NFL rookies poised to have an immediate impact in 2022, including Jordan Davis and Romeo Doubs

These NFL rookies are set up to have an instant impact in 2022, either by filling a critical role or by signaling a potential change in their new team's scheme.

NFL training camp — a time when hope springs eternal and nearly every team is hanging onto at least some shred of optimism. Rookies tend to personify that sanguine outlook in the NFL, and for good reason. With a blank slate and nothing but the future in front of them, first-year players are the NFL’s version of tabula rasa.

Last season, top-15 picks such as Ja’Marr Chase, Patrick Surtain II, and Micah Parsons took the league by storm. But players selected later in the first round or in the middle of the draft — Eric Stokes, Christian Barmore, and Creed Humphrey, just to name a few — also played pivotal roles. Which NFL rookies are set up to make an impact early in the 2022 campaign?

NFL rookies who will make an instant impact in 2022

Many of the rookies on this list will be counted on to start immediately this season, but that’s not the only way they might have an impact. Jordan Davis and Tyler Linderbaum, for example, will likely affect the specific gameday plans the Eagles and Ravens intend to implement.

We shied away from top-10 picks, as those players are expected to contribute from the jump by default. And, for the most part, we focused on contending teams — the rookie performances for the majority of these clubs could influence the playoff picture in December and January.

Jordan Davis, DT, Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles ran one of the more elementary defenses in the NFL last season, but that wasn’t by design. First-year defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon didn’t have the players he needed to run a more diverse scheme. That should change following an offseason that saw Philadelphia draft Georgia defensive tackle Jordan Davis in the first round and sign edge rusher Haason Reddick, linebacker Kyzir White, cornerback James Bradberry, and safety Jaquiski Tartt.

Gannon should be able to field multiple looks on defense, and Davis should be central to those efforts. Between Davis, Fletcher Cox, Javon Hargrave, Milton Williams, Reddick, Brandon Graham, Josh Sweat, and Derek Barnett, the Eagles essentially have two defensive fronts worth of starting-caliber players.

With all that talent at his disposal, Gannon should be able to vary his looks game-by-game, series-by-series, and even play-by-play. The Eagles can shift between odd and even fronts, and they’re also likely to join the wave of NFL teams moving towards a Vic Fangio/Brandon Staley-style defense with two-high-safety shells and light boxes where linemen are asked to play a gap-and-a-half.

If there’s one player who is well-suited to handle multiple gaps and clog rushing lanes, it’s the mammoth 6-foot-6, 340-pound Davis. His ability to occupy space up front will allow Philadelphia to drop an extra defender into coverage and let Gannon call more exotic plays on the back end.

Tyler Linderbaum, C, Baltimore Ravens

Although he was viewed as the best center and one of the top offensive linemen in the 2022 NFL Draft, Tyler Linderbaum wasn’t expected to land with the Ravens. At 6-foot-2, 291 pounds, the Iowa product is on the smaller size among NFL linemen, presumptively making him an odd fit for a Baltimore team that deploys far more gap-scheme runs — which typically call for bigger bodies up front — than zone concepts.

Linderbaum’s Hawkeyes used zone blocking 93% of the time last season, while the Ravens were one of only four NFL teams to run zone on fewer than 50% of their plays, according to Ryan McCrystal of Sharp Football. Nevertheless, head coach John Harbaugh didn’t sound concerned about the fit when discussing Linderbaum in April.

“He’s not just an athletic center. He’s a physical center,” Harbaugh said. “When you get the gap scheme back blocks that you’re talking about, he holds up, and he’s moving people on those blocks. So, we’re confident he can do any kind of block we need.”

Baltimore may simply ask Linderbaum to fit into their scheme, or they might try to work more zone runs into their plans. If the Ravens want to get the most out of their supremely athletic center, they could use Linderbaum as a puller and lead blocker, similar to how the Eagles utilize their small-statured center, Jason Kelce.

Devonte Wyatt, DT; Romeo Doubs, WR; and Zach Tom, OT, Green Bay Packers

The Packers leaned heavily on their rookie class in 2021. First-round cornerback Eric Stokes started 14 games. Second-rounder Josh Myers began the season as Green Bay’s starting center before a knee injury ended his campaign after six games. And further offensive line injuries forced fourth-round selection Royce Newman into the lineup for 16 starts at right guard.

Heading into 2022, it appears as though Green Bay will once again ask a lot of their first-year players. Devonte Wyatt, one of the Packers’ two first-round picks out of Georgia, might spend a lot of time at nose tackle in DC Joe Barry’s 3-4 front. While Wyatt may not put up eye-popping numbers in that role, he could allow Kenny Clark — whose nose tackle snaps have already been steadily decreasing in recent years — to rush the passer more often.

The Packers took North Dakota State wide receiver Christian Watson with the 34th overall pick, but he’s been sidelined by a knee injury, opening the door for fourth-round pass catcher Romeo Doubs to be the star of training camp. With Watson injured, the only competition ahead of Doubs includes Allen Lazard, Sammy Watkins, and Randall Cobb (who is also hurt). Unless Green Bay signs a veteran like Will Fuller or Emmanuel Sanders before Week 1, Doubs could play a crucial part.

“Every single day … there’s been at least one kind of ‘wow’ play from him,” Aaron Rodgers told reporters last week. “That’s kind of rare for a young guy like that. Now, we’ve had some guys over the years kind of do that, but they’re all in the top 10, I think, of the Packers’ receiving history.”

Green Bay’s other fourth-round selection, Wake Forest OL Zach Tom, could also be called into action early in his rookie year. Tom is capable of lining up anywhere along the offensive line. That versatility could prove critical if David Bakhtiari and/or Elgton Jenkins aren’t ready for the start of the regular season. He’s been playing with the starters at right tackle, but Tom could also be a valuable utility lineman if the Packers get all their pieces back.

Daxton Hill, S, Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals failed to reach an extension with franchise-tagged safety Jessie Bates, and he’s subsequently opted to hold out from training camp. Bates claims he won’t play under the $12.911 million franchise tender, but it’s anyone’s guess whether he’ll show up before Week 1.

Cincinnati drafted Michigan’s Daxton Hill 31st overall as an insurance policy, and he’s been taking all the starting reps that Bates is missing out on. He’ll be especially important if Bates doesn’t report, but even if he does come back, Hill will still likely have a major role. The ex-Wolverine can do so many things well — handle deep safety, cover the slot, play both man and zone — that he’ll probably force his way onto the field.

If Bates continues his holdout into the regular season, and if the Bengals don’t re-sign fellow defensive back Vonn Bell after the 2022 campaign, Hill could find himself the experienced veteran among Cincinnati’s safety corps as soon as 2023.

Alec Pierce, WR, Indianapolis Colts

The Colts have been searching for a complement to Michael Pittman Jr., and Alec Pierce could be that guy. Pierce, a Cincinnati product whom Indy drafted in the second round, has been running with the starters since Day 1 of training camp, as Zak Keefer of The Athletic reports. A physical, 6-foot-3, 211-pound presence with 4.41 speed, Pierce should be a major red-zone weapon for Matt Ryan.

There are still hurdles for Pierce to surpass. Frank Reich’s playbook is extremely complicated, and as Keefer notes, the Colts’ head coach requires his receivers to learn the X, Y, and Z positions. But given that Pierce’s only real competition for the No. 2 job in Indy is Parris Campbell (who’s dealt with constant health issues and projects better in the slot), the rookie wideout should see a lot of action early on.

nfl rookies
Jun 7, 2022; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Alec Pierce (14) catches a pass during minicamp at the Colts practice facility. Credit: Robert Goddin-USA TODAY Sports

James Cook, RB, Buffalo Bills

The Bills posted the NFL’s third-highest early-down, situation-neutral pass frequency rate last season, and they’re unlikely to change their approach even after the departure of offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. Buffalo doesn’t want to run the ball all that much, so it made all the sense in the world for them to use a second-round pick on Florida State’s James Cook, who was viewed as the best pass-catching back in the draft.

The Bills didn’t need a volume-based runner. They needed a receiving weapon that could create mismatches out of the backfield. Cook is just that, and Buffalo’s coaching staff — including new OC Ken Dorsey — will find creative ways to ensure Cook is lined up 1-on-1 with linebackers. If Cook can turn into Alvin Kamara Lite, the Bills will be pleased with their selection.

Jalen Tolbert, WR, Dallas Cowboys

Amari Cooper is a Cleveland Brown. James Washington suffered a Jones fracture in his foot and will be sidelined for the next 6-10 weeks. Michael Gallup, who tore his ACL in January, literally laughed and said, “Week 1 is not a realistic possibility” as he continues his recovery.

Who exactly is ahead of third-rounder Jalen Tolbert on the Cowboys’ WR depth chart?

Tolbert may face some nominal competition from Simi Fehoko or Noah Brown, but he’s a presumed starter. After recording more than 2,500 yards and 16 touchdowns over his final two seasons at South Alabama, Tolbert will be Dallas’ third receiving option behind CeeDee Lamb and tight end Dalton Schultz. Tolbert’s presence should allow Lamb to spend more time in the slot, where the latter’s snap rate dropped from 93.2% as a rookie in 2020 to just 42.4% in 2021.

Velus Jones Jr., WR, Chicago Bears

Velus Jones Jr. is already 25 years old as a rookie. He’s nearly two months older than A.J. Brown, who’s posted two 1,000-yard NFL campaigns and landed a massive extension. With a breakout age of 23, Jones probably doesn’t present much long-term upside.

But like Tolbert with the Cowboys, Jones is a third-round pick without much target competition in front of him. Darnell Mooney is the Bears’ top wideout, but new additions Byron Pringle and N’Keal Harry are injured and out indefinitely (Jones also has a minor injury but is likely to return soon). Jones, who should have a prominent role on special teams after putting up excellent return numbers at USC and Tennessee, is set up to be Justin Fields’ No. 2 WR.

JT Woods, S, Los Angeles Chargers

As NFL teams aim to become more versatile, three-safety looks could become more prevalent. Hill, Bates, and Bell may see the field together in Cincinnati. Marcus Williams, Chuck Clark, and Kyle Hamilton will all get playing time in Baltimore. And third-round pick JT Woods will boost an impressive Chargers secondary that already includes Derwin James, Nasir Adderley, J.C. Jackson, Asante Samuel Jr., and Bryce Callahan.

Woods typically lined up as the deep safety in Dave Aranda’s Baylor defense, but he can also play the slot. He’s the type of do-everything coverage defender that NFL clubs are searching for, and he’ll allow Los Angeles to play James closer to the action. With a roster full of hybrid defenders that can line up anywhere, the Chargers have the potential to confuse opposing offenses pre- and post-snap perpetually.

Dylan Parham and Thayer Munford, OL, Las Vegas Raiders

Pro Football Network ranked the Raiders’ offensive line as the third-worst in the NFL before starting guard Denzelle Good decided to retire last month. Left tackle Kolton Miller is the only Las Vegas lineman who should be assured of a starting job, so there could be spots available for Raiders rookies Dylan Parham and Thayer Munford.

Parham, a third-round pick out of Memphis, saw action at all three interior line positions in last week’s Hall of Fame preseason game. His best opportunity will likely come at right guard, where presumed starter Lester Cotton Sr. has only five career NFL snaps.

Munford, meanwhile, saw some first-team reps at right tackle at the end of July. The Ohio State product will likely begin the 2022 season as the Raiders’ swing tackle, but Alex Leatherwood and Brandon Parker don’t represent much in the way of competition.

Dallas Robinson is a Writer and News Editor at Pro Football Network. You can read his other work here and follow him on Twitter: @dallasdrobinson.

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