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Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press
Pressure might make diamonds, but it can also make for disappointing rookie seasons.
In some cases, rookies are put in a position where much is expected in Year 1 and it works out.
Micah Parsons was supposed to help transform a poor Cowboys defense and responded by making a case for Defensive Player of the Year in his first season. Justin Jefferson stepped in as a rookie as the direct replacement for Stefon Diggs and posted better numbers than the veteran ever did within the Minnesota offense.
But those cases can place unrealistic demands on future rookies. More often than not, it takes time to find success in the NFL.
Looking at the 2022 draft class, there are rookies heading into situations where the bar is set too high. Whether they’re being asked to fill a role they probably aren’t ready for or facing unfair comparisons, we should temper our expectations for these first-year players.
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Michael Woods/Associated Press
The Tennessee Titans receiver room is going to look a lot different in 2022.
The decision to trade Brown is bound to be a divisive one. With the swelling wide receiver market, it was going to be incredibly expensive to keep Brown on the roster, but teams are never going to be excited to offload a 24-year-old wideout with nearly 3,000 yards in his first three seasons.
While Woods is likely to be WR1 in Tennessee, there’s going to be a lot of pressure on Burks to become the new young, dominant receiver in Brown’s absence.
Burks is capable of stepping into those shoes eventually.
The 6’2″, 225-pound receiver’s ability to get yards after the catch is tantalizing, but his role might take some time to figure out. At Arkansas, he was used almost exclusively in the slot, but with Brown and Jones gone, there’s going to be a desire to play him in wide alignments.
Overall, Burks will have a bigger adjustment period in the NFL than his draft position and circumstances might suggest.
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The Kansas City Chiefs offense is going to look vastly different in 2022. While there are still plenty of familiar faces, the Tyreek Hill trade has fundamentally shifted the hierarchy of weapons with which Patrick Mahomes has to work.
Trading Hill was a bold move that brought back a lot of draft capital and more cap flexibility than they would have had if they gave Hill the same contract the Miami Dolphins did.
However, the Chiefs now must redistribute Hill’s 159 targets from last season, and a lot of the pressure to fill that void is naturally going to fall on Skyy Moore. After all, he was taken after they traded back from the No. 50 pick they received in the Hill deal.
It’s important to keep in mind that Moore and Hill are different players, though. They have similar builds. Both are shorter receivers with the quick twitch and footwork to create separation with their route-running. But Hill is one of the fastest players in the league and ran a 4.29-second 40-yard dash, while Moore was clocked at 4.41 at the NFL combine.
Moore is not quite the athlete Hill is, and it isn’t as though those 159 targets will be funneled to Moore.
Instead, he’ll share the load of replacing Hill with JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling. It shouldn’t be surprising or disappointing if both of those veterans have better statistical seasons than Moore.
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Replacing a starting left tackle is never fun. Trying to do it on a budget is even less fun.
Faced with the cap crunch the Saints have become accustomed to, New Orleans had to watch Terron Armstead walk in free agency. They then utilized one of the picks they got in their trade with the Philadelphia Eagles to grab Trevor Penning.
Long-term, Penning shares a lot of qualities with Armstead. Both were athletic marvels in their combine testing, and both came from non-FBS schools.
However, it’s important to recognize that Armstead was a third-round pick who only played 140 snaps as a rookie and still gave up three sacks, per Pro Football Focus.
B/R NFL scout Brandon Thorn believes Penning is set up for early success with a few caveats:
“He can become an impact starter if he can learn to play with more discipline, consistent leverage and hand placement.”
The things that come after that if are not just minor details. They are going to be bumps in the road in Penning’s development. While he is likely to eventually become a franchise left tackle on account of his athleticism, he’s going to have to cut down on the mistakes and address his pinchant for getting grabby to realize his potential.
That’s going to take time.
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First-round quarterbacks always carry a heavy burden. They are largely expected to play the role of franchise savior from day one, and it’s led to some disastrous starts.
This year, Kenny Pickett is the only first-round quarterback. He’s joining the pro franchise in the city where he played college ball and faces the tall task of taking over for a future Hall of Famer who led the Pittsburgh Steelers for nearly two decades and had a losing record as a starter in just two seasons.
In his scouting report for Bleacher Report, analyst Nate Tice noted Pickett has “inconsistent timing on his throws that isn’t as glaring at the college level due to a stout offensive line. Resorts to scramble drills too often because he ends up late.”
The Steelers have made moves to improve a line that finished 26th in PFF’s final offensive line rankings last season. There are still going to be growing pains, though.
They added Mason Cole and James Daniels on the interior but are still trusting Dan Moore Jr. and Chukwuma Okorafor as their left and right tackles, respectively. Moore was PFF’s 72nd-ranked tackle, while Okorafor was 61st.
That leaves two scenarios for Pickett: He either doesn’t start right away and becomes the quarterback who couldn’t even beat out Mitch Trubisky for the starting job, or he plays behind an offensive line that is going to be less than optimal for developing a rookie quarterback.
Neither is going to give him the confidence necessary to start for a storied franchise at the most important position.
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Darron Cummings/Associated Press
Heavy is the head that wears the crown of being the No. 1 overall pick. When that top pick is far from the consensus, the pressure can be even greater.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are a franchise in search of legitimacy. After all the chaos that came with Urban Meyer’s reign as head coach and the disappointing first season for Trevor Lawrence, the Jaguars had the top pick for the second year in a row.
People are going to want to see some results.
That means a lot of urgency for Travon Walker to prove the Jags were right in taking a risk on him with the first pick in the draft. Walker landed in that spot because of the incredible athleticism that saw him shoot up boards throughout the predraft process.
At Georgia, Walker played a lot of snaps on the inside and wasn’t primarily tasked with chasing down quarterbacks. So much of the rationale behind taking him first overall is based on projection.
Aidan Hutchinson and Kayvon Thibodeaux play the same position and were also taken in the top five. Walker is going to be expected to produce on par with both of them, which isn’t entirely fair since they are more polished pass-rushers at this point. If the sack numbers don’t materialize, Jaguars fans will quickly become impatient.
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Butch Dill/Associated Press
Similar to Skyy Moore in Kansas City, Christian Watson is in a good offense but expectations might need to be held in check.
Since losing Davante Adams, the Green Bay Packers have practiced more patience in their approach at the receiver position than most franchises would have. They traded Adams for a first- and second-round pick, yet didn’t use either of their first-round picks on a receiver.
They’ve also neglected the position in the free-agent market. Ian Rapoport of NFL Network noted on The Pat McAfee Show that the Packers are going to be “involved” with Jarvis Landry, Julio Jones and Odell Beckham Jr., but a signing has yet to materialize.
That leaves Watson as the only major addition to the receiver room. If this holds true, there’s going to be a temptation to view him as Adams’ replacement. In reality, he’s probably closer to a Marquez Valdes-Scantling stand-in.
Much like MVS, he’s a size-and-speed prospect who has had success running go routes and as a deep threat. Right now, he doesn’t possess the well-rounded skill set to fill the Adams role.