Expectations seem to be set higher for NFL rookies every year. While we do see some first-year starters immediately make an impact once they step foot in the NFL, the road to a successful NFL career isn’t linear.
Just look at what happened in 2021. Dallas Cowboys edge rusher Micah Parsons and Cincinnati Bengals receiver Ja’Marr Chase became two of their best players at their respective positions within months. However, the transition wasn’t as easy for some others.
When conducting this exercise in 2021, we highlighted Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson and Kadarius Toney as NFL rookies who might disappoint. Some of our picks (Najee Harris and Kyle Pitts) exceeded expectations, but that first season in pro football can be challenging for everyone.
Related: NFL Rookie of the Year candidates
Let’s dive into five NFL rookies who could disappoint in 2022.
Travon Walker, edge rusher, Jacksonville Jaguars
Selecting Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Travon Walker shouldn’t come as a surprise. Most feel he was a reach with the No. 1 overall pick, an example of general manager Trent Baalke focusing too much on traits. While no one is expecting Walker to be an elite difference-maker in 2022, expectations might still be too high based on odds for the top NFL rookies.
Related: Jacksonville Jaguars schedule 2022
Walker isn’t a pass rusher Jacksonville can rely upon right now. There’s a reason Georgia rarely deployed him in that regard during his collegiate career, he is far more of an athlete than a finished edge rusher. The coaching he needs means he is at a point right now where he’s a liability on passing downs. He’ll still make an impact as a run defender, but we wouldn’t expect Walker to finish 2022 as a top-five candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Kenny Pickett, quarterback, Pittsburgh Steelers
The Pittsburgh Steelers made Kenny Pickett the only quarterback drafted in Round 1 of the 2022 NFL Draft. While it feels like a reach, given where Malik Willis and Desmond Ridder landed, we can’t fault the Steelers for drafting the passer they know better than anyone.
There are some reasons to project a disappointing rookie season for Pickett. As noted by Pro Football Focus, Pickett averaged more than 3 seconds per dropback this past season and he was also responsible for 34 pressures this past season, second-most among FBS quarterbacks.
Pittsburgh asked Ben Roethlisberger to get the football out extremely quickly last season, in an effort to protect him from the offensive line. Pickett’s habit of holding the ball too long and making some bad decisions when pressured doesn’t bode well for success in his rookie season. Currently the favorite to win Offensive Rookie of the Year, we’d look elsewhere.
Related: Pittsburgh Steelers schedule 2022
Jahan Dotson, wide receiver, Washington Commanders
It’s hard to feel like the Washington Commanders didn’t reach for Jahan Dotson with the 16th overall pick. He’s a talented receiver, even at 5-foot-11, but Washington seems like it was the only team with a top-20 grade on the wideout from Penn State.
Size isn’t our primary concern right now. There is volatility at quarterback with Carson Wentz delivering extremes on both ends with the pendulum of his play. It’s a level of sporadic quarterback play that doesn’t exactly bode well for a rookie. Curtis Samuel figures to eat up targets in the slot and Wentz will want to feed Terry McLaurin. Combining those factors with a few worries regarding Dotson’s big-play ability, he could be a disappointment compared to expectations and when he was picked.
Trevor Penning, offensive tackle, New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints had a strange 2022 NFL Draft, seemingly overpaying in multiple trades just to end up with the 11th and 19th overall picks. While we like the Chris Olave selection, it’s fair to wonder if New Orleans would have been better off moving up higher to get a much better offensive tackle.
Trevor Penning is being thrust into a wildly difficult situation. The Saints want to compete for a playoff spot in 2022 and they’ll be trusting a rookie at one of the most important positions in the NFL. Keep in mind, Penning is largely viewed as a project lineman who needs a lot of coaching to refine his issues against the pass.
Just a year removed from playing at Northern Iowa, Penning will be asked to block the best edge rushers in the NFL. It could be a rough year for the rookie, especially since left guard Andrus Peat won’t provide much help. Everything suggests 2022 will go down as a learning experience for Penning, meaning he’ll draw plenty of penalties and surrender a lot of pressures. Because of it, he might be one of the worst NFL rookies in 2022.
Christian Watson, wide receiver, Green Bay Packers
After missing out on top wide receivers in Round 1, the Green Bay Packers moved up in the second round to land Christian Watson. There is clearly a lot of confidence in the organization that he can be a long-term solution to the Packers’ receiver woes. However, asking him to become an impact player in 2022 might be too much.
Related: Green Bay Packers schedule 2022
There’s no denying the athletic traits are in place for Watson to potentially become a special wideout. It’s going to take time for him to get there. There is a lot of room for improvement with the execution of his routes and he must adjust to facing much bigger and faster cornerbacks in the NFL. Watson’s work ethic suggests he will improve, but everything takes time.
Aaron Rodgers needs to know his wide receivers will be exactly where he expects, having their timing on routes down and getting to the open spots where he anticipates them being. Because those are areas of improvement for Watson, it’s going to take time to earn the trust of the reigning NFL MVP. While this might hurt the Packers in 2022, Romeo Doubs could be one of the most surprising NFL rookies this fall.