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Ten NFL rookies in the best situations to succeed in 2022 and beyond

With the 2022 NFL Draft in the rearview, former NFL personnel executive Marc Ross surveys the landing spots of this year's prospects, identifying 10 rookies in the most favorable positions to succeed in 2022 and beyond.

Kenny Pickett
Pittsburgh · QB

Drafted: Round 1, No. 20 overall

Like Pitt product James Conner before him, Pickett has the luxury of not only staying in the same city but in the same facility as he transitions to the NFL. This familiarity will allow Pickett to focus on football and competing for the Steelers' QB1 job.

Pittsburgh has the stability -- from the coaching staff to the playmakers on both offense and defense -- to help Pickett succeed no matter when he steps foot on the field. He has all the tools as an athletic passer to help the Steelers win games as a piece of the puzzle in Matt Canada's offense. Perhaps most importantly, he has the confidence and moxie to win over the locker room and coaching staff. 

Cam Jurgens
Nebraska · C

Drafted: Round 2, No. 51 overall

This is one of the most unique situations I've seen throughout all of my years in the NFL. Longtime Eagles center and five-time Pro Bowler Jason Kelce helped scout and find his eventual replacement -- essentially giving Jurgens his seal of approval. 

"I knew we were taking him," Kelce, who just signed a one-year deal with the Eagles, told Bleacher Report. "So, this is my favorite player in the draft. I'm not just saying that because we picked him. The Eagles have been using me to evaluate some of the centers coming out, and of all the guys that I've looked at like for the past two to three years, out of all the guys that compare the most to myself, this guy is him.

"This guy is a freak athletically. He has the best chance to be a difference-maker at the center position. I like this kid a lot. I really do."

It's rare that a player openly campaigns for his successor. Jurgens, an extremely athletic center whose playing style is similar to Kelce's, has the opportunity to learn from one of the best at the position before taking over down the line. With the veteran in Jurgens' corner, this should be a somewhat-seamless transition into the NFL.

Kaiir Elam
Florida · CB

Drafted: Round 1, No. 23 overall

The Bills' defense is stacked from front to back after the free-agent signing of two-time Super Bowl champion Von Miller and the first-round selection of this playmaking cornerback. Elam joins a back end that already features two players with All-Pro designations on the résumé (corner Tre'Davious White and safety Jordan Poyer) and one with Pro Bowl experience (safety Micah Hyde), allowing Elam to simply step in and fill a role. That's a best-case scenario for this Florida product, who allowed a 55.6 passer rating when targeted from 2019 through 2021, trailing only Sauce Gardner in the FBS during that time span (min. 100 targets, per Pro Football Focus).

Elam will get a lot of attention playing opposite White, but the do-it-all rookie's skill set and confidence will help him rise to the occasion without having to be The Guy for a team with serious Super Bowl aspirations.

Chris Olave
Ohio State · WR

Drafted: Round 1, No. 11 overall

New Orleans sorely needed another playmaker in the aerial attack after finishing dead last in passing yards per game (187.4) in 2021, and the contemporary Saints have typically been at their best when they have a vertical threat (SEE: Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem). So it makes perfect sense that Mickey Loomis and Co. had their eyes on Olave, whose exceptional speed (4.39-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine), hands and route-running ability will be on full display under offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr., who's been in that role with the team since the Super Bowl-winning 2009 season.

With one of Jameis Winston's biggest strengths being his downfield-passing ability, Olave has the perfect opportunity to make plays and become a game-changer from Day 1 as a field-stretcher. 

Drafted: Round 1, No. 25 overall

This might not be the sexiest pick, but Baltimore is the perfect place for Linderbaum -- who, in my opinion, is the best interior offensive lineman in this draft class. Linderbaum joins a run-first offense in which he'll thrive, as he earned a 96.6 run-blocking grade from Pro Football Focus in 2021, leading all Power Five O-linemen with at least 200 offensive snaps.

The Ravens got premier work from eight-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda over 13 seasons, so it was wise to go back to the Iowa well.

Aidan Hutchinson
Michigan · DE

Drafted: Round 1, No. 2 overall

Hutchinson's transition should be nearly seamless as he stays in Michigan. Coming into the league with a polished skill set and immense talent, this Wolverines product is poised to wreak havoc for a Lions defensive front that desperately needed more juice. From Day 1, he'll step in as the best player on the defense, feeding off the energy Dan Campbell exudes and immediately raising the level of everyone around him.

This was a best-case scenario for Detroit -- and it will be for Hutchinson, too. The proof will be apparent early on and could result in Defensive Rookie of the Year honors come February. 

Skyy Moore
Western Michigan · WR

Drafted: Round 2, No. 54 overall

My favorite player in this draft, Moore lands in an offense where he will often be Patrick Mahomes' second or third option in the passing game. Andy Reid did the most with Brian Westbrook in Philadelphia, and I see him using Moore in an equally creative way thanks to the rookie's run-after-catch ability and precise route-running skills.

This offense will look different without speedster Tyreek Hill, but Moore will help it stay explosive and competitive in the AFC.

David Ojabo
Michigan · OLB

Drafted: Round 2, No. 45 overall

OK, this might not be an instant impact, but the longer play is extremely promising. The Ravens have regularly developed playmakers and produced Pro Bowlers, and the defense is stable enough in the short term to allow Ojabo time to recover from his Achilles injury.

The second-round pick is in a perfect situation as he reunites with new Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald, who helped Ojabo blossom into a double-digit sack menace in 2021 at Michigan. With a full recovery and time to refine his skill set, Ojabo should wreak havoc off the edge early in his career. 

Nik Bonitto
Oklahoma · OLB

Drafted: Round 2, No. 64 overall

The Broncos already had a pair of dynamic pass rushers in Bradley Chubb and Randy Gregory, assuming both are healthy and available. With these two vets eating up the attention, Bonitto can really be a pass-rushing specialist in his rookie campaign, bringing energy and speed off the edge to get into the offensive backfield.

The rookie -- and the rest of the Broncos' pass rushers -- should have regular opportunities to create pressure, thanks to an improved offense that will force opponents to play catch-up. Denver averaged fewer than 20 points per game in 2021, but the Broncos are poised to score many more points with the addition of an elite quarterback in Russell Wilson

Jeremy Ruckert
Ohio State · TE

Drafted: Round 3, No. 101 overall

Ruckert is very talented, but didn't get the attention he deserved in the draft process due to his lack of production. He had just 54 targets in four seasons at Ohio State, but scored at least three receiving touchdowns in each of the last three seasons. This underutilization happens when you play with a pair of first-round draft picks (receivers Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, the latter of whom was also drafted by the Jets).

Ruckert plays his role extremely well, making big plays in the pass game when called upon (SEE: one-handed TD catch in Big Ten title game). He'll also help pave the way for Michael Carter and Breece Hall in the ground game as an exceptional blocker. Even though he's joining a crowded tight end room after the Jets signed veterans Tyler Conklin and C.J. Uzomah this offseason, Ruckert is a player who will blossom at the next level.

Follow Marc Ross on Twitter.

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