We're all looking for instant impact rookies. Let's go further than that. How about instant-impact entire draft classes? Sounds fun.
Getting valuable contributions from multiple rookies is worth its weight in gold, as these players are as cheap as they come in the NFL. Let's rank the top 10 instant impact classes from the 2022 draft.
Before I begin, It's important to remember that teams with lesser rosters are naturally more reliant on rookies and young players than established contenders, so just because, say, a team favored to win its division isn't featured, that doesn't mean I believe it had a poor draft.
Honorable Mention: Washington Commanders
The Commanders are exciting until you remember who their starting quarterback is. And it's not as if Carson Wentz is a bottom fourth of the league passer. He's just not someone I'd feel comfortable with in the countless crucial situations that arise throughout a regular season. And his lows are scary low.
Anyway, back to the rookie class -- I have a theory on it. It's that the Commanders' draft philosophy in April was simply "find players like the good players on our roster."
Dotson is the "lite" version of McLaurin. He weighs less than him too, so "light" version works too. Mathis is one of the more well-rounded defensive line prospects from Alabama -- Washington has a "type" in the trenches don't you think? -- and Robinson's an agile, boulder of a back -- see: Antonio Gibson -- but doesn't have 4.39 speed.
Butler is a more dynamic version of former marquee free-agent signing Landon Collins, who was released earlier this offseason. This rookie class will put in work in 2022 for a playoff-caliber club.
10. Cleveland Browns
The Browns roster is good, but not so good that it will keep rookies off the field. Since Cleveland drafted Myles Garrett at No. 1 overall in 2017, it's been looking for a legitimate complement to him across the line. Wright has Garrett-type size and moves like he's much smaller.
Speaking of complements, the tall, lengthy Emerson will pair wonderfully with the smaller, twitched-up, newly minted Denzel Ward, and Bell was truly one of the most complete wideouts in the 2022 class, he simply tested like a low-level athlete which catalyzed his fall to the third round. Even Winfrey is the precise type of one-gap penetrator the defense was starving for on the inside, and Ford is the precise type of home-run hitting No. 3 running back every team should employ.
The Ravens aren't too keen on opening the vault for sizable second contracts, but they adore themselves some young, cheap talent. Hamilton was my No. 1 overall prospect in this class, the modern-day, matchup-proof safety. Linderbaum is going to be a force at center in Greg Roman's diverse run game.
Baltimore was rumored to be ready to pick Jordan Davis at No. 14 before the Eagles jumped in front of them. Didn't bother GM Eric DeCosta. He just waited two more rounds to get another intimidating nose tackle in Jones, who has more pass-rush moves in his arsenal than the Georgia star. Kolar is the second coming of Mark Andrews and Stout will improve the punt game. Quality class, as usual, from the Ravens.
Given how blah Houston's roster was in 2021, the Texans desperately needed to draft an impactful class of rookies. They did. Even if the above five first-year pros aren't all stars immediately, they're going to be in key roles right away.
Stingley was my No. 1 cornerback and I had a first-round grade on Pitre, as a slot defender. He's more nickel corner than pure safety. Harris plays to his 4.44 speed and is sudden in his movements. He needs to work on his tackling reliability. Pierce will be the feature back by November at the latest. There aren't many runners with his combination of compact size, natural power, and lightning-quick feet.
The Steelers are kinda-sorta a team in transition, right? But Mike Tomlin's never had a losing season as head coach, and Pittsburgh's not a town accustomed to a losing football team. The last time the Steelers were under .500 was 2003. With Pickett they get their quarterback of the future, although he's in for a competition battle in training camp with Mitchell Trubisky and Mason Rudolph. Pickett should pull away late.
Pickens is a first-round talent who'll exudes an alpha mentality and Leal was a first-round caliber prospect before a vastly disappointing 2021 where he felt like a genuine tweener. The Steelers love those types up front on defense. Austin can be the low-volume, splash-play type because of how blisteringly fast he is. GM Kevin Colbert left the Steelers with a strong, decently foundational draft.
6. New York Jets
Yeah, the team with three first-round picks makes the list. Ahmad Gardner is the immediate CB1 in Robert Saleh's defense and brings the famous "no touchdowns allowed in college" reputation to the NFL. Garrett Wilson may not be the top-target right way, given the presence of Elijah Moore, Corey Davis and even CJ Uzomah. He's going to make plays. He's a springy wideout who'll get open and create after the catch.
I was most lower on Jermaine Johnson than most then again he was picked outside the top 25. I like he won't be asked to be the No. 1 edge rusher with Carl Lawson returning. Later-round selection Micheal Clemons could actually produce at a similar rate of efficiency to that of Johnson, and right tackle Max Mitchell is an exquisite zone-blocking scheme fit. GM Joe Douglas has prepared the Jets for liftoff, although the offensive line is still a tick concerning. And, no, I couldn't help a plane-related pun.
McBride and Zach Ertz are going to see target after target from Kyler Murray during DeAndre Hopkins' six-game suspension to start the season. And that'll be normal for McBride, who was the entire Colorado State offense last season en route to winning the John Mackey Award. I loved the double-dipping at the edge-rusher spot and the different flavors the Cardinals selected.
Thomas is a pro-ready inside-out type with an awesome finesse game. Sanders is a skinnier, speedier power player who'll thrive around corner. I even thought the Cardinals got tremendous value with Smith and Hayes on Day 3. I know Kliff Kingsbury doesn't emphasize the offensive line because of the quick-strike nature of his Air Raid offense, but blocking is imperative in the NFL, regardless of the system a team runs.
The Fighting Dan Campbells are on the rise. Sure, Jared Goff limits Detroit's ceiling but the roster renovations are starting to take shape. After Penei Sewell fell into their lap in 2021, Hutchinson did the same this time around. The aggression -- but not massive overpayment -- to land Williams inside the top 15 will add a dynamic component to the offense.
They Lions also got three future reliable starters on defense with Paschal -- whose on-field energy will be infectious -- Joseph, who's a fluid athlete with telephone poles for arms, and Rodriguez, a former safety turned linebacker who covers well and defeats blocks like an NFL vet. This crew will contribute in a big way this season.
Cross is the instant starter at left tackle, and he's a smooth-operating pass protector. Walker was tied with Isaiah Spiller as my RB1 in this class, and Bryant was one of the longest, most experienced outside corners in the class.
Then there's the two edge rushers -- I'm glad they addressed that spot, a blatant weak-link on defense. Mafe is older but got better each season as a pass rusher and has serious juice bending the edge. Smith was one of the most productive, refined edges in the entire class -- yes, you read that right -- over the past two seasons at Ohio State. He had no business being available in Round 5.
GM Brett Veach took a calculated risk. Trading Tyreek Hill, given his age and contract demands, may have been smart financially for the future of the Chiefs. However, it undoubtedly intensified the pressure on Veach himself.
And he did a darn good job morphing the Hill trade into quality youthful players. However, McDuffie was an overpayment in Round 1. He has a very high floor though. Karlaftis is the exact type of NFL-ready edge rusher the defense needed to alleviate attention from Chris Jones inside.
Moore was a first-round talent who was somehow the sixth receiver picked...IN THE SECOND ROUND (?!). He will be a budding star with Patrick Mahomes throwing him the football. Then the two secondary members from schools have the experience and athleticism to outplay their draft positions. The Chiefs went into the draft with probably the least complete roster of all the legitimate Super Bowl contenders, then did a fine job on draft weekend to strengthen it.
Neal at No. 7 overall? Steal City. There's even a legitimate argument the Giants got a bargain with Thibodeaux at No. 5. The Cowboys would agree. Robinson went too early but nonetheless will be a fun, gadget feature to the offense. Flott is a lanky but sudden nickel corner who closes on the ball in a hurry. Both North Carolina offensive linemen could see time early, but Ezeudu is more ready and could play multiple positions.
McFadden is the sleeper impact type. He was a tackling machine at Indiana and has the short-area quickness and awareness to be a star underneath in coverage, where a lot of linebackers struggle. In Year 1 of the Joe Schoen/Brian Daboll era, the Giants will get much out of their rookie class.