Why the 2022 NFL Rookie Class has high expectations: Recent drafts tell the story

Travon Walker, Aidan Hutchinson, Derek Stingley Jr. and the other 259 picks in the 2022 NFL Draft will want to thank — or curse — the previous four draft classes, which raised the bar for year one expectations.

The 2018-21 draft classes are the four most productive classes in their rookie seasons since the seven-round draft began in 1994, in terms of Pro Football Reference’s “approximate value,” which, by its definition, “attempts to put a number on the seasonal value of a player at any position. Players in these draft classes played more snaps and contributed faster than any Year 1 class in recent history.

Perhaps the draft picks are more poised than ever for the NFL to contribute and thrive right away. Maybe the head coaches adapted better to the players coming out of college. Perhaps NFL teams prefer cheaper labor by using their drafted players as soon as possible, especially during their rookie seasons. It’s probably a mixture of these factors.

Still, it’s not just hyperbole to say that rookies have made an impact earlier in the past few years.

For reference, here is a general idea of ​​the type of player corresponding to each numerical value:

  • 10+ AV (in about top 120 players this season; mostly Pro Bowl-level players; most starting quarterbacks)
  • 8-9 AV (about top 121-270; some Pro Bowl players, but overall very influential players)
  • 5-7 AV (about top 271-600; solid starters and rotating contributors).

Below is an overview of the overall Year 1 VA of each draft class over the past 20 seasons:

Class AV rookie draft since 2002

(TOTALDCAV: total approximate value of the draft class)

Class AV rookie draft since 2002

YEAR

TOTALDCAV

RANK

2021

595

3

2020

604

2

2019

588

4

2018

611

1

2017

545

7

2016

553

6

2015

523

12

2014

535

8

2013

535

8

2012

566

5

2011

535

8

2010

484

13

2009

465

15

2008

444

18

2007

418

20

2006

531

11

2005

447

17

2004

473

14

2003

419

19

2002

461

16

The 2006 class seemed like an anomaly at the time. Rookies like Colts tailback Joseph Addai (15 AV), Jaguars tailback Maurice Jones-Drew (13), Chargers linebacker Marcus McNeill (13), Saints tailback Reggie Bush (12), Bears wide receiver Devin Hester (12) and Saints wide receiver Marques Colston (10) was the headliner in this category.

The 2007 class obviously did not follow well. Only three players finished Year 1 with an AV over 10: 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis (17), Vikings running back Adrian Peterson (12), and Browns left tackle Joe Thomas (11). And only six draft picks have finished with an AV over 8.

The rise really started in 2011. Cardinals cornerback (and All-Pro returner) Patrick Peterson finished that season with a 22 AV as a rookie, which ranked second in the league, behind Cardinals quarterback. Packers Aaron Rodgers, who won the league MVP. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton amassed an AV 19, tied for seventh in the league.

Classes after 2011 brought incremental increases. The past four years have blown them all out of the water, though, and it all started with the 2018 class, led by players like Colts linebacker Darius Leonard and guard Quenton Nelson.

Below is an overview of the top AVs in each of the last four classes for Year 1. Each chart displays draft picks with an AV of 8 or higher:

Last year featured the most rookies with an AV of 10 or more since 1994. A player with an AV of 10 or more means that player ranked in the top 100-120 players in that particular season , depending on how the metric ranks players each year. In 2021, Pro Football Reference placed a value of over 10 out of 104 players. Eight of them were beginners.

Fourth-year Bills quarterback Josh Allen led the league with a AV 19 last season, but Cowboys rookie linebacker Micah Parsons was right behind him, tied for second in the league with Montreal quarterback Chargers Justin Herbert, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp.

The Chiefs also found two good offensive linemen in this draft, with center Creed Humphrey (second round) and guard Trey Smith (sixth round). I also thought Broncos cornerback Patrick Surtain II would be among the players in the graphic above. Surtain finished with a 7 AV, which is always good for a cornerback, tied for 10th among all corners last season.

And of the five quarterbacks selected to the top 15 picks, only the Patriots’ Mac Jones made it onto that list. He started all 17 games for the Patriots in his rookie year, with a 67.6 completion percentage and 22 touchdowns. The Jaguars’ Trevor Lawrence came next with a 7 AV.

Commanders edged rusher Chase Young and Panthers defensive back Jeremy Chinn tied with 16 other players for 24th in the NFL with a 14 AV.

What’s also telling, though, is how Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow finished his rookie season with just a 7 AV, thanks in part to his season-ending knee injury, reducing his first year to 10 games. Burrow earned an AV 15 last season en route to a Super Bowl appearance. Meanwhile, Justin Herbert’s 13 AV in his rookie season tied him with 11 players for 42nd with fellow quarterbacks Teddy Bridgewater, Philip Rivers, Matt Ryan and Matthew Stafford.

You could say Buccaneers tackle Tristan Wirfs had the most significant impact of anyone on this chart. Wirfs solidified Tampa Bay’s good tackle, giving Tom Brady the protection the quarterback needed in the pocket until a Super Bowl win.

And the Eagles could still kick themselves for taking another wide receiver (Jalen Reagor) a pick before the Vikings’ Justin Jefferson rolled off the board. They are still trying to address that incident, most recently trading for AJ Brown in the 2022 draft.

The 2019 class seemed less about the first round and more about overall depth, given that the 2019 first-round picks rank 10th in first-year AV (more on that below).

For example, “Minshew Madness” had an impact after the Jaguars quickly pushed the sixth-round quarterback into the lineup. Additionally, 49ers second-round receivers Brown and Deebo Samuel have proven to be invaluable.

Meanwhile, Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray was tied with 11 others for 26th in the league in 2019. And Niners rusher Nick Bosa helped prove he deserved to be the No. 2 pick.

As for Giants quarterback Daniel Jones, he never eclipsed a 9 AV in his first three seasons. Strong quarterbacks are usually in the double digits at forward. This metric is another example of why Jones’ future in New York after the 2022 season is in serious jeopardy.

Leonard had a monster impact in his rookie season, much like Parsons. The Colts defenseman tied for third in the AV with then-Rams quarterback Jared Goff and then-Chiefs width Tyreek Hill. Oddly enough, Leonard missed the Pro Bowl and still landed as a first-team All Pro his rookie season. Leonard led the league in total tackles (163) and solo tackles (111).

Nelson wasn’t too far behind, tied for 20th in forwards in 2018, alongside Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore, Saints running back Alvin Kamara and tackle Ryan Ramczyk and Ravens linebacker CJ Mosley.

Quarterbacks also played a major storyline in this draft. No. 1 pick Baker Mayfield was the only passer to reach double digits in AV. The Ravens’ Lamar Jackson probably would have hit double digits had he started the full season.

Then there was Sam Darnold of the Jets and Bills QB Josh Allen with a 7 AV. One quarterback has remained essentially the same over the years, while the other has a case for being one of the best players in the NFL these days.

As for Giants running back Saquon Barkley, his 14 AV in 2018 was just one less than his AV of the last three seasons combined (15).


Overall value comes from every pick in every round, not just the first round. This has been well documented from the classes exposed above. But hitting top picks early certainly seems to be part of the trend, with three of the top four first-round classes (2021, ’20, ’18) also making the top four overall.

AV First Round Rookie Class

(TOTALRD1AV: total approximate value of lap 1)

Year TotalRd1AV Rank

2021

199

2

2020

189

4

2019

169

ten

2018

206

1

2017

142

18

2016

147

16

2015

154

13

2014

166

11

2013

173

7

2012

181

5

2011

197

3

2010

173

7

2009

151

14

2008

173

7

2007

166

11

2006

175

6

2005

132

19

2004

149

15

2003

122

20

2002

143

17

There’s this 2011 class that sneaks into the top four. Adding Peterson and Newton are Broncos rusher Von Miller (12), Bengals wide AJ Green (10), Falcons wide Julio Jones (10), Texans rusher JJ Watt (10) and left tackle of the Cowboys Tyron Smith (9). Pretty strong group, I would say.

The 2019 class was not as heavy as the others over the past four years in terms of “value” in the first round of the first year. Bucs linebacker Devin White likely would have been a double-digit player if he hadn’t missed three games. And seven of the players in the class with an AV of 8 or more were drafted outside of the first round. This is the most non-Day 1 picks of any class with these values ​​in the past four years.

The rankings varied significantly between the general classes and the first-round classes. What that tells me is that teams now rely more on the whole draft to play earlier.

The snapshot tally of draft picks over the past decade also tells the story. The increase in values ​​over the past four seasons coincides with the rise in total offensive and defensive snaps from Year 1 picks since 2013 (totals via TruMedia). I added the average number of weekly snaps because the 2021 season added a 17th game:

Rookie draft pick kicks in

Year snaps Weekly average

2021

72847

4285.1

2020

68964

4310.3

2019

69070

4316.9

2018

70574

4410.9

2017

63531

3970.7

2016

65845

4115.3

2015

61752

3859.5

2014

64795

4049.7

2013

65548

4096.8

The narrative surrounding the 2022 NFL Draft class centers on this crop being less heavy than some of the past few years. As 2019 has shown, it’s not just about round 1 to produce value in the first year. Either way, it looks like teams are more willing to play draft picks sooner and more often than ever. These clear trends point to higher expectations in general for a freshman draft class.

Can the Class of 2022 deliver?

(Photo by Micah Parsons and Rashawn Slater: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

About Christian M.

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