New performers popped up in Week 4 of the NFL season. Injuries are the worst part of football at any level, and the NFL is no exception. It took multiple injuries for one of the rookies on the report card to see the field, but he played well in his first outing. Meanwhile, many top performers continue to do so early in their rookie seasons.
NFL Rookie Report Cards
Romeo Doubs broke out in Week 3 for the Green Bay Packers, but it was a Packers opponent that shined in Week 4.
Remember, no pluses or minuses on these rookie report cards — no half-measures will be tolerated.
Patriots CB Jack Jones: B
Jack Jones tried to one-up Aaron Rodgers by wearing No. 13. Then he actually one-upped the back-to-back MVP by intercepting a third-down pass and returning it for a touchdown. It was a masterclass in understanding the situation and taking a calculated risk.
Rodgers dropped back with Jones playing off of the receiver and attempted to hit an out route just past the sticks on third-and-long. Jones clicked on the out and drove, running the route for the stumbling receiver and trotted into the end zone.
Jones wasn’t perfect. He allowed a few receptions while playing off the ball and missed a few tackles against larger opponents. However, he looked comfortable carrying receivers vertically and matching them in man.
Chargers OT Jamaree Salyer: A
It’s never easy to replace an offensive lineman. It’s even more complicated when said lineman is arguably the best left tackle in the game in just his second NFL season. The Chargers have horrific injury luck — losing Rashawn Slater was only the tip of their injury iceberg.
Jamaree Salyer should never have been a sixth-round pick. Much like Trey Smith a season prior, Salyer’s tape was well worthy of being a Day 2 pick in the NFL Draft. But even his most prominent supporters couldn’t have imagined he’d be about as perfect an offensive lineman could be in a game. He didn’t allow a single pressure in 40 pass-blocking reps.
It doesn’t matter that he was up against a lackluster Houston pass rush. It’s practically impossible to be perfect.
Patriots QB Bailey Zappe: B
The Patriots never dreamed of using Bailey Zappe in a real NFL game. The fourth-round draft pick was supposed to be a clipboard holder for Brian Hoyer, Mac Jones’ backup. But Zappe got his Chris Comer moment as “Boobie’s backup’s backup.”
Zappe went 10-of-15 for 99 yards and a touchdown against the Packers. Zappe doesn’t have any outrageous physical tools. In fact, he hardly has the requisite tools to be an NFL QB. But if one thing was easy to see at Senior Bowl practices, it was that he’s an absolute gamer. And his college production is evidence of that.
Jets CB Sauce Gardner: A
The Pittsburgh Steelers’ passing attack is nothing to write home about. It has been so underwhelming that Mike Tomlin inserted rookie QB Kenny Pickett in the game to provide a spark to the passing attack.
Sauce Gardner is the entire package. He has great length and is incredibly smooth in man coverage, mirroring receivers in and out of route breaks. The future shutdown cornerback was outstanding on Sunday against Pittsburgh, allowing fewer than 10 total yards on seven targets.
Steelers QB Kenny Pickett: B
Pickett threw three interceptions in his debut. So, how did his performance deserve a “B”? It’s a simple thing I like to call “not box score scouting.” Those who watch and understand the game know that Pickett really only made one poor decision: the scramble checkdown to Pat Freiermuth that the Jets intercepted.
However, the offense was far more efficient with him at the helm, and Pickett’s rapport with fellow rookie George Pickens was evident. Pickens caught four of his receptions from Pickett, many of which were on contested back-shoulder throws.
Rapid-Fire NFL Rookie Report Card Grades
It’s time for some quick hitters.
Steelers WR George Pickens: A
Pickens has been outstanding so far as a rookie. While he had his first big receiving day in Week 4, he’s been bullying defenders as a run blocker throughout his rookie season. On Sunday, he caught six of his eight targets for 102 yards.
Texans RB Dameon Pierce: A
Dameon Pierce has been terrific so far as a rookie, but he had his first big game as a pro against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 4. His 75-yard scamper is a big reason for his 131-yard day.
Texans CB Derek Stingley Jr.: D
Teams are going at the rookie cornerback at a high rate. In Week 4, he allowed well over 100 yards in coverage and injured his arm to boot.
Jaguars OLB Travon Walker: C
Travon Walker has been a fine player for Jacksonville in his rookie season, but he’s not been the impact pass rusher they’ve needed him to be.
Seattle OT Abraham Lucas: B
Abraham Lucas must feel right at home in the Pacific Northwest because he’s outplayed his first-round rookie counterpart thus far in 2022. He still hasn’t allowed a sack in four weeks, and he’s provided some excellent value in the run game.