With Week 15 underway in the NFL, there are officially four weeks left in the regular season. While the playoff races are heating up, so, too, is the competition for league awards. One of the most intriguing involves the rookies because so many have made differences on their respective teams. Some have become instant stars, and when it comes to the most notable players, one team seems to have done quite well in last year’s draft, and it has put it in the playoff picture.
It all got us thinking … if you were an NFL general manager or coach and could steal a 2022 rookie for your roster, who would it be?
Jets cornerback Sauce Gardner
This is a fascinating question, and one that I could see going multiple ways. It also depends on what each person values most. My choices, ultimately are Sauce Gardner, Aidan Hutchinson, Christian Watson and Garrett Wilson.
Follow every game: Latest NFL Scores and Schedules
Gardner’s play isn’t only elite for just rookies; he’s playing like a Top 3 corner in the entire league and deserves serious consideration for an All-Pro selection. My pick here is also designed to be something of a trend buster. We’re in a golden age of stellar wide receivers, many of whom are in the early stages of their careers. As more and more athletes come into the league, there should be a premium on the players tasked with slowing them down. That’s why I think corners like Gardner are going to become coveted within league circles. Versatile pass rushers are certainly high-value players, but they come around more often than true shutdown corners. — Lorenzo Reyes
New York Jets general manager Joe Douglas had three first-round picks in the 2022 NFL draft (two technically, but he traded back into the round to make it three) and went with cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, wide receiver Garrett Wilson and defensive end Jermaine Johnson II.
Johnson has been a contributor to New York’s stout front-seven, but Wilson and Gardner already have the makings of future stars. Especially Gardner, and he’s the favorite for Defensive Rookie of the Year. His two interceptions may seem like a low amount, but quarterbacks immediately realized throwing in the rookie’s direction was a bad idea. He’s also broken up 16 passes this season.
As a general manager, it would make sense to follow Douglas’ thinking from eight months ago – take a game-changing player at an important position. Being able to cover a No. 1 receiver with a stud of your own on the other side does a lot for the game plan in a matchup-based league. Gardner would immediately make any team better. — Chris Bumbaca
Gang Green’s rookie class has been every bit as good as advertised when GM Joe Douglas was widely hailed for ‘winning’ the 2022 NFL draft. RB Breece Hall looked like a legit Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate before suffering a torn ACL in Week 7. WR Garrett Wilson is now in contention for that award himself, playing up to his billing as the No. 10 pick thanks to new starting QB Mike White, who is regularly getting the ball into Wilson’s hands. But Ahmad ‘Sauce’ Gardner may ultimately prove to be the crown jewel of this draft class. The fourth overall selection has quickly proven to be the lockdown corner he was eventually expected to be and is already ranked as the top defensive back in the league by the analytics website Pro Football Focus. Beyond that, Gardner has helped instill a swagger and fear factor to a third-ranked Jets D that surrendered the most points and yards in the NFL just a year ago. So if I can pour just one 2022 rookie onto my roster, please pass the Sauce. — Nate Davis
Jets wide receiver Garrett Wilson
A lot depends on how my roster is already constructed, but the 2022 draft class was loaded at wide receiver. The best all-around receiver out of the class was Garrett Wilson and he’s proving it. Wilson has the most receiving yards (868) by a rookie in Jets franchise history, and he leads all rookies this season with 63 receptions. He’s recorded at least 75 receiving yards in six games this year, with five of those coming in the Jets’ past six games. Wilson’s route running and playmaking ability is impressive and he’s only going to get better. He’s piling up good numbers despite up-and-down quarterback play. He’d get my vote for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year right now. If I’m the general manager or coach, hopefully I already have an elite quarterback to pass Wilson the football. — Tyler Dragon
Lions wide receiver Jameson Williams
Edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson, receivers Garrett Wilson and George Pickens, and running back Kenneth Walker III have been some of my favorite rookies this season. But did you see how Lions receiver Jameson Williams celebrated his first career touchdown last week? Williams was so excited. He barely even celebrated with teammates in the end zone – one, because he was so far ahead of them for his 41-yard touchdown, and two, he was in absolute elation running up and down the Lions sidelines to celebrate the occasion. Williams, the No. 12 pick in the draft who tore his ACL playing for Alabama in the national title game last January, showed resilience in his recovery, and elation for a moment he deserved. How can you not want a player like that on your team? Luckily, the surging Lions have him. — Safid Deen