Rookie Check-In: Top 5 Draft Picks

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Week 2 of the 2022-2023 NFL season is in the books. So far, it’s been an eventful two weeks with lots of missed kicks, big hits, and unexpected upsets, all of which makes it easy to forget about the talented 2022 draft class as they get used to the business side of the NFL and the skill jump from college. Let’s take a look at how the rooks are fairing with their new teams.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Travon Walker DE, (Georgia)

It has been made clear that Travon Walker wasn’t drafted for his production, but his potential. Coming from a really deep Georgia defense, Walker shared snaps at both the inside and outside positions of the defensive line. The Travon Walker hype train started at the combine, where Walker logged a 4.51 40-yard dash. That was the fastest time since 1999 for a player weighing at least 270 pounds, and it is not every year you get a player Walker’s size with running back-like speed.

In Week 1, Walker showed off his athleticism and skillset by logging an interception and a sack, as well as being disruptive in the run game, which he was famous for in his whole college career. Walker showed doubters why he was worth the number 1 overall pick. In week 2, although Walker did not log any sacks, he helped Jacksonville to a shutout victory over the Indianapolis Colts. 

Detroit Lions: Aidan Hutchinson, DE, (Michigan)

Aidan Hutchinson finished second in Heisman voting as a defensive player, after cementing himself as a top-3 pick in his senior season with 14 sacks. He may in fact be the best player in the 2022 class. 

Hutchinson, a Michigan native, got drafted by his hometown team. Then Lions drafted him for his dangerous pass rush moves and his consistency, and that is what they have gotten so far through two weeks. While not logging a sack in week 1, Hutchinson gave the Commanders all they could handle in his next game. He totaled 3 sacks in the first half alone, leading all rookies. Vegas’s Defensive Rookie of the Year favorite is off to a blazing start.

Houston Texans: Derek Stingley Jr., CB (LSU)

Derek Stingley had an unreal freshman season, logging 6 interceptions and 15 defended passes, but has never played a full season since then due to injuries. If not for that, we could’ve seen Stingley win a Heisman and more. Nonetheless, his talent cannot be ignored.

Going into the draft, the Texans knew they had to buff up their defense, and by picking Stingley, they knew they’d get an aggressive cornerback. In Week 1, Stingley played well for a rookie, with 3 passes defended, one of which was a big deflection in the endzone to prevent a score. In his second career game, Stingley faced a tough matchup against physical wide receiver Courtland Sutton, where he struggled. He was frequently picked on and the Broncos used his inexperience to their advantage. Sutton used his size to post up Stingley, and he simply had no answer. But even then, Stingley had a few solid reps. You can see the potential. If Stingley stays healthy, we will see him grow into a top cover corner.

New York Jets: Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner,  CB (Cincinnati)

Sauce Gardner didn’t give himself this nickname, he earned it. On the field, he plays with swagger and confidence. After not allowing a touchdown in his college career, the hype around Gardner was real. Many analysts thought that he was the most talented player in the 2022 draft class. With excellent man and zone coverage skills, he has the ability to be effective right away.            

Through 2 weeks, Gardner has still not allowed a touchdown. He is continuously making plays for a Jets team that struggled defensively last season. The lengthy corner has 2 passes defended through 2 weeks. It’s early in his career, but it appears that the Jets got their number 1 cornerback of the future.     

New York Giants: Kayvon Thibodeaux, DE (Oregon)

Kayvon Thibodeaux is a generational pass rusher. In his college career, he logged 19 sacks and 35.5 tackles for loss in just 30 games. The former five-star recruit has ideal size and speed for an edge rusher, and if it weren’t for injuries and rumors of character issues, we would have likely seen Thibodeaux off the board at number 1. Despite the risks, Thibodeaux still was taken at number 5 by the Giants.   

Unfortunately, Thibodeaux went down with a sprained ACL in week 2 of the preseason and is yet to make his regular season debut, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. Thibodeaux avoided major injury and is expected to make his NFL debut week 3 against the rival Cowboys.