With the 2023 NFL regular season at the halfway mark, former NFL executive and scout Marc Ross reviews the performances of first-year players to rank the top 25 rookies in the league today.
NOTE: Arrows reflect changes from first-quarter rookie rankings.
DRAFTED: Round 1, No. 2 overall
C.J. Stroud maintains a firm hold on this No. 1 spot after quite simply putting on a master class of quarterback play through the first half of his rookie season. He managed to ascend to another level in Week 9, orchestrating an impressive eight-play, 75-yard game-winning drive to cap a performance for the record books. When looking at the NFL QB landscape, there aren’t many signal-callers I’d take over the rookie right now. He’s completely blown away the expectations even the most optimistic Stroud backers had coming into the season, leading the NFL in TD-to-INT ratio (14:1) and ranking third in pass yards per game (283.8) and fourth in passer rating (102.9).
DRAFTED: Round 1, No. 9 overall
Through the first four weeks of the NFL season, Jalen Carter played in 48 percent of the Eagles’ defensive snaps. I thought that number would increase -- it hasn’t. Carter remains at that snap count, but his impact remains the same. He is the highest-graded rookie interior defender (90.6) in the Pro Football Focus era through his first eight games, surpassing Aaron Donald’s 2014 season (90.0). He’s a constant factor up front.
DRAFTED: Round 1, No. 5 overall
Pete Carroll is trusting the rookie cornerback more and more with each passing week, using him in a multitude of ways. Devon Witherspoon has taken a majority of his snaps out wide, but he’s also lined up in the slot, at free safety and in the box. According to Next Gen Stats, Witherspoon is one of 16 players to be targeted at least 50 times as the nearest defender in coverage, and he has the lowest yards-per-target-allowed mark (5.4) among them.
DRAFTED: Round 5, No. 177 overall
It was only natural that Puka Nacua’s production dipped with Cooper Kupp’s return and Matthew Stafford’s injury. That said, the rookie has still had 25 receptions and 326 receiving yards since Kupp’s return to the field in Week 5 (Kupp has had 23 catches and 364 yards). Nacua is still setting records -- most recently for the most receptions (64) in a player’s first nine career games -- because he is routinely open, thanks to his innate feel for space and shifty route-running, and because he has great hands.
DRAFTED: Round 1, No. 23 overall
Jordan Addison was given a huge opportunity when Justin Jefferson went on IR with a hamstring injury after Week 5, and he’s convincingly shown he can be a complete No. 1 wide receiver in this league. During the Vikings’ four-game win streak, Addison has hauled in four touchdowns, including a game-altering 60-yard score in his coming out party, a huge prime-time win over the 49ers. Some players are just natural receivers no matter what the counting stats say, and Minnesota has two such pass-catchers.
DRAFTED: Round 2, No. 34 overall
Sam LaPorta has grown into a focal point of the Lions’ passing attack and is now on a historic pace, having become the first tight end to log at least 40 receptions, 400 receiving yards and four receiving TDs in his first eight career games, per NFL Research. His athletic ability and ball skills have made him a go-to target for Jared Goff, especially in the red zone.
DRAFTED: Round 3, No. 77 overall
Byron Young is one of the players stepping up for Sean McVay’s young squad. Having played 86.5 percent of the team’s defensive snaps through nine weeks, the third-round selection leads all rookies with five sacks and 37 QB pressures, and he's forced two fumbles over the last four weeks. He plays with a lot of energy and explosiveness, and his great feel for his role off the edge has turned him into a bright spot on a middle-of-the-road Rams defense.
DRAFTED: Round 3, No. 69 overall
Tank Dell has been a big-time playmaker for C.J. Stroud and the Houston Texans -- and no play has been bigger than the game-winning TD catch in last week’s late win over Tampa. Pegged as a speed guy coming into the draft, the 5-foot-10, 165-pounder has proven to be much more than that, demonstrating phenomenal ball skills, toughness and great route-running ability. Entering Week 10, Dell is averaging 64.9 receiving yards per game (second among rookies, behind Puka Nacua) and 16.2 yards per catch (most among rookies, min. 15 receptions). In addition, he is the only rookie to have multiple games with 100-plus receiving yards and at least one touchdown this season.
DRAFTED: Round 1, No. 8 overall
Despite Bijan Robinson’s mysterious recent lack of red-zone touches (and setting aside Arthur Smith's long-winded explanation), he still leads all rookie running backs with 517 rush yards and 197 receiving yards through nine weeks. Robinson is a walking highlight reel when presented opportunities, so he should be utilized more -- especially considering the high pick used to acquire him.
DRAFTED: Round 3, No. 84 overall
All of De’Von Achane’s production so far has come in three games, but he was exceptional in those contests prior to landing on IR with a knee injury. In Weeks 3-5, the rookie running back had 455 rush yards on 37 carries for a mind-boggling 12.3 yards a pop, along with seven total touchdowns. Achane possesses that rare explosiveness that all teams -- but especially Mike McDaniel -- seek. I can’t not keep him in this list, based on what we saw in that small sample. The question now is, can he stay injury-free and resume this pace once he returns?
DRAFTED: Round 1, No. 3 overall
As mentioned last time in this space, the No. 3 overall pick’s sack numbers aren’t off the charts (he has two), but he is efficiently pressuring opposing quarterbacks. Will Anderson Jr. has totaled 30 pressures this season as an integral part of a budding defense under DeMeco Ryans.
DRAFTED: Round 2, No. 45 overall
Brian Branch got out to a fast start to the season, picking Patrick Mahomes and taking it to the house in the NFL Kickoff Game, but injuries have hindered the versatile rookie, forcing him to miss Weeks 5 and 6. Branch, who has logged 26 solo tackles and four passes defensed in his six games, is a big play waiting to happen. He's played an important role in the Lions’ defensive improvement from a year ago.
DRAFTED: Round 3, No. 79 overall
Josh Downs may not be getting much love on a national scale, but he’s quietly racking up catches and yards as the Colts’ No. 2 receiver. The 5-10, 175-pounder’s steady production lands him on the list this time around after he just missed last time. Downs is tied for the fourth-most receptions (41) and has the third-most receiving yards (483) among rookies through nine weeks. He’s also been a huge asset for Gardner Minshew, who has a 72.7 completion percentage when targeting Downs, per Next Gen Stats. It’s the seventh-highest mark of any QB-WR duo in the league (min. 40 targets). Hopefully, his recent knee injury doesn’t cost him much time.
DRAFTED: Round 4, No. 111 overall
Jack Conklin was lost to injury in Week 1, and Dawand Jones stepped right in at right tackle, logging 89.2 percent of the Browns’ offensive snaps this season, protecting whomever the Browns have had under center. The 6-8, 375-pound rookie has allowed just two sacks on 277 pass-blocking snaps and has posted a 96.9 pass-blocking efficiency score, according to Pro Football Focus. He has struggled at times, but overall, he's been solid. Let's hope the shoulder and knee injuries that will keep him out of Week 10's pivotal matchup with the Ravens don't linger too long.
DRAFTED: Round 2, No. 49 overall
Keeanu Benton’s role continues to grow as the season progresses, with the Steelers appearing to trust him more and more. He played in a season-high 44 snaps in Week 9 and has generated nine of his 14 total pressures in his last three games. He is a solid run-stopper and an improving pass rusher.
DRAFTED: Round 1, No. 22 overall
Zay Flowers has been a solid option for Lamar Jackson, as he leads the Ravens in receptions with 45 while posting 472 receiving yards (second on the team, behind Mark Andrews) and one touchdown. He possesses short-area quickness and has made plays when called upon, but with others getting healthy in the Baltimore passing attack and the offense emphasizing the run game, Flowers just isn’t as likely as others on this list to produce big numbers going forward.
DRAFTED: Round 1, No. 12 overall
We have waited more than two months for Jahmyr Gibbs to break out. When he finally got a prime opportunity in Week 8 (logging 26 carries), he looked like a Pro Bowl-caliber player (152 rush yards and a TD). His talent is obvious; it was just a matter of time before we saw that type of performance. Gibbs started the three contests David Montgomery missed due to injury, giving him a mark of 132.3 scrimmage yards per game as a starter, the highest mark in the NFL (minimum two starts), according to NFL Research. Even with the veteran returning, Gibbs should still get the rock plenty.
With fellow kicker Jake Moody and punter Bryce Baringer falling off this list, Brandon Aubrey is the last special-teamer standing. His lone missed PAT came in the season-opening romp against the New York Giants; he has made 19 of 20 PATs through nine weeks. Aubrey has also converted all 19 of his field-goal tries, including a career-long 58-yarder in Week 8. The 28-year-old former soccer and USFL player has been great for Dallas whenever called upon.
DRAFTED: Round 2, No. 32 overall
Joey Porter Jr. began the season in a limited role, playing in 40 percent or less of the team' defensive snaps in each of Pittsburgh's first five contests -- but he's worked his way into the starting lineup over the last two games after impressing DC Teryl Austin and head coach Mike Tomlin. The ultra-confident cornerback is allowing just 28.6 percent of passes thrown his way to be completed through nine weeks and should continue to hold his own in marquee matchups vs. star receivers. Last week when lining up against Tennessee’s DeAndre Hopkins, Porter allowed just one catch for 17 yards on five targets. There is still room for Porter to grow, of course, but he's shown a lot of good early.
Ivan Pace Jr. ranks second among rookie linebackers with 31 tackles entering Week 10. The undrafted rookie is aggressive in the middle of Brian Flores’ defense, and dropping in coverage has been Pace’s calling card. Per PFF, he has allowed 10 catches on 12 targets as the primary defender but has allowed just 42 yards (3.5 yards per target).
DRAFTED: Round 1, No. 25 overall
After a slow start to the season, Dalton Kincaid has become better integrated into the Bills’ offense, with Dawson Knox going on IR in October. Kincaid has logged 23 receptions since Week 7, trailing only T.J. Hockenson’s 24 among tight ends in that span. He has really flourished with a bigger role and turned into the reliable playmaker Buffalo likely thought he’d be when it drafted him in the first round.
DRAFTED: Round 2, No. 54 overall
Tuli Tuipulotu has been on the verge of breaking out. In prime time against the Jets, he proved he belongs, taking Zach Wilson down twice. A sure-fire clean-up guy for Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack, Tuipulotu is a hard-nosed pass rusher with great technique. He is second among rookies with four sacks.
DRAFTED: Round 5, No. 167 overall
Henry To’oTo’o has played a bigger share of defensive snaps (72.6%) than any other Texans linebacker this season, a testament to his football IQ, competitiveness and the fact that he’s always around the ball. Though he's not exceptional at any one thing, To'oTo'o deserves some credit for leading all rookie inside linebackers with 52 tackles through nine weeks -- 21 more than the next-closest player, Minnesota’s Ivan Pace Jr.
DRAFTED: Round 1, No. 24 overall
Similar to Joey Porter Jr. in Pittsburgh, Deonte Banks has put together a nice stretch after a slow start to his rookie campaign. The Giants trust the sticky rookie corner against No. 1 receivers due to his speed, talent and confidence. Through nine weeks, Banks has eight passes defensed, one interception (an over-the-shoulder beauty in Week 7) and 33 tackles.
DRAFTED: Round 1, No. 1 overall
As far as Bryce Young is concerned, not much has changed since my last rankings. There is still a lack of talent around the No. 1 overall pick, and the offense has already made a switch in play-callers in mid-October. Young did earn his first win of his career after that, beating C.J. Stroud and Houston in Week 8. It marked Young’s first game without throwing a pick or a fumble (he subsequently played a turnover-free game against Chicago in Week 10). He has shown flashes at times, but he is not likely to vastly improve until the entire roster takes a step forward.