History has shown that not every NFL rookie will be counted on in his first season, but plenty will.
Some can even change the fortunes of a franchise, though we won’t know for probably a few years if anyone in this class is capable of such things.
Eight teams didn’t have a first-round pick in the 2022 NFL draft. For the 24 that did (obviously some with multiple picks), they’re hoping they’ve unearthed at least future starters, if not perennial Pro Bowlers.
Did the Jacksonville Jaguars get it right by picking linebacker Travon Walker No. 1? Can Aidan Hutchinson do more than Michael Jackson impressions for the Detroit Lions? Kenny Pickett looked great at times in the preseason, but is he the heir apparent at quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers? How much of a setback will Kayvon Thibodeaux’s MCL injury prove to be for the New York Giants?
We asked our NFL Nation reporters to keep a close eye on the first-round picks and how each fared this offseason. Here is our final preseason update on all 32 first-round picks.
Travon Walker, LB
How he has fared so far: Walker has a long way to go in terms of pass-rush moves, but he has done a good job of being disruptive with his quickness and strength. That was evident pretty quickly. He got to the quarterback on his first preseason snap in the Hall of Fame game (there was an iffy roughing the passer penalty) and had a sack on the next drive. He has multiple tackles for loss in the preseason, too. Once he develops some pass-rush moves and counters he’s going to be a problem for offenses. — Michael DiRocco
Aidan Hutchinson, DE
How he has fared so far: Inside the locker room, the rookie is earning high praise through his good old-fashioned work ethic. He arrives early, leaves late and pays attention to detail. Hutchinson will play and contribute immediately in Week 1 while trying to change the overall culture of the franchise as a Michigan native. Teammates and coaches have been impressed with his production all throughout camp, and expectations are sky high.
“Here’s my initial read: Everything that I thought we were getting shows up, not just in practice but in meetings also. What else shows up is just those little things where you’re like, ‘Can he do this? I wonder if he can do it.’ And then you see it in practice that it shows up,” Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said. “He has this quickness that’s just unbelievable. He has this ability to bend and turn and continue to work his hands that is outstanding.” — Eric Woodyard
Derek Stingley Jr., CB
How he has fared so far: Stingley’s talent has flashed throughout training camp. It’s easy to see why the Texans drafted him No. 3 overall. The ball skills are evident, his ability to accelerate in and out of his backpedal to break on passes is there. He possesses the ability to press receivers off the line of scrimmage without having to be overly physical but can suffocate them. Coach Lovie Smith has praised Stingley’s desire to improve.
“If you just meet him you can tell he’s going to be a coachable guy. He’s eager to learn. He’s like a sponge,” Smith said. Stingley will start Week 1. — DJ Bien-Aime
Sauce Gardner, CB
How he has fared so far: Gardner has been rotating with incumbent Bryce Hall at one cornerback spot, but the so-called competition should be over soon. It’s Gardner’s job, and everybody knows it. He’s having a solid, if not spectacular camp. There haven’t been any highlight-worthy plays, but there haven’t been any coverage gaffes, either. He has impressed teammates with his cerebral, hard-working approach. He’s one of the first players on the practice field every day, which says a lot. He also trash talks … a lot.
“The guy doesn’t stop talking when he’s on the field — and he backs it up,” said coach Robert Saleh, adding that he hasn’t been around a rookie who talked this much since Jalen Ramsey with the Jaguars. — Rich Cimini
Kayvon Thibodeaux, DE
How he has fared so far: Thibodeaux was off to a strong start before the unfortunate injury he suffered in Sunday’s second preseason game. He will now miss three to four weeks and potentially some time in the regular season. When he returns, there are signs he will develop into the high-end edge rusher the Giants envisioned. Thibodeaux’s first step and long-arm move caught the attention of teammates and coaches this summer. His work ethic has, too. After a draft process in which a lot was said about his desire and brand, Thibodeaux has been nothing but professional.
“He’s come in and went to work,” defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said. “That’s what impresses me the most.” It gives the organization an even stronger conviction that he was the right selection. — Jordan Raanan
Ikem Ekwonu, OT
How he has fared so far: There will be growing pains. You saw that in the second preseason game when he gave up consecutive sacks in the first quarter. You also see flashes of why he was the sixth overall pick with his run blocking and ability to pancake defenders. Making him the starting tackle comes with risks, but long term it was the right move. “When the ball is snapped, Ickey can block out the sun,” offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo said. — David Newton
Evan Neal, OT
How he has fared so far: The one thing that stands out about Neal this summer is his sheer size. He’s massive even when standing next to other big offensive linemen. He makes right guard Mark Glowinski (6-4, 310) appear small. “I am a big dude,” said Neal, who is listed at 6-foot-7, 350 pounds. “I’m pretty sure that most people that see me have that same reaction.” This has been evident in the run game, where Neal has thrived. He has had his ups and downs (especially in one-on-one drills) this summer as a pass-blocker. That could take time and lead to some growing pains as a rookie. — Jordan Raanan
Drake London, WR
How he has fared so far: Before London suffered a knee injury in the preseason opener against Detroit — he hasn’t practiced since — the wide receiver looked like a player who would have a big role in Atlanta’s offense. The goal still is for him to be ready by Week 1, and his combination of height and spatial awareness will help him with quarterback Marcus Mariota. London showed a penchant for making contested catches throughout the first two-plus weeks of camp before the injury. — Michael Rothstein
Mike Clay discusses why he thinks Drake London has “Mike Evans-like” superstar potential in fantasy.
Charles Cross, OT
How he has fared so far: Cross has taken virtually all the first-team reps at left tackle and has looked every bit the O-line cornerstone the Seahawks have hoped he’ll be — even with a big blemish on his summer résumé. Cross was flagged for four false starts and a hold in the first three quarters of Seattle’s second preseason game. Before that, he’d drawn strong reviews from players and coaches. His transition from a pass-heavy college scheme — in which he didn’t play from a three-point stance — hasn’t been a noticeable issue.
“He’s a really solid rookie,” Seahawks defensive lineman Shelby Harris said. “Big, strong, physical hands, good feet … a good pass-protector, strong, good bend, athletic, really everything. He has all the physical traits you want in an offensive tackle.” — Brady Henderson
Garrett Wilson, WR
How he has fared so far: Wilson has suffered a few drops in camp, but his talent is obvious. He has exceptional body control and “violent hands,” according to Saleh. When Wilson drops a pass, he usually recovers quickly — a sign of mental toughness. In other words, his drops don’t come in bunches, which can be the case with rookies. He will have a significant role. Even if he’s not a starter, per se, he will be heavily involved in a four-man rotation at receiver. — Rich Cimini
Mike Clay discusses why Garrett Wilson is an undervalued fantasy option.
Chris Olave, WR
How he has fared so far: Olave had been coming along nicely in training camp but hasn’t gotten much time to shine in preseason games while the Saints give some of the lesser-known receivers some reps. Friday’s game against the Packers might have been his coming-out party, however, as he displayed some nice moves to get into the end zone for his first NFL touchdown on a pass thrown from backup Ian Book. Expect Olave to see the field often next to Jarvis Landry and Michael Thomas once the regular season begins. — Katherine Terrell
Jameson Williams, WR
How he has fared so far: Williams hasn’t physically participated in training camp as he continues to recover from a torn ACL suffered in January during the College Football Playoff National Championship Game for Alabama. However, the Lions’ staff has worked hard to keep him mentally engaged in drills and meetings and are pleased with his progress. There’s no timetable for his return. He traveled with the Lions for the Indianapolis preseason trip.
“I think we get a little more hands-on with him. It keeps him engaged in the football, in the meetings,” coach Dan Campbell said. — Eric Woodyard
Jordan Davis, DT
How he has fared so far: Nobody opened more eyes this summer than Davis. Sure, his size — 6-foot-6, 340 pounds — naturally grabs your attention, but it’s his power and agility that keeps it. He’s already proving to be a magnet for double-teams, as he was for the national champion Georgia Bulldogs, and can use that 4.7-second 40-yard dash speed to dart into the backfield when left one-on-one. He’ll be a steady part of the defensive line rotation immediately.
“He’s smart, has high football character, he can play multiple positions, and we think he’s going to be a playmaker,” defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon said. — Tim McManus
Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
How he has fared so far: Hamilton bounced back from a rough training camp and preseason debut by saving a touchdown in the second preseason game. He leapt to break up a pass around the goal line, which is the type of playmaking ability that made him the first safety selected in this year’s draft. The Ravens remain so high on Hamilton that they probably will put three safeties on the field, teaming him with starters Marcus Williams and Chuck Clark.
“He’s a very sharp, very smart player, obviously plays fast,” Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald said. “He can cover a ton of ground.” — Jamison Hensley
Kenyon Green, G
How he has fared so far: Green hasn’t practiced with the first-team offense much throughout training camp. After the first week, he suffered a concussion that caused him to miss a couple of weeks and the first two preseason games. When he returned, he ran with the second unit. There has been an adjustment period as he adapts to the NFL game, but eventually he will become the starting left guard. Coach Lovie Smith expects him to be a starter sooner rather than later. — DJ Bien-Aime
Jahan Dotson, WR
How he has fared so far: The Commanders loved Dotson before the draft in part because they believed he was one of the most pro-ready players, and he has done nothing to quell those feelings. Dotson has been sharp since the spring, displaying veteran route-running savvy with excellent hands. He plays taller than his listed height of 5-foot-11 and makes the occasional acrobatic catch. He’ll pair well with Terry McLaurin and Curtis Samuel.
“He’s really smooth at what he does,” Rivera said. And quarterback Carson Wentz said, “He catches the football as natural as anybody I’ve been around.” — John Keim
Mike Clay evaluates rookie wide receiver Jahan Dotson.
Zion Johnson, G
How he has fared so far: Coaches and teammates have shared nothing but praise for Johnson as he prepares to start his rookie season at right guard. “Solid. He’s strong,” offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said, when asked to describe Johnson’s preseason debut against the Rams. “The 3-technique that he had to block was pretty heavy. I think maybe that caught him by surprise, but the good thing about him is he hits and then he just keeps pushing, and eventually there is movement happening. He was really good in pass protection.”
Along with Johnson’s physical strength, his maturity has also been apparent. “He’s a calm, collected individual that is smart as hell,” veteran Corey Linsley said. — Lindsey Thiry
Treylon Burks, WR
How he has fared so far: Burks was unavailable for minicamp because of conditioning and asthma issues. But he stood out on the first day of training camp when he caught a deep pass from Ryan Tannehill. The rookie receiver has earned praise for how he is able to make contested catches during practice, including joint sessions with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He’s quickly becoming someone Tannehill trusts.
“A guy like him with the catch radius he has,” Tannehill said. “The way he goes up and gets the ball. You love to see it. Making plays like that does a lot for building confidence for a quarterback like myself. It gives you a lot of confidence to go his direction.” — Turron Davenport
Trevor Penning, OT
How he has fared so far: It has been an up-and-down camp for Penning, who has made more waves nationally for igniting some training camp fights than his play to date. Penning hasn’t done enough to this point to unseat veteran James Hurst at the left tackle position, but the Saints are pleased with his progress and like the edge he displays — as long as it doesn’t actually cross the line. — Katherine Terrell
Kenny Pickett, QB
How he has fared so far: Pickett shook off a slow start to training camp and jumped Mason Rudolph on the depth chart ahead of the second preseason game. In that game, a win against the Jaguars, Pickett led a flawless 42-second drive before halftime to give the Steelers a lead. He showed poise in the face of pressure and made veteran throws. He might not wind up as the Steelers’ Week 1 starting quarterback, but he has shown enough promise to be a reliable No. 2 and potentially challenge Mitch Trubisky for the starting job during the season. — Brooke Pryor
Trent McDuffie, CB
How he has fared so far: McDuffie has been a starter from Day 1. The Chiefs have used him mostly in outside coverage, but he has moved inside to cover the slot at times. McDuffie, at 5-foot-11, isn’t as tall as the team would prefer their cornerbacks to be, and he has had trouble at times in defending bigger receivers. McDuffie might wind up as the Chiefs’ primary punt returner when the regular season begins.
“He’s very comfortable out there at the corner spot as well as the nickel,” secondary coach David Merritt said. “The thing is that now we have a guy that can actually do dual roles.” McDuffie entered the concussion protocol during Thursday’s final preseason game. — Adam Teicher
Quay Walker, LB
How he has fared so far: The Packers drafted Walker to start on Day 1 next to De’Vondre Campbell, and that’s exactly what Walker will do. In some ways, he’s Campbell’s twin. Both can run downhill and side to side. Both can find the ball. Both can tackle. Both can cover. Two years ago, the Packers were trying to patch together an inside linebacker group. Now, they have a first-round pick next to an All-Pro.
“To see him run around out there and make plays has been great,” Aaron Rodgers said midway through camp, “and he’s with an absolute pro next to him.” — Rob Demovsky
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Kaiir Elam, CB
How he has fared so far: Elam’s camp has been up and down, and he has been unable to take the lead in the battle for the No. 2 corner job opposite Tre’Davious White, who is still on PUP and rehabbing from a torn left ACL. Elam remains behind 2020 seventh-round pick Dane Jackson on the depth chart, while fellow rookie and sixth-round pick out of Villanova, Christian Benford, has impressed, giving Elam more of a challenge. — Alaina Getzenberg
Tyler Smith, G
How he has fared so far:
The Cowboys drafted Smith with the idea he would be the left tackle of the future. Given Tyron Smith’s hamstring surgery that will keep him out 3-4 months, however, that is looking like it could be accelerated. Tyler Smith has worked exclusively at left guard throughout training camp and the preseason and will have to make up for lost time before the season starts. He did get some left tackle work in the spring during organized team activities and the minicamp and started 21 games at left tackle in his last two years at Tulsa.
He was unable to outright win the left guard competition with Connor McGovern and now is staring at being asked to play the most important spot: protecting Dak Prescott’s blindside. “Obviously I think Tyler is coming along strong,” McCarthy said. “He does a lot of good things. He’s like the rest of them, he needs to play. Just needs to play and keep getting better.” — Todd Archer
Tyler Linderbaum, C
How he has fared so far: Linderbaum was slated to be the Ravens’ starting center before he injured his left foot on Aug. 4. The Ravens are hoping he’ll be back for the start of the regular season. Among the smallest Ravens linemen at 305 pounds, Linderbaum still has to prove he can hold up against powerful nose tackles. But he has impressed teammates with his understanding of the system.
“I feel like he’s caught on really fast,” Ravens offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James said. “To be a center, especially in this offense … this offense has a lot of verbiage, a lot of plays, a lot of volume. I feel like he took it on pretty well.” — Jamison Hensley
Jermaine Johnson II, DE
How he has fared so far: Unlike a lot of first-round picks, Johnson wasn’t handed a starting job. The Jets have a deep defensive line, allowing them to bring him along slowly. Johnson said he practices “like an [undrafted] free agent, fighting for my life.” The downside to that is he hasn’t had a lot of reps with the starters. Johnson is trending toward the role of situational pass-rusher. They like his speed game; now they’re trying to get him to play with power and develop more counter moves. — Rich Cimini
Devin Lloyd, LB/DE
How he has fared so far: Lloyd suffered a hamstring injury the day before camp began and hasn’t fully participated in a practice yet. He could get some playing time in the final preseason game “if the week progresses in his favor and our favor,” coach Doug Pederson said. Even if Lloyd does play it’s hard to see him making much of an impact early in the season because he has missed so much time. — Michael DiRocco
Devonte Wyatt, DT
How he has fared so far: The Packers didn’t draft Wyatt to start on Day 1. After getting through camp without any injuries to the top guys, they can ease Wyatt into the rotation with a handful of snaps to start the season if he’s active. That’s a good thing because Wyatt is clearly behind Kenny Clark, Dean Lowry, Jarran Reed, T.J. Slaton and perhaps even Jack Heflin. He has a ways to go.
“Each day he just grows and gets better,” Reed said. “I’m excited to see him get going and to see where he’s going to be at this season, I think he’s going to be really good.” — Rob Demovsky
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• Projected order » | More coverage »
Cole Strange, G
How he has fared so far: A plug-and-play starter at left guard, Strange hasn’t missed a practice and has gradually improved, catching the eye of onlookers by going old school by not wearing gloves in his preseason debut. “He’s coming along and making good progress,” coach Bill Belichick said.
There have been times when the jump from Tennessee-Chattanooga to the NFL has looked significant (such as one-on-one drills early in camp), but Strange was noticeably moving bodies in the running game in the second preseason game. — Mike Reiss
George Karlaftis, DE
How he has fared so far: The Chiefs would happily take the Karlaftis of the first two preseason games. He had a sack in each of the two. He has not been a starter so far but between coming in to rush the quarterback in the nickel defense and rotating in to give the starters a break, he’s getting plenty of playing time.
“George is 100 miles an hour all the time,” coach Andy Reid said. “I appreciate that, the effort. He’ll keep getting better with technique and after he gets a feel on these offensive linemen he’s playing. But he’s a talented kid, smart who wants to be good.” — Adam Teicher
Daxton Hill, S
How he has fared so far: Hill has made a good early impression. While free safety Jessie Bates III was away from the team during his contract dispute, Hill took Bates’ spot on the first-team defense. An interception against the Giants was Hill’s high point of the preseason so far. Now that Bates is back, Hill will become a third safety in packages with six defensive backs. But Hill got the reps he needed to accelerate his development and show he can be a long-term starter. — Ben Baby
Lewis Cine, S
How he has fared so far: Cine has gotten a handful of snaps with the first team during practices but for the most part has worked as a backup to starting safeties Harrison Smith and Camryn Bynum. Close training camp observers can see Cine genuinely loves contact. He is also aggressive in pass coverage but knows how to avoid penalties. The best guess is Cine will eventually work his way into the starting lineup, or else force the Vikings to experiment with a three-safety scheme.
His toughness and tenacity have certainly earned the trust of coach Kevin O’Connell. “I don’t worry one bit about Lew,” O’Connell said. — Kevin Seifert
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