One of my favorite parts of the NFL is watching which draft picks make immediate contributions to their team and emerge as potential future stars of the league. On Tuesday, the NFL announced the six finalists for the 2022 Pepsi Zero Sugar NFL Rookie of the Year award.
This list consists of three offensive rookies and three defenders from the 2022 class, hailing from four teams, as the New York Jets and Seattle Seahawks have two players apiece, one on each side of the ball.Pepsi Zero Sugar NFL Rookie of the Year Finalists:
NYJ cornerback Sauce Gardner wasn’t just an excellent rookie but an elite all-around defender. The No. 4 pick led the league with a whopping 20 pass breakups, the most by a rookie since 2015, and is not afraid to mix things up, as he was one of two players to post at least 75 tackles and 15 PBs.
The Cincinnati product is a run-away favorite to win the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award, a Pro Bowler, and the first rookie CB selected first-team All-Pro since Ronnie Lott 41 years ago. Yeah, he’s that good.
Six picks after selecting Sauce, the Jets called Garrett Wilson’s name out of Ohio State. All Wilson did was set franchise records for receptions (83) and receiving yards (1,103) by a rookie. In addition to Jets fans, the B1G product made bettors happy with eight games of 75-plus receiving yards.
Not the only Ohio State pass catcher on this list, Wilson’s former teammate Chris Olave (12th pick) had a fabulous season for the New Orleans Saints leading all rookies with 69.5 receiving yards per game, second to Wilson in receptions (72) and yards (1,042). His 12 games with 50-plus receiving yards are third all-time by a rookie.
Staying on offense, former MSU star runner Kenneth Walker led all draftees with 1,050 rushing yards, nine rushing touchdowns, and 1,215 scrimmage yards. His five 100-yard rushing games are the most by a rookie since Saquon Barkley in 2018. The Offensive ROY award is down to New York’s Wilson and Walker, who was a second-round pick by the Seahawks.
Seattle selected cornerback Tariq Woolen in the fifth round, and he joins Gardner as a rookie Pro Bowl selection. Call him the baker because Woolen was a turnover-making machine. His six interceptions tied for the NFL lead, and he chipped in three fumble recoveries and 16 passes defended.
Last but not least, Michigan man Aidan Hutchinson was the No. 2 overall pick by the Detroit Lions and makes it four B1G products among the six finalists. Hutchinson led all rookies with 9.5 sacks, and he’s the first rookie since the sack became an official stat to record at least nine quarterback takedowns with three-plus interceptions.