The New Orleans Saints selected two players in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft by trading up to land Ohio State wide receiver Chris Olave and used their second pick of the first round to select Northern Iowa offensive tackle Trevor Penning. New Orleans used the rest of their picks in last year’s NFL Draft to select cornerback Alontae Taylor in the second round, linebacker D’Marco Jackson in the fifth round and defensive tackle Jordan Jackson in the sixth round. Some rookies stood out above the rest this season as they were able to step up with key players having to miss some time throughout the season.
Chris Olave, Wide Receiver:
Olave was the first wideout taken by the Saints since the 2014 NFL Draft when New Orleans selected Brandin Cooks. The former Buckeye became the 17th Ohio State player to be selected by New Orleans. Olave would go on to have a breakout rookie campaign with the Saints offense, especially with the injuries to Michael Thomas and Jarvis Landry that sidelined both receivers for most of the season.
Olave quickly was able to fill the shoes of a wide receiver group that was in need of their young playmakers to step up. He led the team in receptions (72) and receiving yards (1,042), joining Marques Colston and Thomas as the only rookie wide receivers in franchise history to top 1,000 yards in their first season in the league. The Ohio State product would be able to find the endzone four times during his debut season.
For his performance on the field, Olave was nominated for NFL Rookie of the Year, one of the highest honors in the NFL. Olave was able to make his mark during his first season in the NFL and will be a key player for the future of the Saints offense. He led all of the NFL with 12 games with 50-or-more receiving yards and in receiving yards per game average with 69.5.
Rashid Shaheed, Wide Receiver:
Shaheed was a hidden gem as he was picked up by New Orleans as an undrafted free agent from Weber State. The rookie wide receiver showcased his speed on offense and special teams for the Saints. Shaheed was able to make the most of his opportunities throughout the season as he racked up 28 receptions for 488 yards and three touchdowns. He was also able to be used in the running game where he added 57 yards on four carries.
Shaheed showed his athleticism as he led New Orleans with the biggest plays on the ground this season with a 44-yard run on the ground and a 68-yard card through the air. The Weber State product was effective in the special teams department as he averaged 22.9 yards per return on 14 kickoffs and 9.7 yards on 20 attempts on punt returns.
Shaheed was able to burst onto the scene and will become an important part in this Saints offense as there remains uncertainty on whether Thomas will be in New Orleans heading into the 2023 season.
Trevor Penning, Offensive Tackle:
Penning was the first player from Northern Iowa to ever be selected in the NFL Draft. New Orleans had high-hopes for their first round-draft-pick, but injuries would limit Penning’s production during his rookie career. He began his rookie season with a torn ligament in one foot and ended the year with a Lisfranc fracture in the other foot.
With the injuries limiting his availability on the field, Penning saw just 124 snaps on offense and 17 reps on special teams. While he was on the field, he was able to display his strengths as a blocker and his ability to be aggressive.
Alontae Taylor, Cornerback:
Taylor had an outstanding career with Tennessee and New Orleans found a diamond in the rough in the second round with the versatile cornerback. With the injury to Marshon Lattimore, Taylor stepped into a vital role while the veteran cornerback was sidelined for most of the year.
He was able to impress during his rookie season and will become a important factor in this Saints defense moving forward. Taylor played 663 defensive snaps during 13 games for New Orleans even with missing a month of the season due to an injury. The Tennessee product registered 46 tackles, one tackles for loss and 11 passes defended. Taylor had an opportunity to add several takeaways throughout the season, but they were wiped away by penalties. Even with no turnovers coming up on the stat sheet, he was able to show his ability to find the football.
Taylor generated a lot of noise with the Saints defense in his rookie season and he will have an opportunity heading into next season to be the starting cornerback alongside Lattimore and Paulson Adebo.
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