Every year, football fans get to witness an incoming class of NFL rookies fight for their respect among the league’s greatest players. It’s an opportunity every young football player dreams of, but one only a small percentage of football players ever get. Even those that get the opportunity aren’t guaranteed to succeed.
In the NFL, rookies come from a variety of different backgrounds – some enter the league through the annual draft, while others sign as an undrafted free agent. Either way, none of that matters once they hit the field. At that point, their ability to contribute to a winning team and winning culture is all that matters.
And while a majority of NFL rookies are either designated to the practice squad, receive very little playing time, or simply disappoint with the time they’re given, there are always a small group of NFL rookies that over-exceed expectations and prove they belong – we just never know who’s who until the season starts.
Which NFL Rookies Are We Excited to Watch This Year?
At this point of the offseason, there are more than 500 NFL rookies on rosters across the league – which takes into account the 259 rookies who were drafted and the several hundred more that were signed as undrafted free agents following the draft. These players are all chasing the same goal – playing time.
While some NFL rookies will receive playing time right out the gate – as starters, even – others have an uphill battle to climb on their way to the top. Either way, playing time is earned and maintaining that playing time requires positive results on the field. It won’t happen for all of them, but it’ll happen for some.
With OTAs underway, NFL rookies are starting to hit the field and there are certainly a ton of players that have our attention. We won’t know which rookies are the real deal until the season starts, but let’s take a look at some of the NFL rookies we’re most excited to watch this year – there’s a lot to be excited about!
20. Quentin Johnston
Quentin Johnston was drafted by the Los Angeles Chargers with the No. 21 overall pick in the first round. The 6-foot-4, 193-pound wide receiver played three years of college ball at Texas Christian University (TCU) and finished his college career with 115 catches, 2,190 yards, and 14 TDs in 30 games.
If the Chargers’ wide receiver corps can stay healthy, then Johnston should have it easy with defenses focused on Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. Fitting in as a No. 3 receiver would be ideal for Justin Herbert and the rest of the Chargers’ offense, which is expected to take a big step forward this year.
19. Lukas Van Ness
Lukas Van Ness was drafted by the Green Bay Packers with the No. 13 overall pick in the first round of this year’s draft. The 6-foot-5, 264-pound defensive lineman spent three seasons with the Iowa Hawkeyes and finished his college career with 70 tackles, 19.0 tackles for loss, and 13.0 sacks in 26 games.
The Packers are going to need to play stout defense this season with Aaron Rodgers not around to bail them out. Drafting Van Ness just outside the top-10 means the Packers view him as a major piece to that puzzle and are hoping he can help improve a pass rush that ranked 27th in the NFL in sacks last year.
18. Devon Witherspoon
Devon Witherspoon was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks with the No. 5 overall pick in the first round of this year’s draft. The 6-foot-0, 180-pound cornerback played four years of college ball at the University of Illinois and had 157 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, 1.0 sack, 5 interceptions, and 25 passes defensed
The Seahawks drafted Tariq Woolen in the fifth round of last year’s draft and he grabbed an NFL-leading 6 interceptions as a rookie. Drafting Witherspoon with the No. 5 overall pick shows you how highly the team thinks of him and they’re going to be happy to have a one-two punch like this in their secondary.
17. Bryan Bresee
Bryan Bresee was drafted by the New Orleans Saints with the No. 29 overall pick in the first round of this year’s draft. The 6-foot-5, 300-pound defensive lineman played three years of college ball at Clemson University and had 51 tackles, 15.0 tackles for loss, 9.0 sacks, 4 passes defensed, and 1 forced fumble.
The Saints are going in a new direction with the addition of Derek Carr and they’re hoping to give him what he didn’t have much of in Las Vegas – a defense. The Saints already have Cam Jordan on the defensive line, but also added two defensive tackles this offseason and are heavily investing in that area.
16. Tyree Wilson
Tyree Wilson was drafted by the Las Vegas Raiders with the No. 7 overall pick in the first round of this year’s draft. The 6-foot-6, 275-pound defensive lineman played one year at Texas A&M and three years at Texas Tech – he had 121 tackles, 32.0 tackles for loss, 17.0 sacks, and 1 forced fumble in 35 games.
The Raiders handed the keys to their offense to Jimmy Garoppolo and are hoping their defense is as good as the 49ers’ defense was – otherwise, he might not be the same winner in Vegas as he was in San Francisco. Wilson will help improve the pass rush alongside Chandler Jones and Maxx Crosby.
15. Sam LaPorta
Sam LaPorta was drafted by the Detroit Lions with the No. 34 overall pick in the second round of this year’s draft. The 6-foot-4, 250-pound tight end played four years of college ball at the University of Iowa and finished his college career with 153 receptions for 1,786 yards and 5 touchdowns in 40 games.
When the Lions traded T.J. Hockenson midway through last season, they knew they were trading away one of the best tight ends in the league. LaPorta will likely emerge as the starter by Week 1 over the likes of Brock Wright, who had 18 catches for 216 yards, and 4 touchdowns in 17 games played last year.
14. Zay Flowers
Zay Flowers was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens with the No. 22 overall pick in the first round of this year’s draft. The 5-foot-10, 177-pound wide receiver played four years of college ball at Boston College and finished his college career with 200 receptions for 3,056 yards and 29 touchdowns in 48 games.
For most of this offseason, Ravens’ fans were ready to bid farewell to Lamar Jackson, but they brought him back and added Odell Beckham Jr. to their struggling WR corps. Flowers will compete with Rashod Bateman and Devin Duvernay for playing time, but is expected to have a big role on their offense.
13. Jake Moody
Jake Moody was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers with the No. 99 overall pick in the third round of this year’s draft. The 6-foot-0, 211-pound kicker played five years of college ball at the University of Michigan – where he made 69 of 84 (82.1%) field goal attempts and a perfect 148 of 148 extra point attempts.
The 49ers drafting Moody in the third round was a bold move, to say the least – considering most kickers aren’t taken until the final two rounds (if taken at all). Nonetheless, the 49ers praised Moody as the right person to replace veteran Robbie Gould, who spent the past six seasons as the team’s starting kicker.
12. Jahmyr Gibbs
Jahmyr Gibbs was drafted by the Detroit Lions with the No. 12 overall pick in the first round of this year’s draft. The 5-foot-11, 200-pound running back played two seasons at Georgia Tech and one season at Alabama, finishing his college career with 2,132 rushing yards, 1,212 receiving yards, and 23 total TDs.
Gibbs was one of the biggest surprises of the first round, but the Lions wasted no time in making him their first pick of the 2023 NFL Draft. In doing so, they’re hoping he can help fill the void left by the loss of D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams. The Lions need a consistent rushing attack to help Jared Goff.
11. Michael Mayer
Michael Mayer was drafted by the Las Vegas Raiders with the No. 35 overall pick in the second round of this year’s draft. The 6-foot-4, 249-pound tight end played three years of college ball at the University of Notre Dame and finished his college career with 180 catches for 2,099 yards and 18 TDs in 36 games.
The Raiders shocked everyone when they traded tight end Darren Waller to the New York Giants this offseason, leaving them with a major void at the position – especially after losing Foster Moreau to free agency. The Raiders hope Michael Mayer, along with the addition of Austin Hooper, help fill that void.
10. Will Anderson Jr.
Will Anderson Jr. was drafted by the Houston Texans with the No. 3 overall pick in the first round of this year’s draft. The 6-foot-4, 235-pound linebacker played three years of college ball at the University of Alabama and had 204 tackles, 58.5 tackles for loss, 34.5 sacks, 1 interception, and 1 defensive TD.
The Texans drafted quarterback C.J. Stroud and linebacker Will Anderson Jr. with the No. 2 and No. 3 picks in the draft, respectively. They hope the young studs help turn their franchise around after years of instability and disappointment. They’re two of the best prospects at their position, so it’ll be fun to watch.
9. Bijan Robinson
Bijan Robinson was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons with the No. 5 overall pick in the first round of this year’s draft. The 6-foot-0, 215-pound running back played three years of college ball at the University of Texas and had 3,410 rushing yards, 805 receiving yards, and 41 total TDs – including 20 last season
Not many people had Robinson going to the Falcons, but that’s what happened and now Atlanta has a new weapon on offense. He’ll likely be the No. 1 running back in front of Tyler Allgeier and Cordarrelle Patterson, both of whom will add depth to the position. That’s a run-first offense if I’ve ever seen one.
8. Jordan Addison
Jordan Addison was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings with the No. 23 overall pick in the first round of this year’s draft. The 6-foot-0, 175-pound wide receiver played two seasons at Pitt and one season at USC, finishing his college career with 219 receptions for 3,134 yards and 29 touchdowns in 35 games.
The Vikings already have the best wide receiver in the game in Justin Jefferson, but lacked a quality No. 2 receiver behind him – Adam Thielen used to be that guy, but is now with the Panthers. Addison can easily fill that void and could flirt with 1,000+ yards as a rookie, especially with teams focused on JJ.
7. Joey Porter Jr.
Joey Porter Jr. was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers with the No. 32 overall pick in the second round of this year’s draft. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound cornerback played four years of college ball at Penn State University and had 113 tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss, 1.0 sack, 1 interception, and 20 passes defensed.
It was only right that Porter Jr. went to the Steelers – the same team his father, Joey Porter, was drafted by in 1999. The Steelers needed to bolster their secondary this offseason and did so with the addition of Patrick Peterson, who will be a starting cornerback alongside their newest second round draft pick.
6. Jalen Carter
Jalen Carter was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles with the No. 9 pick in the first round of this year’s draft. The 6-foot-3, 310-pound defensive lineman played three years of college ball at the University of Georgia and had 83 tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss, 6.0 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles in 35 games played.
The Eagles lost defensive tackle Javon Hargrave to free agency, so they decided to address that void with the addition of Carter – who will have to earn playing time behind Fletcher Cox. It’s a good situation for him, now that he’s teamed up with former college teammates Jordan Davis and Nakobe Dean.
5. Dalton Kincaid
Dalton Kincaid was drafted by the Buffalo Bills with the No. 25 overall pick in the first round of this year’s draft. The 6-foot-4, 242-pound tight end played three years of college ball at the University of Utah and finished his college career with 107 receptions for 1,414 yards, and 16 touchdowns in 26 games played.
The Buffalo Bills have one of the most high-powered offenses in the NFL and one of the most versatile quarterbacks in Josh Allen. That offense just got even more high-powered with the addition of Kincaid, who is going to help give Allen another security blanket – much like Dawson Knox has been lately.
4. Jaxon Smith-Njigba
Jaxon Smith-Njigba was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks with the No. 20 overall pick in the first round of this year’s draft. The 6-foot-0, 197-pound wide receiver played three years of college ball at Ohio State University and finished his college career with 110 catches for 1,698 yards and 10 TDs in 23 games.
Smith-Njigba only played in three games last season before injuring his left hamstring – ultimately keeping him out the rest of the season. When on the field, he’s one of the best wide receivers in the draft class and is going to give Geno Smith another weapon alongside D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett.
3. Anthony Richardson
Anthony Richardson was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts with the No. 4 overall pick in the first round of this year’s draft. The 6-foot-4, 236-pound quarterback played three years of college ball at the University of Florida, where he threw for 3,105 yards, 24 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions in 22 games played.
The Colts have been searching for a franchise quarterback ever since Andrew Luck left. They’ve tried Jacoby Brissett, Philip Rivers, Carson Wentz, and Matt Ryan over the past four seasons, but none of them have worked out. If things go right, Richardson can be the one to help turn the franchise around.
2. C.J. Stroud
C.J. Stroud was drafted by the Houston Texans with the No. 2 overall pick in the first round of this year’s draft. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound quarterback played three years of college ball at Ohio State University and finished his college career with 8,123 yards, 85 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions in 26 games played.
The Texans have been looking for a franchise quarterback ever since Deshaun Watson jumped ship. Davis Mills has played a major role in the transition, but hasn’t been the long-term answer they were looking for. Now that they have Stroud, they need to surround him with talent to help him succeed.
1. Bryce Young
Bryce Young was drafted by the Carolina Panthers with the No. 1 overall pick in the first round of this year’s draft. The 6-foot-0, 194-pound quarterback played three years of college ball at the University of Alabama and threw for 8,356 yards, 80 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions in 34 games played.
The Panthers have been searching for a franchise quarterback ever since Cam Newton faded out of the league. They’ve tried Kyle Allen, Teddy Bridgewater, P.J. Walker, Sam Darnold, and Baker Mayfield, but no one proved to be the answer. With Young in town, we could see Carolina turn their ship around.
Who Were the Best NFL Rookies in 2022?
Last year was a good year for NFL rookies – especially when you look at the New York Jets and Seattle Seahawks. The Jets witnessed the emergence of WR Garrett Wilson and CB Sauce Gardner, while the Seahawks saw the rise of RB Kenneth Walker IV and CB Tariq Woolen – all four were spectacular.
The Detroit Lions have a true threat in their pass rush with the addition of Aidan Huchinson, while the New Orleans Saints have a reliable receiving option with Chris Olave in their WR room. And we can’t talk about Kenneth Walker IV without mentioning fellow running back Dameon Pierce of the Houston Texans.
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Other NFL rookies who impressed us last season were S Jaquan Brisker, C Tyler Linderbaum, QB Brock Purdy, S Jalen Pitre, T Charles Cross, WR Christian Watson, LB Devin Lloyd, WR George Pickens, DE Kayvon Thibodeaux, LB James Houston, S Kyle Hamilton, and RB Breece Hall.
Most Impressive NFL Rookies of the 2022-23 Season
In late-April of last year, we witnessed 262 NFL rookies enter the league through the 2022 NFL Draft and another several hundred signed as undrafted free agents in the days that followed. Unfortunately, most of those players never saw the light of day and were cut, released, or waived well before the season started.
While that was the case for most, several NFL rookies rose to the occasion and proved they belonged in the league. Some of them showed their value right away, while others came into their own as the season went on. Some of them earned a starting role, while others relished as backups or special teams players.
Either way, every NFL rookie is going to have their own path and journey into the NFL. And just like every other season, the 2022-23 campaign saw a slew of NFL rookies mark their territory as they work their way towards that long-term, guaranteed contract. Sometimes all they need is a little opportunity and trust.
Who Were the Most Impressive NFL Rookies in 2022-23?
Of all the NFL rookies to see action in the 2022-23 regular season, only a few established themselves as some of the best at their position. For example, only one rookie quarterback played more than 10 games, two rookie receivers surpassed the 1,000-yard mark, and two running backs surpassed 1,000 yards.
On defense, there were three rookies with at least 6.0 sacks, four rookies with at least 100 tackles, and five rookies with at least four interceptions. Quality NFL rookies are rare, but they are out there and are putting up big numbers on a regular basis. You never know when someone is going to finally break out.
And it usually happens to the most unexpected players. Of the 20 NFL rookies we’re about to list below, only nine of them were drafted in the first round and one of them was named Mr. Irrelevant when he was drafted with the final pick – No. 262. With that said, let’s meet who the best NFL rookies were last year!
20. QB Kenny Pickett
Kenny Pickett was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers with the No. 20 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. He became the team’s starter during Week 4 and, while he went just 2-5 in his first seven starts, he led Pitt to five wins in their final six games – he threw four touchdowns and 1 interception during that span.
Pickett finished the season with 2,404 passing yards, 7 touchdowns, 9 interceptions, 237 rushing yards, and 3 rushing touchdowns. He had a 7-5-0 record as starter – four of those wins were a result of a game-winning drive by Pickett and three of them were fourth-quarter comebacks. Not bad for a rookie.
19. OL Abraham Lucas
Abraham Lucas was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in the third round (No. 72 overall) of the 2022 NFL Draft. He was a day-one starter for the team, which isn’t easy for a rookie offensive tackle. With that said, he held his own and did everything that was asked of him – including starting 16 of their 17 games.
All in all, Lucas played 975 snaps, allowing nine sacks and 28 pressures – he was also called for 7 penalties. Pro Football Focus graded him a 68.5 on the season, which is a good mark for someone in year one. His blocking up front helped lead the way for another rookie on this list – he’s a running back.
18. WR George Pickens
George Pickens was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the second round (No. 52 overall) of the 2022 NFL Draft. You can tell him and Kenny Pickett are going to have great chemistry moving forward – he played in 17 games and averaged just under five targets per game. That number will increase next year.
Pickens finished the season with 52 catches on 84 targets for 801 yards and 4 touchdowns – he also had 24 rushing yards for 1 rushing touchdown. Two of his receiving touchdowns came in the final three games of the season and he also snagged THE catch of the year – an incredible, impossible one-handed catch.
17. RB Isiah Pacheco
Isiah Pacheco was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in the seventh round (No. 251 overall) of the 2022 NFL Draft. He scored a rushing touchdown in his Week 1 debut, but wasn’t the team’s starting running back until Week 7 – at which point he went off and established himself as a reliable option on any down.
Pacheco finished the season with 830 rushing yards, 5 rushing touchdowns, and 130 receiving yards in 17 games (11 starts). He fumbled the ball four times, which is something he’ll have to address in the offseason, but he’s a great compliment to what Patrick Mahomes is able to do under center.
16. S Kyle Hamilton
Kyle Hamilton was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens with the No. 14 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. He wasn’t the team’s starter until Week 15, but still managed playing time as his coaches found a role for him. He continued to get better as the season went on and started the final four games of the season.
Hamilton recorded 62 tackles (46 solo), 4 tackles for loss, 5 QB hits, 2.0 sacks, 5 passes defensed, and 1 forced fumble. He does a great job of limiting receivers with elite coverage skills, but is also an explosive blitzer when coming off the edge and doesn’t have a problem bringing down big running backs.
15. LB Devin Lloyd
Devin Lloyd was drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars with the No. 27 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. He was a day-one starter for the team, finishing with 11 tackles in his debut. He went on to record at least 11 tackles in two more contests – Weeks 4 and 5 – and had two interceptions in his first three games.
Lloyd finished the season with 115 tackles (59 solo), 2 quarterback hits, 2 fumble recoveries, 8 passes defensed, and 3 interceptions in 17 games played (15 starts). He also gained valuable experience with 13 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 2 quarterback hits, and a pass defensed in the Jaguars’ two playoff games.
14. LB Quay Walker
Quay Walker was drafted by the Green Bay Packers with the No. 22 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. He was a day-one starter for the team and continued to improve as the season went on – playing in all 17 games and starting 16 of them. He had at least 11 tackles on three occasions – Weeks 7, 11, and 12.
Walker finished the season with 121 tackles (75 solo), 5 tackles for loss, 4 quarterback hits, 1.5 sacks, 7 passes defensed, 3 forced fumbles, and 1 fumble recovery. He recorded his first half-sack during a Week 11 loss to the Titans and had his first full sack in a Week 15 win against the defending champion Rams.
13. WR Christian Watson
Christian Watson was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the second round (No. 34 overall) of the 2022 NFL Draft. His season got off to the worst start, dropping a wide open catch that would’ve been an easy 75-yard touchdown for the first play of the regular season. Aaron Rodgers wasn’t too happy.
By Week 10, he was Rodgers’ favorite target and was receiving between 6 and 8 targets per game. He finished with at least 100 yards three times and scored 7 touchdowns in a four-week span midway through the season. He had 41 catches for 611 yards and 7 touchdowns, as well as 2 TDs rushing.
12. LB James Houston IV
James Houston IV was drafted by the Detroit Lions in the sixth round (No. 217) overall of the 2022 NFL Draft. He didn’t make his debut until Week 12, but he was one of the best pass rushers in the league once he did. He had at least one sack in 5 of the final 7 games of the season, including 3.0 sacks in Week 17.
Houston IV finished the season with just 12 tackles, but managed to couple that with 7 tackles for loss, 11 quarterback hits, 8.0 sacks, 1 forced fumble, and 1 fumble recovery. He established himself as a force to be reckoned with alongside another rookie on this list – that LIons’ defensive line is going to be scary!
11. S Jaquan Brisker
Jaquan Brisker was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the second round (No. 48 overall) of the 2022 NFL Draft. He was a day-one starter for the team and an absolute blessing as the season went on. He had at least 10 tackles on three occasions, including in Week 2 vs. the Packers and Week 18 vs. the Vikings.
Brisker finished the season with 104 tackles (73 solo), 5 tackles for loss, 4 quarterback hits, 4.0 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, and 1 interception in 15 games played (15 starts). He has a chance at becoming a cornerstone player for this Bears’ defense moving forward and an anchor at free safety.
10. WR Jahan Dotson
Jahan Dotson was drafted by the Washington Commanders with the No. 16 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. In his first four games, Dotson recorded 12 catches for 152 yards and 4 touchdowns – he was a TD-scoring machine, including two in his debut! Unfortunately, injuries kept him sidelined until Week 10.
Dotson played the rest of the season and became a featured part of the Commanders’ offense by WEek 13. He scored a touchdown in three consecutive games between Week 13 and 16, including 100 yards in Week 15. He also showed versatility in different situations, completing a 2-pt conversion in Week 2.
9. WR Chris Olave
Chris Olave was drafted by the New Orleans Saints with the No. 11 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. While he didn’t start every game, he was a factor every single time he stepped on the field – appearing in all 17 games for the Saints. He had at least 100 yards three times and at least 12 targets four times.
Olave finished the season with 72 receptions on 119 targets for 1,042 yards and 4 touchdowns. He averaged 70 yards per game and 9 yards per target, with his longest catch being a 53-yarder. He was consistently getting his team first downs, finishing with 48 first downs and 14.5 yards per reception.
8. RB Dameon Pierce
Dameon Pierce was drafted by the Houston Texans in the fourth round (No. 107 overall) of the 2022 NFL Draft. No one expected him to break out the way he did, but he played rather consistently – with the exception of a few games. Hr rushed for at least 130 yards on two occasions – Weeks 4 and 9.
Pierce finished the season with 939 rushing yards (61 yards short of 1,000 yards), 4 rushing touchdowns, 56 first downs, 30 catches, 165 receiving yards, and 1 receiving touchdown. He had a season-long rush of 75 yards and averaged 72.2 yards per game. He fumbled the ball four times, but he’ll get smarter.
7. S Jalen Pitre
Jalen Pitre was drafted by the Houston Texans in the second round (No. 37 overall) of the 2022 NFL Draft. He was a day-one starter for the team and proved to be one of their most consistent players on defense – anchoring the team’s secondary and finishing with at least 10 tackles in five games.
Pitre finished his 2022-23 campaign with a whopping 147 tackles (99 solo), 5 tackles for loss, 1 QB hit, 1.0 sack, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, 5 interceptions, and 8 passes defensed. He had at least 12 tackles in four of his last six games, including a career-high 16 tackles in Week 13 against the Browns.
6. DE Aidan Hutchinson
Aidan Hutchinson was drafted by the Detroit Lions with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. He paired very well with James Houston IV from above and they’re going to make a scary duo next season. They’re going to anchor that defense for several years, at least, and cause a problem for quarterbacks.
Hutchinson finished the season with 52 tackles (34 solo), 9 tackles for loss, 15 quarterback hits, 9.5 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries, 3 interceptions, and 3 passes defensed. He was extremely reliable, playing in all 17 games, and had a season-high 3.0 sacks against the Commanders in just his second career game.
5. CB Tariq Woolen
Tariq Woolen was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in the fifth round (No. 153 overall) of the 2022 NFL Draft. He was a day-one starter for the team and wound up being one of, if not, the best cornerback in the league this past season. He started all 17 games and even started the Seahawks’ two playoff games.
Woolen finished his 2022-23 campaign with 63 tackles (46 solo), 1 tackle for loss, 1 fumble recovery, 16 passes defensed, a league-leading 6 interceptions, and 1 defensive touchdown. He earned a Pro Bowl appearance in his first season in the NFL and had an interception in four straight games early in the year.
4. QB Brock Purdy
Brock Purdy was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the seventh round (No. 262 overall) of the 2022 NFL Draft – he was Mr. Irrelevant. He only threw 9 passes in the team’s first 12 games, but was thrust into the starter role during Week 13 after Jimmy Garoppolo went down with an injury. And he shined.
Purdy not only threw two touchdowns to lead his team to a win in Week 13, but he threw two touchdowns in each of the next four games and then three touchdowns in the next two games – all while leading the 49ers to an 8-0 record in that span. And now he’s playing in the NFC Championship Game, as a rookie.
3. WR Garrett Wilson
Garrett Wilson was drafted by the New York Jets with the No. 10 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. It didn’t seem to matter who was under center for the Jets – Joe Flacco, Mike Smith, Zach Wilson – he was getting the ball and he was doing something with it. Sure, he had a few lousy games, but everyone does.
Wilson finished the season with 83 catches on 147 targets for 1,103 yards and 4 touchdowns in 17 games played (12 starts). He had at least 11 targets in five different games and surpassed the 100-yard mark three times – including a season-high 162 yards in Week 13. He also had two two-touchdown games.
2. CB Sauce Gardner
Sauce Gardner was drafted by the New York Jets with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. He was a day-one starter for the team and quickly established himself as a lockdown defender – he wasn’t scared to match up with anyone and accepted any challenge that came his way, fearlessly at that.
Gardner finished the year with 75 tackles (51 solo), 3 tackles for loss, 1 quarterback hit, 2 interceptions, and a league-leading 20 passes defensed in 17 games (17 starts). He was named a First Team All-Pro and was named to the Pro Bowl in his first season – an incredible feat for a rookie cornerback.
1. RB Kenneth Walker III
Kenneth Walker III was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in the second round (No. 41 overall) of the 2022 NFL Draft. He didn’t start the season as the team’s lead back, but he definitely finished the season in that role as he continued to impress week after week. He surpassed 100 yards seven times last year.
Walker III finished his 2022-23 campaign with 1,050 rushing yards, 9 rushing touchdowns, 27 catches, 165 receiving yards, and 57 first downs. What’s even more incredible is he didn’t fumble the ball once the entire season – despite rushing the ball 228 times. That’s exactly what you want out of your running back.
Predicting the Best NFL Rookies in 2023-24
Like we mentioned in the intro, we never really know how NFL rookies are going to pan out until they hit the field. Even then, things can change in an instant – much like we saw from James Houston this year. Either way, there are definitely several future NFL rookies we have our eye on leading up to the draft.
Some of those names include QB Bryce Young, DT Jalen Carter, QB Will Levis, EDGE Will Anderson Jr., QB C.J. Stroud, OT Paris Johnson, OT Peter Skoronski, EDGE Myles Murphy, EDGE Tyree Wilson, CB Christian Gonzalez, TE Michael Mayer, RB Bijan Robinson, and WR Jaxon Smith-Njiba.
Those players are bound to have good rookie seasons, but they’ll have to prove it first – after all, they’re not even in the NFL yet. We’ll get to watch them take stage at the 2023 NFL Draft on April 27-29 in Kansas City as they wear their team’s gear for the first time. But first, we have a Super Bowl to watch!
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