With the 2022 NFL season now officially in the books, all eyes turn toward the 2023 NFL Draft. But before a new wave of talent hits the league, Eric Edholm and Nick Shook are taking a team-by-team look back at the rookie class of 2022.
Today, Edholm examines the AFC West.
- (103) Leo Chenal, LB, 17 games/8 starts
- (135) Joshua Williams, CB, 17 games/4 starts
- (145) Darian Kinnard, OG, 1 game/0 starts
- (243) Jaylen Watson, CB, 16 games/6 starts
- (251) Isiah Pacheco, RB, 17 games/11 starts
- (259) Nazeeh Johnson, CB, 11 games/0 starts
It's rare to see a Super Bowl champion be so rookie-dependent, but Kansas City identified its depth issues last offseason and showered the defense with draftees -- especially in the secondary, with five selections, including four who contributed in major ways in Year 1. Trent McDuffie, Jaylen Watson, Joshua Williams and Bryan Cook all cracked the rotation this season, and each of them played at least 10 snaps on defense in Super Bowl LVII. They all endured some rough patches, but each contributed something significant along the way. Even with some potential veteran DB departures this offseason, the future of the Chiefs' secondary appears to be bright thanks to this crew.
Defensive end George Karlaftis started all season, but really made his impact down the stretch, with 5.5 of his six sacks, seven of his eight tackles for loss and both of his fumble recoveries coming in the final seven regular-season games. After some humbling snaps early on, Karlaftis started to show his true impact potential.
Isiah Pacheco was one of the 2022 NFL Draft's great finds, coming off the board in the back end of the seventh round. Despite some issues taking care of the football, the hard-charging back was a revelation in Year 1, supplanting former first-rounder Clyde Edwards-Helaire as K.C.'s lead back and averaging 5.0 yards per carry from Week 7 (his first start) through the Super Bowl. Skyy Moore also experienced ball-security problems -- muffing three punts as a returner -- but he was still able to carve out a role of 25-to-30 snaps on offense and special teams. And he actually provided a massive 29-yard punt return with under a minute left in the AFC Championship Game, helping set up Harrison Butker's game-winning field goal.
- (No. 17) Zion Johnson, OG, 17 games/17 starts
- (79) JT Woods, S, 10 games/1 start
- (123) Isaiah Spiller, RB, 6 games/0 starts
- (160) Otito Ogbonnia, DT, 7 games/1 start
As far as significant Year 1 contributions go, this was essentially a two-man rookie class, with both residing on the offensive line. Zion Johnson was a bit disappointing as a rookie, partially due to the lofty expectations that accompany any guard drafted in the first round. But he's a tough, smart and mature player who figures to improve in Year 2.
The best rookie blocker, however, was Jamaree Salyer. He inexplicably slid in the draft to Round 6, perhaps because some evaluators worried about his ability to play tackle in the NFL. But Salyer replaced injured Pro Bowler Rashawn Slater in Week 4 and settled in beautifully at left tackle after spending all of camp at guard. Maybe Salyer continues manning a bookend in 2023, but the future appears bright wherever he lands.
Zander Horvath made a quick splash with receiving touchdowns in each of the first two weeks, but touched the ball just five times the rest of the season. His special teams and run-blocking contributions were solid, however. The rest of the group provided limited returns, but there are encouraging talents in JT Woods and Isaiah Spiller to be developed.
- (No. 64) Nik Bonitto, OLB, 15 games/1 start
- (80) Greg Dulcich, TE, 10 games/6 starts
- (152) Delarrin Turner-Yell, S, 14 games/0 starts
- (162) Montrell Washington, WR, 15 games/1 start
- (171) Luke Wattenberg, C, 7 games/1 start
- (206) Matt Henningsen, DE, 17 games/0 starts
- (232) Faion Hicks, CB, 2 games/0 starts
Notable free agent signee:
- Brandon Johnson, WR, 7 games/1 start
Even without a first-round pick following the Russell Wilson trade, the Broncos hauled in a nine-man class, issued a decent amount of playing time to rookies and had their top three choices contribute in some kind of meaningful way. But it would be a stretch to suggest that this group suddenly appears to be more than a middling overall lot with a few contributors.
Damarri Mathis was a pleasant surprise, taking over the starting CB job for an injured Ronald Darby and putting his best foot forward. Mathis and Pat Surtain II look like one of the stronger young CB duos in the conference. But the Broncos have to be hoping for bigger Year 2 contributions from Nik Bonitto, who supplied limited pass-rush juice (especially after Bradley Chubb was traded) and must raise his game with a starting job on the line in 2023.
Greg Dulcich missed time to start the season with a hamstring injury and fell behind. He flashed some fascinating receiving prowess and became a regular part of the passing game when he was out there, but Dulcich was overwhelmed as a blocker at times and, after finishing the season on injured reserve, must prove he can stay healthy.
The rest of the crop leaves us guessing. Montrell Washington opened eyes as a returner, but battled fumbling problems all season and might need to show more potential as an offensive contributor. Matt Henningsen could be a solid reserve, but keep an eye on Eyioma Uwazurike, who has a chance to develop into something decent.
- (No. 90) Dylan Parham, OG, 17 games/17 starts
- (175) Matthew Butler, DT, 6 games/0 starts
Notable free agent signees:
We can only be so harsh on the Raiders' rookie class, considering their first pick didn't come until No. 90 overall. That was the cost of trading for WR Davante Adams. This rookie crop doesn't look terribly promising on the whole, but there could be a few useful pieces who develop into longer-term contributors.
That top pick was Dylan Parham, who was durable, starting all 17 games. At times, he appeared a bit underdeveloped as a pass protector, but he was more consistent as a run blocker in that Josh Jacobs-dependent system. Parham appears to have average to above-average potential as a starting guard or center.
The two fourth-rounders, Zamir White and Neil Farrell, played sparingly as rookies. White's limited usage wasn't shocking, considering how much the offense leaned on Jacobs, but it will be important for him to carve out more of a role. Farrell plays a need position for the Raiders, and he was slowed by a shoulder injury, but it's unclear how much upside he has.
Thayer Munford Jr. was the only other draft pick who played a notable amount. He was in the right tackle mix early before shifting to more of a reserve role. There's still a debate where he's best -- inside or out. Two undrafted rookies, Luke Masterson and Sam Webb, both saw their playing time increase down the stretch. Neither newbie embarrassed himself, but of the two, Webb might have more promise.