With veteran participation often kept to a minimum during offseason practices in the NFL, it’s only natural for attention to turn to the new faces and the rookies in particular.
Eight teams didn’t have a first-round pick in the 2022 NFL draft. For the 24 that did (obviously some with multiple picks), it was a chance to get a closer look at those players who personnel people believe can have a big impact. And, in many cases, sooner rather than later.
We asked our NFL Nation reporters to keep a close eye on the first-round picks and how each fared this offseason, in organized team activities and minicamp practices.
Did the Jaguars get it right by picking linebacker Travon Walker No. 1? Will cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. shut down half the field for the Texans? Can Drake London be the No. 1 wide receiver for the Falcons? Is Kenny Pickett the heir apparent at quarterback in Pittsburgh? Which of the pass-rushers and wide receivers look the part? These answers are in the order of how Round 1 played out:
Travon Walker, LB
How he has fared so far: It’s hard not to be impressed with Walker physically (6-foot-5, 272 pounds), but he’s still learning what to do as an outside linebacker, which is where the Jaguars are playing him with the first-team defense. He has gotten a lot of one-on-one work with outside linebackers coach Bill Shuey and also is working with Josh Allen.
“You think about the size — his height, his weight, his speed — it’s like a unicorn,” defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell said. “He is unique.” — Michael DiRocco
Aidan Hutchinson, DE
How he has fared so far: Throughout rookie and mandatory minicamp, there was nothing but high praise for Hutchinson from the Lions’ coaching staff. Hutchinson was working with the starters and excelled in drills as he continues to prepare for his rookie season. Coach Dan Campbell has been impressed with his strength but sees areas for improvement in technique and learning the system.
“He doesn’t say anything — he listens. He’s like a sponge in there. He absorbs the information, he watches how things are done and the way coaches want them done,” Campbell said. — Eric Woodyard
Derek Stingley Jr., CB
How he has fared so far: During OTAs, Texans coach Lovie Smith said because Stingley is coming off a major injury, the team is focused on him getting “better each day.” Smith said in May that the No. 3 pick is “getting a limited amount of reps” this spring. Defensive back Steven Nelson said he thinks Stingley is “going to do some great things here whenever he gets rolling.” — Sarah Barshop
Ahmad Gardner, CB
How he has fared so far: Gardner got quality work with the starters due to injuries, but he’s not officially a starter — yet. He will be by Week 1. Aside from his 6-3 frame, long arms and speed, the thing that impresses the coaches is his willingness to learn. Defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich said Gardner has “such a good football brain and a thirst for the game.” — Rich Cimini
How he has fared so far: He spent most of the spring in a red jersey working with a trainer on the side at practice because of an undisclosed injury. Thibodeaux got twisted up on a rep late in practice during the second week of OTAs. It kept him out the rest of the spring. But in the limited time he was on the field it was obvious the Giants are going to use him often and everywhere. That first step is special. Thibodeaux was working with the first-team defense on the first day of OTAs. — Jordan Raanan
Ikem Ekwonu, OT
How he has fared so far: You can’t tell how well the 6-4, 320-pounder will perform until they put on the pads in training camp, but it’s hard to imagine he won’t be the starting left tackle for Game 1. While Ekwonu rotated with Brady Christensen as the starter during OTAs, he has received nothing but praise from the coaching staff and teammates. The Panthers picked him to be a long-term solution at a position that has been a long-term problem. So far, so good. — David Newton
Evan Neal, OT
How he has fared so far: Neal, who was drafted out of Alabama, was the Giants’ starting right tackle from the first day of OTAs. That much was obvious throughout the spring. So was the fact Neal fits right in. “Just dominant,” is how veteran right guard Mark Glowinski described him. Neal’s size, speed and readiness to contribute immediately were on full display in the spring. — Jordan Raanan
Drake London, WR
How he has fared so far: It’s tough to truly tell, but London has looked like he’ll fit in just fine in the Atlanta offense. He made a couple of catches in 7-on-7 work but the most important thing was that he — and second-round linebacker Troy Andersen — were both working with the veteran group (read — starters and key backups) during 11-on-11 install periods. That’s enough to say the expectation is that London will be part of Atlanta’s offense, perhaps a big part. — Michael Rothstein
Charles Cross, OT
How he has fared so far: Coach Pete Carroll says Cross is competing to start at left tackle, but the rookie has consistently worked with the No. 1 offense. And unlike some of Seattle’s other draft picks, he has stayed healthy. The Seahawks didn’t make Cross their highest draft pick since 2010 to have him sit on the bench to begin his career. With Duane Brown gone and no one offering a legitimate threat, it’ll likely take an injury to keep Cross out of the starting lineup. — Brady Henderson
Garrett Wilson, WR
How he has fared so far: Wilson has a ways to go in terms of mastering the route tree, but there’s no doubt about his physical traits. The one that jumps out is his body control, the ability to adjust to off-target throws. He projects as an immediate contributor in the wide receiver rotation. — Rich Cimini
Chris Olave, WR
How he has fared so far: Olave has looked the part throughout OTAs and minicamp practices, flashing his fluid route-running skills and big-play ability. “Smooth as the other side of the pillow,” quarterback Jameis Winston said. “Just real smooth. He can get in and out of breaks very well. Electric. And smart, man.”
Olave caught a deep pass between two defenders in 7-on-7 drills in minicamp, which was one of the highlight plays of the entire spring. And he has a chance to emerge as Winston’s favorite downfield target as he finds his role alongside veteran receivers Michael Thomas and Jarvis Landry. — Mike Triplett
Jameson Williams, WR
How he has fared so far: Although there’s a ton of excitement within the team as Williams continues his rehab recovery process from ACL surgery on his left knee, Lions coach Dan Campbell doesn’t see him being ready for training camp. Williams was spotted around the facility observing, and he has been embraced by quarterback Jared Goff, but the Lions are taking their time with his recovery.
“Absolutely we want get him out there as fast as possible,” Campbell said. “It is crucial, but not until he gets his strength up. He needs a lot of strength development in that body, his lower extremities — legs, knees, everything.” — Eric Woodyard
Jordan Davis, DT
How he has fared so far: Davis, who weighed in at around 340 pounds at the combine, said he has slimmed down some this spring — the result of putting in the work at the practice facility and paying a little more attention to what he eats. It hasn’t affected his strength according to veteran Brandon Graham, who said Davis is “pushing big weight like it’s nothing” in the weight room. Davis is expected to be a part of the defensive line rotation right away.
The coaching staff believes he has what it takes to be a three-down lineman. “He’s a big, explosive man who can win one-on-one, so yes, he will definitely have a role in the passing game,” defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon said. — Tim McManus
Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
How he has fared so far: Hamilton has impressed the Ravens with his instincts, picking off a handful of passes this spring. He has been rotating with Marcus Williams and Chuck Clark with the first-team defense, but it’s only a matter of time before the playmaking Hamilton is working with the starters all the time.
“Kyle is as advertised,” Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald said. “He’s doing the things that we’re expecting him to do. So, he’s right on schedule, but we don’t tell him that — try to provide some sense of urgency for him. [I’m] really pleased with Kyle.” — Jamison Hensley
Kenyon Green, G
How he has fared so far: Smith pointed out Green as a rookie who “has done a lot of good things” since he was drafted by the Texans. Green is expected to start at guard for Houston, with Laremy Tunsil at left tackle and Tytus Howard at right tackle. Offensive lineman A.J. Cann described Green as “a humble quiet kid,” but said Green has “been working hard for the past two weeks he’s been here and I think he’s going to be a hell of a player.” — Sarah Barshop
Jahan Dotson, WR
How he has fared so far: Dotson has looked sharp throughout the spring, showing why Washington thought he was one of the most pro-ready receivers in the draft. He has the ability to attack defenders’ leverage and use it against them, creating openings vs. veteran corners such as William Jackson III and Kendall Fuller. Dotson has shown patience running routes as well as a wide catch radius. Dotson has worked a lot inside, but has moved outside on occasion as well. With Terry McLaurin not participating in the OTA work or the mandatory minicamp, Dotson has been able to develop a solid connection with quarterback Carson Wentz. — John Keim
Zion Johnson, G
How he has fared so far: The Chargers selected Johnson to immediately fill a need on the right side of the line, and early returns signal he will be up to the task. “He’s got real confidence. He has all the things that you look for physically on an interior player, but I think his mindset has been impressive to his teammates,” coach Brandon Staley said at the conclusion of minicamp. “He trains. He’s really prepared in meetings. He goes out here and practices hard, he owns his mistakes and doesn’t make the same mistake twice.”
Staley said Johnson has “fit right in,” but added he’s excited to see him in pads in training camp. “That’s where it is for any NFL player,” Staley said, “but particularly a lineman.” — Lindsey Thiry
Treylon Burks, WR
How he has fared so far: Burks had an inauspicious start to rookie minicamp when he was unable to make it through the first practice. He missed both days of minicamp and was limited to conditioning work on a stationary bike. “It’s unfortunate,” Titans wide receiver coach Rob Moore said. “Some of the things he’s dealing with are out of his control. The kid has asthma.”
Titans coach Mike Vrabel said the team plans to have the rookies, including Burks, remain in Nashville briefly to “get some heat that these guys can train in and they can lift and run, and get them caught up a little bit.” — Turron Davenport
Trevor Penning, OT
How he has fared so far: The Saints are extremely high on Penning’s long-term potential, but unless he develops rapidly, they won’t rush him into the starting lineup ahead of veteran James Hurst just because they drafted Penning in Round 1. They knew he would be raw coming out of Northern Iowa, but love his combination of size, speed and agility and felt good about his eagerness to learn and grow.
“Right now it’s very difficult to tell because we’re not really playing football,” offensive line coach Doug Marrone said. “But from a technical standpoint, he’s done a very good job as far as picking things up. And you can see that he’s hungry to learn, which is great.”— Mike Triplett
Kenny Pickett, QB
How he has fared so far: Pickett worked with the third-team offense throughout OTAs and minicamp, but he’s very much in the Steelers’ methodical quarterback competition. “We’ve been very clear that this is a real laid-out plan of how we’re going to evolve and find who our quarterback is going to be for the 2022 season,” offensive coordinator Matt Canada said at minicamp. Of the three quarterbacks competing for the job, Mitch Trubisky was the most consistent and Pickett has an uphill battle to unseat him from that top spot.
Wide receiver Chase Claypool, though, has been impressed with Pickett’s mastery of the playbook.”He understands everything,” Claypool said. “Sometimes I’ll be like, ‘Yo, what do I have here?’ Because we have some new plays going in, and he’ll tell me right away.” Up next: Pickett is heading to Florida to train with Trubisky. — Brooke Pryor
Trent McDuffie, CB
How he has fared so far: McDuffie has been working with the starters since his first practice, and he’s likely to remain there for the regular-season opener against the Cardinals and beyond. At 5-foot-11, McDuffie isn’t as big as the Chiefs prefer their corners, but they believe he has the skills to cover for it.
“He’s smart and he’s smooth,” coach Andy Reid said. “I like the part about being smart when you play that position. Leverages become important … We have some big receivers that we go against.” — Adam Teicher
Quay Walker, LB
How he has fared so far: The Packers don’t often throw rookies in with the starters right away, but Walker lined up next to inside linebacker De’Vondre Campbell from Day 1. What’s more, defensive coordinator Joe Barry seems intent on playing more with two ILBs on the field as much as possible, and it’s because of Walker. He has shown more sub packages with both Walker and Campbell on the field than he usually does with two inside linebackers. — Rob Demovsky
Kaiir Elam, CB
How he has fared so far: Elam worked with the first- and second-team defense through the offseason and has looked solid, including an impressive sideline interception in the final minicamp practice. Safety Micah Hyde praised how Elam has worked off the field saying, “You can already tell, he just listens. He pays attention.” Coach Sean McDermott said being consistent and learning from his mistakes are a couple of the biggest areas for Elam’s growth.
“He’s been going through the normal rookie growing pains. You have a good play, how do you follow it up with another good play? You have a bad play, how do you reset and come back and have a good play? A lot of it’s mental as much as anything.” — Alaina Getzenberg
Tyler Smith, G
How he has fared so far: It’s difficult to judge linemen without pads on, but Smith has shown he could be ready to start the opener at left guard and also saw some first-team work at left tackle, giving Tyron Smith some rest.
“As a rookie your head can swim a little bit because of different things that happen at guard and then you kick out to tackle and it’s ‘Oh, there’s a lot of space out there,’ but he’s done a nice job,” All-Pro guard Zack Martin said. “The No. 1 thing is he works hard and he’s eager to learn. We can work with that all day.” — Todd Archer
How he has fared so far: The Ravens have thrown Linderbaum in with the first-team offense from the start, and he hasn’t flinched. The real test, of course, will come in training camp when the pads come on and it becomes more physical.
“I told Tyler that it’s my goal to have him lying in bed shaking every night, worried about the next thing, so hopefully, by training camp, he’s not, and then by the season, he’s feeling good,” Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. “He’s doing a really good job; you can see it every day. Some guys — you can just see it every day — they just take another step forward, and he’s one of those guys thus far.” — Jamison Hensley
How he has fared so far: It was a quiet OTAs and minicamp for Johnson, mainly because it was a noncontact passing camp that makes it difficult to evaluate linemen. Working mainly with the second and third teams, he lined up in the wide-9 position. The coaches believe that’s the ideal spot for his size/speed skill set. — Rich Cimini
Devin Lloyd, LB/DE
How he has fared so far: The Jaguars have put Lloyd at inside linebacker on early downs but have had him rushing off the edge at times on third downs. He’s smooth dropping into coverage and has run with backs and tight ends at times in man, too. Lloyd stayed in Jacksonville after his introductory news conference instead of going back to Utah to train because he didn’t want to waste time traveling and wanted to start working ASAP. The coaches love his work ethic — the first day he got to the facility he sought out inside linebackers coach Tony Gilbert so he could watch film.
“When you get a guy that’s hungry like that and ready to get coached, that’s somebody special and he’ll just continue to grow and continue to perform and continue to do what we need him to do,” defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell said. — Michael DiRocco
Devonte Wyatt, DT
How he has fared so far: The best things about Wyatt — athletic ability for his size along with his power — don’t show up in non-padded practices. We’ll have to wait for training camp to get a feel for whether Wyatt will make an immediate impact as one of Kenny Clark‘s partners up front. — Rob Demovsky
Cole Strange, G
How he has fared so far: A plug-and-play starter at left guard, the UT-Chattanooga alum ended one practice at mandatory minicamp by hustling 30 yards to try to recover a fumble and ended up in a spirited, mini-scrum with outside linebacker Matthew Judon and others as a result. Judon later credited Strange for his all-out approach, which has made a quick impression among several inside the Patriots’ organization.
“You can see that athleticism; you can see it match up with the vets who have been here in the NFL, which is really good,” said assistant coach Matt Patricia, who has been working with the offensive linemen. — Mike Reiss
George Karlaftis, DE
How he has fared so far: Karlaftis has been featured in not only the base defense but all of the Chiefs’ subpackages as well. His effort has been noticeable in practice. “He goes 100 miles an hour,” coach Andy Reid said. “That motor is probably the thing that jumps out at you. He goes and goes.” — Adam Teicher
Daxton Hill, S
How he has fared so far: It’s clear what the Bengals think of Hill. With safety Jessie Bates III not at offseason workouts because he doesn’t have a new contract, Hill took reps at Bates’ spot. Coach Zac Taylor praised all of Hill’s side conversations with veterans as he looks to adjust to the league.
“That’s what you want to see from the rookies — not feel like there’s that wall between them and the vets communication-wise, not to be intimidated,” Taylor said. — Ben Baby
Lewis Cine, S
How he has fared so far: Cine’s top attribute — his ability to deliver a big hit — was by definition invisible during noncontact spring drills. But he has clearly worked his way into the team’s short-term plans, based on the rotational work he received with the first-team defense. Cine is competing with second-year player Camryn Bynum for the starting job opposite Harrison Smith, and his coronation appears inevitable. The only question is whether it will come by Week 1. — Kevin Seifert