How much can we realistically expect of NFL rookies?

It’s been interesting to read so many posts here on our forum this summer that discuss how much our 2022 rookie class will contribute to this year’s team. Some predict several will not only start but will also be immediate big help. Other fans are not so sure.

So that led me to wonder: what can be realistically expected from an NFL rookie in their first season of NFL football?

Typically each year, approximately 260-270 college players are drafted into the NFL. According to NFL stats of the last 10 years, here’s how much rookies contribute to their team:

  • Approximately 15-20% of rookies will be starters during the regular season.
  • Of those players who start their rookie season, over 90% are 1st, 2nd or 3rd rounders.
  • In 2021, 13 NFL teams did not start a single rookie in the first game of the season. That always changes as the season progresses. That does mean about 2/3 of the league will start a rookie immediately.
  • Approximately 30-35% of rookies from Day 3 of the draft- that’s rounds 4-7- don’t even make their team’s final 53 man roster, although many make the practice squad.
  • Rookie WRs often struggle adjusting to the NFL game. Route running is harder because coverages are more varied and sophisticated than in college. Guys that could depend solely on their athletic skills to catch passes find that’s not enough at this level. Even some of the greats struggled their rookie season.
  • Rookie OL have to adjust to pro blocking and pass protection schemes and must learn how to be in close communication sync with their fellow OL or the QB can get blindsided.
  • Over 75% of NFL rookies make their first contributions through STs rather than offense or defense.
  • Of the 260 players drafted, usually no more than 3-5 make the pro bowl as a rookie. Last year, Micah Parsons was one of six rookies to make the pro bowl. That was a larger number than usual.

So what are some realistic expectations for our rookies?

  • I think it’s pretty safe to say Tyler Smith will start- although not yet a lock- at LG. I think he will have lots of growing pains along with some excellent plays and development.
  • Early in the season I also expect Jalen Tolbert to either start or see lots of action because of Michael Gallup and James Washington’s absences. Rookie UFA Dennis Houston has been a camp star and I expect him to play some but not a ton.
  • Sam Williams will probably play about 20-25 snaps a game on defense this year. He will hopefully be able to provide some pressure on occasion.

From what I’ve seen so far, I’m fairly pleased with our rookie class. It’s still too early to call it a success or failure. But it is clear we don’t have a Micah Parsons type talent in this year’s draft.

Bottom line- most rookies take time to meet their potential. Very few are “plug and play”. I will be pleasantly surprised if we have more 2-3 have much of an immediate big impact. That’s pretty much what history shows. Can’t wait to see what happens!

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