As expected, NFL rookies who stepped up the most in Week 1 were primarily on the defensive side of the ball. In most cases, it’s a lesser transition than offense from college to the professional level.
That included a defensive back getting a bit saucy in Jersey and the No. 1 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft making a huge statement despite his team’s loss. On offense, a certain wide receiver lived up to expectations in a big way for his team. Below, we provide you with five NFL rookies who showed out the most during the opening week of action.
Drake London, wide receiver, Atlanta Falcons
In a game that saw second-year tight end Kyle Pitts struggle (two catches on seven targets), this rookie first-round pick came to play big time. Drake London hauled in five passes for 74 yards on seven targets. He led the Falcons in receptions and yards while tying with Pitts for the team lead in targets. Astonishingly, this performance comes after London suffered an injury in his preseason debut and missed the rest of the exhibition slate.
If Atlanta is going to have success with Marcus Mariota tossing the rock this season, it will need both Pitts and London to play at high levels. In what was a narrow Week 1 loss to the division-rival New Orleans Saints, London did that in a big way.
Jaquan Brisker, safety, Chicago Bears
There was a lot of talk about this second-round pick from Penn State during the summer and preseason. Brisker was a ball-hawk in college and it seemed like this was ready to translate to the professional level. If what we saw Sunday in Chicago’s upset home win over the San Francisco 49ers is any indication, the Bears might have themselves a Pro Bowl-caliber player out of the gate. That included recovering a fumble early when San Francisco was seemingly in control of the game.
“He came up with that big play early. They were driving the ball and he recovered it. We’re just going to continue to come out here and capitalize and feed off each other and continue to make plays. I’m proud of him.”Chicago Bears safety Eddie Jackson on Jaquan Brisker after the game
Chicago got standout performances from a good four first-year players in its season opener. It paints new general manager Ryan Poles in a great light. With that said, Brisker was among the best NFL rookies to take to the field on Sunday. That’s not even up for debate.
Travon Walker, EDGE, Jacksonville Jaguars
Jacksonville received some flack for taking Travon Walker over Aidan Hutchinson with the No. 1 pick in April’s NFL Draft. Hutchinson had been seen as a potential generational talent while some figured Walker was more of a tweener. As Hutchinson was struggling to make an impact in his Detroit Lions debut, Walker was all over the field making play after play. That’s not hyperbole. The dude was on one. This included an interception Carson Wentz on a screen pass in the fourth quarter.
Talk about great recognition from the rookie. He initially went to rush Wentz before seeing the play develop and pounced big time. You don’t see that from defenders making their professional debut. All said, Walker registered four tackles, (one for loss), one QB hit, one pass defended, one sack and an interception in his NFL debut. Not too shabby.
Isiah Pacheco, running back, Kansas City Chiefs
A seventh-round pick out of Rutgers, Pacheco went from roster bubble to making an immediate impact for the Kansas City Chiefs in their blowout win over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. Despite putting the ball on the turf once, he helped provide Patrick Mahomes balance on offense as the quarterback went off for five passing touchdowns in the victory.
Pacheco ultimately gained 62 yards on 12 attempts while averaging 5.2 yards per tote. If he can continue to provide depth behind RB1 Clyde Edwards-Helaire, it’s going to make Kansas City’s offense nearly unstoppable.
Sauce Gardner, cornerback, New York Jets
How good was Sauce Gardner in his debut with the Jets? Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson largely avoided the cornerback. According to Pro Football Focus, the rook from Cincinnati allowed just one catch for eight yards in 34 coverage snaps. He also broke up a pass. It’s absolutely astonishing to see a first-year player at one of the game’s most-difficult positions make such a seamless transition to the professional game.
Sure the downtrodden Jets lost their opener. It’s wasn’t a great all-around performance. With that said, Gardner looked like one of the best NFL rookies out there and could potentially be a Pro Bowler as a first-year player. The dude is legit.