Must-see NFL rookies in 2022 preseason

This week in August brings a full slate of NFL preseason action. Now’s the time to look back on draft crushes and pinpoint rookies I’m most excited to see during the preseason.

Last week, Josh Edwards pinpointed the rookies he’s most excited to see this preseason. Because Josh is a fellow NFL Draft analyst here at CBS Sports and a genuinely great, hard-working dude, I’m not borrowing any of his selections.

Kyle Hamilton, S, Ravens
As my No. 1 overall prospect in the 2022 class, I’m enacting a rule on myself that Hamilton is to be listed first. The Notre Dame product had everything I look for in not just a safety by classic definition, but a modern-day, do-everything safety. Seriously, safeties’ job responsibilities have significantly grown over the past decade. In almost every defense, the strong/free delineation is gone, linebacker duties are prevalent, and your safeties better be able to moonlight as a slot cornerback.

Even at 6-foot-4, and 220 pounds, Hamilton handled all the safety assignments comfortably, and his range downfield in coverage was spectacular. Now, I will say, at his size, I am intrigued to watch him against lightning-quick slot receivers in the NFL. Even for the most naturally gifted safeties — which Hamilton certainly is — that task is typically a tall one early in their pro careers.

Derek Stingley, CB, Texans
It was love at first film session watch for me with Stingley. He dominated as an 18-year-old perimeter corner in the SEC during LSU’s legendary national-title winning campaign of 2019. And it wasn’t just his play. The traits jumped off the screen. Beyond-his-years press-coverage skill, mirroring brilliance, track speed, magnets on his gloves whenever the ball was in his vicinity, Stingley instantly soared.

After 2019, a massive drain in talent around him coupled with injuries created space for critics to sneak into the crevices of Stingley’s draft profile, but my belief never wavered. This man was born to play man or zone, on the outside, in the NFL, against No. 1 receivers. Stingley wasn’t quite as tall nor as long as many expected at the combine, yet he still has the physical makeup and exquisite skill to be an instant star as a pro. I’m pumped for the first look at Stingley in the preseason, where he presumably won’t see many top wideouts. He should lock it down.

Drake London, WR, Falcons
London seems like a throwback type. But he’s not really, which is essentially why he finished as my No. 1 wideout in the 2022 class. Nearly 6-4 and 220 pounds with never-ending arms, London can win where you’d think he’d win — over the top. My favorite stat from last college football season: at USC, London led the entire nation in contested-catch victories, and he appeared in only eight games. Insane.

I get it though, at receiver in today’s NFL, separation ability is the name of the game, and believe it or not, London has that in his bag too. He’s not going to suddenly create space like Davante Adams, Stefon Diggs, or Tyreek Hill, but at his size, he’s athletically fluid enough to get open with route sharpness.

And yards after the catch is as en vogue as it’s been in a long time, and London dominates in that area too. Atlanta is clearly rebuilding, and its roster renovation plan is clearly to construct a towering pass-catching group with Kyle Pitts, London, Bryan Edwards and Auden Tate. Seeing that group matching up with opposing team’s secondaries will be fascinating, even in August.

Malik Willis, QB, Titans
The last, and in a way, maybe the most important of my obligatory picks for this article. Willis was my No. 1 QB, with a first-round grade, in the 2022 class. His footwork was in dire need of coaching, and he didn’t read defenses as efficiently as Drew Brees in college. I adored everything else about what he showcased during his tenure as Liberty quarterback.

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