The Rookies to Root For
When a team receives the first overall pick, it is usually a sure means to turn around a faltering franchise. That is not always the case, however. Instead, you get a JaMarcus Russell or a Tim Couch for every Peyton Manning. So, as the dust settles on the 2022 NFL draft, we thought we would look at some of the most highly touted players to feature in the coming season. These are the guys that, if you were looking at the college football odds, you wouldn’t back against their teams!
Aidan Hutchinson – Detroit Lions
The No. 2 overall pick is one of the first first-round picks to be formally signed. Aidan Hutchinson and the Detroit Lions agreed on his rookie contract on Monday. Hutchinson’s four-year contract is for $35,713,388 and includes a signing bonus of $23,153,372. His contract is fully guaranteed like other first-round rookie contracts and includes a fifth-year team option. Hutchinson is the highest draft pick to sign a rookie deal thus far and the second in the top five. Hutchinson was raised in the Detroit suburbs and attended Michigan for college football, so he’s a local boy expected to succeed in Detroit.
Hutchinson leads Detroit’s well-regarded draft class and is the Lions’ top pick in a defensive-heavy draft. He set a single-season record at Michigan last year with 14.0 sacks. He’ll be expected to enter the lineup and help a pass rush that ranks in the bottom five in nearly every statistical category.
Derek Stingley Jr – Houston Texans
Stingley Jr., a former five-star prospect and the nation’s top recruit, dominated at The Dunham School with his uncommon blend of agility and technically excellent play. As a freshman All-American at LSU, he didn’t miss a beat. Stingley Jr., who is 6-foot-190 pounds and runs the 40-yard dash in 4.37 seconds, proved he was over a surgically corrected Lisfranc ailment at his school pro-day tryout in Baton Rouge. As a result, the Texans designated him as the top cornerback on their draft board.
Houston reaffirmed their belief in Stingley, a Ballengee Sports client who will shortly be signed to a four-year, $34.6 million contract that includes a $22.3 million signing bonus and a fifth-year club option. The Texans anticipate a challenging but straightforward task for Stingley Jr. When the Texans drafted him, coach Lovie Smith stated that he intended to have him shadow opposing wide receivers every play.
Charles Cross – Seattle Seahawks
According to a report, if Charles Cross had not been available, the Seattle Seahawks would have likely traded down out of the No. 9 overall spot in the 2022 NFL draft. However, the Mississippi State OT was apparently the final candidate they were willing to pick at that position, and the board fell just right for them.
Given their track record with offensive line prospects, drafting Cross was perhaps the safest and best option they could make in Round 1; choosing a left tackle as soon as possible provided them with the best opportunity of finding a competent one. Cross is a tad undersized for a pro left tackle, and he occasionally struggled against power rushers. He is, however, a terrific athlete for his position, and his tape suggests that he has the potential to develop into a good starter.
Ahmad Gardner – New York Jets
Cincinnati cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, the Jets’ fourth-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, has signed his rookie contract with the team. Gardner, famed for his speed in coverage, becomes the quickest Jets first-round pick in the last 40 years, edging out DL Leonard Williams, who signed with the Jets on May 8, 2015.
The terms of Gardner’s contract were not published, but all NFL first-round picks are signed to four-year contracts with a fifth-year team option. Gardner got his feet wet as a pro by attending the Atlantic Health Training Center’s May 5-7 minicamp before joining his new seasoned colleagues for the early phases of the team’s Organized Team Activity practices.
Ikem Ekwonu – Carolina Panthers
After months of conjecture, false reports, and smokescreens, Ikem Ekwonu slid out of the top five and into the hands of the Carolina Panthers at No. 6 overall. Ekwonu grew up a Panthers fan, attending games at Bank of America Stadium. Now, the North Carolina State product will realize a childhood dream by taking the field and helping the team develop into a viable contender in the coming years.
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