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4th and Inches: Offensive rookie report

Haley Alvarez-Lauto | DFP Staff

The 2022-23 National Football League rookie class was slow to make an impact on the league. However, as midseason quickly approaches, more and more rookies are beginning to make their mark on the league. Here are three rookies to pay attention to for the remainder of the season. 

Dameon Pierce (Houston Texans) 

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

Following an excellent preseason performance, Pierce was expected to have a big role due to the lack of talent in Houston’s backfield. So far, he has not disappointed. On an otherwise lackluster Texans roster, Pierce has emerged as a potential star. 

Pierce struggled in Week 1 with 33 yards on 11 carries. Since then, he has surpassed 60 yards in every contest and recorded more than 100 yards from scrimmage in four of his seven games. 

Even more impressive, Pierce is doing all of this with one of the worst offenses in the league. The Texans ranks in the bottom third of the league in both points and passing yards per game.

The lack of weapons outside of Pierce allows defenses to better defend the run, yet 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 back in the league, but his downfield vision and agility allows him to pick up yards when there are seemingly none to be picked up. He might even run himself into the Rookie of the Year award. 

The Texans are still in the midst of a rebuild, but Pierce might be the first piece toward a dynamic offense in Houston. 

Chris Olave (New Orleans Saints) 

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

Olave’s 495 receiving yards leads 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 the injury to Jameis Winston, the Saints have struggled with continuity at the quarterback position. The quarterback carousel in New Orleans has forced Olave to catch passes from Winston, Andy Dalton and Taysom Hill. Regardless, the former Ohio State University standout has been spectacular. 

Olave doesn’t have a glaring weakness in his game. His sub-4.4 second 40-yard dash time is proof of his downfield speed and ability to gain separation from defensive backs. He’s also a refined route runner able to track balls and consistently win contested catches. 

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

Despite the Saints’ woes throughout the season, they have a high powered offense. New Orleans ranks third in total offensive yards per game. Olave’s downfield ability is a big reason for this offensive power. 

New Orleans has struggled to regain prominence since future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees retired following the 2020 NFL season. However, Olave is a move in the right direction for a Saints team looking for a quick return to the playoffs. 

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. While Jones didn’t immediately emerge as an elite quarterback, 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 has been limited, thrusting Zappe into the spotlight in New England. In his two games as a starter, Zappe threw for 497 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. 

Jones made his return in Week 7 against the Chicago Bears, but a slow start in his return prompted New England fans to chant “Zappe” until the rookie eventually replaced him. 

Although the Patriots lost, the switch 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 is faced with the best possible problem a head coach can have: Which young quarterback should he start and develop? Jones holds a year of experience over Zappe, but the rookie might end up stealing the show in New England. 

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