Offensive Rookie Report – The Daily Free Press

Haley Alvarez-Lauto | DFP staff

The 2022-23 National Football League rookie class has been slow to make an impact on the league. However, as the mid-season approaches, more and more rookies are starting to make their mark in the league. Here are three rookies to watch for the rest of the season.

Dameon Pierce (Houston Texans)

The Houston Texans clinched gold in the fourth round of the 2022 NFL Draft when they selected University of Florida running back Dameon Pierce.

After a strong preseason performance, Pierce was expected to play a big role due to Houston’s lack of talent in the backfield. So far, it hasn’t disappointed. On an otherwise lackluster roster of Texans, Pierce emerged as a potential star.

Pierce struggled in Week 1 with 33 yards on 11 carries. Since then, he’s topped 60 yards in every contest and recorded over 100 yards from scrimmage in four of his seven games.

Even more impressive, Pierce does it all with one of the worst offenses in the league. The Texans rank in the bottom third of the league in points and passing yards per game.

Lack of weapons aside from Pierce allows defenses to better defend the run, but Pierce is still able to rack up yardage. In the Texans’ Week 4 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, Pierce rushed for 131 yards on 14 carries.

Pierce isn’t the fastest or strongest fullback in the league, but his vision and agility on the field allow him to pick up yards when there seem to be none to pick up. He could even run for rookie of the year.

The Texans are still rebuilding, but Pierce could be the first piece toward a dynamic offense in Houston.

Chris Olave (New Orleans Saints)

New Orleans Saints rookie wide receiver Chris Olave has quickly established himself as one of the NFL’s most trusted threats. Olave was the third receiver taken in the 2022 NFL Draft, but leads all rookie receivers in receptions and yards.

Olave’s 495 receiving yards lead all rookies by a wide margin. He is followed by Pittsburgh Steelers receiver George Pickens, who has recorded 338 receiving yards. Olave is also the only rookie receiver in the top 15 for receiving yards across the league.

After Jameis Winston was injured, the Saints struggled to secure continuity at quarterback. The quarterback carousel in New Orleans forced Olave to catch passes from Winston, Andy Dalton and Taysom Hill. Either way, the former Ohio State University star was spectacular.

Olave has no glaring weakness in his game. His sub-4.4 second rush time for 40 yards is proof of his downhill speed and ability to separate from defensive backs. He is also a refined road runner who can track balls and consistently win contested grapples.

Olave’s most impressive performance came in a Week 3 loss to the Carolina Panthers. Olave caught a season-high nine passes for 147 yards. He broke the century mark again in the Saints’ Week 7 loss to the Arizona Cardinals with seven catches for 106 yards.

Despite the Saints’ misfortunes throughout the season, they have a powerful offense. New Orleans ranks third in total offensive yards per game. Olave’s ability on the court is a big reason for this offensive power.

New Orleans has struggled to regain prominence since future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees retired after the 2020 NFL season. However, Olave is a step in the right direction for a Saints team looking for an early playoff return.

Bailey Zappe (New England Patriots)

The 2022 NFL Draft was one of the weakest quarterback classes in recent history. The only quarterback selected in the first round was Kenny Pickett, who was drafted 20th overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers. However, the New England Patriots might have found a diamond in the rough with Bailey Zappe, who was drafted in the fourth round.

This comes a year after the Patriots drafted former University of Alabama quarterback Mac Jones in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Although Jones did not immediately become a quarterback elite, he showed promise for a Patriots team looking to replace Tom Brady.

After suffering an ankle injury in Week 4 against the Green Bay Packers, Jones’ action was limited, thrusting Zappe into the New England spotlight. In his two games as a starter, Zappe threw for 497 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.

Jones made his comeback in Week 7 against the Chicago Bears, but a slow start to his comeback had New England fans chanting “Zap” until the rookie finally replaced him.

Although the Patriots lost, the move to Zappe had a noticeable effect on New England’s offense. When Zappe entered the game in the second quarter, he scored the Patriots’ first touchdown of the game on a 30-yard bomb to receiver Jakobi Meyers.

Head Coach Bill Belichick faces the best problem a head coach could have: Which young quarterback should he start and develop? Jones has a year of experience on Zappe, but the rookie could end up stealing the show in New England.

Christy J. Olson