The path to opportunity is not the same for every rookie in the NFL. For some, it is entitlement as a first-round pick. For others, it might be born of necessity. For most, it is the culmination of hard work and preparation. The league has seen several rookies make an impact this season but the players below are giving teams the highest rate of return on their investment.
There are a few parameters set for for this topic: 1.) the players could not be taken in the first or second rounds of the 2023 NFL Draft and 2.) it is limited to players that were drafted. For example, Vikings linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. was excluded because he was an undrafted free agent.
Stats: 39 carries for 461 yards and 5 touchdowns; 10 receptions for 71 yards and 2 touchdowns
Achane has been limited to five games thus far but his impact has been unmatched by any other rookie. The third-round selection is averaging 10.58 yards on 49 touches this season. His seven touchdowns are the most by any rookie despite being available in only half of his team’s contests. His Olympic caliber track speed allows head coach Mike McDaniel to stress defenses both vertically and horizontally.
2. Puka Nacua, WR, Rams: Round 5, No. 177 overall
Stats: 69 receptions for 897 yards and 3 touchdowns
The Nacua conversation is difficult because of the tear that he went on prior to Cooper Kupp’s return from injury, and his dip in production since. In the first four games of the season, Nacua had 39 receptions for 501 yards on 52 targets. Over the past six games, he has 30 receptions for 396 yards on 51 targets. It does not take a mathematician to see what is happening. However, his record pace has given way to a productive complimentary role and there is no shame in that result. Nacua has 16 receptions more than the next rookie.
Cleveland did not anticipate Jones seeing the field as early as he did, but an injury to veteran right tackle Jack Conklin left them with little choice. The Ohio State product has been beaten on 3.3% of pass blocking snaps this season, which is No. 102 in the NFL, according to TruMedia. He has allowed 2 sacks and 14 pressures for a team that has started three quarterbacks this season.
4. Tank Dell, WR, Texans: Round 3, No. 69 overall
Stats: 42 receptions for 659 yards and 6 touchdowns
Dell is averaging 15.7 yards per reception this season, which is the 14th-highest in the league, according to TruMedia. He has been on the receiving end of some big C.J. Stroud passes. Houston’s receiver room is comprised of former second and third round picks who have risen to the occasion for the upstart Texans.
5. Byron Young, EDGE, Rams: Round 3, No. 77 overall
Stats: 28 tackles, 5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles
Young leads all rookie with five sacks. His 12.8% pressure rate is No. 57 in the NFL, above players like Montez Sweat, Joey Bosa, Haason Reddick and Danielle Hunter. The team’s lack of viable pass rush options may have pushed Young into the starting lineup but the rookie has made the most of his opportunity. He is not a one-dimensional player, however. He more than holds his own in the run game as well.
Stats: 17 tackles, 1 interception and 6 pass deflections
Opposing quarterbacks have the 59th lowest passer rating (59.0) against Blackmon this season, according to TruMedia. He has allowed just 185 yards and has broken up 13.3% of passes, which ranks No. 28 among players with at least 150 coverage snaps. Minnesota’s secondary was viewed as a major concern coming into the season but the entire defense has come together over the past month and Blackmon’s emergence is a microcosm of that reality.
7. Jarrett Patterson, C, Texans: Round 6, No. 201 overall
Patterson has been on the Injured Reserve since Halloween but his contributions in the first seven games were important. In his availability, Patterson allowed seven pressures and zero sacks. His 3.1% beaten rate is No. 117 in the NFL among players with at least 100 pass blocking snaps, according to TruMedia. Houston has been feisty as players like Patterson have elevated their games in DeMeco Ryans‘ first-season. Patterson is part of Notre Dame’s rich history of producing NFL offensive linemen.
8. Kobie Turner, DT, Rams: Round 3, No. 89 overall
Stats: 20 tackles and 2 sacks
Turner has the pleasure of working alongside Aaron Donald but he has put up respectable pass rush production. He has created 14 pressures this season but has also been a net positive in run defense. The short, stocky built interior defender does a good job of creating natural leverage and winning at the point of attack.
Bradford started four games at right guard while Phil Haynes was unable. His play was not always pretty, but it was effective. According to TruMedia, he gave up zero sacks on 187 pass blocking snaps and has been beaten on 3.2% of opponent’s drop backs. The LSU product was even more proficient in the run game. Starting caliber offensive linemen found on Day 3 of the NFL Draft are very valuable.
Stats: 13 tackles and 2.5 sacks
Stills has an 8.2% pressure rate, according to TruMedia. It is a respectable figure for a Day 3 draft choice. He was forced into the rotation out of necessity but, to his credit, he has made the most of his opportunity. His 3.5 sacks is impressive considering no rookie has more than five.
Honorable mention: Patriots wide receiver Demario Douglas, Seahawks wide receiver Jake Bobo, Packers defensive tackle Karl Brooks, Packers cornerback Carrington Valentine, Saints safety Jordan Howden, Colts cornerback Jaylon Jones