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2023 NFL season: Best/worst-case projections for notable offensive rookies

With the start of the 2023 NFL regular season just around the corner, draft analyst Chad Reuter projects the best- and worst-case scenarios for 17 intriguing offensive rookies.

Projected statistics are based on their expected role and success of their squad in 2023, as well as the recent production of first-year players with similar talent and circumstances.

Drafted: Round 1, No. 1 overall

Best-case scenario: Young plays within himself but trusts his playmaking skills when off-platform. Veteran receivers D.J. Chark (if healthy) and Adam Thielen do their part to maximize the Day 1 starter's potential, as does big-bodied but agile second-round pick Jonathan Mingo (projected stats: 45 receptions, 600 yards, 4 TDs).

Worst-case scenario: Young tries to do too much and makes mistakes instead of picking his spots to try for big plays. The offensive line and receivers turn out not to be as improved as the team expects, forcing him into unfavorable situations.

Projected stats: 3,700 passing yards, 23 TDs, 11 INTs; 350 rushing yards, 4 rushing TDs. 

C.J. Stroud
Ohio State · QB

Drafted: Round 1, No. 2 overall

Best-case scenario: Stroud stays strong in the pocket behind an improved offensive line while receivers Nico Collins and John Metchie III are reliable targets for him all season. The rookie passer also makes use of his athleticism to run for first downs in key spots and punch the ball into the end zone. 

Worst-case scenario: Stroud shows he’s not yet ready to lead the offense, missing targets and forcing passes that land in the hands of defenders, so veterans Davis Mills and/or Case Keenum get snaps early on. The line is mediocre at best (aside from left tackle Laremy Tunsil) and the up-and-coming receivers aren't ready for prime time.

Projected stats: 3,400 passing yards, 21 TDs, 14 INTs; 350 rushing yards, 3 rushing TDs. 

Drafted: Round 1, No. 4 overall

Best-case scenario: Head coach Shane Steichen helps Richardson begin the path to stardom, as he did with Jalen Hurts in Philadelphia. Running back Jonathan Taylor ends up staying in Indianapolis instead of being traded, and the Colts' receiver group becomes better than advertised.

Worst-case scenario: Richardson struggles behind an offensive line that fails to rebound from a poor 2022 campaign, and receivers Alec Pierce and Isaiah McKenzie do not step up. Taylor is traded and the team's running back committee does not rise to the challenge.  

Projected stats: 3,100 passing yards, 20 TDs, 15 INTs; 650 rushing yards, 8 rushing TDs. 

Drafted: Round 1, No. 8 overall

Best-case scenario: Robinson is the centerpiece of the offense and takes pressure off second-year quarterback Desmond Ridder. He earns the majority of carries behind a good offensive line and gets a few shots each game as a receiver out of the backfield, using his vision and agility in the open field.

Worst-case scenario: Robinson struggles and the team’s leading rusher in 2022, Tyler Allgeier, plays a larger-than-expected role, along with veteran Cordarrelle Patterson.

Projected stats: 225 carries for 1,125 yards, 10 TDs; 50 receptions for 400 yards, 3 TDs.

Jahmyr Gibbs
Alabama · RB

Drafted: Round 1, No. 12 overall

Best-case scenario: Gibbs becomes the offensive weapon the team envisioned, using his speed to make big plays. He gets 8 to 10 carries a game, splitting time with David Montgomery, and 4 to 5 chances as a receiver each week.

Worst-case scenario: Gibbs’ totes are limited by the success of Montgomery and the rookie doesn't see a lot of opportunities on third down due to his issues in pass protection. He makes fewer catches than expected as quarterback Jared Goff leans on Amon-Ra St. Brown, Marvin Jones Jr. and rookie tight end Sam LaPorta to matriculate the ball down the field.

Projected stats: 150 carries for 650 yards, 5 TDs; 55 receptions for 500 yards, 3 TDs. 

Drafted: Round 1, No. 20 overall

Best-case scenario: Smith-Njigba establishes a rapport with quarterback Geno Smith on the field, getting more looks in the short game when Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf are attracting deep coverage. The former Buckeye takes advantage of his short-area quickness and elusiveness after the catch.

Worst-case scenario: The wrist injury Smith-Njigba suffered this month delays his acclimation to the pros, one year after he missed nearly an entire season at Ohio State with hamstring issues. Seattle's top running backs -- Kenneth Walker III and Zach Charbonnet -- take on a large workload, which limits the looks for all receivers.

Projected stats: 50 receptions for 650 receiving yards, 4 TDs.

Drafted: Round 1, No. 21 overall

Best-case scenario: The attention Keenan Allen and Mike Williams draw from defenses allows Johnston the chance to take advantage of favorable matchups. He explodes on the scene as a rookie because of his ability to gather in deep passes and out-quick smaller defenders on shorter routes.

Worst-case scenario: The inconsistent hands Johnston displayed at TCU reappear, stunting his growth as a playmaker. Justin Herbert has to lean on the more reliable Allen and Williams.

Projected stats: 55 receptions for 750 yards, 6 TDs.

Zay Flowers
Boston College · WR

Drafted: Round 1, No. 22 overall

Best-case scenario: Lamar Jackson makes Flowers one of his top targets in the passing game. The presence of Odell Beckham Jr. and Rashod Bateman has safeties playing deep to prevent the big play, freeing up the rookie to do damage after the catch.

Worst-case scenario: Beckham and Bateman are not able to draw coverage away from Flowers, affecting his yardage and touchdown production. Jackson has missed five games in each of the past two seasons, and Beckham and Bateman have had their own injury woes.

Projected stats: 85 receptions for 1,050 yards, 8 TDs.

Drafted: Round 1, No. 23 overall

Best-case scenario: Addison becomes an excellent complement to Justin Jefferson. He produces strong numbers winning with suddenness in his routes and agility after the catch, taking pressure off Jefferson as defenses must play both outside receivers straight up.

Worst-case scenario: Addison's slight frame causes him issues at the line of scrimmage and at the catch-point against savvy, strong NFL defenders. The Kirk Cousins-led offense takes a step back in 2023.

Projected stats: 70 receptions for 950 yards, 7 TDs.

Drafted: Round 1, No. 25 overall

Best-case scenario: Kincaid and Dawson Knox form a strong tight end duo, giving Josh Allen options over the middle. Kincaid’s run blocking is good enough to justify two tight-end sets on early downs, which lends itself to play-action opportunities in those situations.

Worst-case scenario: Kincaid's blocking is not sufficient in his first season, reducing his play count. The Buffalo offense does not play to its potential.

Projected stats: 40 receptions for 480 yards, 4 TDs.

Will Levis
Kentucky · QB

Drafted: Round 2, No. 33 overall

Best-case scenario: Levis gets an opportunity to start later in the season and makes the most of it. He makes plays with his strong arm and tough running. Levis takes what the defense gives him and leans on his running backs, Derrick Henry and third-round pick Tyjae Spears (projected Spears stats: 85 carries for 375 yards, 2 TDs; 20 receptions for 180 yards, 2 TDs).  

Worst-case scenario: The Titans determine Levis is not ready to start and give an opportunity to Malik Willis if Ryan Tannehill misses time again this season or loses his grip on the starting job. Defenses take advantage of Levis trying to squeeze throws into tight windows when his limited chances arise.

Projected stats: 550 passing yards, 4 TDs, 3 INTs; 150 rushing yards, 3 rushing TDs (6 games, 2 starts).

Drafted: Round 2, No. 34 overall

Best-case scenario: LaPorta steps in immediately, making plays down the seam and in the end zone. His blocking in a successful running attack keeps him on the field and allows Jared Goff to find him regularly on play-action passes.

Worst-case scenario: Detroit can't capitalize on its strong finish to the 2022 season with Goff reverting to his inconsistent previous form. LaPorta can't win regularly as a blocker in the run game and is limited to obvious passing situations until he improves in that area.

Projected stats: 50 receptions for 575 yards, 4 TDs.

Michael Mayer
Notre Dame · TE

Drafted: Round 2, No. 35 overall

Best-case scenario: Head coach Josh McDaniels uses tight ends Mayer and Austin Hooper heavily in the Raiders' offense. Mayer gets most of his looks in the red zone due to his strength and tenacity as a receiver.

Worst-case scenario: Mayer has a hard time separating from NFL nickel defenders, so he becomes more of a safety valve instead of a big-play threat. The Jimmy Garoppolo era in Las Vegas does not get off to a good start.

Projected stats: 40 receptions for 420 yards, 3 TDs. 

Luke Musgrave
Oregon State · TE

Drafted: Round 2, No. 42 overall

Best-case scenario: Musgrave becomes a much-needed playmaker at tight end for first-year starting quarterback Jordan Love, stretching the field horizontally and vertically. He and second-round wideout Jayden Reed (for whom I'm projecting 35 receptions, 450 yards and 2 TDs) contribute to a very young receiving corps to give the team hope for the future, as well as the present.

Worst-case scenario: Love struggles to find receivers downfield, forcing the offense to rely heavily on the run game, with short passes to backs AJ Dillon and Aaron Jones and screens to Christian Watson to get the ball rolling.

Projected stats: 35 receptions for 375 yards, 3 TDs. 

Drafted: Round 2, No. 52 overall

Best-case scenario: Charbonnet gets the majority of carries for the Seahawks this season, with Kenneth Walker III serving as a complement. The rookie’s powerful running style and burst in the open field allows him to grow with the offensive line, with second-year tackles Charles Cross and Abraham Lucas reaching their potential and new interior starters thriving.

Worst-case scenario: The shoulder discomfort troubling Charbonnet during camp becomes a real issue during the season, limiting his practice time and touches. Seattle is forced to lean on Walker more than anticipated.

Projected stats: 125 carries for 725 yards, 6 TDs; 20 receptions for 175 yards, 1 TD.

Drafted: Round 2, No. 58 overall

Best-case scenario: The former Wolverine becomes quarterback Dak Prescott's favorite third-down target, using his size (6-foot-6, 250 pounds) and quickness to box out defenders for short and medium gains while schemes are focused on Brandin Cooks and CeeDee Lamb. He becomes a plus blocker for Tony Pollard and Co. in the run game. 

Worst-case scenario: Being on the sideline (he missed time with injuries his final year at Michigan and in camp) leaves him behind the curve on offense. He fails to make strides as a run blocker and is unable to surpass second-year players Jake Ferguson and Peyton Hendershot on the depth chart.

Projected stats: 25 receptions for 275 yards, 2 TDs.

Drafted: Round 2, No. 63 overall

Best-case scenario: Tim Patrick's Achilles injury opened the door for Mims to earn a starting job. The former Oklahoma star asserts himself as a big-play receiver, as increased time playing with the first-team offense strengthens the relationship between the rookie and quarterback Russell Wilson.

Worst-case scenario: Wilson is unable to rebound from his disappointing 2022 season and the Denver offense does not make the jump some are anticipating in Year 1 of the Sean Payton era. The presence of Marquez Callaway, who is familiar with Payton's offense from his days in New Orleans, could also limit Mims' touches.

Projected stats: 45 receptions for 575 yards, 5 TDs.

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