If you haven’t taken a stroll down your Twitter timeline, you’re certainly missing out. Channeling my inner Hulk Hogan, football season is back, jack! It may be pre-season but nonetheless, it’s football.
Before we know it, our favorite NFL teams will have trimmed their rosters down to 53 players and we’ll have games that actually matter. Until then, we will stay glued to random games on Thursdays just to see if our favorite draft prospects from the 2022 NFL Draft actually “prove us right.”
Surprisingly, there’s some “evaluators” out there that don’t care about the pre-season and don’t invest a bunch of stock into the pre-season. That’s fair but it’s worth monitoring as it’s all part of the process. If we watch draft prospects up to the draft and never after, how are we ever going to know where we went wrong in our evaluations? Furthermore, how can we ever learn how a player truly translates to the next level?
While I’d love to talk about every single rookie that played this past week, this article would get quite lengthy. Initially, I thought about talking a rookie from each pre-season game (five games in total) that I watched this weekend but it truly wouldn’t do these players justice. So with that, I want to give all of you a rookie report of a game that I thought had five rookies that really stood-out in a good and/or bad way. Th
George Pickens, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
There wasn’t a player with a bigger chip on his shoulder than George Pickens. The 6-3 and 195 pound receiver from Georgia was selected by the Steelers with the 52nd overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. It’s no secret that if Pickens wasn’t coming off a torn ACL, he would have more than likely been a first round pick — at least he would have been off the board by the 52nd pick.
Fortunately for the Steelers, he was available and they follow their draft day trend of drafting good receivers.
Oh man! George Pickens somehow got both feet inbounds for the Steelers 👀 pic.twitter.com/0enUs9pFVA— Russell Brown (@RussNFLDraft) August 13, 2022
If we’re being honest, Pickens might not need to play another snap this pre-season. After only 21 offensive snaps, he looks destined to be a stud in the Steelers offense. He recorded 3 receptions for 43 yards and had an incredible touchdown catch where he somehow got both feet inbounds in the back of the end zone. Aside from that, he picked up where he left off on the perimeter as a menace when blocking cornerbacks. There’s one play against the Seahawks where he shoves a defender into the dirt and does his usual taunt over them.
Overall, Pickens earned a 90.4 receiving grade from Pro Football Focus (PFF) and it wouldn’t be surprising if he keeps up those kinds of numbers once the season begins. By that time, Diontae Johnson will be on the field and Chase Claypool should be back from the shoulder injury he sustained earlier in training camp. Having the trio of Johnson, Claypool and Pickens gives any of the Steelers quarterbacks options downfield.
Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Speaking of quarterbacks, there were plenty of positives from Kenny Pickett in his Steelers debut. Playing against second and third team defenders isn’t exactly how you want to measure a players performance but he played the competition he was forced to face and it went well.
Pickett finished the game 13-for-15 with two touchdowns and 95 yards passing. One of his touchdowns resembled many of his touchdowns that we saw this past season with the Pitt Panthers. It’s a throw down in the red-zone where he rolls right and extends the play before firing it to an open receiver for a score.
Feels like we’ve seen Pickett do this a few times on that same field. Good job extending beyond the pocket pic.twitter.com/j3xr78hrvF— Russell Brown (@RussNFLDraft) August 14, 2022
Now there were times where Pickett ran outside of the pocket and he just didn’t have the speed to get the edge against faster defenders. However, with the game on the line, Pickett had a chance to close it out and he did just that with a touchdown pass to Tyler Vaughn with just 12 seconds left in the game. With an entire second half played, the Steelers got to see plenty from Pickett. It would be surprising to see the first quarterback selected in the 2022 NFL Draft to take the starting quarterback job from Mitchell Trubisky but only time will tell.
Tariq Woolen, CB, Seattle Seahawks
On this week’s rookie report, not every player had the most positive showing. Leading the way is Tariq Woolen from the Seattle Seahawks. For the Seahawks fanbase, it’s not worth overreacting to Woolen’s first game played in the NFL but it is noteworthy.
While he looks the part from his overall size at 6-4 and 205 pounds and he does have the athletic testing numbers that are encouraging. At the Scouting Combine, Woolen ran the 40-yard dash in 4.26 seconds and he jumped 42-inches in the vertical jump. His college tape had some rough spots but there were plenty of evaluators that were enamored with the prospect. However, he fell to the 5th round in the 2022 NFL Draft but was out there with most of the first and second team defenses against the Steelers.
His first defensive series is one that he’ll put in the rearview mirror and will look to learn from. He lost a 1-on-1 rep against George Pickens but then followed it up by missing an open field tackle against Steelers running back Anthony McFarland. Part of the miss looked like he may have slipped but ultimately he went low and only used his arms and forgot to grab hold of anything. To cap the drive off, he had a defensive miscue with veteran cornerback Justin Coleman and this led to Steelers wide receiver Gunner Olszewski to be left wide open in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown after Woolen gave up his assignment. He focused on Pickens with Coleman rather than taking Olszewski on the corner route.
Ultimately, Woolen played into the second quarter and at one point, he matched up against Steelers tight end Connor Heyward. On that play, he gave up a reception over the middle of the field on a crossing route. All together, Woolen ended up playing 44 defensive snaps and he allowed 3 receptions for 38 yards and a touchdown. He earned a 43.7 coverage grade per Pro Football Focus (PFF). As the saying goes, you live and you learn. Woolen will do just that and will look to improve for the Seahawks as the season approaches.
Ken Walker, RB, Seattle Seahawks
With the sudden retirement from running back Chris Carson, there’s plenty of speculation of Walker becoming the starting running back for Seattle. Let me just come out and say that he will be the starting running back for them and that it’ll be his job to lose. Sure, when Rashaad Penny comes back from his groin injury, he’ll have some type of role but all signs point to Walker.
Head coach Pete Carroll has already given hints that Walker is “capable of having a three-down role.” Even though Walker only played 12 offensive snaps, there wasn’t much more that he needed to do. He finished with 5 carries for 19 yards and displayed good patience and vision on two runs for the Seahawks opening drive. At one point, Walker even returned a kick for a gain of 22 yards. I found that interesting as Walker hasn’t returned a kick since 2019 for Wake Forest.
Some people might speculate that Walker will have a limited role in the Seahawks offense but I find that hard to believe. The bigger question mark for Seattle isn’t with their backfield, it’s with the quarterback position. If they don’t have the right guy for the job at quarterback, it could limit plenty of opportunities for Walker and other playmakers on the offense.
Boye Mafe, EDGE, Seattle Seahawks
Lastly, we’ll end with potentially the best rookie performance for the Seahawks and that’s the 40th overall pick from the 2022 NFL Draft, Boye Mafe. Selected out of Minnesota, it was evident from the Scouting Combine that Mafe was an explosive athlete that just needed a more defined role on a defense.
Mafe had a 38-inch vertical and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.53 seconds at 261 pounds. Rather than dropping back into the flats, the Seahawks let Mafe pin his ears back and get after the quarterback.
Seahawks EDGE 53 Boye Mafe had himself a day yesterday for the Seattle Seahawks. Had 2 sacks on 44 total defensive snaps. Also had a touchdown saving tackle on Steve Sims during punt in the 1st quarter. Mafe played 15 snaps on special teams yesterday per PFF. pic.twitter.com/nWjYsE9zLp— Russell Brown (@RussNFLDraft) August 14, 2022
In 44 defensive snaps, he generated 2 sacks with one of them being a strip sack on Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph. This led to an 86.6 pass-rush grade from Pro Football Focus (PFF) and it wouldn’t be surprising if Mafe earns a key role off the edge with Uchenna Nwosu and Darrell Taylor. Aside from his defensive performance, Mafe also had 15 snaps played on special teams and he even earned himself a tackle on punt team with great pursuit on Steelers punt returner Steven Sims.
It’s only fair that I give a shoutout to Charles Cross from the Seattle Seahawks and Connor Heyward from the Pittsburgh Steelers. Starting with Cross, he certainly looked the part at left tackle for Seattle. It would be surprising if he wasn’t their starting left tackle in a few weeks. After 37 offensive snaps, he showed good athleticism and the consistent ability to transition weight from his post foot to his set foot while dealing with multiple pass-rushers. He even did a good job on TEX stunt from the Steelers in the first quarter. He ended up with an 82.2 pass-blocking grade from Pro Football Focus (PFF).
As for Heyward, there’s some speculation if he’ll join his older brother on the Steelers 53-man roster. After a strong first showing, he’s trending in the right direction. He had 2 receptions for 24 yards and added a catch on a two-point conversion in the second half. Aside from his offensive production, he did have a false start but also had 10 snaps on special teams that generated two tackles for the rookie.