The right team fit is crucial when talking about NFL rookies and how they project at the next level. We saw numerous talented prospects selected over seven rounds during the 2022 NFL draft, but which ones landed in the perfect scheme for their skill sets? Who was put in the best possible position to succeed? Who will get the right coaching and pro system to maximize their talents?
I picked out my 10 favorite fits — the prospects who landed on teams that fit them perfectly, factoring in scheme, tendencies and coaching. These players could thrive right out of the gates in their NFL careers if they are set up and developed in the right way. And I believe they are in the ideal spots to do just that.
I also chose five of my favorite value picks of the middle rounds. These are guys who weren’t top-70 picks but could play early and often because of their high-end physical traits and the situations on the teams that picked them. Keep an eye on them during the 2022 season and beyond.
Let’s dive in, starting with a defensive back who has a superb new NFL home.
Ten rookies who landed with the perfect team
Drafted: Round 1, No. 4
Why he is a perfect fit: In the Jets’ defined coverage schemes, Gardner is a seamless fit as a boundary corner who can play a difference-making role as a both a man and zone defender. With his long, 6-foot-3 frame and press-man skills, Gardner will challenge outside for a defense that played Cover 1 (man-free) on 39% of coverage snaps last season, the fifth most in the league.
The zone eyes are there, too, when Gardner pedals off the ball in three-deep coverage. And when coach Robert Saleh’s defense faces 3×1 sets, Gardner can be assigned to lock down the single receiver to the backside of the formation, eliminating the pass-catcher from the picture, which will allow the Jets to get zone numbers to the field.
Drafted: Round 1, No. 18
Why he is a perfect fit: With a similar physical profile to former Titans wide receiver A.J. Brown, Burks should step into a volume role as a catch-and-run target on middle-of-the-field throws in Tennessee. Last season, Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill attempted 321 passes inside the numbers, the fifth most in the league. So think dig routes, shallows and slants here, with play-action elements mixed in. That’s where Burks can get loose after the catch, using his ball carrier vision, play speed and powerful frame at 6-foot-2, 225 pounds to beat defenders in space.
Burks will also see vertical targets from boundary and slot alignments, and we know he has the versatility to be schemed on screens, jet sweeps and more.
Drafted: Round 1, No. 5
Why he is a perfect fit: Thibodeaux has the traits to generate disruption as an edge player against the run, and the straight-line juice he showed on his college tape will allow the rookie to hunt down ball carriers as the backside pursuit defender. But I want to focus more on the pass-rush matchups that new defensive coordinator Wink Martindale can scheme out of his multiple-front, pressure-heavy system.
The Giants will use overload looks to give Thibodeaux defined one-on-ones or stunt him as a looper to work the interior gaps. And don’t be surprised if Martindale bumps Thibodeaux down in some passing situations as a defensive tackle or standup 3-technique to create a matchup with an offensive guard in protection. Thibodeaux’s quicks off the ball and power moves to get blockers back on their heels will allow Martindale to scheme up pass-rush production this season.
Drafted: Round 2, No. 63
Why he is a perfect fit: Cook can be deployed like Alvin Kamara in the pass game for new Bills playcaller Ken Dorsey this season. The rookie is sudden, with the receiving chops and short-area speed to separate from coverage. Dorsey can set up Cook on backfield releases against linebackers or flex him out wide to expose defenders in space. And Cook can track the ball vertically, too.
I see the Georgia product as another offensive target for quarterback Josh Allen, who completed 57 passes to running backs last season. Expect that number to jump with Cook in the mix. But the rookie will also make a difference as a perimeter runner, with the north/south acceleration to slice through the second level of the defense.
Drafted: Round 1, No. 13
Why he is a perfect fit: At 6-foot-6 and 341 pounds, Davis changes the dynamic of the Eagles’ defense. In coordinator John Gannon’s odd- and even-man fronts, Davis can generate run-game disruption with his combination of power and play strength. He will stack, shed and engulf ball carriers, and he can also plug gaps and command a double-team at the point of contact. You’re not moving Davis off the ball consistently with single-man blocks here. This will allow linebackers to fill downhill or scrape laterally to stop the run.
While Davis doesn’t have the traits of a high-end interior pass-rusher, his ability to push the pocket and account for two blockers in protection will create more one-on-ones across the Eagles’ defensive front on passing reps.
Drafted: Round 1, No. 14
Why he is a perfect fit: With new coordinator Mike Macdonald in Baltimore, expect Hamilton to be deployed as a disruptive force at multiple levels of the defense. I’m looking for late rotations, disguise and post-snap movement to put Hamilton in a position to finish on the ball.
With his rare combination of size (6-foot-4, 220 pounds) and quickness, Hamilton can play top down for Baltimore in split-safety alignments or drop as a hook-curl defender to patrol the second level. He has explosive forward ability and will strike on contact. Plus, in three-safety sub-packages, Macdonald can scheme Hamilton as a blitzer.
Paired with free-agent signing Marcus Williams in a very multiple defensive system, we should expect Hamilton to produce numbers early in his rookie season.
Drafted: Round 1, No. 27
Why he is a perfect fit: New Jags defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell coached the linebackers last season under Todd Bowles in Tampa, and we saw how the Bucs deployed their second-level defenders both in coverage and as blitzers. That’s a fit for the versatile Lloyd.
Look for him to be used on pressure schemes, hitting the A and B gaps on downhill stunts. He has the physical tools to beat running backs in protection, and I see the second-level range necessary to make plays as a coverage defender, too. Lloyd will also rack up run-game stops, and we could see Caldwell use him as a situational edge rusher. He flashed pass-rush traits on his college tape.
Drafted: Round 2, No. 53
Why he is a perfect fit: Pierce is a boundary X target for quarterback Matt Ryan who can also shift inside to create matchups out of slot or trips sets, making him a really good fit for Frank Reich’s offense. He is at his best on the move — running fades, overs, shallows and speed outs — and the Colts can scheme up Pierce off play-action for Ryan. Watch for them to create windows at the second level or isolate the rookie as a vertical target.
With his foot quickness and play strength, Pierce can set up press coverage, and we know he can be a primary option for Ryan inside the red zone. Throw the slants there and cater to Pierce’s 6-foot-3 frame and leaping ability on end zone targets, and I expect Pierce’s route tree to expand even more in a pro system.
Drafted: Round 1, No. 21
Why he is a perfect fit: In Steve Spagnuolo’s scheme — which features a mix of man pressure and two-deep zone — McDuffie has the traits to play sticky man coverage or sink with backfield vision as a zone defender. This past season, the Chiefs played a mix of single-high and 2-Man, and they led the league with 52 snaps of zero-man (blitz man coverage). Look for McDuffie to match in blitz man technique, with the ability to play inside or outside.
We will also see his urgency in zone coverage, where he can drive top down or tackle in space. McDuffie can transition downhill with speed as a flat/seam defender in Spags’ Cover 2 shells.
Drafted: Round 2, No. 48
Why he is a perfect fit: Brisker is a classic fit for Matt Eberflus’ scheme in Chicago as a defender with multidimensional traits. His play style reminds me of Bills safety Micah Hyde. With a smooth pedal, split-field range and easy transition ability, Brisker can drive downhill on the ball from the deep half or match vertically in Quarters. When the Bears do play their single-high schemes, look for Brisker to rotate down, tracking the ball in the run game or lurking underneath in coverage.
A highly instinctive player with disruptive traits, Brisker will pair with safety Eddie Jackson in the Bears’ heavily defined system.
Value picks who could have an early impact
Drafted: Round 3, No. 74
I expect Ridder to challenge Marcus Mariota for playing time this season. A pace thrower who can generate velocity when needed, Ridder will benefit from the play-action elements in Arthur Smith’s offense. Atlanta will create defined throws and coverage voids in early-down situations, while using his movement traits on boot concepts. Plus, with his pocket poise and composure, Ridder can read it out in dropback situations.
Drafted: Round 4, No. 107
Pierce is a downhill hammer at 5-foot-10, 218 pounds, with the light feet to dance through the wash. He has a pro running style that sets him up to handle NFL volume. A good fit for both zone and gap schemes in Houston, Pierce can produce when he makes his cut to get on a north/south track. The Florida product isn’t going to be featured in the pass game, but he has the receiving ability to catch the ball out of the backfield as an underneath target.
Drafted: Round 3, No. 82
In Dean Pees’ system, Malone can make an early impact as a sub-package defender thanks to his pass-rushing upside. He gets a jump off the ball to attack the high side of offensive tackles in protection, with the ability to bend and flatten to the quarterback. Malone is explosive with a physical play style, and he can be schemed up to win on third downs as a rookie.
Drafted: Round 4, No. 128
Kolar doesn’t have high-end third-level stretch ability, but the Iowa State product wins with his 6-foot-6 frame and leverage to separate as a middle-of-the-field chain-mover. That’s a really good fit for a Baltimore offense that utilizes two- and three-tight-end sets in the pass game. Paired with Mark Andrews (and fellow rookie Isaiah Likely), Kolar can produce as another reliable target who can uncover and find open grass for quarterback Lamar Jackson.
Drafted: Round 5, No. 153
I’m betting on the traits and the physical tools of Woolen, a 6-foot-4 corner with 4.26 speed. With pro coaching and more technical refinement, he has tremendous upside as a press/zone corner in the Seahawks’ defensive system. Woolen can match and carry vertically, with the length to create on-the-ball production.