One short year ago, Amon-Ra St. Brown was just an easy-to-miss, unsuspecting rookie picked after the first round, waiting for his chance in the Lions' offense. Now, his reach is far wider than the greater Detroit area after an 88-catch eruption in Year 1 as a professional.
A season before that, Antoine Winfield Jr., Jeremy Chinn, and Antonio Gibson were NFC rookies not selected on Day 1 of the draft who sure as heck played like Day 1 selections as rookies.
In 2019, Deebo Samuel, Miles Sanders, Elgton Jenkins, DK Metcalf and Terry McLaurin headlined those outstanding value selections. And you, NFL fan starved for football, know all about your favorite team's first-round pick in the 2022 draft. It's time to really get acclimated with the non-Round 1 selection who has the talent -- and situation -- to flourish in his debut season in the NFL.
Let's zero in on the NFC rookies picked after the first round with the best chances to earn key roles as rookies.
WR Jalen Tolbert
Drafted: No. 88, third round
Impressive stat to know: Had 16 catches of 20 or more yards at South Alabama in 2021
Michael Gallup and CeeDee Lamb are, of course, back in Dallas. Amari Cooper is not. There are 205 targets available from last year's Cowboys offense, and offensive coordinator Kellen Moore -- noted smart football mind -- will likely dedicate a sizable portion of those targets to Tolbert -- noted downfield specialist.
Gallup and Lamb are more move-the-chain types, underneath and intermediate level security options for Dak Prescott, and the same is true for emerging tight end Dalton Schultz. It felt like any South Alabama game I flipped on over the past two years, Tolbert was generating a splash play downfield thanks to either his deceptive speed, tremendous ball-tracking capabilities, or a combination of both. Prescott finished 10th in adjusted completion percentage on long balls in 2021, so there'll be plenty of opportunities for the rookie to showcase his unique skills.
LB Nakobe Dean
Drafted: No. 83, third round
Impressive stat to know: Six sacks, five pass breakups, two forced fumbles, and 10.5 tackles for loss at Georgia in 2021
Now, of course, this selection comes with the caveat of the apparently battered-and-bruised Dean being healthy as a rookie. With that out of the way -- Dean is an animal at the linebacker position, an animal born to hunt receivers, tight ends, and running backs in the modern-day NFL.
From suddenness, to laser-quick, play-recognition skills, to comfortability in coverage, Dean is ready to really go as a rookie. Don't be concerned about his size or lack thereof. He has the ideal size to float around the field today, sniffing out screens, flying to outside runs, and being a flat-out nuance for the opposition's middle-of-the-field passing game.
RB Brian Robinson Jr.
Drafted: No. 98, third round
Impressive stat to know: 79 missed tackles forced on 271 rushing attempts at Alabama in 2021
Antonio Gibson is the lead dog in Washington. Robinson's presence won't change that. While similarly sized to Gibson, he's not nearly as explosive or fast downfield. The former Alabama star might just be equally as elusive, and he runs through contact like it's wet paper.
And something else I love about Robinson -- low mileage. He toted the rock only 545 times in his college career, and 2021 was the only season in which he carried it more than 100 times. He's a boulder of a back with plus vision and shiftiness. Instead of giving defenses a change-of-pace back when Gibson needs a breather, Robinson will provide what will feel like relentless power for linebackers to deal with when clashing with the Commanders.
New York Giants
LB Micah McFadden
Drafted: No. 146, fifth round
Impressive stat to know: 15.5 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, and three pass breakups at Indiana in 2021
McFadden's film was a joy to study. He moves quickly and effortlessly in any direction, thereby making him a stud in coverage, particularly underneath. He reads and reacts to the offense's collective movements as fast as any linebacker in the class, and while not blessed with freaky athleticism, McFadden rarely looks slow.
The Giants have needed quality linebacker play for some time now, and McFadden has "outplay his draft position" written all over him.
Green Bay Packers
WR Samori Toure
Drafted: No. 258, seventh round
Impressive stat to know: Averaged 19.5 yards per catch on 48 receptions at Nebraska in 2021
I had three receivers to choose from and went with the seventh-rounder who began his career at Montana. In his lone season at Nebraska, Toure was a problem. Didn't matter the setting, opponent or the coverage. He even was the most impressive wideout at the East-West Shrine Game.
The Packers have 43.5% of their targets available from 2021 and doesn't it feel like they're always plucking receivers from obscurity? Jeff Janis, Geronimo Allison, Jake Kumerow, heck, even Allen Lazard was an undrafted free agent. Toure is a big play waiting to happen thanks to deceptive burst and long speed, and he has reliable hands -- even through contact -- Aaron Rodgers is going to adore.
CB Andrew Booth Jr.
Drafted: No. 42, second round
Impressive stat to know: Five interceptions and nine pass breakups in his last 21 games at Clemson
Booth was a first-round talent all day. The vaunted injury red flag precipitated his plummet to the second round. What I kept going back to with Booth during the pre-draft process was this -- he has the feet and suddenness of a slot corner and the disruptive length and acrobatic ball skills of a tall outside corner.
Learning from Patrick Peterson will do wonders for any rough edges of Booth's game. He's going to be a stud, quickly, in Minnesota.
EDGE Joshua Paschal
Drafted: No. 46, second round
Impressive stat to know: 15 tackles for loss at Kentucky in 2021
I could've gone with linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez, but I love Paschal's presence on Detroit's roster as the other edge rusher picked outside of Aidan Hutchinson, who's going to attract all the eyeballs and offensive game plans during his rookie season.
Paschal brings it too at nearly 6-3 and a well-built 268 pounds with a 38-inch vertical that illustrates how powerful and explosive his lower half is. On film, he plays with reckless abandon and has enough pass-rush moves to attack with a diverse arsenal. Paschal should see the field often on a Lions defense experiencing massive renovations and will make a mess of the opponent's backfield relatively often. Like Hutchinson, he's a three-down defensive end and he's comfortable winning on the interior.
OT Braxton Jones
Drafted: No. 168, fifth round
Impressive stat to know: Jones became a starter as a redshirt sophomore and started four games at left tackle during his redshirt junior season.
Jones and Larry Borom will duke it out for one of the starting tackle gigs in 2021, and what Borom has in experience, Jones has in flat-out athletic prowess. He's long, powerful and extremely well-balanced in pass pro and when climbing to the second level on run plays.
Based on his 2021 film at Southern Utah and what he demonstrated against high-caliber rushers at the Senior Bowl, I believe Jones can be the Bears' franchise left tackle. He's that impressive athletically and with his technique.
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EDGE Arnold Ebiketie
Drafted: No. 38, second round
Impressive stat to know: 42 pressures on 374 pass-rush snaps at Penn State in 2021
I don't love that Ebiketie will be asked to be the primary outside rusher as a rookie. But his natural talent and all-around game made him worthy of this selection. The second-rounder from Penn State -- by way of Temple -- ticked all the boxes for me when evaluating edge rushers.
He erupts off the snap, wins around the corner with speed, through the blocker with power, back to the inside with quickness, and his hands never stop moving. The Falcons may not be in many second-half situations in which Ebiketie can pin his ears back and rush, but I just adored him so much as a prospect I couldn't keep him out of this article.
LB Brandon Smith
Drafted: No. 120, fourth round
Impressive stat to know: 81 tackles, nine tackles for loss, three interceptions and five pass breakups at Penn State in 2021
Smith was underwhelming at Penn State, given that he was the No. 1 linebacker recruit in the country in the 2019 high school class and that he's nearly 6-4 and 250 pounds with 4.52 speed and a 38-inch vertical.
Despite his slower-than-desired play-recognition skills, Smith's traits jump off the tape, and the Panthers have a sizable hole at linebacker next to the much smaller Shaq Thompson. If Smith plays with less hesitation and tackles more efficiently, he can be a super-impactful rookie in Carolina.
New Orleans Saints
DB Alontae Taylor
Drafted: No. 49, second round
Impressive stat to know: Ran 4.36 in the 40-yard dash at 6-foot and 199 pounds at the combine
Taylor was one of the older prospects in the 2022 draft, and he played like it. Incredibly knowledgeable on the field. And his standout trait is his explosiveness. He's a rocket to the football and can hold his own at outside corner, in the slot when needed or at safety.
Learning from the outstandingly versatile and pesky Chauncey Gardner-Johnson -- who's only a year older than Taylor -- will be majorly beneficial for Taylor as a movable chess piece in New Orleans' secondary.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
RB Rachaad White
Drafted: No. 91, third round
Impressive stat to know: His 40-yard dash, vertical, and broad jump were all above the 75th percentile at the RB position at the combine starting in 1999
There's minimal competition for White as Leonard Fournette's backup in Tampa Bay, and Tom Brady loves cycling through backs, especially those who are competent pass-rushers. And that's precisely an area of strength for White. At Arizona State, he hauled in 43 receptions for 456 yards in 2021.
At a thick 6-0 and 214 pounds, White is a smooth mover on the field, too, leading to quality elusiveness between the tackles. He'll be a Brady favorite by November.
San Francisco 49ers
WR Danny Gray
Drafted: No. 105, third round
Impressive stat to know: Averaged 16.3 yards per reception at SMU in 2021
Kyle Shanahan is enamored with YAC-based skill-position players, and his offenses hum at an optimal rate when he has a genuine burner to not only hit the occasional big play but free space underneath.
Shanahan got productive seasons out of Taylor Gabriel, Marquise Goodwin, and Travis Benjamin all of whom profile almost identically to the nearly 6-0, 186-pound Gray with 4.33 speed. With Deebo Samuel -- who's going to be back, right? -- George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk and Co., I'm not envisioning a monster rookie season from Gray. Just a fun collection of home runs from rocket-armed quarterback Trey Lance.
EDGE Tyreke Smith
Drafted: No. 158, fifth round
Impressive stat to know: Pass-rush win rate of 20.2% at Ohio State in 2021
Smith was one of the most NFL-ready rushers in the entire draft class. I really believe that. From his size, length, bend, and most importantly veteran-caliber collection of pass-rushing moves, he had no business being available in the fifth round.
Seattle selected Boye Mafe in Round 2, so he'll likely be the first priority for offensive lines to game plan to stop, but Smith is ready to hit the ground running, particularly as a pass-rusher, and will.
EDGE Myjai Sanders
Drafted: No. 100, third round
Impressive stat to know: 62 pressures on 389 pass-rush snaps at Cincinnati in 2021
Sanders was arguably the most unique outside rusher in the 2022 class. He looks like a skinny tight end on the field but plays with the sheer force of a 275-pound defensive end with no pass-rush plans who only leans on his bull rush. Offensive tackles must not be deceived by the former Cincinnati star's lanky frame. He's keenly aware of how to utilize his hands to beat blockers, too, and never takes a play off.
What else is good for Sanders -- there's a massive hole to fill after Chandler Jones left in free agency, and he'll have a rookie running mate at edge rusher in Cam Thomas.
Los Angeles Rams
OG Logan Bruss
Drafted: No. 104, third round
Impressive stat to know: Allowed nine pressures -- including no sacks -- on 275 pass-blocking snaps at Wisconsin in 2021
Bruss is not your classic Wisconsin offensive lineman, a heavy-footed power play whose eyes light up when a run play is called in the huddle but gets queasy when preparing for pass protection. Bruss does have the Wisconsin-branded run-blocking heartiness to his game but plays with dynamic athleticism to combat springy defensive tackles trying to force their way upfield.
He's an absolutely exquisite match for Sean McVay's zone-blocking scheme, and he's penciled in as the Rams' starting right guard.