The NFL season is nine weeks old, and several rookies have made legitimate impacts on their teams, some even making contributions more likely expected of seasoned veterans, especially in clutch moments.
As the NFL season officially enters its second half, here's a look at the top-five offensive and top-five defensive rookies, from what is already proving to be a stellar 2023 NFL Draft class.
1. C.J. Stroud - QB, Houston Texans
It's anyone's guess who the trajectory of their entire careers will play out, but, so far, the Carolina Panthers' decision to select Bryce Young over C.J. Stroud has been a major boon for the Houston Texans. Young has shown the poise of a steady veteran, especially in the biggest moments of tight games. Through nine games, Stroud's confidence and consistency have translated to a 62 percent completion percentage for 2,270 passing yards with 14 touchdowns to just one interception. Houston is legitimately a threat to make the postseason, in large part because of Stroud's command of the offense and the fact that he is elevating his teammates around him on offense.
2. Puka Nacua - WR, Los Angeles Rams
In a strong class of rookie wide receivers, and in spite of inconsistent quarterback play, Puka Nacua has risen to the top of the rookie ranks at the position while looking like one of the biggest value-plus selections from this spring's NFL Draft. Nacua, chosen by the Rams in the fifth-round of the draft, burst onto the scene by producing over 110 receiving yards in three of his first four games. Even after Cooper Kupp returned to the Rams' lineup, his presence hasn't tanked Nacua's production. The BYU alum has caught 64 passes for 827 yards with a pair of touchdowns, while averaging 12.9 yards per reception. It's early, but Nacua looks like a building block for the Rams' offense, both in 2023 and the future.
3. De'Von Achane - RB, Miami Dolphins
De'Von Achane has been so dominant, that despite missing three games due to a knee injury, the former Texas A&M standout remains the NFL's 17th-leading rusher. Before getting injured, Achane was averaging 12.1 yards per carry, on 38 rushing attempts while producing 460 yards with five touchdowns. When healthy, the Dolphins' duo of Achane and Raheem Mostert might be one of the league's most prolific backfields. If nothing else, Achane has proven that his speed and explosiveness put him right at home in the Dolphin's offense.
4. Sam LaPorta - TE, Detroit Lions
For as much talent and speed as the Lions have built on the perimeter, Sam LaPorta has immediately carved out a role both as quarterback Jared Goff's security blanket and a weapon to exploit the middle of the field. LaPorta has rapidly become one of the most productive players at his position. Pro Football Focus lists LaPorta as the eighth-highest tight end in the league, and it's easy to see why when watching the Lions offense. So far, LaPorta has caught 43 passes for 434 yards and four touchdowns. The Lions are among the most complete teams in the league, with a legitimate chance at making the Super Bowl out of the NFC, and LaPorta has quickly proven capable of being a consistent contributor powering Detroit's offense.
5. Tank Dell - WR, Houston Texans
Stroud's ascent up the ranks among the league's top quarterbacks has been accompanied by Tank Dell's emergence as a legitimate game-breaker at wide receiver. Dell pulled down the game-winning touchdown reception in the Texans' thrilling comeback win over the Tampa Bay Buccaners, as time expired in Week 9, but that moment is just one of the big plays that underscore his value to Houston's offense. Dell's game-breaking speed has helped him become one of Stroud's favorite targets, which is underscored by the rookie quarterback's 131.3 passer rating when looking his direction. Through his first seven games, Dell has already caught 28 of his 43 targets for 454 yards with four touchdowns. As Stroud continues to develop, don't be surprised if Dell's profile, and role in the Texans' offense, continue to rise.
1. Jalen Carter - DL, Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles boast one of the most dominant and disruptive defensive fronts, and Jalen Carter has already proven himself to be a cornerstone of that group. Carter has both shown an ability to cast interior offensive linemen aside en-route to the quarterback, and command double-teams which free up opportunities for the likes of Fletcher Cox and Haason Reddick. Howie Roseman and the Eagles' struck gold with Carter, a disruptive space-eater who's elevated the Eagles' interior pass-rush while also dominating against the run. Carter already has four sacks and 16 total tackles, in addition to the impacts that he has made that don't necessarily show up in the stat sheet.
2. Will Anderson Jr. - EDGE, Houston Texans
It has been easy to see why the Texans so aggressively traded up to select Will Anderson Jr. No. 3 overall in this spring's draft. An absolute game-wrecker, Anderson has emerged as a matchup nightmare for opposing offensive linemen. Through his first eight games, Anderson has logged 30 total tackles with a pair of sacks, to go with 28 total quarterback pressures. Nick Caserio hit a home run at the top of the draft, adding a pair of franchise anchors in the first three selections.
3. Devon Witherspoon - CB, Seattle Seahawks
Through the first two months of his career, Witherspoon has quickly developed into a centerpiece of the Seahawks' next generation of the 'Legion of Boom.' Boasting the requisite length that coordinators covet at cornerback, Witherspoon is physical enough to throw his weight around both in run-support and deep in the secondary. Witherspoon's dominance is underscored by the fact that opposing quarterbacks have a meager 56.7 passer rating when throwing his direction, and opposing receivers are averaging a mere 9.5 yards per reception against him. Witherspoon is playing with the savviness and consistency of a veteran, and is already one of the stingiest cornerbacks in the league.
4. Joey Porter Jr. - CB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Porter has quickly risen into the Pittsburgh Steelers' starting lineup, and he just might be the premier cornerback in the AFC North, quickly emerging as one of the league's most dominant players at his position. According to Pro Football Focus, Porter Jr. has held opposing quarterbacks to a 48.3 passer rating when targeting him, which is fifth-best among all defensive players across the league. A physical press-cornerback with tremendous ball-skills, Porter Jr. has the length that coordinators build defenses around and the immediate production to match. So far, Porter Jr. hasn't allowed a touchdown, has forced four incompletions, intercepted a pass, and logged 11 total tackles. If the first two months of his career are any indication, Porter Jr. has the potential to develop into the backstop of Pittsburgh's defense.
5. Brian Branch - S, Detroit Lions
Brian Branch didn't waste any time making a major impact. In his NFL debut, in the season-opener against the Kansas City Chiefs, Branch took a dropped pass 50 yards for a touchdown. A physical safety with strong instincts in coverage, Branch is holding opposing wide receivers to 7.8 yards per reception, when quarterbacks target him. Branch has battled through injuries, but has made a consistent impact when healthy and on the field.
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