Most players picked on the third day of the NFL draft (when Rounds 4 through 7 are held) are typically expected to contribute as a reserve and/or on special teams in their rookie season.
Last year, however, 14 of 154 Day 3 selections started eight or more contests in their first year in the league — three more than the average draft class over the past decade. Not surprisingly, nearly half of rookies becoming regular starters since 2012 were picked in the fourth round.
Offensive linemen Dan Moore (fourth round, Pittsburgh), Royce Newman (fourth, Green Bay) and Trey Smith (sixth, Kansas City), receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown (fourth, Detroit), running backs Michael Carter (fourth, Jets) and Elijah Mitchell (sixth, San Francisco), defensive tackle Roy Lopez (sixth, Houston) and cornerback Marco Wilson (fourth, Arizona) were some of the rookies who stood out during the 2021 season.
A rookie’s talent certainly factors into how quickly they see the field at the next level, but injuries to veterans and the relative strength of their position group also often determine draftees’ playing time. Here are a dozen Day 3 picks from the 2022 NFL Draft who could be in line to start immediately, ranked in order of the likelihood they will take advantage of potential opportunities.
Specialists are not included on this list (or in the historical data noted above) but Day 3 punters Matt Araiza (sixth, Buffalo), Jake Camarda (fourth, Tampa Bay), Trenton Gill (seventh, Chicago) and Jordan Stout (fourth, Baltimore), as well as kicker Cade York (fourth, Cleveland), are expected to contribute from the jump.
Drafted: Round 4, 108th overall
Winfrey fell into a perfect spot, as Cleveland desperately needed a 3-technique to challenge opposing interior offensive linemen off the snap, thanks to the exits of Malik McDowell (whom the Browns did not tender as an exclusive rights free agent following his January arrest) and Malik Jackson (who was on a one-year deal) last season. It won’t be surprising if Winfrey produces more than former Browns draft find Larry Ogunjobi (who spent 2021 in Cincinnati) did as a third-round rookie (one sack, one start in 14 appearances in 2017).
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Drafted: Round 4, 107th overall
The Texans have a few veteran running backs on the roster, but Pierce could easily start eight or more games this year. Marlon Mack only has 32 carries over the past two years, and Rex Burkhead turns 32 this summer, so the former Gator should see a lot of carries. Houston fans will be won over by his electric confidence with the ball in his hands, and his strong nose for the end zone.
Drafted: Round 6, 201st overall
Ingram’s rushing and receiving ability out of the backfield give him a chance at the lion’s share of work when James Conner is not on the field. Conner has missed at least at least three games in four of his five seasons in the league, and he only started six of 15 appearances last year while splitting time with the now-departed Chase Edmonds in the backfield. Chances are good Ingram will start several games as a rookie.
Drafted: Round 4, 106th overall
It is still unclear whether Rob Gronkowski intends to “run it back” one more time with his friend Tom Brady in Tampa. If the 33-year-old (who did, after all, suffer a punctured lung last season) decides not to return to the field, veteran Cameron Brate will need a running mate. Otton, who missed time due to COVID-19 and a foot injury, would have been a late-second or early-third round pick if healthy throughout the 2021 season, so I expect he will be a solid pass-catcher and run-blocker as a rookie for the Bucs.
Drafted: Round 4, 114th overall
Julian Love has been a part-time starter in New York the past three years (logging 16 starts in 48 appearances), but he’ll have to battle Belton to replace Jabrill Peppers (who signed in New England) as an in-the-box playmaker. Belton regularly worked in the slot at Iowa, as well, and showed good hands while intercepting five passes last year.
Drafted: Round 4, 136th overall
The Bengals’ guard play was poor in 2021, and signing Alex Cappa away from Tampa Bay only solved half the problem. The team was close to winning it all last year and will not have patience for lapses from 2021 second-round pick Jackson Carman or veteran Hakeem Adeniji — especially if Volson’s intelligence and determination as a blocker turn heads in training camp. Volson also has experience at tackle, so it would not be shocking if he got the call should Jonah Williams or La’el Collins be sidelined.
Drafted: Round 5, 145th overall
The Chiefs’ right tackle situation is fluid, to say the least. Veteran Andrew Wylie could take over there, as could Lucas Niang if healthy. Kinnard’s power on the edge, however, and Wylie’s value as a sixth man if there is an injury at another spot on the line, might force the rookie into the starting lineup sooner than later. The team plugged in first-year players Trey Smith and Creed Humphrey last year, so it’s not a huge leap to think they’ll do the same if Kinnard’s length and strong grip impress this summer.
Drafted: Round 4, 109th overall
Seattle’s depth at cornerback is a big question mark heading into the 2022 season. Sidney Jones was re-signed after starting 11 games, while Tre Brown is coming off a knee injury and veteran Artie Burns was brought in on a one-year free agent deal. Bryant, the winner of the 2021 Jim Thorpe Award (given to college football’s top defensive back), has the experience and toughness to step into a starting role if required.
Drafted: Round 6, 190th overall
The Falcons’ 2021 third-round pick, Jalen Mayfield, struggled transitioning from his college position, right tackle, to guard as a rookie. If Mayfield can’t get the job done early in 2022, or if he falls to injury, Shaffer’s ability to bully defenders off the ball could earn him a starting role during his first year with the Falcons.
Drafted: Round 5, 148th overall
The Bills expect third-year receiver Gabriel Davis to make up for the loss of Emmanuel Sanders (with signee Jamison Crowder taking Cole Beasley’s spot in the slot). If No. 1 target Stefon Diggs or Davis are banged up during the year, however, Shakir’s strong hands and willingness to work the middle will earn him a major role. The Bills use enough three-, four- and five-receiver sets that Shakir should see the field regularly, even if he’s not forced into a starting job.
Drafted: Round 6, 188th overall
Rodriguez’s size (5-foot-11, 232 pounds) has caused him to be overlooked his entire football career. The Lions have veterans Alex Anzalone and Jarrad Davis (a former first-round pick by Detroit brought back after one year with the Jets), but neither were stars last season. Second-year player Derrick Barnes came on a bit at the end of 2021, but I won’t ignore the productive, athletic and instinctive Rodriguez’s chances at making his presence felt between the tackles as a rookie.
Drafted: Round 5, 179th overall
It was only last season, when Za’Darius Smith missed all but one game because of a back malady, that the Packers saw how important having a third reliable all-around edge rusher could be. Smith’s exit this offseason leaves Rashan Gary and Preston Smith as the presumed starters, but Enagbare’s strength against the run, as well as his ability to bring pressure when fresh, should earn him significant playing time in 2022 no matter what — and he’ll be first in line to start in the event of a Gary or Preston Smith injury.
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