2 starts

Burks didn’t see enough targets to make a difference in an offense that struggled mightily to throw the football all year. He had his moments, but getting a return on the investment with that pick will require more than Burks simply improving over time. McCreary made a number of quality plays, using his length to his advantage against more seasoned receivers, but he also committed his fair share of rookie mistakes. He figures to be an important part of Tennessee’s secondary going forward. It’s difficult for a non-elite offensive lineman — especially a tackle — to make a significant difference as a rookie, and Petit-Frere, while consistently available, took his lumps. Tennessee was forced to play Willis while Ryan Tannehill was out, and Willis’ lack of experience showed, so much that the Titans relied on a run-heavy approach in all but one of his appearances. Willis flashed glimpses of his athletic ability, but he has a ways to go before he becomes a viable NFL starter. Haskins saw a handful of carries, but he primarily played special teams until the end of the season. Okonkwo was a surprise contributor, catching 32 passes for 450 yards and three touchdowns as Tennessee’s second option at tight end. Philips carried promise entering his first NFL season, but a couple of early special teams blunders cost him playing time, and a hamstring injury ended his season after just four games played. Campbell spent his rookie year on injured reserve. Stonehouse proved to be an excellent addition, breaking Sammy Baugh’s single-season gross yards per punt average record, set way back in 1940. Stonehouse routinely flipped field position for a Titans team whose struggling offense often needed its inexperienced punter to dig it out of holes. Avery was a quality undrafted pickup who played more on defense down the stretch while serving as a special teamer all season, possibly playing his way into Tennessee’s future plans. Gibbens was a cut-down day casualty who made his way back to Tennessee late in the season, starting the final two games and recording 14 tackles in that stretch.

Grade
B-
Houston Texans
Houston Texans
Total picks: 9 · Record: 3-13-1

Round 1

  • (No. 3) Derek Stingley, CB, 9 games/9 starts
  • (15) Kenyon Green, OL, 15 games/14 starts

Round 2

  • (37) Jalen Pitre, S, 17 games/17 starts
  • (44) John Metchie III, WR, 0 games/0 starts

Round 3

  • (75) Christian Harris, LB, 12 games/11 starts

Round 4

  • (107) Dameon Pierce, RB, 13 games/13 starts

Round 5

  • (150) Thomas Booker, DT, 10 games/1 start
  • (170) Teagan Quitoriano, TE, 9 games/6 starts

Round 6

  • (205) Austin Deculus, OL, 5 games/0 starts

Notable free agent signees:

  • Troy Hairston, FB, 16 games/5 starts
  • Jake Hansen, LB, 11 games/2 starts
  • Kurt Hinish, DL, 15 games/3 starts

Stingley arrived as a highly touted corner who looked the part in coverage but didn’t quite produce enough positive plays to draw high marks. His season was abbreviated by a hamstring injury. Green struggled mightily in his first season, finishing with an ugly Pro Football Focus grade of 37.7 on offense. Pitre didn’t put together a complete rookie season, primarily because his aggression often cost him, but he certainly showed plenty of flashes — including five interceptions and eight passes defensed — that suggest he’ll have a solid career. Metchie missed his entire rookie campaign after he was diagnosed with leukemia; he has a chance to rejoin his teammates in a working capacity this offseason. After spending the first six weeks on injured reserve, Harris returned in Week 7, and though he often looked overmatched early, he started to appear more comfortable as the season progressed. Pierce was a slam-dunk of a pick who quickly earned the starting job and flirted with 1,000 rushing yards before his season was cut short by an ankle injury. He’ll be an important part of the Texans’ future. Booker was a rotational defender who never saw more than 48 percent of defensive snaps in a game, but he could work his way into a more prominent role in the future. Quitoriano began 2022 on injured reserve and caught a touchdown pass — one of two on the year — in his debut. As a tight end who saw just 14 targets in 2022, he’ll need more looks to show whether he can stick in the NFL. Deculus played 27 total snaps in 2022, all on special teams. Hairston converted from linebacker to fullback, making the final roster and catching five passes while also finishing with six tackles on special teams. Hansen found surprising success when given the opportunity, recording 25 tackles and one sack while also playing a significant amount of special teams snaps. Hinish worked his way from undrafted free agent to temporary starter, filling a spot in the lineup in three games and finishing with 23 tackles and one sack in 15 games.

Grade
B-
Jacksonville Jaguars
Jacksonville Jaguars
Total picks: 7 · Record: 9-8

Round 1

  • (No. 1) Travon Walker, OLB, 15 games/14 starts
  • (27) Devin Lloyd, LB, 17 games/15 starts

Round 3

  • (65) Luke Fortner, OL, 17 games/17 starts
  • (70) Chad Muma, LB, 16 games/2 starts

Round 5

  • (154) Snoop Conner, RB, 8 games/0 starts

Round 6

  • (197) Greg Junior, CB, 1 game/0 starts

Round 7

  • (222) Montaric Brown, CB, 8 games/1 start

Jacksonville’s selection of Walker was a long-term play that banked on his rare athleticism and presumably came with the understanding he might struggle early. He wasn’t stellar, but there were certainly glimpses of what he could become, even as he adjusted to a move to outside linebacker. Walker can carry the momentum from a strong finish into 2023, when he’ll be expected to outpace his debut campaign. Lloyd had a very strong start before temporarily losing his job to Muma; the two could make for an interesting linebacking combo in the future, with Muma displaying ability as a traditional ‘backer against the run. Fortner was reliably available, starting all 17 games, but he still has room to grow. As the third back on Jacksonville’s depth chart, Conner didn’t see much playing time, logging 12 carries, 42 yards and one touchdown. Junior didn’t make the final 53, spending most of the season on the practice squad before being elevated in mid-December. Brown saw a handful of defensive snaps, recording six tackles.

Grade
C+
Indianapolis Colts
Indianapolis Colts
Total picks: 8 · Record: 4-12-1

Round 2

  • (No. 53) Alec Pierce, WR, 16 games/12 starts

Round 3

  • (73) Jelani Woods, TE, 15 games/2 starts
  • (77) Bernhard Raimann, T, 16 games/11 starts
  • (96) Nick Cross, S, 16 games/2 starts

Round 5

  • (159) Eric Johnson, DT, 14 games/0 starts

Round 6

  • (192) Andrew Ogletree, TE, 0 games/0 starts
  • (216) Curtis Brooks, DT, 0 games/0 starts (now w/TEN)

Round 7

  • (239) Rodney Thomas II, FS, 17 games/10 starts

Notable free agent signee:

  • Dallis Flowers, CB, 13 games/1 start

The acquisition of Carson Wentz in 2021 ended up costing the Colts a first-round pick in this draft, leaving Pierce as the first choice of Indianapolis’ 2022 class. He showed flashes of being a productive pass-catcher but didn’t make enough of an impact to stand out, finishing with 41 catches for 593 yards and two touchdowns in an offense that ranked 27th in yards per game. Like Pierce, Woods showed flashes of a bright future but didn’t post significant numbers; he also spent the final month of the season without a position coach. His potential remains promising. Raimann battled through a tough first six weeks of his NFL career but eventually got on track (with the help of Jeff Saturday) and finished the season strong. He should get a fair chance to win the starting job in 2023 and continue his development as a left tackle. Cross proved he wasn’t ready to start after the first two weeks of the season, ceding his role to veteran Rodney McLeod (who had an outstanding 2022) and becoming a special teamer. He’ll need to use this offseason to improve with the goal of becoming Indianapolis’ long-term safety. Johnson was a rotational developmental player slotted behind a strong starting duo of DeForest Buckner and Grover Stewart. The Colts will take a slow and steady approach with him. After a strong camp, Ogletree had his rookie season wiped out by an ACL tear suffered before the start of the campaign. Brooks failed to make the final 53 and spent most of 2022 on the practice squad before he was released; he joined the Titans’ practice squad, then signed a futures deal with Tennessee in January. Thomas was a pleasant surprise, becoming a key contributor and leading the Colts in interceptions (four). Despite posting subpar PFF grades, Thomas provided excellent value in the seventh round. Flowers proved to be a versatile factor, serving as a cornerback and special teamer in kick/punt coverage (finishing with 14 total tackles). His greatest contribution came in the kick return game, in which he averaged a league-best 31.1 yards per return on 23 attempts, with a long return of 89 yards.

Follow Nick Shook on Twitter.

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2022 NFL rookie grades, AFC South: Jury still out on top picks; Texans snag a stud at running back

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