With the 2022 NFL season now officially in the books, all eyes turn toward the 2023 NFL Draft. But before a new wave of talent hits the league, Eric Edholm and Nick Shook are taking a team-by-team look back at the rookie class of 2022.
Today, Shook examines the NFC South.
- (No. 8) Drake London, WR, 17 games/15 starts
- (151) Tyler Allgeier, RB, 16 games/7 starts
Notable free-agent signee
- Timmy Horne, DT, 17 games/5 starts
Despite running routes for the likes of Marcus Mariota and rookie Desmond Ridder, Drake London thrived in Year 1, catching 72 passes for 866 yards and four touchdowns. He's penciled in as Atlanta's top receiver going forward. Arnold Ebiketie had the type of season one might expect from a second-round pick, getting only one start but playing more pass-rushing snaps than the starter in front of him. Though his numbers weren't gaudy, he put together some solid performances and needs to build on that in the years ahead. The Falcons have a linebacking corps that flies under the radar, but has given reasons to be excited about its future. Troy Andersen's PFF grade wasn't great, but he started to find his footing late in his rookie season and finished tied for the third-most hustle stops among all Falcons defenders. (Next Gen Stats defines a hustle stop as a tackle resulting in a successful play for the defense where the player covers 20-plus yards of distance from snap to tackle.)
Arthur Smith's decision to test Ridder in the final month of the 2022 season didn't produce wins initially, but the young quarterback did start to figure it out a bit in the last couple weeks, helping the Falcons to a pair of victories while completing 38 of 56 passes for 393 yards and two touchdowns in those final two games. Ridder hasn't yet convinced everyone he's the answer for Atlanta at the position going forward; however, he wasn't completely lost, which is a positive sign for a third-round pick.
DeAngelo Malone played 432 snaps in 2022, split exactly down the middle between defense and special teams. He recorded one sack and 29 tackles (four for loss) as a rotational edge. Atlanta found its lead back in Tyler Allgeier, who averaged nearly five yards per carry on 210 attempts, eclipsing 1,000 rushing yards and scoring four touchdowns (three rushing, one receiving) in a run-first offense. The combination of Allgeier and second-year runner Caleb Huntley created quite a 1-2 punch no one saw coming.
Justin Shaffer didn't make the final 53-man roster and spent his rookie season on the practice squad. John FitzPatrick missed his rookie season after landing on injured reserve on Sept. 1. Timmy Horne came through when the Falcons needed help along the defensive interior, making five starts and recording 27 tackles in 17 games played, which included 66 snaps on special teams. Solid production for an undrafted free-agent signee.
- (49) Alontae Taylor, CB, 13 games/9 starts
- (161) D'Marco Jackson, LB, 0 games/0 starts
- (194) Jordan Jackson, DT, 0 games/0 starts (now w/ DEN)
Notable free-agent signees
Mixed returns on New Orleans' two first-rounders. Chris Olave should have received more attention in the Offensive Rookie of the Year race than he did. The rookie caught 72 passes for 1,042 yards and four touchdowns in 15 games and is one to watch in the years ahead as a potential breakout star -- provided the Saints can find a legitimate solution under center. Injuries curtailed Trevor Penning's rookie year, reducing him to a sixth-lineman role before making a start in the final game of the season. The Northern Iowa product needs more time on an NFL gridiron for proper evaluation.
Alontae Taylor capitalized on a chance to play due to injuries in the secondary, and although his PFF grade doesn't jump off the page, his 11 passes defended and 46 tackles give the Saints reason for optimism moving forward. D'Marco Jackson landed on injured reserve before the start of the season, wiping out his entire rookie campaign. Jordan Jackson missed the final 53-man roster and spent his rookie season on the practice squad before Denver scooped him up on a future/reserve deal in January.
Like Penning, Lewis Kidd got snaps as a sixth lineman in jumbo packages, and also appeared traditionally at a number of positions. His PFF grade was poor, but he didn't stand out in glaringly bad fashion on tape. He still isn't a guy the Saints will count on to play considerable snaps going forward. Shaheed, on the other hand, showed off his versatility as a speedy returner and receiver, catching 28 passes for 488 yards and two touchdowns, rushing four times for 57 yards and one score, and totaling 513 yards between kick and punt returning. The undrafted free agent was a gem of a find who helped out in a big way when the Saints were thin at the WR position.
- (91) Rachaad White, RB, 17 games/8 starts
- (157) Zyon McCollum, CB, 13 games/3 starts
- (218) Ko Kieft, TE, 17 games/12 starts
- (248) Andre Anthony, DE, 0 games/0 starts (now w/ CHI)
Notable free-agent signee
- Deven Thompkins, WR, 5 games/1 start
Logan Hall did not live up to expectations as the first pick of Round 2, struggling mightily against the run in particular. He was a bit better as a rotational pass rusher, recording 2.5 sacks and 12 tackles (five for loss). With more playing time, he could improve, but the No. 33 overall pick did not stand out in his first pro campaign. Luke Goedeke shifted from tackle to guard out of necessity and struggled. He might be better suited to return to the edges over the long haul. It took the Buccaneers half of a season before realizing Rachaad White was their best option at running back. However, even he struggled statistically behind a banged-up offensive line, averaging just 3.7 yards per carry. Still, White was a viable weapon in the run and pass game, finishing with 771 yards from scrimmage and three total touchdowns. He's a bright spot in this class.
As Cade Otton learned, it takes a village to replace Rob Gronkowski. The fourth-round rookie did his part, catching 42 passes for 391 yards and two touchdowns, earning the trust of Tom Brady in an offense that significantly underwhelmed. Jake Camarda showed off his punting prowess in Year 1, booming bombs at times and pulling off a miracle to get a punt off in a tight Week 17 victory over Carolina that ultimately helped Tampa Bay win a dreadful NFC South. He's another bright spot in this class.
Zyon McCollum played more defensive snaps than special teams, but he shined in the third phase of the game as a gunner. We'll see if he can become a steady contributor on a defense that has some decisions to make in its secondary. Ko Kieft served more as a blocker than a pass catcher, which explains his low statistical output (seven catches for 80 yards and a touchdown) despite logging 12 starts. Andre Anthony missed the final 53-man roster and spent 2022 on the Bears' practice squad. Deven Thompkins' contributions mostly came on special teams -- SEE: 18 total returns (between punts and kicks) for 324 yards -- though the undrafted free-agent signee did produce 42 yards on five touches during his lone start in the season finale.
- (No. 6) Ikem Ekwonu, OT, 17 games/17 starts
- (94) Matt Corral, QB, 0 games/0 starts
- (120) Brandon Smith, LB, 12 games/1 start
- (242) Kalon Barnes, CB, 2 games/0 starts (now w/ MIN)
Notable free-agent signees
Ikem Ekwonu had good and bad moments -- typical of any rookie left tackle -- but posted a decent PFF grade and didn't miss a game. With a step forward in Year 2, he can become a reliable blind-side blocker for the team to build around. Matt Corral's rookie season ended before it began due to a Lisfranc injury that landed him on injured reserve in August. Quite unfortunate, because he almost certainly would've had the chance to see the field, given Carolina's QB struggles.
Brandon Smith spent the majority of his rookie season on special teams, playing just 53 defensive snaps in 12 games. Amare Barno played sparingly in nine games, registering 22 more snaps on special teams than defense, recording nine tackles and two sacks. That said, he logged a decent PFF grade despite the limited action. Cade Mays registered two starts (though he only played 11 combined snaps in both wins) and compiled average PFF grades while also contributing on special teams. Kalon Barnes didn't make the 53-man roster and eventually caught on with the Vikings, playing nine special teams snaps over two games.
Undrafted free-agent signee Raheem Blackshear filled in at running back behind D'Onta Foreman and Chuba Hubbard when called upon (especially following the Christian McCaffrey trade), carrying 23 times for 77 yards and three touchdowns while catching 10 passes for 93 yards. Marquan McCall filled a rotational role, playing 186 defensive snaps and recording 15 tackles (two for loss) in 16 games.