Let's grade some first-round rookies on their preseason performances. Why the heck not? Do these evaluations always correctly predict how well a player will perform when the games actually count? Of course not. But in most cases, now we do have somewhat of a sense of whether or not a rookie will be able to hit the ground running in the NFL.
These grades are for first-round rookies in the 2022 preseason, listed in the order the players were drafted. Before I begin, if a rookie isn't listed, it's either because he did not play in his respective team's opening game or, due to a variety of reasons, wasn't able to make much of an impact at all, good or bad.
1. Travon Walker, EDGE/DL, Jaguars
Walker registered three pressures in two preseason outings. He flashed as a force against the run. The No. 1 overall pick's length and strength again popped, often pushing back blockers. Was he dominated? No. But hardly looked out of place. The pass rush part of his game was expected to take him, and it will.
2. Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Lions
We didn't see much of Hutchinson this preseason, but I'm intrigued by his usage in the exhibition finale against the Steelers, where the former Michigan superstar aligned from the wide nine spot all the way inside to three technique. He had a pressure and was close to recording a sack on a few other occasions.
3. Derek Stingley Jr., CB, Texans
Stingley was stingy this preseason, allowing just one reception in his target area and demonstrating dynamic explosiveness following receivers in man and zone. He had a pass breakup too but displayed such tight coverage, the targets his way were few and far between.
4. Sauce Gardner, CB, Jets
Gardner was not targeted all preseason. In other words, Sauce smothered his assignments all summer. But we did only see him on 23 coverage snaps. Altogether, head coach Robert Saleh and the entire Jets organization have to be more than just pleased with their first of three Round 1 selections.
5. Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Giants
Before the frightening knee injury that was ultimately deemed not too serious, Thibodeaux looked spry and powerful at the point of attack for the Giants, even if he didn't generate a plethora of pressures. The burst off the ball looked precisely as it did at Oregon, he dealt with strength from NFL tackles well, and hustled.
6. Ikem Ekwonu, OT, Panthers
It was an expected preseason from Ekwonu, who, on film at NC State, was a Mack truck for the run game and mostly good but not spectacular in pass protection. That's precisely how he played in the preseason, although we all know pass pro is more critical than anything else in the NFL.
7. Evan Neal, OT, Giants
Neal didn't play in the final preseason game but otherwise was solid yet far from dominant in the two other preseason games. He moves exceptionally well for a human with his tall and heavy frame, but the balance will likely come with time.
9. Charles Cross, OT, Seahawks
After a shaky second preseason outing, Cross was tremendous against the Cowboys, on all but one pass-blocking snap, when fellow rookie Sam Williams got the most of him on a bull rush that led to a Geno Smith sack. What I noticed with Cross is that his tremendously calm nature during a play -- and how that translates to amazing recovery ability -- translated from Mississippi State to the Seahawks. Huge plus.
10. Garrett Wilson, WR, Jets
Six catches for 53 yards is the opposite of an explosive stat line for such an explosive athlete and receiver, but that's where we are with Wilson after his first preseason. Now, some of that wasn't his fault, he didn't have Zach Wilson for most of his reps. He was sudden and looked fast on film.
11. Chris Olave, WR, Saints
Not many looks for Olave in the preseason -- just five total targets. Now, we didn't get Jameis Winston this preseason, and we saw what the Saints quarterback depth looked like last season. Yikes. Nothing overly concerning for Olave, he did have a touchdown catch against the Packers.
13. Jordan Davis, DT, Eagles
I'm not burying Davis in the preseason. Not burying any rookie. But on 37 snaps, Davis didn't have a tackle or a pressure. Of course, at around 350 pounds, Davis draws loads of attention that help his teammates, and there's absolutely value in that. But the No. 13 overall pick needs to be productive himself to become a successful pick.
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14. Kyle Hamilton, S, Ravens
The more Hamilton played this preseason, the better he got. Three missed tackles in his NFL exhibition debut. Not a one after that. Against the Cardinals, Hamilton deflected a pass near the line of scrimmage on a throw into the end zone. On his 81 preseason snaps, the former Notre Dame standout looked comfortable in coverage and against the run.
15. Kenyon Green, OG, Texans
Only seven snaps of the pass-protection variety for Green this preseason, and he allowed a hurry of the quarterback in one instance and was close to surrendering a few more. In the run game he was more steady, but that's typically the case for all young blockers. The Texans need the very experienced Green to come in ready to stymie rushers in pass protection.
16. Jahan Dotson, WR, Commanders
Dotson turned two targets into a pair of grabs for 23 yards against the Chiefs in Week 2 of the preseason. That was it from the first-round selection out of Penn State. His only two targets of the preseason. Not devastatingly alarming. Not awesome. Hence the grade.
17. Zion Johnson, OG, Chargers
Johnson understood his assignments all preseason, allowing just one pressure on 30 pass-blocking snaps, and it's not like he was close to losing one-on-one battles against NFL veterans. He moved methodically in the run game, too, often plowing lanes for the Chargers running backs.
18. Treylon Burks, WR, Titans
It was only four catches for 37 yards this preseason, but Burks did not look like someone who deserved to be criticized for not being athletic or sudden enough entering the NFL. He was efficient off the line of scrimmage, got open in some instances, and flashed his big catch radius, and run-after-the-catch skills on his touchdown.
19. Trevor Penning, OT, Saints
Penning was a turnstile in his first two preseason outings, then he got injured in the preseason finale. His turf toe could land him on in-season IR, and he may not be able to return all season. Damn.
20. Kenny Pickett, QB, Steelers
Pickett started the preseason as Tommy Maddox then was Neil O'Donnell and by the finale he was a Ben Roethlisberger/Terry Bradshaw hybrid. The point I'm feebly attempting to get across here -- Pickett looked to be taking steps in his development this August. He probably starts the season as the backup to Mitchell Trubisky, but the Steelers should be reasonably happy with their current quarterback situation.
21. Trent McDuffie, CB, Chiefs
Short audition for McDuffie this August -- only 26 snaps. He wasn't involved much yet wasn't scorched down the field for big plays from the opponent and wasn't whiffing on tackles or allowing massive separation.
22. Quay Walker, LB, Georgia
Walker was the definition of active this preseason, with seven tackles on 34 snaps. He scraped across the line of scrimmage quickly and battled through blocks just like he did last season at Georgia. The sure tackling was on display often too.
23. Kaiir Elam, CB, Bills
Two pass breakups and another incompletion forced from tight coverage down the sideline indicates Elam had a strong preseason. And he did. A mostly man cornerback in college, Elam appeared to be transitioning well to Buffalo's zone-heavy scheme but also made the most out of his press man reps.
24. Tyler Smith, OG, Cowboys
Smith looked the part at guard in the first two preseason outings -- sturdy at the point of attack and rarely out of position. The only question -- will he be forced into the left tackle role with Tyron Smith out for a prolonged period?
26. Jermaine Johnson II, EDGE, Jets
Three pressures on 33 pass-rushing snaps this preseason for Johnson. Being just under the 10% threshold is probably as expected but the Jets likely want and need more out of him this year. Johnson did look to have quality burst around the corner.
27. Devonte Wyatt, DT, Packers
One pressure and one single tackle on 40-plus defensive snaps in the preseason for Wyatt hints at a slow start for the former Georgia star. The Packers shouldn't be panicking yet of course, but it'd be untrue to suggest he made a majorly positive impression this August.
29. Cole Strange, OG, Patriots
Strange battled like hell this preseason, almost as if he was attempting prove to everyone he did, in fact, deserve to be a first-round pick. Now, all the reps weren't gorgeous, textbook reps, but Strange absolutely got the job done in most cases.
30. George Karlaftis, EDGE, Chiefs
Karlaftis wasn't as disruptive in the preseason finale against the Packers as he was in the first two exhibition contests, but altogether looked spry and decently powerful at the point of attack. He was stellar against the Bears.
31. Daxton Hill, S/CB, Bengals
What didn't Hill do this preseason? On 81 snaps, he had seven tackles, a pick, a pass breakup, and registered a pressure from his safety/cornerback/linebacker role in Cincinnati's defense.
32. Lewis Cine, S, Vikings
Cine didn't play in the final preseason game for the Vikings and before that had four tackles and looked explosive and rangy in coverage both when flying toward the sideline or scorching downhill. He didn't miss on any of his tackle attempts either.