Predicting The Best Rookie At Every Position

OT: Evan Neal, New York Giants

In the words of The Ringer’s Benjamin Solak, “Jordan Mailata started for the Eagles even though he was bad, just because he was huge.” If Jordan Mailata were good, his name would be Evan Neal.

I think that the Giants absolutely killed it in the first round of this past draft. They grabbed both my top offensive tackle and my top defensive end, both of whom ranked in the top three on my final board. Evan Neal, my No. 3 overall prospect, was a force at left tackle for the Crimson Tide in college, and I have no doubt he’ll be a great help for Big Blue, on an offensive line that’s really starting to come into its own.

There’s not much I could write about Neal that hasn’t already been written. He’s not particularly fast, but he’s frighteningly athletic for his size, and his size is frightening by itself. A dancing bear, he is not, but he’s more like a bear driving a tank. Tank movement can be quick and efficient, but you have to be a truly masterful driver to get it to look that way. It’s a whole process. Neal is in that process, and I have a feeling we’ll see him blossom into one of the league’s top tackles throughout his rookie year, and into seasons two and three for him.

IOL: Zion Johnson, Los Angeles Chargers

The Chargers’ offensive unit wasn’t exactly full of holes in 2021, but there was a deficiency along the interior offensive line. Getting Zion Johnson in last year’s draft is about the best Brandon Staley and Co. could’ve asked for in a first-round selection. In my opinion, Johnson was one of the most underrated prospects in the 2022 draft cycle, and I think a large part of it is simply because he plays guard and not an “important” position.

Johnson is as steady as rookies come, and has shown major promise throughout training camp. Not to mention, having a (very intelligent and technically-sound) beast like Rashawn Slater standing next to him at the left tackle spot. I have high hopes for the Chargers this year, especially if Herbert keeps improving to the point of winning meaningful games and racking up those meaningful game wins. Johnson should be a major contributor, especially in the run game. He may not get the shine from national outlets, but those in the know won’t be able to keep quiet about him.

DT: Jordan Davis, Philadelphia Eagles

Jordan Davis is a hilarious prospect. He drew player comparisons to Thanos. Like, the big villain guy from those Marvel movies a couple years ago? Yeah, him. No one that big (6’7 and 340 pounds) should move that fast, downhill or laterally, or be able to play with such tenacity, as Jordan Davis does. He’s an anomaly of human engineering, and he fits perfectly with the Philadelphia Eagles.

What Philly wants to be under Nick Sirianna is beginning to come into focus now, and the start of that focus was the drafting of Jordan Davis, immediately followed by the acquisition, and handsome payment, of wide receiver A.J. Brown. Philly’s defense needed a run-stopper, and they got one in spades. Davis can do whatever you ask him to simply by physically dominating even the stoutest competition. I fully expect him to eat ball carriers whole, even as a rookie. I can’t wait.

DE: Kayvon Thibodeaux, New York Giants

Remember when I said the Giants killed it in this year’s draft? They’re the only team to appear on this list twice. I think Kayvon Thibodeaux is going to be a stud for New York’s defense, even more than I project Neal will be for their offense. From what I’ve seen of him in camp and preseason, he’s just as exceptional an athlete as I remember from his time at Oregon.

Not to get on my soapbox, but for whatever reason, most peoples’ biggest gripe with Thibodeaux is that he doesn’t put football over everything in his life. That’s fine by me! He’s still a good football player, it would seem. I’m finding myself at a loss for words right now, simply because I’m so high on this prospect that I don’t even know how to express how good I think he’ll be in the NFL. I am absolutely smitten with Thibodeaux, and I can’t wait for everyone to realize how good he is.

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