Top 10 rookie debuts of the 2022 NFL season: Drake London, Dominique Robinson stand out

Each week of the 2022 NFL season, the Next Gen Stats analytics team will present a different Position Power Ranking, meant to spotlight the top performances among a specific group of players. This week, we’ve assembled a list of the top 10 rookie debuts coming out of Week 1.

Before we dive in, though, a note on our methodology: To help create quantifiable rankings, we have devised a formula that yields a Next Gen Stats percentile score, which measures how a player is performing relative to their peers. The formula uses each player’s percentile score across a series of key metrics to create one composite score, indicating which players at that position performed best. We will lean on this formula to inform our rankings when applicable.

For example, the formula assigned the top player below, Falcons receiver Drake London, a composite score of 77. In other words, his performance placed him in the 77th percentile of all receivers of all experience levels in Week 1. When compared to the percentile scores of all rookies at every measurable position, London’s 77 was the top overall score.

NOTE: To qualify for the formula, players had to log at least five snaps in Week 1. Also, rookie offensive linemen were not scored, because there is not a sufficient number of metrics that represent individual blocking performance. That said, 14 different rookie offensive linemen started and played every offensive snap in their NFL debut.

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KEY WEEK 1 METRICS:

  • 7 targets, 5 receptions, 74 receiving yards (led all rookies in receiving yards)
  • +16 receiving yards over expected (led all rookies)
  • +12.2 percent catch rate over expected
  • 2.8 yards per route
  • +3.7 receiving EPA when targeted (led all rookies)
  • 5 targets, 3 receptions, 59 yards on passes of 10-19 air yards

WEEK 1 OVERALL SCORE: 77

There were questions all week long about whether the first receiver selected in the 2022 NFL Draft would play in Week 1 following a preseason knee injury. Not only did London suit up, but he dominated, showing no signs of rust. As the above metrics indicate, London excelled, especially on intermediate passes. That includes this 31-yard gain (on a ball that traveled 17.6 air yards), where he beat the Saints’ zone coverage on an in route to set up a field goal. As the Falcons work through their first season without Matt Ryan at quarterback since 2007, London appears poised to help keep the aerial attack afloat. 

KEY WEEK 1 METRICS:

  • 90 defensive snaps (tied for most among rookies, with teammate Derek Stingley Jr.)
  • 10 tackles (second among rookies, behind the Jaguars’ Devin Lloyd)
  • 4 defensive stops (fourth among rookies)
  • 1 run stuff
  • 0.4 yards allowed/coverage snap (17 yards, 47 coverage snaps)

WEEK 1 OVERALL SCORE: 75

Pitre’s reputation coming out of Baylor was that he could do it all on the field, and that versatility carried through to his professional debut. In a staggering 90 defensive snaps against the Colts, Pitre left it all out there to help Houston secure a tie. This first-and-goal stop of Jonathan Taylor helped set up an Indianapolis turnover on downs in the second quarter. In the passing game, Pitre’s yards-allowed-per-coverage-snap mark (0.4) proved he can handle any task assigned to him on the field. 

KEY WEEK 1 METRICS:

  • 4-4 FGs, 2-2 XPs, game-winning 58-yard FG
  • +23.4 percent field goal percentage over expected

WEEK 1 OVERALL SCORE: 75

A perfect day from York helped the Browns snap the longest Week 1 winless drought in NFL history (from 2005 to 2021, Cleveland logged zero Week 1 wins and one tie). While York was sharp all day long, his most notable kick was a 58-yard game-winner against the Panthers, denying ex-Brown Baker Mayfield his chance for revenge. Entering Week 1, York was best known for a game-winning 57-yarder in December 2020 over No. 6 Florida in the “Shoe Game,” and York showed a similar knack for heroics on the professional stage; the decisive boot tied for the second-longest made field-goal try in Browns history, and it carried an expected field goal percentage of 33.5, according to Next Gen Stats’ model. For the full game, York’s field goal percentage over expected (+23.4) trailed only Greg Joseph of the Vikings (+24.8) among kickers with three-plus attempts.

KEY WEEK 1 METRICS:

  • 90 defensive snaps (tied with teammate Jalen Pitre for most among rookies), with 49 coverage snaps
  • 5 targets as nearest defender, with 2 receptions, 29 receiving yards, 0 TDs and a 59.6 passer rating allowed; 1 pass defensed
  • -17.8 percent catch rate over expected allowed as nearest defender
  • 60.0 percent coverage success rate
  • 0.6 yards allowed per coverage snap

WEEK 1 OVERALL SCORE: 73

Like Pitre, Stingley’s efforts were vital to Houston avoiding a loss in Week 1. Stingley’s lone pass breakup came on an extremely important play, as he showed off his pristine change-of-direction skills by locking up Colts rookie receiver Alec Pierce in a third-and-goal situation that forced Indy to settle for a field goal. Between Stingley and Pitre, Houston might have the foundation of its secondary set for a long time.

KEY WEEK 1 METRICS:

  • 27 defensive snaps
  • 7 tackles (25.9 tackle percentage, which led all players with 20-plus defensive snaps)
  • 1.5 sacks (led all rookies)
  • 6 defensive stops (tied for most among rookies, with the Jaguars’ Devin Lloyd)
  • 22.2 percent defensive stop rate (led all players with 20-plus defensive snaps)
  • 2 QB pressures on 11 pass rushes (18.2 QB pressure percentage)

WEEK 1 OVERALL SCORE: 70

Robinson’s performance didn’t just stand out among rookies in Week 1; some of the defensive numbers posted above ranked among the best in the league, period. How did he get it done? Sheer effort went a very long way. Robinson had three hustle stops in Chicago’s win over San Francisco, the most by any rookie defensive lineman in a game in the NGS era (since 2016). Robinson’s chase-down of a screen pass to Jeff Wilson is a great example of a hustle stop, which is defined as any tackle resulting in a successful play for the defense in which the tackler covered at least 20 yards from snap to tackle.

KEY WEEK 1 METRICS:

  • 44 defensive snaps
  • 6 tackles (13.6 tackle percentage)
  • 5 defensive stops (third among rookies)
  • 2 run stuffs (most among rookies)

WEEK 1 OVERALL SCORE: 67

Rodriguez was all over the field against the Eagles, securing five defensive stops, which are tackles on plays that were successful for the defense. Rodriguez paced rookies in run stuffs (which are run plays in which the ball-carrier is stopped with a gain of 1 or fewer yards), including this clutch solo stop of Boston Scott on a third-and-1, when the Eagles were trying to run out the clock. The Hard Knocks standout earned a starting role on your TV this summer, and his Week 1 performance — Detroit head coach Dan Campbell told the media that the player known as “Rodrigo” did not miss a single assignment in Week 1 — suggests he might be there to stay.

KEY WEEK 1 METRICS:

  • 26 coverage snaps, 5 targets as nearest defender, 1 reception, 2 yards, 0 TDs, 39.6 passer rating allowed
  • 4 tackles, 2 defensive stops, 1 run stuff
  • -54.3 percent catch rate over expected allowed (led all DBs, among those with a minimum of 3 targets)
  • -2.4 EPA when targeted
  • 100 percent coverage success rate (tied for first among all players)
  • 0.1 yards allowed per coverage snap (second among DBs, to D.J. Reed, among those with a minimum of 5 targets)

WEEK 1 OVERALL SCORE: 66

The Bears’ defense was the centerpiece to their win over a 49ers team that reached the NFC Championship Game last season, and Brisker — classified as a “sleeper” by Next Gen Stats’ draft scores in April — played a major role. As the above metrics show, Brisker was among the NFL’s most effective DBs in pass coverage in Week 1. He also made some major plays in the ground game when the Bears needed them most, adding a crucial fumble recovery from Deebo Samuel in the red zone on the 49ers’ opening drive, then making a goal-line stop of Jeff Wilson that forced San Francisco, which was leading 7-0 at the time, to settle for a third-quarter field goal.

KEY WEEK 1 METRICS:

  • 5 targets, 3 receptions, 40 receiving yards, 2 receiving TDs
  • +14 receiving yards over expected
  • 15.7 air yards per target
  • 3 targets, 2 receptions, 31 yards, 2 TDs on passes of 10-plus air yards

WEEK 1 OVERALL SCORE: 65

Like Brisker, his former Penn State teammate, Dotson made a major splash in his NFL debut while helping his team to a Week 1 victory. Since Terry McLaurin was drafted in 2019, no other Washington wide receiver has reached 500 receiving yards in a season. But based on Dotson’s performance Sunday, he could be the long-sought-after complement to McLaurin. The explosiveness and ball skills that Dotson thrived with at the college level were on full display, as both of his receiving touchdowns from Carson Wentz came on vertical routes (one go route, one post route). The latter of those two scores gave the Commanders a lead they would never relinquish, when Dotson beat Jacksonville cornerback Tyson Campbell on a double move with 1:52 remaining for the game-winning touchdown.

KEY WEEK 1 METRICS:

  • 58 defensive snaps
  • 4 tackles, 1.0 sack
  • 2 defensive stops, 1 QB pressure
  • 1 INT (only rookie to have an INT in Week 1)

WEEK 1 OVERALL SCORE: 63

The first overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft showed glimpses of why he earned that status in the Jaguars’ close loss to Washington. Raise your hand if you thought the NFL’s only interception from a rookie in Week 1 would come from a defensive lineman … and put your hand down if you were bold enough to lie to yourself like that. Walker, of course, made that absurd-sounding scenario a reality, showing remarkable instinct while detecting a Carson Wentz screen pass intended for Antonio Gibson and putting himself in position to secure the pick. That play increased the Jags’ win probability by 28.6 percentage points. Walker also showed off his burst with a third-quarter sack of Wentz. He became the first rookie to have one-plus sack and one or more interceptions in Week 1 since T.J. Watt back in 2017.

KEY WEEK 1 METRICS:

  • 8 targets, 4 receptions, 52 rec yards
  • +2.9 receiving EPA when targeted
  • 3 targets, 2 rec, 28 rec yards on out-breaking routes (corner, flat, out)

WEEK 1 OVERALL SCORE: 63

While the Jets’ offense struggled to get points on the board in their Week 1 loss to the Ravens, Wilson was a bright spot for a group riddled with young skill-position talent. Wilson’s expected points added (EPA) on his targets (+2.9) ranked third among all rookies, behind only Drake London and the Saints’ Chris Olave. Wilson was particularly sharp on out-breaking routes throughout the game, including this deep out on a fourth-and-15 in the fourth quarter that set up the Jets’ only touchdown. Wilson’s 23 percent target rate was second among Jets WRs/TEs in the game, an indicator he could be in store for a major role all year long.

— Keegan Abdoo, Mike Band and Cole Jacobson contributed to this piece.

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