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 NFL.com 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 two Day 3 selections made the offense.
Drafted: Round 1, No. 1 overall
Young has already taken the reins of the Panthers' offense. He will make some mistakes, just like all rookie quarterbacks, and his surrounding cast is average -- at best. However, the 2021 Heisman Trophy winner's intelligence, maturity and athleticism will shine through this fall. He’ll prove himself a leader and playmaker.
Drafted: Round 1, No. 8 overall
Robinson might be splitting carries early in the season with the Falcons' leading rusher from last year, 2022 fifth-round pick Tyler Allgeier. It's only a matter of time, though, before the eighth overall pick of this year’s draft is the team's top playmaker from the backfield, exploiting creases for big runs and evading defenders in the open field as a receiver.
Drafted: Round 1, No. 20 overall
Geno Smith returns to lead the Seahawks in 2023, with Smith-Njigba operating in the middle of the field while DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett make plays outside. The former Buckeye will find holes in zones and separate from his man inside, giving Seattle a top-five WR trio by the end of the season.
Drafted: Round 1, No. 22 overall
Flowers can be the big-play threat after the catch that the Ravens’ offense has needed for some time. He could have 80 catches as a rookie, spreading out defenses horizontally and vertically, which will make the team's running attack even more dangerous.
Drafted: Round 2, No. 34 overall
Six months after trading one former Iowa tight end (T.J. Hockenson) to Minnesota, the Lions scooped up another Hawkeye product at the position. LaPorta can be Jared Goff's safety valve when defenses key on Amon-Ra St. Brown. The second-round pick scored just five touchdowns in four seasons at Iowa, but Goff threw 12 touchdowns to tight ends in 2022, so I expect LaPorta to see plenty of red zone targets this year.
Drafted: Round 1, No. 10 overall
The Bears can take the next step in 2023 if Justin Fields ascends to top-10 quarterback status in Year 3. Chicago selected Wright to play right tackle on the revamped offense line, which is tasked with not only protecting the young signal-caller but also leading a power run game with D'Onta Foreman, Khalil Herbert and fourth-round pick Roschon Johnson (whom I considered for this list) at running back.
Drafted: Round 1, No. 14 overall
Left tackle was a major issue for the Steelers last year. It won't be in 2023 if Jones uses his athleticism to play balanced in pass pro and gets after this man in the run game. It might take the 22-year-old two or three games to get used to the speed and power of veteran edge rushers, but he'll eventually find his groove.
Drafted: Round 1, No. 6 overall
It’s unclear where Johnson will line up as a rookie after playing both guard and tackle during his college career. He worked at right tackle during minicamp, but head coach Jonathan Gannon was non-committal when asked recently about which position the rookie will play come Week 1. Veteran Kelvin Beachum could get the nod at right tackle, bumping Johnson to left guard, where he would move defenders on run plays and protect Colt McCoy until Kyler Murray returns from injury.
Drafted: Round 4, No. 108 overall
Seahawks GM John Schneider landed two starting tackles -- Charles Cross and Abraham Lucas -- in last year’s draft, and Bradford has a chance to compete for the starting spot at right guard this year. Bradford missed minicamp practices after being in what head coach Pete Carroll called a “fender bender,” so it did not sound like he suffered any serious injuries. His massive frame and relatively nimble feet remind me of a young Gabe Jackson.
Drafted: Round 2, No. 57 overall
Schmitz is plugged into the middle of the Giants' line as a rookie, where I expect him to play for the next decade. The sturdy pivot is effective in space and will lead the group up front to give quarterback Daniel Jones an opportunity to succeed.