Sauce Gardner, Garrett Wilson Highlight 2022 All-Rookie Team

New York Jets CB Sauce Gardner
New York Jets CB Sauce Gardner
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Week 17 - By the time you're reading this, the holiday season will be more or less over. Did you get what you wanted? A new video game? A comfy robe? A shutdown cornerback? Yes, it's time for the end-of-year tradition to beat all other end-of-year traditions; the naming of the annual All-Rookie team.

The end of the year always gives us a much-awaited look at the Spirit of Superstars Yet to Come, a chance to acknowledge some of the guys who we'll be writing about over the next decade (and a few flashes in the pan besides). It's nice, after months and months of pre-draft hype, to go back and look at who actually managed to succeed from the opening gun. Obviously, we do end up with a lot of ultra-hyped prospects on these lists, because they're the ones who get the opportunities from the word go, but it's nice to see high first-round picks mingling with late-round flyers—there's a lot of talent to go around.

And this year, it seems that the late-round talent has been flashing more than normal. Yes, 11 of our 25 players were first-round picks, but that of course means that more than half of the players on our roster weren't. There are more undrafted free agents on the team then second-round picks, and more Day 3 selections than Day 2 players.

Usual selection rules apply: a starting lineup with modern 11 personnel and a nickel defense, plus a trio of special-teamers and a coaching staff. Names in bold are the picks, though we'll tip our hats to other worthy candidates in the write-ups. There were some real tough choices this year—some positions were overflowing with viable candidates, while others were, well, not. But you don't have to outrun the bear to make this team, just the other rookies in your class. Also, note that these are my votes rather than an Official Football Outsiders consensus, so hurl all invective appropriately.

With that out of the way, let's hand out some awards!



How do you value season-long value over brief flashes? Answer that question, and you'll have your quarterback.

For weeks, I was expecting to give this spot to Kenny Pickett, essentially by default. He's the only rookie quarterback in the class to top 300 snaps to this point, taking over in Pittsburgh in Week 5. It's hard to justify giving anyone else a season-long title after essentially three-and-a-half games of action. There are only three other passers over 200 snaps—Malik Willis, who has not looked ready for prime time in Tennessee; the brief Baily Zappe era in New England; and Mr. Irrelevant himself.

We keep waiting for Brock Purdy to be exposed in San Francisco, for Kyle Shanahan to run out of tricks and for the seventh-round to regress to the expected mean. A labored delivery; a lack of confidence and consistency; lacking the timing to beat corners outside the numbers. Maybe Purdy will turn into a pumpkin as teams get a more complete book on him, but so far, the 49ers haven't missed a beat going from Jimmy Garoppolo to Purdy. Purdy already has more deep touchdown passes than Garoppolo has put up over the past three seasons, he has displayed impressive mobility in the pocket to keep plays alive, and he has been hitting the San Francisco YAC machine enough to keep everything rolling. Purdy is only the second quarterback ever to have multiple touchdown passes and a 100+ passer rating in each of his first three starts, joining Dan Marino. If you prefer more advanced numbers, Purdy's 13.7% DVOA would rank seventh if he had enough attempts to qualify for our leaderboards. Is that inflated by the system and talent around him? Most assuredly yes. But Pickett's DVOA is -13.0% in Pittsburgh. The gap between the two players is smaller than our numbers would suggest, but even with all the system caveats and small sample sizes, Purdy has been the most impressive rookie by far. Not a bad use of the 262nd pick in the draft.

Running Back

Going to go a little off the beaten path here as the guy who has impressed me the most and is leading in our numbers isn't one of the players people have pegged for trophies at the end of the season.

That's not to say the stars aren't deserving of note! Kenneth Walker is among the betting favorites for Offensive Rookie of the Year, second to only Garrett Wilson. His nine rushing touchdowns are more than double any of the other rookies as he came in and produced when Seattle suffered injuries at the running back position. But his advanced numbers aren't really that great—a -14.3% rushing DVOA and -48 combined rushing and receiving DYAR. The leader in raw production is Houston's Dameon Pierce, the only rookie back to go over 1,000 yards from scrimmage this season. His advanced numbers are fairly disappointing as well, with -48 DYAR and a -12.6% rushing DVOA, though I give him a little more credit for working in a much less talented Houston offense. Honestly, both players have been good for rookies; there's something to be said for being trusted enough to handle a heavy load from the gun. But I think we can do a little better.

Brian Robinson is worthy of a mention too. Coming back from getting shot in the knee to play a significant role for a team making a playoff push? Fantastic. And James Cook has been solid in limited action in Buffalo. But I'm instead going to tip it to DYAR's clear winner, Tyler Allgeier. Allgeier has 214 combined DYAR, placing him in the top 10 for all running backs this year; his 15.1% rushing DVOA is in the top 10 as well. And it's not like he's doing this in a tiny sample size; he's third among rookies with 944 yards from scrimmage, just behind Pierce and Walker. I think the gap between Allgeier and the bigger names isn't as big as our numbers have it, but Allgeier has been a pleasant surprise and one of the few bright spots of the Atlanta offense, continuing to maintain value and take snaps away from Cordarrelle Patterson even as the latter came back healthy. The fifth-round pick is our guy.

Wide Receivers

We get to start three receivers, which is nice, because then we don't have to really debate whether Garrett Wilson or Chris Olave is tops among the rookies. Olave has the significant advantage in DYAR and DVOA, but he also didn't have Zach Wilson throwing for him for half the year. Wilson has more receptions for more yards; Olave has more yards per target and a higher catch rate. I think it's safe to say that neither the Jets nor Saints regret spending a first-round pick on either receiver.

The third pick is tough. Drake London was going to be the selection for most of the year. Hhe's third in the class with 61 receptions and has had to play a significant role in Atlanta; he has more than 40 targets more than any other Falcons receiver, with only Kyle Pitts and Olamide Zaccheaus coming within half of his total. But Christian Watson has been on fire since Week 10. His emergence helped Green Bay's passing offense figure itself out, going from a 10.9% DVOA in Weeks 1 to 9 to 35.8% since. The impact Watson's speed has made on Green Bay's offense slips him past London's volume.

Tight End

The rookie leader in DYAR among tight ends is Tennessee's Chigoziem Okonkwo, who carved out more and more time over Austin Hooper as the year went along. Whether he can maintain that lead if Ryan Tannehill misses the remainder of the season remains to be seen, but Okonkwo has been a legitimate deep threat as a rookie tight end. He has 14.8 yards per reception, putting him in the neighborhood of what Kyle Pitts did last year (albeit on significantly less volume). It took a while for Okonkwo to carve out playing time, but an 18.2% receiving DVOA, sixth in the league, speaks for itself. Austin Hooper's a good player; Okonkwo may have made him expendable. A hat-tip to Dallas' Jake Ferguson and New York's Daniel Bellinger as well.


I was tempted briefly just to name both Seattle rookie tackles to the team and call it a day. While that may seem excessive for the last-ranked team in adjusted line yards, Seattle's issues are more on the interior than on their bookends, who have stepped in and played well from Day 1. I'm going to take the lower-drafted Abraham Lucas over first-rounder Charles Cross; his 2.5% blown block rate tops Cross' 3.3% and so he gets the nod, but both are worth acknowledging.

But I can't give it to both Seahawks, because there have been solid performers all over the league; it's looking like a bumper crop of tackles. I strongly considered Chicago's Braxton Jones or Los Angeles' Jamaree Salyer, a pair of Day 3 picks who look like long-term starters, but Tyler Smith solidified his spot on the team by shutting down the vaunted Philadelphia pass rush on Christmas Eve. Smith has been pancaking players all season long, filling in at left tackle for the injured Tyron Smith and then taking over the role full-time so Tyron could fill in on the right. That the Cowboys decided to keep the rookie at left tackle and move the two-time All-Pro to right tackle speaks volume to the trust they have in Tyler and the power he has displayed in his first season.


It's a shame that Tyler Smith spent so much time at tackle and not at guard, which was the original plan for his rookie season. Because while we have a surplus of quality rookie tackles, our options at guard are … slimmer. Zion Johnson has been a consistently solid run-blocker for the Chargers, even if his pass protection needs work. After him, we really do have to dip down into the dregs. Minnesota's Ed Ingram has, at least, seen his play quality slowly rise over the course of the year, even if his 21 blown passing blocks leads all right guards. When your second-best choice is the guy who has stepped on Kirk Cousins' foot on three separate occasions, you know this a weak position, but it's not like first-round picks Kenyon Green or Cole Strange have exactly covered themselves in glory this year. The interior line will just have to be a weakness for our All-Rookie team—at least, until you get to center.


The easiest selection on the entire squad? Baltimore's Tyler Linderbaum. Linderbaum could have easily made the Pro Bowl (and still might as an alternate) as he has come in and been one of the best run-blocking interior linemen in the game from Day 1. Baltimore is fifth in adjusted line yards up the middle (compared to 19th overall) in part because Linderbaum has been bludgeoning people all year long. Linderbaum would have gotten the nod even against stiff competition; the fact that Luke Fortner is the only other rookie center with any sort of work at all makes this decision exceptionally simple.


Edge Rusher

Three edge rushers went in the top five of the draft, and we're grabbing the two who were considered more pro-ready from the gun as they have mostly lived up to expectations. In Detroit, Aidan Hutchinson has been the first rookie to have five sacks, two interceptions, and a fumble recovery since 2010. He started the year a little awkward, very up-and-down, but found his footing and was named Rookie of the Month in November. He leads all rookies with 24 pressures, the only one with more than 20 at the moment.

Kayvon Thibodeaux got off to a slow start as well, but he's a league leader too—nine quarterback hits, more than any other rookie. His performance against Washington is his signature piece so far—12 tackles, three TFLs, and a sack, forced fumble, fumble recovery, and touchdown. He's not quite at star levels as those pressures and hits aren't fully translating into sacks just yet. But they will come, and he has ramped his pressure rate up dramatically as he has gotten healthy and comfortable.

I almost squeezed Atlanta's Arnold Ebiketie onto the list, but ultimately decided that would have been being contrary for the sake of being contrary. In more limited action, the Jets look like they have a pair of solid picks in Jermaine Johnson and Michael Clemons too. But sometimes, the guys with all the hype are the guys with all the hype for a reason.

Interior Lineman

Like at guard, we don't exactly have a huge selection of interior linemen to choose from. Unlike guard, we don't even have a lot of people with tons of work to choose between; no rookie interior lineman has recorded 400 defensive snaps yet. So we're left with choosing the OKest role players to fill the interior of our line.

Jordan Davis was expected to be good, and he has been solid enough … when he has been healthy. He has had a snakebitten season, spending a month on injured reserve with an ankle injury. He's out again at the moment with a concussion. He hasn't recorded more than 15 defensive snaps in a game since Week 8. But when he has been on the field, he has been a stout run defender, especially when he gets to play nose rather than getting kicked outside. With better health, he'd be a clear pick; instead, he gets in due to the weak field. We're going with Denver's sixth-round pick Matt Henningsen for our other slot, because there was a stretch there where he was getting 25% to 30% of the snaps for a top-five defense. That's faint praise, for sure, but he was solid enough and, more importantly, there's really not another option. The other first-round lineman, Devonte Wyatt, has been stuck behind Dean Lowry all season and is only now really getting a chance to see significant playing time. And no one else has exactly jumped off the page—this has not yet been a banner class for the big uglies in the middle.


Another position relatively thin on the ground, as this year's class has not been great for defensive interiors. Green Bay's Quay Walker has been a polarizing player to start his career, and the next big play he makes in run defense will be his first. But as a coverage player, Walker is living up to his draft status. He leads all qualified linebackers with just 3.2 yards per target allowed. He hesitates too much, leaving him out of position against the run game, but when he gets going, you can see the traits that made him a first-round pick.

Malcom Rodriguez was not a first-round pick, but he has started 13 games for Detroit and held his head above water. His 56% stop rate ranks 27th out of 98 linebackers, and he's near the top of the leaderboards with 10 rush defeats. Detroit's defense has scuffled for most of the year, but Rodriguez looks to be part of the long-term solution. Not bad for a sixth-rounder! And when most of the other rookies with serious playtime have been scuffling, you take what you can get. Chicago's Jack Sanborn—a UDFA who stepped into a major role with Roquan Smith gone—would be the alternative, but considering he played just one defensive snap before Week 8, I went with someone who made a broader impact over the course of the season.


There are a half-dozen cornerbacks this year who would deserve consideration for an All-Rookie team. And then there's Sauce Gardner, alone in a tier by himself. Gardner made the Pro Bowl; Gardner may well make the All-Pro team; Gardner may already be the best cornerback in the league, and opposing quarterbacks are treating him accordingly. Detroit went all game without targeting him once, and only one team in the past six weeks have thrown more than three passes his way. Why risk it? He's your defensive rookie of the year for sure—and the Jets may well sweep both awards, with Gardner and Garrett Wilson both exceeding even the lofty expectations that top-10 picks bring with them.

There are a number of other corners we could pick to go alongside Gardner. Dallas' DaRon Bland, New England's Jack Jones, and Kansas City's Trent McDuffie are all worth acknowledging; this year's corners run deep. But instead, we're going with Seattle's Tariq Woolen and Miami's Kader Kohou. Woolen has already established himself as a top-tier ballhawk. He leads the league with six interceptions and will be joining Gardner in Las Vegas for the Pro Bowl. Undrafted Kohou is the most-targeted player in football, but he has held his ground with a very impressive 6.6 yards per target. Miami has had a depleted secondary for most of the year, and Kohou has taken those opportunities and played very well.


Kyle Hamilton is the clear best rookie safety this year, head and shoulders above the competition. He started out the year unsure of himself and prone to mistakes, but he's blossoming into a versatile, jack-of-all trades type. With his explosion, he has been productive as a blitzer, as a man-to-man cover guy against tight ends, and flowing downhill in run support. He has gone from a rotational player who looked lost at times to a key player in Baltimore's defense.

Kerby Joseph led the Pro Bowl voting for NFC free safeties, which feels a little much. But Joseph has been solid filling in for the injured Tracy Walker—more so at the beginning of the season, when he was forcing fumbles and snagging interceptions, then in more recent weeks where missed tackles have reared its head. But he was good enough to begin the year, and has taken on enough of a load in the Detroit secondary, to stand out over the non-Hamilton options. Chicago's Jaquan Brisker deserves acknowledgement as well.

Special Teams


Cameron Dicker, the Chargers kicker, rose to the top of our leaderboards and couldn't be quicker. His +2.3 weather adjusted field goal points lead all rookies despite playing for two teams and only half the year. Dicker has opened his career 18-for-19 on field goals and perfect on extra points, making every single kick below 50 yards. His field goal percentage is raised by Brandon Staley's frustrating tendency to kick chip shots, but you can only make the kicks you're asked to make! Plus, the only other rookie kicker with significant work this season, Cade York, is just 23-of-31. York was a fourth-round pick. Dicker was an undrafted free agent. Don't draft kickers.


With two games to go, Titans punter Ryan Stonehouse is still averaging 53.4 yards per punt. The NFL record has stood at 51.4 for decades, with Sammy Baugh setting the mark in 1940. And Baugh had the advantage of quick kicks at his disposal, able to get the benefit of rolls on punts with no returner lined up. Baugh's kicks on early downs included five punts of 70-plus yards, inflating his average. Stonehouse doesn't get that luxury; the Titans' offense isn't bad enough that they punt on first down just yet. Stonehouse's ability to flip field position is a legitimate weapon in Tennessee's arsenal. And, again, he was an undrafted free agent. Don't draft punters.


New England's Marcus Jones needs to be on this team, though the question is as what? Jones has a few receptions, including a 48-yard touchdown against Buffalo. He has a pair of interceptions, including a 69-yard touchdown against Cincinnati. And he leads the league in yards on punt returns, yards per punt return, and punt return touchdowns, with an 84-yard score against New York. Jones has made an impact on all three phases of the game. We're choosing to award him for his return value; he leads all players with +10.0 return points on punt returns and has a healthy +1.4 on kickoff returns, too. But Jones' value kind of transcends position at this point in time; it'll be fascinating to see how New England figures out how best to get the ball in his hands in the future.

Coaching Staff

Head Coach

We expected the Giants to be a disaster this season. They were dead last in our DVOA projections. Four of us picked them to have the first overall pick. Instead? They're 8-6-1 and on the verge of a playoff berth. Even if they end up missing out—entirely possible as their early success wasn't really sustainable and they have come back to the pack a bit—the turnaround engineered by Brian Daboll puts every coach who ever complained about needing time to get established to shame. The Giants hadn't had eight wins in a full season since 2016; Daboll has made them relevant once more despite the lack of talent in the receiving corps or on the offensive line. More work is needed to keep the Giants relevant in years to come, but Daboll's first impression has been a phenomenal one.

Offensive Coordinator

There are only two first-time offensive coordinators in the league this season who a) call the offensive plays and b) do not work under an offensive-minded head coach who oversees the show. One is Buffalo's Ken Dorsey, and while Buffalo's offense has been good, I give more credit there to Josh Allen being Josh Allen than Dorsey's play calling. The other is Ben Johnson, who officially replaced Anthony Lynn as Detroit's offensive coordinator this season after rising up through the ranks last year. If you want to disqualify him for earning a "passing game coordinator" title last season, so be it. But Johnson's offense is currently sixth in DVOA and has revived Jared Goff's career; he's already drawing head coaching buzz despite not yet completing a full season in charge. Johnson's creative usage of personnel, formations, and motion have helped breath new life into Detroit, and if they make the playoffs this year, he deserves a Lions' share of the credit (sorry, not sorry).

Defensive Coordinator

Never mind the last couple weeks when the entire team has fallen apart; Ejiro Evero's defense in Denver was the one thing keeping the Broncos' season from just falling into complete disarray. At points the best defense in the league by DVOA, Evero's modified version of Vic Fangio's scheme kept the Broncos in games early in the year while the offense was busy attempting bonkers field goals and fizzling out in the red zone. Denver's defense eventually got overwhelmed by having to be on the field constantly and the general malaise that set in when it became clear that no, things were not going to turn around, but Evero's early success has him in the head coaching discussion.


20 comments, Last at 05 Jan 2023, 2:35am

#1 by Bryan Knowles // Dec 29, 2022 - 3:23am

Keep Choppin' Wood.

Patrick Star, take it away.

The byelaws of the Keep Choppin' Wood award are arcane and complicated, but one simple one is this: if you are roasted on national television by a cartoon character, you qualify. Russell Wilson, let's ride.

Points: 0

#2 by Led // Dec 29, 2022 - 3:27pm

Breece Hall deserves a mention among the rookie RBs, as he was clearly the best before he got hurt, but I can't argue with giving Allgeier the actual award for doing it over a full season.

Points: 0

#4 by HumanJester // Dec 29, 2022 - 6:31pm

Hard to believe RG Spencer Burford didn't even get a mention in a piece written by a SF fan.

Points: 0

#14 by Kaepernicus // Dec 31, 2022 - 9:16am

I was thinking the same thing. The fact that SF keeps using him in a platoon with Brunskill probably disqualifies him though. He will be the full time starter next year though when Brunskill moves to RT and McG takes his bad pass blocking/good run blocking to wherever.

Points: 0

#5 by BlueStarDude // Dec 30, 2022 - 7:44am

Maybe the format should just be the five best OL? Either that or Tyler Smith had logged some snaps at guard (even before last night), so you could have fudged that a bit. Besides that, nice writing, as usual.

Points: 0

#6 by Eggolas // Dec 30, 2022 - 10:15am

Sure, FO has extreme doubts about the Vikings, but not even a mention of KOC as rookie head coach?

Points: 1

#7 by Bob Smith // Dec 30, 2022 - 11:15am

Bryan-   you are right about Brock Purdy's start. Those 1st three starts are impressive but not quite up there with Mahomes and Warner.  Brock's avg. Passer Rating of 121.9 is very good but not as good as Warner's 130.2.   But it is better than Mahomes' 119.6          (Marino is at 116.3)                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Brock's 6 total TD passes is behind Mahomes at 10 and Warner at 9 (Marino is at 8). Purdy has the most Int's at 3 while Mahomes only had 1 and Warner and Marino each had 2.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Brock's 636 passing yards are way behind Warner at 894 and Mahomes at 866, but the leader is Herbert at 931. (Marino had 704)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         It will be interesting to see where Purdy stands after his 1st five starts, but he will have to play better to keep up with Mahomes and Warner

Points: -1

#9 by Bob Smith // Dec 30, 2022 - 12:10pm

I guess I should add Herbert along with Mahomes and Warner All 3 had very impressive stats after 5 starts. Warner led in TD passes with 15 while Mahomes had 14 and Herbert and Marino had 12 each.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Herbert had the most Passing Yards at 1542 while Mahomes had 1484, Warner had 1328, and Marino had 1177.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Mahomes only had 1 Int. while the other three all had 3 Int's. Warner had the best avg. Passer Rating at 125.4 while Mahomes had 112.7. Herbert had 110.9. and Marino was at 107.8                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           So like I said, Purdy better step it up in his next 2 starts.

Points: -1

#10 by Bob Smith // Dec 30, 2022 - 2:42pm

When Purdy gets to his 2nd year in the NFL he will still be trying to keep up with Warner and Mahomes.While Mahomes put up the biggest numbers ever for a QB in their 2nd year in the NFL in the Regular Season, nobody has matched Kurt Warner's 2nd YEAR yet.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Warner was the Regular Season MVP and also the Super Bowl winning QB and MVP of the game. Nobody has matched that yet in their 2nd YEAR in the NFL.

Points: 0

#19 by hifidelity // Jan 02, 2023 - 4:48pm

Mrs. Warner is better at formatting

Points: 1

#8 by superglucose // Dec 30, 2022 - 11:18am

No Spencer Burford at Guard? He's played well all year.

Points: 0

#11 by Jetspete // Dec 30, 2022 - 3:34pm

With sauce, Wilson and potentially Hallthe jets shockingly have a young core to build around. Add in a new contract for Q as well as JJs potential we have promise for the first time in ages 

Points: 2

#12 by big10freak // Dec 31, 2022 - 7:00am

Packers 2022 draft looks promising.  Along with Walker the other first rounder has looked good when allowed on the field and why those opportunities have been so limited remain a mystery as Dean Lowry was awful until getting hurt.  Doubs missed a good amount of time but also looks like he can play so he and Watson could be a good duo in the near future 


Zach Tom has filled in well at tackle.  Engabare has set a solid edge and regularly compresses the pocket on pass attempts.  Tariq Carpenter has been very good on special teams 


In a frustrating season it’s not the rookies who are the problem 

Points: 0

#15 by andrew // Dec 31, 2022 - 11:06am

I'm okay with Brian Daboll as the selection for head coach, but I would have thought there would be at least some mention of Kevin O'Connell.   When you vastly exceed pythagoras at least some of that is coaching, right?  



Points: 1

#16 by KnotMe // Dec 31, 2022 - 1:00pm

I guess he doesn't say anything but I always forget KOC exists. He's like the stealth coach. He does get weirdly low coverage for rookie coach of a team that could get the #2 seed. 

Points: 1

#18 by Phil // Dec 31, 2022 - 6:23pm

Was George Pickens forgotten? Seems like an easy selection.

Points: 0

#20 by Mr Shush // Jan 05, 2023 - 2:35am

Subjectively, Pierce was outstanding but held back by atrocious interior line play, lousy play calling and a non-existent passing game. Opposing defences were able to focus solely on stopping him and he was still productive. Tunsil aside, the rest of the Texans offense was mind-numbing.

Points: 0

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