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Best NFL rookie classes for 2022: Ranking teams with most production

Why the 49ers have the edge over the Cowboys (1:24)

Marcus Spears breaks down why the 49ers additional days of preparation give them an advantage going into their NFC divisional round matchup with the Cowboys. (1:24)

Theres always a lot of excitement after theNFL draft. There are high expectations for the incoming rookies, and fans are optimistic thinking that their favorite team has filled several holes with promising young players. Its not that simple, of course. Some rookies will get injured. Some rookies will struggle once they get on the field. And some rookies wont even be good enough to get playing time in their first year.

On the other hand, some become impact players as rookies and someeven exceed expectations seton draft day.

Below, Aaron Schatz fromFootball Outsidersand Alex Vigderman fromSports Info Solutionstake a look at all32 rookie classesin the NFL and rank the value of their contributions in 2022. This list is based only on how much production teams got out of these players in their first season. There might be great future contributions from injured rookies such asJameson WilliamsandPhidarian Mathis, but those players didnt count for much in 2022.

To rank the rookie classes, we started with Sports Info Solutions total points metric. Based on game charting, total points takes every element of a play and uses all of that data to evaluate each player on a scale that allows you to compare between positions: How many points do we estimate that this player either earned for his offense or saved for his defense? You canread more about it here. We then adjusted some teams up or down based on the importance of certain positions or how well players did in ESPN tracking metrics and Football Outsiders DVOA.

Our list is headed up by a team that had very low expectations going into the 2022 season but made a surprise playoff appearance thanks in large part to the play of its rookie class.

The Seahawks came out of the 2022 draft with four starters and some useful depth on top of that. Their best rookie was fifth-round pickTariq Woolen, who tied for the NFL lead with six interceptions. He finished with 16 passes defended and allowed a completion rate of just 47% in coverage. Left tackleCharles Crossand right tackleAbraham Lucasstarted 17 and 16 games, respectively. Cross was eighth at his position in SIS total points, while Lucas ranked 13th at his position.

The fourth starter was running backKenneth Walker III. Walker had over 1,000 rushing yards with 10 rushing touchdowns, but advanced stats were less impressed by his performance because he combined a few highlight runs with a lot of runs where he got stuffed for minimal gains. He finished41st out of 42 qualifying running backsin success rate and also had very little receiving value.

If you count nickelback as a starter -- and you should in the modern NFL -- the Seahawks also got a lot of value out of fourth-round pickCoby Bryant, who allowed a moderate 7.5 yards per target. In addition, edge rusherBoye Mafestarted three games and racked up three sacks.

Lets start withSauce Gardner, who likely will win Defensive Rookie of the Year and led all rookies in SIS metrics with 64 total points saved. SIS charting lists Gardner with just 5.1 yards allowed per target and a 44% completion rate allowed in coverage. He also led the NFL with 20 passes defended. The Jets also could end up with the Offensive Rookie of the Year, as wide receiverGarrett Wilsonis a strong candidate. Wilson finished with 1,103 yards and five touchdowns, and he ranked in the top 20 of ESPN Analyticsadvanced receiver ratings.

Breece Hallmight have been a candidate for Offensive Rookie of the Yearif he had just stayed healthy. In half a season, Hall averaged 5.8 yards per carry and 11.5 yards per reception. Undrafted rookieZonovan Knighteventually got some playing time as one of the players who tried to replace Hall. Defensive endsJermaine JohnsonandMicheal Clemonscombined for five sacks and 21 pressures in part-time work. And backup safetyTony Adamshad 16 total tackles in fewer than 75 total defensive snaps.

Despite originally picking near the bottom of each round, the Chiefs came out of the 2022 draft with an excellent group of useful players. The Chiefs andTennessee Titanswere the only teams this year to have at least six rookies worth 10 or more total points, according to SIS charting metrics. (The Jets and Seahawks had five such rookies, with no other team above four.)

The Kansas City draft class starts at cornerback, with three rookies getting significant playing time. First-round pickTrent McDuffie, chosen with a pick acquired in trade from the Patriots, played just 11 games because of injury but started each one and allowed just 5.0 yards per target. McDuffie was one of the players whose injuries forced fourth-round pickJoshua Williamsinto the lineup, and he had a strong 53% completion rate, allowed although a couple of big plays given up meant he allowed a poor 8.7 yards per target. Seventh-round pickJaylen Watsonalso started six games; he had a higher completion rate allowed than Williams (60%) but a lower yards-per-target figure (7.2).

With their own first-round pick, the Chiefs took edge rusherGeorge Karlaftis. He started every game and had six sacks and 40 pressures. Running backIsiah Pachecotook over the starting job around midseason and averaged 4.9 yards per carry with five touchdowns. The Chiefs also got small contributions from backup safetyBryan Cookand wide receiverSkyy Moore.

Tennessees most valuable rookie might have been a player they didnt even draft. PunterRyan Stonehousebroke an NFL record of over 80 years old by leading the league with a 53.1-yard gross punting average. Or perhaps the Titans most valuable rookie was second-round cornerbackRoger McCreary. He didnt break any records, but he did start all 17 games, albeit without impressive charting stats. (He allowed 8.8 yards per target, although he was also very strong against the run.) There were also defensive contributions from linebackerJack Gibbensand cornerbackTre Avery.

On offense, the star was tight endChigoziem Okonkwo, who broke out with some big catches in the second half of the season. But first-round pickTreylon Burksmade some waves when healthy, and third-rounderNicholas Petit-Frerestarted the entire year at right tackle. The Titans also got three starts out of quarterbackMalik Willis, but that didnt go so well, with a miserable 12.6 QBR.

By the end of the year, the Texans were starting six rookies. First-round cornerbackDerek Stingley Jr. had a strong season when healthy, with 6.6 yards allowed per target in nine starts. But he didnt make anywhere near as many plays as second-round safetyJalen Pitre. If we add together tackles, assists, passes defended and turnovers, Pitre led all NFL safeties with 155 plays made as a rookie. The Texans also got 11 games started from linebackerChristian Harris, who had issues with broken tackles but was good in pass coverage.

On offense,Dameon Piercewas the starting running back for most of the season, with a fairly average season of 4.3 yards per carry.Kenyon Greenstarted most of the season at left guard but doesnt earn many total points because he finished near the top of the league in blown blocks. AndTeagan Quitorianowas the starting tight end for the last third of the season, although he ended with just 113 receiving yards. The Texans should get even more out of this rookie class in the future ifJohn Metchie IIIcan regain his health after a cancer diagnosis cost him his rookie campaign.

No. 1 overall pickTravon Walkerhad all the attention, but he was not the Jaguars most valuable rookie. Instead, third-round pickLuke Fortnerwent directly into the starting lineup at center, played all 17 games and finished second among offensive linemen in SIS total points. He had a low 1.8% blown block rate and just one sack allowed. Walker did start 14 games and had a total of 33 pressures with 3.5 sacks. The Jaguars also got plenty of value from two off-ball linebackers. EitherDevin LloydorChad Mumastarted each game this season, and Lloyd was second among rookie defenders in total defensive plays behind Jalen Pitre of the Texans.

The Lions rookie class primarily made waves on the defensive side of the ball. Second overall pickAidan Hutchinsonled rookies with 9.5 sacks and 53 pressures. He also tied the record for interceptions by a defensive lineman -- rookie or otherwise -- with three. Yet Hutchinson was not the most valuable rookie on the Lions, according to SIS total points. That title goes to safetyKerby Joseph, a 14-game starter who allowed a 55% completion rate in coverage and famously picked offAaron Rodgersthree times. The Lions also got 15 starts at linebacker from sixth-round pickMalcolm Rodriguez, who had a surprisingly low 11% broken tackle rate. And edge rusherJames Houstonhad eight sacks and 15 pressures in part-time work.

On offense, the Lions expected to get very little from WRJameson Williamsthis season since he was still recovering from a torn ACL, and thats what they got: just one 41-yard touchdown. But a couple of plays nullified by penalties brought glimpses of the talent hell bring to the table with a full season in 2023.

The Bears used two second-round picks on defensive backs in the 2022 draft, and those were their major rookie contributors. But the Bears also had a lot of minor contributions from useful rookies, with six different players falling between three and 10 total points on the season.

Kyler Gordonstarted 14 games at cornerback, but his charting metrics were problematic; SIS has him with 11.1 yards allowed per target. SafetyJaquan Briskercame out much better, with just 6.2 yards allowed per target plus four sacks as a blitzer. Undrafted cornerbackJaylon Joneswas also a contributor, starting four games and allowing 7.5 yards per target.

Fifth-round pickBraxton Jonesstarted the entire season at left tackle and did about as well as you would expect for a fifth-round rookie, near the bottom of the league with a 3.6% blown block rate and 12 sacks allowed.Velus Jones Jr. spent much of the season returning kickoffs and also had 100 yards with a touchdown in both rushing and receiving. PunterTrenton Gillwas slightly below average by Football Outsiders metrics.

The most notable Patriots rookie was three-way third-round pickMarcus Jones, who won the Week 11 game against the Jets with a last-minute punt return touchdown but also scored touchdowns on an offensive reception and a defensive interception. However, the most valuable rookie, according to SIS total points, was the other cornerback Jones, fourth-rounder Jack. He allowed just a 45% completion rate in coverage and had two picks in 13 games.

New Englands offensive rookie class was highlighted byCole Strange, who started all 17 games at left guard. Strange ranked 14th among qualifying guards in pass block win rate (PBWR) but a dismal 63rd in run block win rate (RBWR). QuarterbackBailey Zappestarted two Patriots wins with surprisingly good stats and spurred a bit of a quarterback controversy. The Patriots also got small contributions on offense from wide receiverTyquan Thorntonand running backsPierre Strong Jr. andKevin Harris.

Steelers fans will spend the next few years celebrating the Pickett-to-Pickens connection. QuarterbackKenny Pickettstarted for most of the season and put up a moderate 51.4 QBR. Wide receiverGeorge Pickenswas more impressive, leading all wide receivers inFootball Outsiders DVOA and DYAR metricsand finishing in the top 20 of ESPNs new advanced receiver tracking metrics. The young offensive talent went further with undrafted running backJaylen Warren, who gained 4.9 yards per carry on 77 carries, and tight endConnor Heyward, who caught 12 passes for 151 yards and a touchdown. The only rookie to have a regular role on defense was interior defensive linemanDeMarvin Leal, who played 11 games and started two.

First-round pickTyler Smithwas supposed to begin as the left guard, but an injury to veteranTyron Smithforced the rookie out to left tackle and he started all 17 games there. Tyler was particularly good in the running game, with only five blown blocks all year by SIS charting. He was not so good in the passing game, ranking 62nd out of 64 qualifying tackles in PBWR.

NickelbackDaRon Bland, a fifth-round pick, was a bit more of a surprise as a major contributor. He started eight games and allowed 6.9 yards per target. Other rookies who had an impact included defensive endSam Williams, with four sacks and 20 pressures off the edge, and tight endsJake FergusonandPeyton Hendershot, who combined for 30 catches, 277 yards and four touchdowns behind veteranDalton Schultz.

The 49ers didnt have a first-round pick last year. Second-round edge rusherDrake Jacksonwas a part-timer with three sacks and did not start a game. The 49ers had two third-round picks,Tyrion Davis-PriceandDanny Gray, and got almost nothing from them.

Instead, their rookie class was saved by Mr. Irrelevant.Brock Purdyled the 49ers to six straight wins, one replacing an injuredJimmy Garoppoloand then five as the starter. He had a 65.6 QBR and led all offensive players with 46 total points.

It wasnt all Purdy (and Jackson), however. Fourth-round pickSpencer Burfordstarted almost the entire year at right guard, although he ended up last among qualifying guards in RBWR and 55th in PBWR. The 49ers also got useful playing time from fifth-round cornerbackSamuel Womack IIIand undrafted running backJordan Mason.

Fifth-round pickTyler Allgeierwas arguably the most valuable running back from the entire 2022 rookie class. He finished with over 1,000 yards on the ground and ranked fifth in Football Outsidersrushing DYAR metric. First-round wide receiverDrake Londonplayed in all 17 games and finished the year with 72 catches for 866 yards and four touchdowns. QuarterbackDesmond Ridderstarted the last four games with a reasonable 49.8 QBR.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Falcons got 2.5 sacks and 31 pressures from edge rusherArnold Ebiketie, while undrafted defensive tackleTimmy Hornestarted five of the final six games of the season.

First-round linebackerQuay Walkerhad an excellent year, one of just 11 rookies to earn 40 or more total points in that SIS metric. Walker had 121 total tackles with a 10% broken tackle rate, outstanding for a rookie linebacker, and allowed just 2.4 yards per target in coverage. Green Bays other defensive first-round pick, tackleDevonte Wyatt, played a much smaller role, seeing 22% of defensive snaps.

Wide receiverChristian Watsonreally came on in the second half of the season, starting every game from Week 8 onward and catching 41 passes for 611 yards and seven touchdowns in a little more than half a season. He finished 20th out of 85 qualifying wide receivers in Football Outsiders receiving DVOA rating. The Packers also got valuable contributions from edge rusherKingsley Enagbare, who started seven games and had three sacks with 23 pressures, and offensive linemanZach Tom, who had five starts at both left tackle and left guard.

The Giants draft haul was headlined by two first-round picks; each player had a large role in 2022 but their stories diverge there.Kayvon Thibodeauxhad four sacks, but SIS counted him with 42 pressures in 14 games, ranking him sixth among defensive ends in total points from the pass rush. On the other hand, right tackleEvan Nealwas near the bottom of ESPNs blocking metrics: 58th in PBWR, 56th in RBWR. The good news for Giants fans is that left tackleAndrew Thomasalso struggled as a rookie, and hes now one of the top tackles in the game. It takes time for players to grow.

Those first-round picks werent the only important rookies for New York.Daniel Bellingerstarted most of the season at tight end, catching 30 passes for 268 yards and two touchdowns. Wide receiverWanDale Robinsonwas limited by injuries but did catch 23 passes for 27 yards and a touchdown in the six games he was on the field. On defense, linebackerMicah McFaddenstarted seven games, cornerbackCorDale Flottstarted six and safetyDane Beltonstarted five.

The Chargers rookie class primarily made itself known on the offensive line, withZion Johnsonstarting the entire season at right guard andJamaree Salyertaking over for the injuredRashawn Slaterearly in the season at left tackle. SIS total points ranked Johnson 13th among guards and Slater 24th among tackles this season. Otherwise, the main Chargers rookie of note was kickerCameron Dicker, who was on three other rosters earlier this season (appearing in a game for Philadelphia) and eventually became the Chargers kicker around midseason. Dickers only missed field goal (or extra point) all year was a 52-yarder in Las Vegas in Week 13.

The Browns had a surprisingly strong draft class considering the absence of a first- or second-round pick. The star is third-round cornerbackMartin Emerson Jr., who played 72% of Clevelands defensive snaps as the third corner. Emerson allowed just 5.3 yards per target and a 47% completion rate in coverage. The Browns also got a lot of playing time out of edge rusherAlex Wright(50% of snaps) and defensive tacklePerrion Winfrey(31% of snaps). Wide receiverDavid Bellplayed less than expected but still racked up 24 catches for 214 yards. KickerCade Yorkwas above average on kickoffs but below average on field goals. He finished the year 24-for-32, including three misses from inside 40 yards.

The Saints had only five picks in last years draft, and one of their first-round picks, offensive tackleTrevor Penning, was healthy enough to play only six games this season. But the Saints still had a good rookie class with major contributions from one draftee on each side of the ball plus an undrafted surprise.

Wide receiverChris Olavefinished the season with 1,042 receiving yards and four touchdowns. Olave was the highest rookie wide receiver inESPN Analytics advanced receiver ratings. CornerbackAlontae Taylorplayed in only 11 games but was outstanding in coverage, with just 4.3 yards per target allowed. And undrafted wide receiverRashid Shaheeddidnt play until Week 6 but was a starter by the final five games of the season and ended the year with 488 yards and two touchdowns on 17.4 yards per reception.

Tyler Linderbaumstarted from Week 1 and led all rookie offensive linemen in SIS metrics with 43 Points Earned. He also led all centers in Run Block Win Rate and was 12th in Pass Block Win Rate. Baltimores other first-round pick, safetyKyle Hamilton, was primarily a part-time player who didnt start until the final four games. Although he had 62 total tackles, two sacks, and five passes defended, and is well-regarded by many film experts, SIS ranks him just 76th in total points at the safety position this season.

The Ravens also got value out of tight endIsaiah Likely, who had 36 receptions for 373 yards and three touchdowns as the second option behindMark Andrews. Rookie punterJordan Stoutwas almost exactly average in Football Outsiders gross punt value metric. Second-round pickDavid Ojaboplayed just two games after missing most of the season with an Achilles tear he suffered preparing for last years draft. Defensive tackleTravis Jonesstarted three games and played 30% of Baltimores defensive snaps this season.

If you follow fantasy football, you might recognize the star of the Denver rookie class as tight endGreg Dulcich. Dulcich constantly threatened to break out with a couple of 80-yard receiving games. But he also dealt with injuries, and at the end of the year, he had only 33 catches for 411 yards and two touchdowns in 10 games.

However, the real star of the Denver rookie class was actually cornerbackDamarri Mathis, who moved into the starting lineup oppositePat Surtain IIin Week 6. Mathis allowed a high completion rate in coverage, 63%, but was rarely burned and therefore allowed just 5.4 yards per target.

Denvers top pick, second-round edge rusherNik Bonitto, started only one game and had 1.5 sacks and 17 total pressures on the season. Defensive endEyioma Uwazurikeplayed primarily from Week 12 on and had 17 total tackles.

Before the season, nobody would have expected seventh-round pickRodney Thomas IIto be the Colts most valuable rookie of 2022. However, the former linebacker grabbed the free safety position early in the season, eventually starting 10 games and garnering four interceptions.Bernhard Raimannstarted 11 games at left tackle, finishing 40th in RBWR but a poor 60th in PBWR. Wide receiverAlec Piercestarted 12 games and finished with 41 catches for 593 yards and two touchdowns. Tight endJelani Woodscame on late in the season with 18 catches for 233 yards just in the Colts final six games.

The Bills came into the year knowing their star cornerbackTreDavious Whitewouldnt be back until midseason, so its good that their most valuable rookies came at the cornerback position. The surprise is that sixth-round pickChristian Benfordout of Villanova was more valuable than first-round pickKaiir Elamout of Florida. Benford started five games and allowed 8.5 yards per target in coverage. Elam started six games and allowed 9.0 yards per target in coverage.

The other major rookie for the Bills was backup running backJames Cook, who carried the ball 89 times for 507 yards (a 5.7-yard average) and two touchdowns. LinebackerTerrel Bernarddid start one game against the Jets at midseason but otherwise played primarily on special teams.

The Dolphins had only four selections in last years draft, so you wouldnt expect them to have many rookies of note. But they did have one: undrafted free agent cornerbackKader Kohouout of Texas A&M-Commerce. Kohou eventually started 13 games, and you will be shocked to find out that he finished the season second among all rookies with 62 total points, according to SIS charting. The reason is that Kohou was lights out in the most important situation: fourth down. He allowed one catch for zero yards on six targets on fourth down. That means that six times this year, Kohous coverage led directly to a turnover on downs. This is worth 19 total points, which would put Kohou among the top 40 cornerbacks in the league in pass coverage even if he had not played another down all season! Kohous total stats are also impressive, with 5.9 yards allowed per target and a 49% completion rate allowed in coverage.

Miamis second-most valuable rookie was also an undrafted free agent, safetyVerone McKinley III, but he played only 22% of defensive snaps. Among drafted players, the top rookie was seventh-round quarterbackSkylar Thompsonand his unimpressive 27.3 QBR. LinebackerChanning Tindallplayed primarily on special teams. Miamis other two draftees combined to play one game. Frankly, this ranking for the Dolphins is entirely Kohou.

The Buccaneers got contributions from multiple rookies, but none of them really wowed when it came to on-field production. Based on SIS total points, the most valuable Buccaneers rookie was punterJake Camarda, who was 10th in gross punt value by Football Outsiders metrics and also handled kickoffs. Defensive linemanLogan Hallwas a bit of a disappointment, playing just 36% of defensive snaps, but hes still got plenty of time to grow into a larger role.

On offense, running backRachaad Whitestarted the second half of the season but averaged less than 3.7 yards per carry and a poor 5.8 yards per reception. A poor broken tackle rate also costs him in the SIS total points metric.Cade Ottonstarted 11 games at tight end with 42 catches for 391 yards and two touchdowns but finished near the bottom of DVOA at the position.Luke Goedekehad to step right into the starting left guard role after an injury to veteranAaron Stinnie, then got injured himself after seven games and couldnt win the starting role back fromNick Leverettwhen he returned in December.

The Vikings lost their top two picks to injury for most of the season, as first-round safetyLewis Cineplayed only three games and second-round cornerbackAndrew Booth Jr. played only six. So their most valuable rookie was their next player selected, offensive linemanEd Ingram. He started all 17 games at right guard but had disappointing numbers in ESPNs tracking stats: 44th in RBWR and 62nd out of 63 qualifying guards in PBWR.

There were also small contributions from a handful of other rookies. Wide receiverJalen Nailorhad seven catches for 151 yards and a touchdown in the final two games of the regular season. Undrafted punterRyan Wrightwas slightly below average in both gross and net punt value. CornerbackAkayleb Evansearned two starts at midyear but allowed 12.3 yards per target (in a small sample of 20 targets). LinebackerBrian Asamoah IIprimarily played special teams but finally started getting defensive snaps in December and had 14 combined tackles between Week 15 and Week 17.

The Raiders had no pick until the third round, so not too much was expected from this group. The class was highlighted by two offensive linemen.Dylan Parhamstarted all 17 games at left guard but was below average in both PBWR and RBWR.Thayer Munford Jr.had to start three games at right tackle in relief ofJermaine Eluemunor. (He also had a fourth start when the Raiders ran six linemen on the first play of the game.)Sam Webbplayed nine games at cornerback and allowed just 5.8 yards per target. But running backZamir Whitehad only 17 carries all season, while defensive tacklesNeil Farrell Jr. andMatthew Butlerplayed just 14% and 5% of Raiders defensive snaps, respectively.

The Eagles selected only five rookies in last years draft and most of them are set up to be more important in the future than they were in 2022. Philadelphias most important rookie, by far, was an undrafted player, safetyReed Blankenship. He came on late in the year, playing an average of 77% of defensive snaps in his final six games of the regular season. Despite five starts, defensive tackleJordan Daviswasnt on the field as much as expected; he played between 30% and 40% of snaps in each of the first six weeks, then never played 30% of snaps in a game once he returned from injury in Week 13.

Otherwise, the Eagles rookies mostly sat on the sidelines. CenterCam Jurgens, a second-round pick, spent the entire year behindJason Kelce. Third-round pickNakobe Deanwas a regular on special teams but played more than three defensive snaps in only two games. Sixth-round pickGrant Calcaterrawas the third tight end behindDallas GoedertandJack Stoll.

The Commanders rookie class was laid low by injury. First-round wide receiverJahan Dotsonmissed five games with a hamstring injury and had only four total targets in the three games he played after returning (Weeks 10-12). Overall, Dotson finished with 35 catches for 523 yards and seven touchdowns; his 12.5% receiving DVOA was second among qualifying rookie receivers behind Pickens. Second-round defensive tacklePhidarian Mathiswent down with a knee injury in Week 1. Of course, you know about the gunshot wound that cost running backBrian Robinson Jr.the early part of the season, although he did return by October. He started nine games and gained 797 yards on 205 carries (a pedestrian 3.9 yards per carry).

The Commanders do get some credit for defensive tackleJohn Ridgewa.