2022 NFL Preseason Week 2 rookie grades: Steelers’ Kenny Pickett impresses

Published: Aug 22, 2022 at 03:13 PM

As I did last week, I’ve graded the performance of one rookie from each contest played thus far in Week 2 of the 2022 NFL preseason, with an update based on Monday night’s Falcons-Jets game to come on Tuesday. Again, these evaluations are not predictions of how players will fare this upcoming season, nor are they long-term career projections. Each mark simply takes stock of how the rookie played in Week 2.

Chicago Bears

The Bears selected three offensive linemen on the third day of the 2022 draft, including Thomas (Round 6, No. 186 overall). He primarily lined up at tackle for San Diego State but also played some guard, where the Bears lined him up Thursday night against the Seahawks. Chicago successfully ran behind Thomas on the left side, as he came off the ball low and hard, moving tackles out of the hole or pushing them five yards downfield. He also negated linebackers at the second level and showed his nasty side by sticking on blocks through the whistle. Thomas showed good movement skills at the NFL Scouting Combine (7.4-second three-cone drill at 308 pounds), which translated to an ability to hit targets when getting out in front of quick throws outside. In pass pro, he was generally sturdy but got caught leaning a bit at times and did not consistently pick up twists, giving up a sack. I thought his overall performance was worth noting, though, and it won’t be surprising if he’s starting at some point in the future.

Carolina Panthers

The Panthers’ first-round pick played in the first quarter against the Patriots. He showed some nice movement skills for his size, but defenders bounced off many of Ekwonu’s blocks because he failed to land his hands on their jerseys. He landed on his backside on an outside toss play to his side, as safety Kyle Dugger delivered a hit to the lineman’s chest. Later, Ekwonu gave up sacks on consecutive plays, once failing to stop a tackle-end twist and then getting beat by speed on the outside. He picked up the next twist and flashed powerful blocking in the run game, but his struggles maintaining his balance and using his feet and hands in concert made it a rough outing.

New Orleans Saints

The former Ohio State Buckeye worked mostly out of the slot in the first half against the Packers, though the Saints used him in motion on one snap and in a tight formation against the boundary on another. He’s always been a smooth route runner, so seeing him move fluidly was no surprise. Olave and quarterback Ian Book weren’t on the same page to start the game, with the receiver failing to stop for a back-shoulder throw against tight coverage. His first catch was on a quick third-and-long throw, which was defended well. The Packers did not cover Olave’s second reception well, though, as he worked into a soft spot in the Packers’ zone, adjusting to a ball thrown behind him and then staying upright into the end zone for a score late in the second quarter. He showed the sort of agility, flexibility and secure hands that made him a first-round selection. Olave did not show much physicality as a blocker early on but was squaring up defenders by the end of the half.

Los Angeles Rams

Durant’s slight frame was a bit of an issue on the Texans’ first offensive play, as big-bodied receiver Nico Collins carried Durant for a first down, but the young corner kept fighting, ripping the ball out late (though it bounced out of bounds). He blitzed as a nickel back a couple of plays later, running into a double team but eventually tripping up the scrambling Davis Mills for a sack. Durant lined up off the ball on most plays but was physical when man-up on the snap. He nearly intercepted a high pass late in the first half and worked hard on coverage units, drawing a penalty against the Texans as a gunner to back them up near their goal line to start one possession. He’ll be a factor on defense and special teams as a rookie.

Indianapolis Colts

For the second straight week, Cross looked more like a veteran starter than a rookie third-round pick. He played deep as a center fielder (in single- and two-deep looks) against the Lions, dropped down to cover tight ends and slot receivers with his plus athleticism and lined up in the box to play the run. Cross also played a couple snaps on special-teams units. He was credited with two tackles, including one against scrambling quarterback David Blough, but he was in the mix on other plays, covering a lot of ground. Cross’ highlight play came when he went high to knock away a third-down pass in the corner of the end zone, forcing a field goal. It appeared he was a bit late to recognize runs a couple of times from deep but it’s hard to find many faults with his play in a quarter-plus of game action.

Denver Broncos

Washington’s quickness and toughness have made him one of the most popular rookies among Broncos fans this summer. Working in the slot on the opening series, the fifth-round pick went over the middle and secured a reception, absorbing the hit he had to know was coming. Washington also lined up outside in the first half, getting past his man deep on one play, but the quarterback had already made a throw. In addition to being a physical receiver for his size, Washington showed fight as a run blocker. The special-teams star in college (five return scores) hesitated on the opening kickoff, stumbling into defenders after a 20-yard return. He ran through contact on his second return, though, maintaining his balance to get across the 35-yard line. Washington will likely win the team’s return job, but coaches should also find a spot for him on offense this season.

Washington Commanders

The first-round pick lined up outside and inside during the Commanders’ loss to the Chiefs. His quickness off the line was evident. On deeper routes, Dotson effectively used his hands to knock away those of his opponent, an underappreciated method of gaining separation. Washington’s quarterbacks did not find him downfield but did get him the ball: once on a quick throw and once on a shallow cross, after which he ran for first downs both times. Given Dotson’s slight build, big-bodied veterans like the Chiefs’ L’Jarius Sneed will make it tough for him off the line and downfield with their physical coverage. The rookie brought contact to defenders on a couple of run plays, though. If he continues to gain strength and win hand-fights at the top of his route, he will become an all-around playmaker. 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Hall started for the Bucs against Tennessee on Saturday, getting off the ball low for a 6-foot-6 lineman. He held the line of scrimmage well against backup right guards in the first quarter, staying square and landing strong hands. Hall was violent with those hands, as well, swiping aside his opponent to create space. It was tougher for him to make forward progress while facing left tackle Taylor Lewan at the five-technique spot during the game’s second series, though he battled the veteran on every snap. Hall’s only tackle came 24 yards downfield, showcasing his athleticism by tracking down Malik Willis on the sideline and pushing him out of bounds. Understandably tired, he ended up on the ground trying to stand up against a double-team on the next play. While the former Houston Cougar didn’t light up the stat sheet in the first half against the Titans, he showed he can collapse the pocket, effectively control his gap in the run game and make plays outside the box when needed.

San Francisco 49ers

Jackson, the 49ers’ top pick in the 2022 draft, lined up on the right side of the line in the first half and the left side in the second half. He fell trying to cut inside on a tackle-end stunt on the first series but got up quickly, pushing a running back into quarterback Kellen Mond, who threw an interception on the play. He won as a pass rusher on a few occasions against Vikings tackles, using a long-arm move or wiping away the blocker’s hands to get the inside lane. He found it harder to get an advantage as the game wore on, though, getting engulfed by blockers on several run and pass plays and ending up on the ground a couple of times. Jackson got movement versus the run game if tight ends or receivers tried taking him on and knocked down a screen pass despite losing his balance on the Vikings’ first series of the second half. There were enough good plays to qualify his outing as solid, but Jackson must continue to get stronger and stay upright when trying to turn the corner as a pass rusher if he wants to be a regular contributor this season.

Pittsburgh Steelers

The first quarterback off the board in the 2022 draft has performed well in his first two preseason games. He entered the win over the Jaguars in the second quarter and made a couple of strong throws right off the bat, one moving to his left and the other into a zone-coverage hole. He threw a powerful, on-time slant for a big gain on his second series and then showed excellent timing and touch on a seam throw to tight end Pat Freiermuth, standing in the pocket with a man in his face. He had a touchdown pass called back due to penalty, but running back Benny Snell made a catch in the flat on the next play and scored. The 2021 ACC Player of the Year looked like a professional quarterback.

Miami Dolphins

Tindall is known for his speed, which showed when he hustled across the field in pursuit of scrambling quarterback Chase Garbers on Saturday. Tindall’s athleticism also showed up in coverage, as he ran with tight ends over the middle and in the end zone, and even versus a running back who had moved outside before the snap. The former Georgia Bulldog showed he’s not just a speed guy, however, stopping a back in his tracks and limiting him to a short gain between the tackles on his first series. He looked to be willing to take on blockers inside, too. Tindall did not always find the ball and must work on his awareness of routes when in zone, but he should be effective working against tight ends and playing the run as a rookie.

Dallas Cowboys

Smith’s size and athleticism helped make him a first-round pick this spring, but the left guard’s two holding calls and uneven play in his preseason debut against the Broncos showed he has some work to do before becoming a reliable starter. He did well in some areas against the Chargers on Saturday, anchoring without an issue in pass protection and moving opponents off the ball in the run game. He put on a power-blocking clinic in the second quarter, using his hands and moving his feet to create a lane for a nine-yard red-zone run. Smith’s athleticism helps him get to linebackers and safeties at the second level and move laterally with pass rushers. He leans into his man so much, however, that better tackles can shed him and cause him to lose his balance. Smith stood up after the snap on a couple of occasions in short-yardage situations, losing a little ground instead of pushing forward. While the former Tulsa left tackle was not called for holding in this contest, he had a costly false start on a third-and-7 near the end of the first half. Smith must improve in a few areas but flashes the ability to successfully transition inside to guard in the NFL.

Cleveland Browns

Bell, a third-round pick this year, is primarily used in the slot despite his tall frame (6-1, 212) and lack of elite speed. He can beat nickel defenders with strength and precise routes. Bell sat down in a zone for a first down on his initial catch against the Eagles, cradling the ball and going to the ground but showing his football IQ by reaching for extra yards before being touched. A ball went through the former Purdue star’s hands in the second quarter, forcing a 50-yard field goal attempt by fellow rookie Cade York (which he made!). Bell caught two other passes in the first half, one to the sideline for a first down and another over the middle, where he spun off a tackle attempt to gain nine yards. He allowed those passes into his chest instead of trusting his hands to secure the ball, however, which could be an issue down the line when battling veteran corners downfield. Bell provides some physicality as a blocker in the run game and on screens but must sustain more consistently.

New York Giants

Thibodeaux was ruled out of Sunday’s game after suffering a right knee injury early in the second quarter. An MRI on Monday revealed he suffered a sprained MCL and has a recovery timeline of about three weeks, per NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport. The grade from his performance against Cincinnati reflects how he performed prior to the play in which he sustained the injury, on a cut-block by tight end Thaddeus Moss.

Thibodeaux did not win many pass-rush reps in his quarter-plus of game action versus the Bengals, getting after quarterback Brandon Allen from two- and three-point stances. He flashed potential, turning the corner by dipping under the blocker’s shoulder, but Allen sidestepped those advances. His bull-rush attempts were generally stymied by left tackles. In the run game, he was not able to shake linemen or tight ends, though most plays were run away from him. Thibodeaux did a nice job against tight ends in coverage and showed good movement skills for his size when dropping into his zone (just as he did at Oregon). He used his length to wrap up a receiver in space but hesitated a bit before attacking. He’ll get to the ball more quickly as he gains experience.

Baltimore Ravens

Hamilton played 85 percent of the Ravens’ defensive snaps in their win over the Cardinals. He was in the box regularly, blitzing a couple of times and knocking away a red-zone throw using his 6-4 frame, 38-inch vertical leap and excellent hand-eye coordination. Hamilton shed a tight end in the run game early on and ran through a receiver block on a quick screen when near the line. He was especially impressive locking down tight ends in man coverage, including Cardinals second-round pick Trey McBride, with smooth movement and physicality. When aligned deep, Hamilton displayed the range he showed at Notre Dame, covering the width of the field to prevent explosive plays and using long strides to angle back into the deep middle. Hamilton did the dirty work on special teams, too, blocking for punts and playing on kickoff returns and coverage. The rookie got turned around in the open field once in the first half and could not stop a third-down conversion in the open field in the fourth quarter. He also left a receiver open on a third-and-goal late in the first half, though the throw fell incomplete. Nevertheless, Hamilton showed the overall skill set that led the Ravens to select him in the first round.

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