Skip to main content

Projecting the 2023 NFL Defensive/Special Teams All-Rookie Team: 14 instant-impact newcomers

Getting thrown into the NFL fire is no small task for rookies. After lining up against college competitors of varying skill levels, they now must face veteran pros in the prime of their respective football careers.

It is no surprise that the top-performing rookies typically come from the first, second and third rounds. The players on the 2022 All-Rookie Team included 12 first-round picks and four Day 2 selections. Five Day 3 picks -- including a surprisingly relevant Mr. Irrelevant, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy -- and one undrafted free agent (Dolphins nickelback Kader Kohou) made the squad.

My projection for the 2023 All-Rookie Team leans heavily on early-round picks, though one Day 3 selection made the defense and an undrafted free agent landed on special teams. Anything is possible for these young players, given the opportunity.


Jalen Carter
College: Georgia

Drafted: Round 1, No. 9 overall

My guess is that memories of Carter being drafted outside of the top five will begin to fade as the Georgia product makes an instant impact between the lines in Year 1. Depending on the call, he can rotate with veteran Fletcher Cox and 2022 first-round selection Jordan Davis, getting upfield in a hurry to wreak havoc.

Will Anderson Jr.
College: Alabama

Drafted: Round 1, No. 3 overall

The highly regarded edge rusher faces a tall task to meet expectations. Though he won't be the biggest defensive end in the league, the 6-foot-4, 243-pound Anderson can convert speed to power and use his length effectively from a three-point stance. He'll be a true force as a rookie under head coach DeMeco Ryans if he's able to mix up his pass-rush moves and consistently turn the corner.

BJ Ojulari
College: LSU

Drafted: Round 2, No. 41 overall

The Cardinals selected two pass rushers in the third round in 2022 (Cameron Thomas and Myjai Sanders), but new head coach Jonathan Gannon still invested a second in Ojulari to form a strong rotation -- just like he had in Philadelphia. BJ has the length and hustle to emulate his brother, Azeez Ojulari, who had eight sacks as a rookie for the Giants in 2021.

Lukas Van Ness
College: Iowa

Drafted: Round 1, No. 13 overall

Green Bay needed someone like Van Ness late last year after Rashan Gary was lost to an ACL tear in Week 9. The former Hawkeye should make a bigger impact than Gary did as a rookie (two sacks in 16 games with zero starts in 2019), especially if the rising veteran star is not fully healthy at the start of the season. I think Van Ness' strong hands and movement skills make him less of a project than many believe.

Jack Campbell
College: Iowa

Drafted: Round 1, No. 18 overall

The Lions obviously expect Campbell to step into a starting role as a rookie, given the early selection, so it's likely he'll be among the top producers in the class based on opportunity. He'll find ball-carriers inside and handle his coverage duties, relying on his instincts and quickly securing tackles at the second level.

Drew Sanders
College: Arkansas

Drafted: Round 3, No. 67 overall

It might be tough for the Broncos to keep Sanders' speed off the field, even after they signed former Eagles linebacker Alex Singleton in free agency. The rookie could spell Singleton or Josey Jewell inside -- or be an asset off the edge in sub-packages, allowing him to rack up a few sacks in addition to making plays in coverage.

Dorian Williams
College: Tulane

Drafted: Round 3, No. 91 overall

Williams could earn a starting spot for the Bills in 2023, possibly replacing Tremaine Edmunds in the middle, given the third-round pick's powerful tackling and nose for the ball. He's no run-plugger, though, so expect to see him chasing down plays headed for the sideline. 

Drafted: Round 1, No. 17 overall

Gonzalez will likely give up some plays in the Patriots' man-heavy scheme, but I suspect he'll also grab multiple interceptions as a rookie. His combination of size (6-2, 201 pounds), athleticism and ball skills will make teams wonder why they passed on him -- and why they're passing toward him. 

Tyrique Stevenson
College: Miami

Drafted: Round 2, No. 56 overall

Stevenson is already making plays during practices and will lean on his natural talent and confidence while honing his craft early on. He's a physical presence in coverage and coming downhill against runs and screens. 

Drafted: Round 2, No. 47 overall

Martin slides into the Commanders' nickel spot, challenging slot receivers with his quick feet and tenacity. He can be an effective blitzer, as well, and will handle his run responsibilities from the get-go.

Antonio Johnson
College: Texas A&M

Drafted: Round 5, No. 160 overall

Despite being a Day 3 selection, Johnson could make his mark as a box safety in Year 1, locking down receivers and negating outside runs. He jumps underneath routes when quarterbacks aren't disciplined with their eyes and makes plays in the backfield when given the green light. 


Tank Dell
College: Houston

Drafted: Round 3, No. 69 overall

The wide receiver will likely be a factor on offense in Year 1 with the Texans, but he could also land on all-rookie squads as a returner, having handled such duties throughout his three college seasons with Houston. Willing to head directly up field after securing the ball, Dell uses his quick feet and fearlessness to explode through holes and fight through arm tackles.

Jake Moody
College: Michigan

Drafted: Round 3, No. 99 overall

Moody's consistency as a field-goal maker caused the 49ers to nab him early, making the Michigan product just the sixth kicker since 2000 to be drafted in the top 100. If he becomes the final piece to the puzzle for a team looking to compete for a Super Bowl title, then the price will be worth it.

Michael Turk
College: Oklahoma


I think the nephew of longtime NFL punters Dan and Matt Turk will earn a roster spot as a rookie. His quick get-off and powerful right leg give him a chance to beat out veteran Jake Bailey -- or latch on with another team searching for an answer at the position after training camp.

Follow Chad Reuter on Twitter.

Related Content