NFL training camps are kicking into gear, and we’re just nine games away from the first preseason game.
While we get excited by this first taste of football, many of the storylines you see coming out of training camp can be misleading. Players are making one-handed catches or looking really fast on the field, but in shorts and t-shirts and without much contact, it can be hard to determine what’s really useful information.
That’s why, this offseason, we’re going to be filtering through the news for you and helping to identify the key training camp storylines that you should be paying attention to for each position. We’ve already covered the running back, quarterback, and wide receiver positions, so today we’ll turn our attention to this rookie class in general.
How Good Will Breece Hall Be in New York?
There is a lot of optimism in New York about the future of the Jets and a big part of that is centered around rookie Garrett Wilson and Breece Hall. We discussed Wilson in the wide receivers article linked above, but Hall, who the Jets traded up for this year, might even have a bigger impact.
The Iowa State product was insanely productive over the last two years for the Cyclones, rushing for over 3,000 yards and accumulating 46 total touchdowns. He showed explosive open-field speed but also suddenness in hitting the holes at the line of scrimmage. While not frequently used in the passing game, he did show solid hands and the ability to be a weapon out of the backfield.
The biggest question will be how much the Jets lean on him.
After all, the Jets also have Michael Carter in the backfield. The second-year pro led the team with 49.5% of running back snaps played and 38.7% of the team’s carries. On the season, he ran for 639 yards and four touchdowns on 147 carries in 14 games (4.3 yards per carry). Carter also was adept in the passing game, contributing 325 yards through the air.
Carter was also able to amass 69.6% of his yards after contact and had a strong 19% broken tackle rate. In the passing game, he was targeted on 24.8% of routes run and averaged 9.1 yards after the catch, both really solid totals. As a result, it will be foolish for the Jets to simply keep him off of the field.
If the Jets employ some sort of timeshare between Hall and Carter, it might cut into the impact the rookie has in his first year. That’s to say nothing of the fact that the Jets obviously plan to use Garrett Wilson, Elijah Moore, Corey Davis, and C.J. Uzomah in the passing game.
It’s a good problem for the Jets to have, but training camp will tell us just how much we should expect from Hall out of the gates.
Will Any Rookie Quarterback Push For a Job?
This was not a particularly strong class of rookie quarterbacks. While it has become rare for first-year quarterbacks to have too long of a waiting period on the sidelines, many of the 2022 rookie sign-callers find themselves in positions where it’s likely that they won’t make much of an impact in their rookie year.
People are high on Malik Willis’ upside, but the rookie will need to make a big adjustment after playing his college football at Liberty. This is also a Titans team that plans on making the playoffs, even without A.J. Brown, and Ryan Tannehill has been a serviceable field general for them. It would be unlikely for them to go to Willis over Tannehill while they are still in the playoff race.
Matt Corral is recovering from a knee and ankle injury suffered in the Sugar Bowl this year. While the injury proved to not be as bad as it looked, it still limited his off-season preparation. Then the Panthers traded for Bake Mayfield after the draft, which makes it seem highly unlikely Corral sees many snaps this year.
Desmond Ridder also had his fans heading into the draft. Landing with the Falcons may not have been good for his production in his first year, but could lead to some playing time. The team did bring in Marcus Mariota in the offseason, and Mariota was previously with head coach Arthur Smith in Tennessee, so it’s feasible that Smith brought him in for a reason. However, Mariota has lost a starting job before, so Ridder could potentially push him if he has a good training camp.
The best bet for early playing time is Pittsburgh Steelers rookie Kenny Pickett, the first quarterback drafted this year. However, the Steelers also brought in Mitchell Trubisky in the offseason. While the shine has worn off on Trubisky a bit, he received rave reviews for his work in Buffalo with Brian Daboll and Josh Allen last season. Training camp and early preseason games will be a great way to test whether those gains from last year carry over or if Pickett can easily push the veteran aside.
Which Rookie Wide Receivers Will Pop?
We covered this in the wide receivers article, but we’ve seen some historic rookie receiver performances over the last two years, so it will be interesting to see if that trend can continue this year.
What Role Will James Cook play in Buffalo?
James Cook has been turning heads early in Bills camp, specifically for his work in the passing game. The Bills had tried to sign J.D. McKissic early in the NFL offseason and had reportedly called to check in on Christian McCaffrey, so it’s no secret that they want a running back who can contribute in the passing game. That’s always been a strength for Cook.
While it’s unlikely that Cook simply unseats Devin Singletary from a starting role, if the rookie can show strength as a runner between the tackles and can hold up as a pass blocker as well, this could be more of a timeshare than many envision.
I asked #Bills OC Ken Dorsey what his impressions of rookie RB James Cook are & how he could see Cook fitting in this offense. He said it's hard to tell at this point but said "I love what he brings to the table athletically and physically and he's working his tail off mentally." pic.twitter.com/h73oBIRWoU
— Heather Prusak (@haprusak) July 28, 2022
Can Tyler Allgeier and Dameon Pierce Win Starting Running Back Jobs?
Two of the most likely candidates to claim starting running back jobs aren’t actually from early-round picks. We know Hall will be in the mix for the Jets, and we covered that Kenneth Walker could battle for playing time in Seattle, but the best bets to simply claim a large workload might be Tyler Allgeier in Atlanta and Dameon Pierce in Houston.
Allgeier rushed for over 1,000 yards in each of the last two seasons at BYU and amassed 23 rushing touchdowns last year. He has solid vision and a physical one-cut rushing style that could make him a strong early down option in Atlanta. Cordarelle Patterson wore down as the season went on and might be best suited to getting a few carries and being used more as a receiver out of the backfield. Since Allgeier is not a great pass-catcher, that could be a great pairing. The rookie just needs to prove in training camp that he can handle those early downs.
In Houston, Pierce finds himself in a competition with veterans Rex Burkhead and Marlon Mack. Burkhead never seems to be anybody’s first choice to take over a starting role, but he does always seem to find himself getting consistent carries. Meanwhile, Marlon Mack suffered an Achilles injury two years ago and then lost his starting job to Jonathan Taylor, so he’ll be motivated to reclaim a key role in an offense.
Yet, Pierce has a real shot at this job. He has the size (5’10” 220 pounds) to hold up under contact and showed good ability to break tackles and earn yards after the catch at Florida. While he’s not the pass-catcher that a player like James Cook is, he doesn’t have to be limited to a short yardage and could claim the starting job if he shows that versatility and effectiveness in training camp.
For more NFL coverage like this rookie training camp article, visit amNY Sports