Which NFL rookies could make an immediate impact? While most first-round picks should make a significant contribution in their opening season, not all of them will.
Meanwhile, some later-round picks, who were expected to feel their way into the NFL, will explode out the gates as early contributors. When weighing up the top 10 rookies who could make an immediate impact, we’ve tried to factor both scenarios into the process.
1) Garrett Wilson, WR, New York Jets
The WR1 of the 2022 NFL Draft class according to the Pro Football Network draft department, Garrett Wilson was the second wide receiver off the board in April. The New York Jets landed themselves a premier pass catcher who combines the ability to contest at the catch point with explosive route running and after-the-catch elusiveness. As a result, he was oft-described as a three level-threat who finished his college career with a productive campaign.
Wilson is already garnering fans within the Jets organization.
“Dude is special. Dude is very special,” teammate Corey Davis told the media during the spring. “He’s got crazy routes, crazy hands and always focused. … His separation is unbelievable.”
There’s every chance that the former Ohio State pass catcher sees the field early and often in the 2022 NFL season. Garrett Wilson instantly upgrades the Jets’ passing attack as a go-to weapon for Zach Wilson.
2) Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Detroit Lions
Considered by some to be the most pro-ready pass rusher in the 2022 NFL Draft class, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Aidan Hutchinson make an immediate impact for the Detroit Lions.
The former Michigan star embarked on an insane final season for the Wolverines, logging 16.5 tackles for loss and 14 sacks. He was the closest thing to a defensive Heisman winner that we’ve seen for a long time.
Hutchinson boasts an explosive first step and impressive power that should help him to be an immediate force in the NFL. Meanwhile, he plays the game with a relentless motor that gels perfectly with Dan Campbell’s kneecap-biting vision for the Lions.
Hutchinson’s going to be a starter from the get-go for a team that desperately needs to create defensive pressure. The pro-readiness and opportunity have made him an early Defensive Rookie of the Year frontrunner.
3) Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers
As the only quarterback drafted in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft, the expectation is that Kenny Pickett should be the only one of the class to see the field this fall.
Additionally, all pre-draft narratives suggested that the Heisman finalist and most statistically successful ACC quarterback in years was the only QB prospect who was “NFL ready.”
Pickett certainly possesses experience, arm talent, and the creation ability to help him succeed at the NFL level. Meanwhile, he’s in a good situation with an exceptional running back to help lighten the load in Najee Harris and an array of pass-catching talent bolstered by the addition of Calvin Austin III and George Pickens. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Pickett beat out Mitchell Trubisky or Mason Rudolph for the starting job sooner rather than later.
4) Evan Neal, OT, New York Giants
Evan Neal was billed by many (myself included) as the top offensive lineman in the 2022 NFL Draft.
The 6-foot-7, 360-pound behemoth glides into his pass set with remarkable athleticism for his size. Neal’s footwork is superb, and his power generation is devastating. He stands up to the test both in pass protection and run blocking and has substantial experience at the top level of college football.
Neal’s landing spot with the New York Giants gives him the opportunity to make an instant impact in the NFL. With experience at right tackle for Alabama, Neal should slide straight into the Giants’ starting lineup. He could even see time at guard if needed to smooth his transition to the NFL.
It might not be a sexy pick, but if either Daniel Jones or Saquon Barkley have an outstanding season, it’ll likely be as a direct result of Neal’s contributions.
5) Devin Lloyd, LB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Former Utah linebacker Devin Lloyd was a top-15 prospect in the 2022 NFL Draft according to the final Pro Football Network Big Board. As he slipped down the first round in April, the Jacksonville Jaguars traded back up to secure a key piece of their LB room for years to come.
Ignore the fact that the Jaguars added around 100 linebackers between free agency and the NFL draft, Lloyd is set to be the one that makes the most significant impact this fall. After all, making an impact is what Lloyd has been doing for Utah for the past three years. The Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year tallied 22 tackles for loss last fall, leaving his mark both figuratively and literally.
With the football intelligence and athleticism to disrupt offenses in all phases, Lloyd should be effortlessly able to upgrade the Jaguars’ defense from the first minute he steps foot onto the field. That should be Week 1.
6) Perrion Winfrey, DT, Cleveland Browns
After a sensational Senior Bowl performance, former Oklahoma defensive tackle Perrion Winfrey was expected to command early-round attention in the 2022 NFL Draft.
However, it wasn’t until Day 3 of the NFL’s annual selection event that the Cleveland Browns pulled the trigger on the imposing 6-foot-3, 303-pound former JUCO product. Whatever the reason for his slip, Winfrey has the potential to be an instant impact player for the Browns this fall.
Winfrey has an alluring combination of size, length, and power. At both his JUCO and Oklahoma stops, the impressive defensive tackle has routinely delivered bone-shaking hits as a disruptive playmaker along the defensive front.
There’s every reason to believe that he can carve out a starting role ahead of either Jordan Ellliott or Taven Bryan. With offensive lines having to focus on Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney, Winfrey should have plenty of pass-rush opportunities this season.
7) Arnold Ebiketie, EDGE, Atlanta Falcons
The Atlanta Falcons have struggled to find or develop pass-rush talent in recent years.
Thankfully for their fans, they landed a potential instant impact-maker in the 2022 NFL Draft. Arnold Ebiketie used his one year at the Power Five level to prove he can be a dangerous and productive pass rusher. He tallied 18 tackles for loss and nine sacks during his final college football season.
Forget the college statistics, Ebiketie has showcased all the tools to be a dangerous edge rusher in the NFL. Explosive, agile, and bendy, the Penn State pass rusher has weaponized hands connected to impressively long levers. Meanwhile, he has the opportunity to be a starter for the Falcons beginning in Week 1. Between skill and opportunity, Ebiketie has all the ingredients of an instant impact maker.
8) Jaquan Brisker, S, Chicago Bears
Ignore for a second that the Chicago Bears failed to support quarterback Justin Fields in the conventional way that we expected them to do in the 2022 NFL Draft.
In Jaquan Brisker, they landed an instant impact player for their secondary in the second round. The Penn State safety is the epitome of a do-it-all player at the position.
Brisker has the length, fluidity, and speed to be a danger in coverage. Furthermore, he has the physicality and technical ability to be combative in the box.
With Eddie Jackson alongside him as the free safety, Brisker should open the season as the Bears’ starting strong safety. Perhaps limiting their opponents ability to score was the support Fields needed to succeed all along.
9) Rachaad White, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The NFL let Tom Brady get the best pass-catching running back in the 2022 NFL Draft, which seems like a humongous mistake.
The seven-time Super Bowl champion loves nothing more than avocado ice cream. But Brady also loves utilizing running backs in the passing game. Just ask James White.
Rachaad White is an absolute menace as a receiver. He showcases excellent pass-catching technique with a natural style. Meanwhile, he’s as smooth as a knife through butter as a rusher.
Rachaad has the speed, lateral agility, and all the tricks of running back creativity to consistently create yardage for himself. As a result, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him carve out a substantial role in his first season at the NFL level.
10) Jordan Stout, P, Baltimore Ravens
Yes, punters are instant impact-makers too!
With Jordan Stout’s selection in the 2022 NFL Draft, longtime Baltimore Ravens punter Sam Koch announced his retirement. So, you could say Stout has already made a significant impact in Baltimore.
Flippancy aside, Stout’s ability to flip the field shouldn’t be underestimated when it comes to finding players who can immediately contribute at the NFL level. Stout ticks all the boxes as it pertains to punting.
With a 76-yard career-long punt, the former Penn State specialist possesses the leg strength to succeed. He boasts impressive hang time and directional ability. Most importantly, he’s extremely consistent. Stout also has versatility in his armory, although it’s unlikely he’ll need to hit field goals while Justin Tucker is in town.
Nevertheless, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Stout earn All-Rookie honors this season.