The NFL had a ridiculously excellent season when it came to their rookies. There were so many phenomenal players that came into the league this year, and it’s precisely why we must spend some time giving them their spotlight moving into the next season.
The first and most obvious rookies we will discuss all come from the New York Jets. Of course, there’s Sauce Gardner. Gardner was the Defensive Rookie of the Year and emerged as a lockdown corner that completely changed the Jets defense. This team also snagged Garrett Wilson, the Offensive Rookie of the Year winner, who became a very solid number-one option in a passing offense that was one of the worst units in the league in previous seasons. Then there’s Breece Hall. Hall got hurt halfway through the year but could have been in the running for Offensive Rookie of the Year. Hall displayed explosiveness at the running back position and made Zach Wilson look more than competent at quarterback due to how much they leaned on his services.
Then, there’s Chris Olave on the New Orleans Saints. Stepping into a situation where Andy Dalton was the starter for most of the season, Olave had 72 catches for 1,042 yards and four touchdowns. He averaged 14.5 yards per catch and was consistently the Saints’ best playmaker throughout the year. Honestly, it’s devastating that he couldn’t have been nominated as a finalist for the Offensive Rookie of the Year award, though it’s also a nod to how great this class was.
The Seattle Seahawks must be talked about as well. They nailed it with the selections of Tariq Woolen, Kenneth Walker, and Coby Bryant. Woolen was tied for the league lead in interceptions with six of them, being in the same conversation as Gardner for most of the season. Walker was like Hall as well. He filled in for the injured Rashaad Penny in Week 5 and exploded for over 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns to carry the load in the backfield. As for Bryant, he wasn’t expected to be a large part of the cornerback rotation in Seattle. He was an integral part of what they were doing on that side of the field and became a strong option alongside Woolen back there.
There’s also a particular edge rusher in Detroit that can’t go unnoticed. Hutchinson ended the year with 9.5 sacks and three interceptions, which don’t sound like all that much. However, he wasn’t consistently on the field until around November or in that area. Once he emerged as a genuine three-down edge rusher at the NFL level, the coaching staff unleashed him into various methods. He will be a force in this league for years to come.
The same goes for the Kansas City Chiefs’ running back Isiah Pacheco. Pacheco started to turn heads during training camp despite being selected with the 251st overall pick in the seventh round of the NFL Draft. He quickly won over the starting job in the backfield over a few great options and took 170 carries for 830 yards and five touchdowns. We must also remember that he remained on a committee despite being the lead guy. He also continued to be the most physical and aggressive of the players they had offensively. He always seemed to spark offense when he touched the football, which goes beyond the stat sheet.
Then the final group of rookies that deserve mention are Christian Watson, Dameon Pierce, Brock Purdy, and Jaylen Watson. Christian Watson had a rough start to the season but eventually became one of Aaron Rodgers’s favourite targets. At that point, he hauled in seven touchdown passes and could keep on being their top option in the passing game moving forward. Pierce was the flat-out workhorse back with the Houston Texans this season. He ran for 939 yards and four touchdowns but also did so on one of the worst offenses in the NFL. Brock Purdy was the dead last pick in the draft and yet rattled off win after win as the starting quarterback with the San Francisco 49ers. He didn’t lose a single game as the starter and took them to the NFC Championship game. If he didn’t get injured early on in that game, they could have made the Super Bowl with him leading the charge. Then finally, there’s Jaylen Watson. A player that the Chiefs needed to have in the secondary. Otherwise, they might not have won it all. He had multiple big-time interceptions in the postseason and was crucial to what they were doing defensively.
These guys and many more shined throughout their introductions to the NFL.