1.1. Kyle Hamilton, DB, Baltimore Ravens
2.2. Nakobe Dean, LB, Philadelphia Eagles
3.3. Aidan Hutchinson, DL, Detroit Lions
4.4. Lewis Cine, DB, Minnesota Vikings
5.5. Devin Lloyd, LB, Jacksonville Jaguars
6.6. Jalen Pitre, DB, Houston Texans
7.7. Jermaine Johnson II, DL, New York Jets
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Towards the latter part of the 2021 season, we advised our regular IDP readers that the 2022 NFL Draft class would be a bit of an outlier. We warned that those playing in standard or Superflex dynasty leagues should try to trade their 2022 assets for comparable 2023 picks if possible because the quarterback and running back groups in this rookie class are thin. Those warnings proved largely true, as NFL teams were tepid on this quarterback group and the running backs ended up in disappointing spots for fantasy purposes.
In that same article, we advised serious IDP players that this class would benefit them. We said this 2022 Draft class was deep at several key defensive positions and should provide some exciting prospects for those looking to replenish their tacklers. That prediction also proved to be largely accurate.
With that in mind, we are here to offer you several rookie defenders who project to be quality starters in many IDP formats. Those rookies are…
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1. Kyle Hamilton, DB, Baltimore Ravens
Hamilton is easily the best fantasy defender in this rookie class. As a defensive back (DB), he plays a premium position. He also has elite length, tremendous instincts, solid ball skills, and a supernatural ability to contain the edge. In short, Hamilton is a player who should rarely come off the field for the Ravens. Baltimore is a team that needed a talent boost in its secondary, and their coaching staff is reportedly talking about using Hamilton in various ways, including regularly putting him in the box. That kind of usage spells a tremendous fantasy floor, and he has the physical profile to provide you with some high-value turnovers as well.
Do not be fooled by Hamilton's poor 40-yard dash times. He plays faster on film than on a stopwatch and is joining a defense with a strong track record of developing safeties. Hamilton should be the second DB off the board in dynasty startup drafts after Derwin James. If you play in redraft, Hamilton is still a top-five player at his position, thanks to his immediate upside.
Current Pos. Rank in Redraft: DB4
Current Pos. Rank in Dynasty: DB2
2. Nakobe Dean, LB, Philadelphia Eagles
Dean is a polarizing prospect for several reasons. First, his health is in question. During the NFL Draft, there was talk that he fell due to concerns he would have to have surgery and miss his rookie year. His camp has stated that is not the case.
The second concern many have about Dean is his lack of size or speed. To put it simply, the former Bulldog is small for a linebacker, and he lacks top-end speed. Those are obvious red flags and reasonable reasons for people to fade him.
With all that said, you must be wondering… why rank Dean so high on this list if he's gimpy, small, and slow? Well, the easy answer is his Georgia film is like porn for fans of defense. Despite the Bulldogs' defense being loaded with elite talents and five-star recruits, it was Dean who inexplicably found himself involved in nearly every single play. Sometimes the diminutive 'backer would seemingly appear out of nowhere for a tackle, taking opposing running backs down faster and more surely than his more athletic teammates. Dean’s pure instincts and ability to find the ball remind us of former Miami Dolphins star Zach Thomas. Having that kind of profile on an Eagles team in need of linebacker help spells an LB2 with upside, all day.
The only note we have with Dean is to watch his participation in camp. If he’s healthy and playing with the first team, he could rise even higher in our ranks. If he’s being held out, fade him lower than we have him here.
Current Pos. Rank in Redraft: LB17
Current Pos. Rank in Dynasty: LB14
3. Aidan Hutchinson, DL, Detroit Lions
It’ll surprise many to find Hutchinson this low on our list, but he falls here for a few reasons. One reason he falls is the mere fact we prioritize DBs more highly than edge defenders, leading us to jump Hamilton over the top-overall prospect in this class. The second reason he falls is our unadulterated love for Dean, who has the film of someone who can leap to the front of a deep linebacker position if he’s healthy and playing.
The final reason we fade Hutchinson on this list is the limited sack upside we see early in his career. While the former Wolverine is a good bet to reach double-digit sacks at some point, we aren't convinced it will happen without more help on that line and in the secondary. We also aren't convinced that Hutchinson has the same sort of upside that players like Nick Bosa or Myles Garrett do, meaning we don’t see him leading the NFL in sacks at any point in his career.
The Lions still have a lot of work to do on their defensive line and in their secondary, leading us to cap our sack projections for Hutchinson in 2022. It also doesn’t help that we project the Lions to play from behind regularly and to have one of the lowest snap rates in the NFL. That all leads us to project solid tackle numbers but limited big plays for the Michigan product as a rookie.
Current Pos. Rank in Redraft: DL19
Current Pos. Rank in Dynasty: DL16
4. Lewis Cine, DB, Minnesota Vikings
Cine is a bit of a project, but he’s got the playstyle and tenacity to fill an in-the-box role early for the Vikings. That kind of role typically leads to a safe fantasy floor, as box safeties get far more tackle opportunities than those who play deep. It also helps that Cine is already getting starter snaps for the Vikings in minicamp, despite being a relatively raw prospect.
We like Cine in redraft formats, but we like him even more in dynasty. Cine can potentially develop into an all-around threat if he can add more weight while improving his fluidity in coverage. Consider him a boom-or-bust DB3 right now, but his upside merits DB2 consideration in dynasty.
Current Pos. Rank in Redraft: DB24
Current Pos. Rank in Dynasty: DB19
5. Devin Lloyd, LB, Jacksonville Jaguars
This one is fairly obvious. Lloyd was the top linebacker on many draft boards, and he is joining a Jaguars team that has a need at the position. Lloyd is already getting early opportunities to play in minicamp and should step into a full-time role as early as Week 1. While some of us liked Nakobe Dean’s film more, and players like Troy Andersen could have more long-term upside in dynasty leagues, Lloyd seems like a good bet to see plenty of snaps as a rookie.
The former Ute should make something of those snaps if he gets them. Lloyd is effective in all facets of the game, which should earn him a three-down role and give him a chance to make some big plays. Consider the Utah product to be a much safer bet than Zaven Collins or Jamin Davis were last summer if for no other reason than Jacksonville seems committed to giving him immediate starter snaps.
Current Pos. Rank in Redraft: LB19
Current Pos. Rank in Dynasty: LB16
6. Jalen Pitre, DB, Houston Texans
Texans' Head Coach Lovie Smith described Pitre as "outstanding" in minicamp, which fits our analysis of his film. At Baylor, Pitre was a well-rounded defender who split time at nickel corner and safety while managing 195 total tackles, eight sacks, and eleven turnovers across a long career.
While many project Pitre as a top-end nickel corner in the NFL, the Texans likely see him as a starting safety with nickel coverage skills and the ability to play in the box when necessary. That profile is promising for fantasy. Look for him to step into Justin Reid's vacated position, and provide starter-quality snaps in IDP leagues that start three or more DBs.
Current Pos. Rank in Redraft: DB22
Current Pos. Rank in Dynasty: DB20
7. Jermaine Johnson II, DL, New York Jets
Johnson makes this list over the more heralded Kayvon Thibodeaux for a few reasons. First among those reasons is Johnson’s high-end skills in run support. Johnson is a very willing, instinctive, and involved run defender. That should earn him considerable snaps early in his career, even if Jets Head Coach Robert Saleh thinks his pass rush needs some tuning.
Another reason we like Johnson to make an impact as a rookie is his role on an underrated defensive line in an underrated scheme. Coach Saleh has shown the ability to develop pass rushers, and he should get the most out of a line with Johnson, Quinnen Williams, and Carl Lawson on it.
Johnson has a good get-off and a sneaky spin move that should make fifty tackles and seven sacks a reasonable goal for him as a rookie. If he remains healthy, the former Seminole’s run support and pass rush upside make him a DL3 with DL2 upside in 2022.
Current Pos. Rank in Redraft: DL24
Current Pos. Rank in Dynasty: DL21
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