The 2022 NFL Draft was a little different than what we have come to expect. In terms of skill positions, you can usually bank on at least one signal caller hearing their name in the first ten selections. On occasion, you’ll see three come off the board. And while we’ve seen the running back position devalued over the last many years, we’ve grown used to an inverse hype around the receiver position, where five or six prospects will now routinely come off the board in the first. The 2020 and 2021 drafts were both loaded with top-end potential at the receiver position.
Headed into last April, this draft class was touted as having a deep talent pool, due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic and an extra year of collegiate eligibility. But there was no clear cut guy. There was no Trevor Lawrence or Andrew Luck. Up until right before the selection was made by Jacksonville, no one really knew what to expect at the top.
But we did have a hunch on which position groups were strongest. The 2022 draft class was advertised to have star-potential edge defenders and talented prospects in the secondary. But on the offensive side of the ball, the strongest position group was offensive line. After most drafts, we can evaluate Offensive Rookie of the Year chances (spoiler alert: offensive linemen don’t win) by considering talent, system, and opportunity for immediate playing time.
This year, that felt more challenging. We saw only one skill position player get drafted in the top 10, with USC receiver Drake London landing with the Falcons. Only one quarterback was drafted in the first round, when Kenny Pickett went to the Pittsburgh Steelers at number 20. There were no immediate frontrunners, so tracking the performance of this year’s rookie class on offense has been uniquely enjoyable.
Roughly midway through the 2022 season, it’s probably a three-man race right now.
NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Candidate: #3
Saints WR Chris Olave
Heading into the draft, there was a lot of conversation over which Ohio State Buckeye receiver’s game would translate better to the NFL. Chris Olave was renowned for his crisp route-running, while Garrett Wilson was perceived to be slightly more explosive. There wasn’t much separation between the two. When that’s the case, the nod should go to the player with the chance to play, early and often, in a system that fits them.
The Saints offense was a bit of a wildcard with new Head Coach Dennis Allen at the helm. There was continuity at the Offensive Coordinator position with Pete Carmichael, but Sean Payton was the primary play-caller until now. What would this offense look like? How would James Winston bounce back from injury, and could he protect the ball? Would Michael Thomas return healthy and what type of target share would he command?
We didn’t know how well Chris Olave would fit in, but now we do. The rookie receiver has been tremendous, even with Jameis Winston, Taysom Hill, and Andy Dalton sharing time under center. Through Week Nine, Olave has totaled 37 receptions for 547 yards (19th in the NFL, first among rookies) and two touchdowns. Wilson has also been excellent for the New York Jets, notching 42 receptions for 521 yards and two scores. As expected, not much separating the two. I’m giving the nod to Olave here but this could very well change by the end of the season.