Jets’ Gardner, Seahawks’ Walker lead NFL’s impact rookies

Nov 9, 2022, 4:00 AM | Updated: 4:21 am
New York Jets cornerback Sauce Gardner (1) runs back an interception during the second half of an N...

New York Jets cornerback Sauce Gardner (1) runs back an interception during the second half of an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

(AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Sauce Gardner got twisted around as Stefon Diggs blew by him, a rare moment this season when the New York Jets cornerback looked like a rookie.

That 42-yard toss by Josh Allen on the first play from scrimmage Sunday had the No. 4 overall draft pick burned. But Gardner’s confidence never wavered.

“After that play, I just told everybody, ‘Chill out, we’re going to be good,'” Gardner recalled. “And right after that, the interception happened.”

Jordan Whitehead picked off Allen two plays later. And then Gardner got back to playing like a veteran, adding an interception of his own, not allowing another catch in man coverage the rest of the game and making the defensive play that sealed the Jets’ 20-17 victory over Buffalo by batting away Allen’s desperation heave to Gabe Davis.

“He got beat on that first play on that double move, but he still stayed poised and kept himself in the game,” Jets coach Robert Saleh said. “He wasn’t even fazed by it.”

That has been the theme so far through the first half of the season for the former Cincinnati star, who is already considered one of the NFL’s top cornerbacks. Gardner is also the frontrunner for AP Defensive Rookie of the Year, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

He has been a big reason for the Jets’ surprising 6-3 start, and he’s not alone. Wide receiver Garrett Wilson and defensive end Jermaine Johnson, both first-rounders along with Gardner, and second-round running back Breece Hall — now out for the season with a torn ACL — have also been key contributors.

“When you have that vibrant youth, they just bring a lot of juice,” Saleh said. “It’s contagious, everybody gets it.”

Same in Seattle, where the Seahawks are also 6-3 and on a four-game winning streak led by a resurgent Geno Smith at quarterback and a pair of standout rookies in running back Kenneth Walker III and cornerback Tariq Woolen.

Walker has stepped in for injured Rashaad Penny and — with Hall on IR — run his way to being the favorite for AP Offensive Rookie of the Year, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

The second-round pick out of Michigan State has 570 yards rushing and seven touchdowns, with the bulk of his production coming in the last four games since taking over as the Seahawks’ starter.

“He’s something now,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. “He’s showing us stuff every time we go out. He’s got tricks, he’s got creativity. It stems from this marvelous ability he has and capitalizes on it because he’s so tough and he’s so aggressive.”

Several teams can relate, with rookies all around the league making immediate impacts:

IKEM EKWONU, LT, Panthers — The sixth overall pick has given up three sacks, but has settled in lately by allowing just five quarterback pressures in his last six games.

SAUCE GARDNER, CB, Jets — New York believes it might have the second coming of Darrelle Revis in Gardner, who has been impressive through the first half and has Pro Football Focus’ second-best coverage grade.

AIDAN HUTCHINSON, DE, Lions — He went No. 2 overall and is quickly establishing himself as Detroit’s top pass rusher with 4 1/2 sacks and a team-leading 24 quarterback pressures. Hutchinson also got his first interception last Sunday when he picked off Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers in the end zone.

JACK JONES, CB, Patriots — The fourth-rounder out of Arizona State is part of New England’s defensive back rotation and is Pro Football Focus’ top-graded cornerback despite starting just one game. Jones is also standing out on special teams, coming close to tipping a few kicks on the field goal block unit.

ROGER McCREARY, CB, Titans — A year after Tennessee took Caleb Farley in the first round, the Titans drafted another cornerback in the second and had some scratching their heads. While Farley has struggled to get on the field on defense, McCreary, the 35th overall pick out of Auburn, has been a starter all season and intercepted Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes last Sunday night.

CHRIS OLAVE, WR, Saints — The No. 11 pick was the third wide receiver drafted, but leads all rookies with 43 catches and 618 yards receiving to go along with two TDs.

DAMEON PIERCE, RB, Texans — The fourth-round pick out of Florida has become a key playmaker for Houston, running for at least 92 yards in four of his last five games and leading NFL rookies with 678 yards rushing. He and Seattle’s Walker could end up in a tight race for offensive rookie honors.

KENNETH WALKER III, RB, Seahawks — He has a five-game touchdown streak, including running for two scores in two of his last three games. Against Arizona last Sunday, Walker had 78 of his 109 yards rushing in the second half — including 62 on Seattle’s final two possessions.

TRAVON WALKER, OLB, Jaguars — The No. 1 overall pick from Georgia has 2 1/2 sacks and five quarterback hits while also showing flashes of the run-stuffing ability that made him fly up draft boards in the spring. He and fellow first-round linebacker Devin Lloyd are big-time building blocks for Jacksonville’s defense.

GARRETT WILSON, WR, Jets — He was the second wide receiver drafted at No. 10 overall, two picks after Atlanta’s Drake London, but Wilson has developed a quick rapport with quarterback Zach Wilson. The former Ohio State standout has 18 of his team-leading 42 receptions in the past three games.

TARIQ WOOLEN, CB, Seahawks — The fifth-round pick out of UTSA has been a pleasant surprise, winning the starting job out of training camp and consistently showing good coverage skills and tackling ability. Woolen’s four interceptions are tied for second-most in the league.

___

AP Pro Football Writer Teresa M. Walker contributed to this report.

___

AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


              New York Jets running back James Robinson (23) is upended by New England Patriots cornerback Jack Jones (13) during the third quarter of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 30, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
            
              Kansas City Chiefs tight end Noah Gray (83) catches a pass as Tennessee Titans cornerback Roger McCreary (21) defends during overtime of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022, in Kansas City, Mo. The Chiefs won 20-17. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga)
            
              Detroit Lions defensive end Aidan Hutchinson (97) reacts after intercepting a pass intended for Green Bay Packers wide receiver Allen Lazard (13) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
            
              Seattle Seahawks cornerback Tariq Woolen (27) intercepts a pass intended for Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Marquise Brown, rear, during the second half of an NFL football game in Seattle, Sunday, Oct. 16, 2022. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)
            
              New Orleans Saints wide receiver Chris Olave catches a pass in the first half of an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens in New Orleans, Monday, Nov. 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
            
              Houston Texans running back Dameon Pierce (31) carries in the second half of an NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles in Houston, Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022. The Eagles won 29-17. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
            
              New York Jets' Garrett Wilson, center, dives over Buffalo Bills' Damar Hamlin (3) as Bills' Siran Neal (33) closes in during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
            
              Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson (3) is taken down by Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Travon Walker (44), rear, during the NFL football game between Denver Broncos and Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley Stadium in London, Sunday, Oct. 30, 2022. (AP Photo/Ian Walton)
            
              Seattle Seahawks running back Kenneth Walker III (9) runs against Arizona Cardinals linebacker Zaven Collins (25) during the second half of an NFL football game in Glendale, Ariz., Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Matt York)
            
              New York Jets cornerback Sauce Gardner (1) runs back an interception during the second half of an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

AP

FILE - Former President Donald Trump, left, and Michigan Republican attorney general candidate Matt...
Associated Press

Defeated election conspiracists seek to lead Michigan GOP

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The Republicans who lost their races for Michigan’s top three statewide offices after promoting falsehoods about the 2020 presidential election are not planning to go quietly. Two of the candidates who denied President Joe Biden’s victory in the state have announced plans to run for the position that leads the state […]
6 hours ago
Associated Press

Estonia to buy U.S. rocket artillery system in $200M deal

HELSINKI (AP) — NATO member and Russia’s neighbor Estonia is boosting its defense capabilities by acquiring an advanced U.S. rocket artillery system in the Baltic country’s largest arms procurement project ever, defense officials said Saturday. A deal signed Friday for the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System is worth more than $200 million and includes equipment […]
6 hours ago
Migrant workers with their belongings leave a barricaded village after authorities' easing of COVID...
Associated Press

Beijing, Shenzhen scrap COVID-19 tests for public transport

BEIJING (AP) — Chinese authorities on Saturday announced a further easing of COVID-19 curbs with major cities such as Shenzhen and Beijing no longer requiring negative tests to take public transport. The slight relaxation of testing requirements comes even as daily virus infections reach near-record highs, and follows weekend protests across the country by residents […]
6 hours ago
A police officer tries to keep the roadway clear as people come to view the Mauna Loa volcano as it...
Associated Press

Molten lava on Hawaii’s Big Island could block main highway

HILO, Hawaii (AP) — Many people on the Big Island of Hawaii are bracing for major upheaval if lava from Mauna Loa volcano slides across a key highway and blocks the quickest route connecting two sides of the island. The molten rock could make the road impassable and force drivers to find alternate coastal routes […]
6 hours ago
Associated Press

US condemns shooting at Pakistan’s embassy in Afghanistan

ISLAMABAD (AP) — The U.S. on Saturday condemned an attack a day earlier on the Pakistani embassy in Afghanistan’s capital, in which a senior Pakistani diplomat escaped unhurt but one of his Pakistani guards was wounded, sending a wave of anger in this Islamic nation. Friday’s assault comes amid rising tensions between the South Asian […]
6 hours ago
FILE - Residents queue at a bank branch in Kherson, southern Ukraine, Nov. 21, 2022. Even as Ukrain...
Associated Press

EXPLAINER: Can Ukraine pay for war without wrecking economy?

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — Even as Ukraine celebrates recent battlefield victories, its government faces a looming challenge on the financial front: how to pay the enormous cost of the war effort without triggering out-of-control price spikes for ordinary people or piling up debt that could hamper postwar reconstruction. The struggle is finding loans or donations […]
6 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Quantum Fiber

How high-speed fiber internet edges out cable for everyday use

In a world where technology drives so much of our daily lives, a lack of high-speed internet can be a major issue.
...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Prep the plumbing in your home just in time for the holidays

With the holidays approaching, it's important to know when your home is in need of heating and plumbing updates before more guests start to come around.
...
SCHWARTZ LASER EYE CENTER

Key dates for Arizona sports fans to look forward to this fall

Fall brings new beginnings in different ways for Arizona’s professional sports teams like the Cardinals and Coyotes.
Jets’ Gardner, Seahawks’ Walker lead NFL’s impact rookies