Top NFL rookies 2022: Ranking 10 best first-years, plus risers, QB report

The 2022 NFL rookie class continues to look extremely strong through 13 weeks. Three running backs have a good chance of netting 1,000 rushing yards before the season ends, while two receivers are on pace to hit 1,000 receiving yards soon. Five first-year defenders have three or more sacks, four have three or more interceptions and the class has combined for 70.5 sacks and 40 picks to date. Five quarterbacks have played in a game, including Brock Purdy, who is being called on to start in place of injured San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.

So how do the rookies stack up so far? Let's rank the top 10 with just over one month left to go in the season.

We polled our own Matt Bowen, Jeff Legwold, Matt Miller and Jordan Reid for their personal lists and combined them to make a consensus ranking of the top 10 rookies. Our experts then weighed in on each player who made the list, along with a few who fell just short. Finally, they picked out a riser to watch, an underperforming first-rounder and an overperforming late-rounder, and took a quick look at the first-year quarterback situations. (To see our midseason rookie rankings, click here.)

Let's jump in with a familiar name at No. 1.

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Top 10 | Just missed
Big questions

1. Sauce Gardner, CB, New York Jets

Stats: 50 tackles, 2 INTs, 15 passes defended
Drafted: No. 4

Why he's here: Gardner could potentially be the first Jets rookie selected for a Pro Bowl since safety Erik McMillan in 1988. It isn't the plays he has made, including his part in holding Justin Jefferson to 45 yards in Week 13, that show what his real standing is among his peers, but rather the number of times quarterbacks have already begun to look the other way. -- Legwold

Going forward: Gardner has played at a Pro Bowl level since early this season, and there's no reason to expect a slowdown as we enter the final stretch of the season. His combination of size, speed, instincts and physicality are ideal for the modern corner. He has all the tools to be one of the league's best. -- Miller

2. Chris Olave, WR, New Orleans Saints

Stats: 60 catches, 887 yards, 3 TDs
Drafted: No. 11

Why he's here: With refined route-running tools and perimeter speed, Olave creates separation on second-level cuts and floats past defenders in the vertical passing game. This season, Olave is averaging close to 15 yards per catch, with 11 explosive play receptions on his rookie résumé. -- Bowen

Going forward: Olave has been a great add to the Saints' passing attack. He has proven to be an explosive threat in all three areas of the field. Olave will continue to be the team's No. 1 wideout for the foreseeable future, especially with Michael Thomas likely out for the season. -- Reid

3. Garrett Wilson, WR, New York Jets

Stats: 57 catches, 790 yards, 4 TDs
Drafted: No. 10

Why he's here: Wilson has become the Jets' go-to target at wide receiver, no matter who is playing quarterback. He's elite at finding space and generating room both before and after the catch and is already one of the league's great yards-after-the-catch performers. Wilson has made a very strong case for Offensive Rookie of the Year candidacy. -- Miller

Going forward: With Mike White now at quarterback, Wilson has the opportunity to catch more passes. White threw it 57 times in Week 13, and 15 of those targets went Wilson's way. The Jets have three games this season with at least 50 pass attempts, and all three are from quarterbacks not named Zach Wilson (two by Joe Flacco and one by White). -- Legwold

4. Tariq Woolen, CB, Seattle Seahawks

Stats: 45 tackles, 6 INTs, 12 passes defended, 1 TD, 2 fumble recoveries, 1 blocked kick
Drafted: No. 153

Why he's here: Woolen has continued to lead the Seahawks' young secondary. He is an ideal scheme fit, and his length and zone coverage have been exceptional. His six interceptions are tied for the most in the NFL -- and are well above preseason expectations. -- Reid

Going forward: Woolen is a competitive coverage corner with rare physical traits for the position. He is a playmaker, and the arrow is only pointing up after more on-the-ball production. -- Bowen

5. Dameon Pierce, RB, Houston Texans

Stats: 198 carries, 861 rushing yards, 30 catches, 165 receiving yards, 4 total TDs
Drafted: No. 107

Why he's here: Pierce is toiling in the struggles of the team headed for the No. 1 pick of the 2023 draft. There are times when his yards after contact are all of his yards, as he is not afforded the luxury of running into space that other teams' backs receive. He has 778 more yards rushing than any of his teammates and is the team's third-leading receiver. -- Legwold

Going forward: Hopefully the Texans start to use Pierce more over the stretch run of the season. If so, we should expect a 1,200-yard rusher who could easily get to eight touchdowns on the year. Pierce has proven he is a starting-caliber back. Given more touches, he could be a real tempo-setting offensive playmaker. -- Miller

6. Kenneth Walker III, RB, Seattle Seahawks

Stats: 138 carries, 649 rushing yards, 19 catches, 116 receiving yards, 9 total TDs
Drafted: No. 41

Why he's here: Walker's production has dipped over his past three games, but we are looking at his entire rookie season. He is a volume runner with big-play potential and scoring upside. He can hammer the ball downhill or attack the edges. And we've seen Walker close out wins late in the fourth quarter for Pete Carroll's team. -- Bowen

Going forward: Walker is a tough and hard-nosed runner who has continued to be the go-to option in the backfield for the Seahawks' offense. He is an old-school runner, so his yards per carry numbers won't wow you, but he has been effective with continued touches. -- Reid

7. Aidan Hutchinson, DE, Detroit Lions

Stats: 33 tackles, 6 sacks, 2 INTs, 1 fumble recovery
Drafted: No. 2

Why he's here: Hutchinson has been a do-it-all player for the Lions' defense during a recent winning streak. His ability to get to the quarterback is well known, but the way he impacts games with interceptions and key tackles shows the all-around skill set that the No. 2 pick brings on game day. -- Miller

Going forward: There was a recent decision to put Hutchinson out wider in the formation, in a two-point stance at times, and it has had a positive impact. He has three sacks, two interceptions and an eight-tackle game since the Lions made the move, so expect the stats to keep coming in. -- Legwold

8. Christian Watson, WR, Green Bay Packers

Stats: 25 catches, 401 receiving yards, 5 carries, 68 rushing yards, 9 total TDs
Drafted: No. 34

Why he's here: Watson is not only one of the hottest rookies in the league right now, but he has also been on fire over the past two months. With growing trust from Aaron Rodgers, Watson has a touchdown in four consecutive games. He's starting to come into his own as the team's top option on the perimeter. -- Reid

Going forward: Watson's role should continue to expand. He brings a much-needed vertical element to the pass game as a boundary target for Rodgers. The Packers can scheme for Watson, too, giving him defined matchups or open coverage voids to attack on in-breaking concepts. And don't be surprised if we see more manufactured touches for the rookie, like fly sweeps, screens and reverses. He has difference-making speed. -- Bowen

9. Tyler Linderbaum, C, Baltimore Ravens

Stats: 12 starts, 93.8% pass block win rate, 74.4% run block win rate
Drafted: No. 25

Why he's here: Linderbaum plays with composure and handles the pre-snap checks. The Ravens send their diversified run game up the middle more than they do anywhere else in the formation and have done so at a clip of 5.6 yards per carry over the center. -- Legwold

Going forward: No matter who is lining up behind him at QB, Linderbaum is a vital piece to the Ravens' offense. As he continues to settle into the offense, expect to see Linderbaum become even more comfortable and more impactful. -- Miller

10. Jack Jones, CB, New England Patriots

Stats: 30 tackles, 2 INTs, 5 passes defended, 1 forced fumble, 1 TD
Drafted: No. 121

Why he's here: Jones has a great ability to transition and close on the ball. He eats up grass quickly when breaking out of his pedal, and that's why the rookie is in a position to finish plays. He's an urgent cover corner with the production and tape to make our top 10. -- Bowen

Going forward: Jones has been as consistent as they come in the slot. With smooth transitions and consistency as a wrap-up tackler, he has occupied the slot role in the Patriots' defense much better than the team envisioned -- at least this early in his career. Look for more of the same moving forward. -- Reid

Just missed

Drake London, WR, Atlanta Falcons: In Week 13, London had 95 receiving yards against the Steelers. It was his first game of more than 50 yards receiving since Week 3. But the grade here is for the player, and it's not his fault the Falcons don't create more opportunities for him to grow. -- Legwold

George Pickens, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers: Pickens' numbers aren't always going to reflect his progress, considering his quarterback is also a rookie. But since a no-catch game to close out October, he has flashed potential, including a four-catch, 83-yard day against the Bengals (with a touchdown). -- Legwold

Charles Cross, OT, Seattle Seahawks: Cross has played all but two snaps at left tackle this season for a productive Seahawks offense. He snagged a ball out of the air after Geno Smith was sacked and fumbled in the season-opener, and since then, Cross has been the right guy in the right place for Seattle. -- Legwold

Also received votes: Kyle Hamilton, Jaquan Brisker, Jalen Pitre, Devin Lloyd, Travon Walker, Jamaree Salyer, Christian Benford, Kenny Pickett, Breece Hall, Abraham Lucas, Ikem Ekwonu, Brian Robinson Jr., Kayvon Thibodeaux, Kader Kohou

Which rookie is rising through nine weeks?

Legwold: Kader Kohou, CB, Miami Dolphins (undrafted). Since returning from an oblique injury, Kohou has played at least 95% of the defensive snaps in the past six games, with three tackles for loss and three pass breakups over that span.

What is going on with the rookie quarterbacks?

Bowen: The numbers for Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett don't exactly pop -- four passing touchdowns, three rushing touchdowns, 65.2% completion percentage and eight interceptions. But a closer look at the tape tells us the rookie is progressing. Pickett plays with poise in the pocket, and he has the mobility to create outside of structure.

Malik Willis had limited production in his two starts for the Titans this year, playing in run-heavy game plans. I'm very interested to watch Brock Purdy in Kyle Shanahan's schemed passing offense with the Niners, as he gets his first start this week versus Tampa Bay. And we could see Desmond Ridder soon down in Atlanta.

Which first-rounder is underperforming right now?

Miller: Drake London, WR, Atlanta Falcons (No. 8 pick). Some of London's lack of impact could be due to poor quarterback play, but his four touchdowns are not what was expected from the first receiver drafted or from a jump-ball specialist. With Olave and Wilson thriving, London needs to put his foot on the gas.

Which late-rounder is overperforming right now?

Reid: James Houston, OLB, Detroit Lions (No. 217 pick). Since being elevated from the practice squad, Houston has been a bright spot for the Lions. He was the first player in franchise history to record a multi-sack game in his NFL debut. The former Jackson State product has been productive opposite Hutchinson. Now signed to the active roster, he's a name to keep an eye on moving forward.