NFL rookie report card: Grading every 1st-round pick’s debut month

NFL rookie report card: Grading every 1st-round pick's debut month

Rookies don’t get a second chance to make a first impression in the NFL. Here, we evaluate how every 2023 first-round pick fared in their debut months in the league.

1. Bryce Young, QB, Panthers

Best game: vs. Vikings (Week 4)
Worst game: at Falcons (Week 1)

From mistakenly lining up behind the right guard – not the center – before the snap, to tossing two interceptions in his debut, to missing one game with an ankle injury, it’s safe to say Young’s first month in the NFL could’ve been better. Granted, the supporting cast around the Alabama product isn’t great, but he hasn’t really done anything to justify being the No. 1 pick.

Grade: C-

2. C.J. Stroud, QB, Texans

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Best game: at Jaguars (Week 3)
Worst game: at Ravens (Week 1)

Easily the best rookie quarterback in the season’s first month, Stroud’s NFL career is off to a historic start. Despite playing behind an O-line devastated by injuries, the former Ohio State star tossed 1,212 yards and six touchdowns with no interceptions en route to being named Offensive Rookie of the Month. The 22-year-old became only the sixth player in history to average 300 passing yards and have zero picks in a campaign’s first four contests, joining a list featuring Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Patrick Mahomes, and Aaron Rodgers.

Grade: A+

3. Will Anderson Jr., LB, Texans

Best game: at Ravens (Week 1)
Worst game: vs. Colts (Week 2)

Anderson was solid in the first four games. He flashed his talent and showed off an impressive athletic ability while recording a 17.5% pass rush win rate – which is easily the best among eligible rookie defenders – according to PFF. The Alabama product failed to translate his solid performances into a bigger impact, though, amassing just one sack and five QB hits. He also blocked a field goal in Week 3.

Grade: B-

4. Anthony Richardson, QB, Colts

Best game: vs. Rams (Week 4)
Worst game: vs. Jaguars (Week 1)

Richardson started and finished a game for the first time in Week 4. When he’s on the field, it’s easy to get excited about the former Florida stud, who looks more ready for the NFL level than many anticipated. His completion rate (56.9%) has room for improvement, but Richardson’s athleticism makes him a real threat: He’s registered three passing touchdowns and four TDs on the ground. A concussion limited the 21-year-old to just 18 snaps in Week 2 and kept him sidelined in Week 3.

Grade: B-

5. Devon Witherspoon, CB, Seahawks

Best game: at Giants (Week 4)
Worst game: at Lions (Week 2)

It didn’t take Witherspoon long to show why he was the first corner off of the board. The Illinois product missed Week 1 with a hamstring injury but has since become a key contributor for Seattle, playing every defensive snap and making game-changing plays. The 22-year-old, who currently leads the team with four pass breakups and two sacks, posted one of the season’s best individual performances against New York, recording seven tackles (two for loss), three QB hits, two sacks, and a 97-yard pick-6.

Grade: A

6. Paris Johnson Jr., OT, Cardinals

Best game: at Commanders (Week 1)
Worst game: vs. Cowboys (Week 3)

Arizona should feel good about its right tackle position with Johnson in the lineup. His first month wasn’t perfect, but he played every offensive snap and displayed a level of consistency that not many first-year tackles have despite facing tough defensive fronts in Washington, Dallas, and San Francisco. He allowed five pressures and committed five penalties, according to PFF.

Grade: B-

7. Tyree Wilson, DE, Raiders

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Best game: at Chargers (Week 4)
Worst game: at Broncos (Week 1)

It’s hard to justify Las Vegas selecting Wilson at No. 7 based on his play thus far. The Texas Tech product, who battled a foot injury at camp, looked very slow in his first NFL appearances and posted a 0% pass rush win rate in the first three games. Wilson, who’s amassed four tackles in 110 snaps, did have his first game with multiple pressures in Week 4 and looked better against the run, an encouraging sign for the Raiders moving forward.

Grade: D-

8. Bijan Robinson, RB, Falcons

Best game: vs. Packers (Week 2)
Worst game: at Lions (Week 3)

Despite facing eight-plus defenders in the box on 30.2% of his plays – the ninth-highest rate – Robinson ranks third in the league with 318 rushing yards, and his 11 explosive runs (10-plus yards) are second to only Christian McCaffrey. The only knock on his rookie year is the lack of touchdowns (one) – but that’s a Falcons problem in general. Robinson’s absurd ankle-breaking ability is must-watch TV.

Grade: A

9. Jalen Carter, DL, Eagles

Best game: at Patriots (Week 1)
Worst game: vs. Vikings (Week 2)

Carter wouldn’t have been available at No. 9 if it weren’t for off-field issues before the draft, and now it’s clear why. The 22-year-old dominated his first NFL games despite often facing double teams. He is currently PFF’s highest-graded defensive lineman and ranks second to Aaron Donald with 20 pressures (he played 32 fewer pass rush snaps than Donald). The hardest part here was picking Carter’s best game, but an eight-pressure outing in a close win over New England had the edge.

Grade: A+

10. Darnell Wright, OT, Bears

Best game: vs. Broncos (Week 4)
Worst game: at Buccaneers (Week 2)

Despite playing in a Justin Fields-led offense that doesn’t do the O-line any favors, Wright is one of the Bears’ few bright spots. The Tennessee product made mistakes – as most rookies do – and allowed 12 pressures. But, for the most part, he showed that he can be a reliable right tackle for a team that’s been looking for consistent offensive line play for years. Wright played every offensive snap in the first four weeks.

Grade: B-

11. Peter Skoronski, OL, Titans

Skoronski missed Tennessee’s last three games after suffering a ruptured appendix on Sept. 16. The good news for Titans fans is that the left guard looked solid in his only NFL appearance in Week 1. The sample size just isn’t big enough yet.

Grade: N/A

12. Jahmyr Gibbs, RB, Lions

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Best game: at Chiefs (Week 1)
Worst game: vs. Seahawks (Week 2)

Gibbs flashed his potential and showed an impressive ability to break tackles. He broke six of them and averaged six yards per carry to help Detroit upset Kansas City in his debut. The explosiveness and physicality are definitely there. That said, the Alabama product has racked up only 39 carries so far as the Lions’ clear No. 2 running back behind David Montgomery. He also has yet to score his first touchdown.

Grade: C+

13. Lukas Van Ness, DE, Packers

Best game: at Bears (Week 1)
Worst game: vs. Lions (Week 4)

Van Ness suffered an elbow injury in the second game of the season, so his snap counts in Week 2 and Week 3 were limited. He looked healthier in Week 4 but didn’t have his best game. The rookie’s performance in Chicago was encouraging, though, as he displayed his athleticism to register a red-zone sack and three pressures. Van Ness is a long-term project, so Green Bay shouldn’t be worried about him just yet.

Grade: C

14. Broderick Jones, OT, Steelers

As Pittsburgh’s primary backup offensive tackle, Jones played just four offensive snaps through the season’s first three weeks. He then replaced an injured Dan Moore Jr. in Week 4 – but things didn’t look great for the Georgia product in 51 snaps on the field. With Moore likely missing time, Jones should see more snaps as the starter.

Grade: N/A

15. Will McDonald IV, DE, Jets

McDonald hasn’t been able to replicate his solid preseason performances, and he couldn’t even secure a significant number of snaps in his first official month in the NFL while playing in a deep defensive front. The 24-year-old, who was a healthy scratch in Week 2, has had just 36 defensive snaps and one tackle. We’re only four weeks in, so hopefully McDonald will earn more playing time as the season progresses.

Grade: N/A

16. Emmanuel Forbes, CB, Commanders

Best game: vs. Cardinals (Week 1)
Worst game: at Eagles (Week 4)

Forbes’ career started with a good performance versus Arizona in which he had a clutch pass breakup on a late fourth-down attempt to seal a victory. He also picked off Russell Wilson in Week 2 but, as the Commanders’ schedule got harder, the Mississippi State product got exposed. The 22-year-old had his worst game in Philadelphia, allowing 147 yards and two touchdowns to A.J. Brown Sr. on 10 targets. He needs more time to get acclimated to the NFL.

Grade: C-

17. Christian Gonzalez, CB, Patriots

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Best game: vs. Dolphins (Week 2)
Worst game: vs. Eagles (Week 1)

Remember how Gonzalez falling to Bill Belichick and the Patriots at No. 17 felt like a big steal in April? The Oregon product was one of football’s best corners in the first four games of the season despite facing elite receivers. Gonzalez had an interception and didn’t allow a catch on two targets in 17 routes covering Tyreek Hill, arguably the NFL’s most unstoppable pass-catcher. Unfortunately, the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month is expected to miss the remainder of the season after injuring his shoulder 18 snaps into Week 4.

Grade: A

18. Jack Campbell, LB, Lions

Best game: vs. Falcons (Week 3)
Worst game: at Packers (Week 4)

The Lions are still figuring out where and how to use Campbell, who’s played 46% of the team’s defensive snaps. His tackling ability stands out, and giving him more pass-rushing snaps as the strongside linebacker worked against Atlanta – he recorded his first sack in that game. Campbell’s pass coverage is a work in progress, but the rookie did have a big pass breakup to prevent a first down against Kansas City in Week 1 two plays before Brian Branch scored a pick-6 off of Patrick Mahomes.

Grade: C

19. Calijah Kancey, DL, Buccaneers

Kancey played just 11 snaps in Week 1 before being ruled out with a calf injury that’s kept him sidelined since. The Pitt product did generate two pressures in the season opener, but he hasn’t played enough NFL snaps yet.

Grade: N/A

20. Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Seahawks

Best game: at Lions (Week 2)
Worst game: at Giants (Week 4)

Seahawks fans sure thought Smith-Njigba would have more than 12 catches for 62 yards by now. He’s played 52% of Seattle’s snaps on offense and is the clear man out in two wide receiver sets while playing behind DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, and the NFC West club only uses three WR sets on first downs at the seventh-lowest rate in the league. That’s far from being the only reason for Smith-Njigba’s low grade here, though – not much happened when the ball went his way, with his 0.67 yards per route run and 3.3 yards of average depth of target ranking 92nd and 94th among all wideouts, respectively.

Grade: D

21. Quentin Johnston, WR, Chargers

Best game: at Vikings (Week 3)
Worst game: at Titans (Week 2)

Six receptions for 44 yards. No, those are not numbers from one of Johnston’s games in 2023. Those are his total stats in four contests this season. He’s another first-round wideout who’s struggled to have an immediate impact in the pros, and his campaign is even less impressive given that three of his catches are screen passes. There were high expectations around Johnston in Week 4 after Chargers wideout Mike Williams suffered a year-ending injury, but the first-year pass-catcher hauled in just one throw.

Grade: D-

22. Zay Flowers, WR, Ravens

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Best game: vs. Texans (Week 1)
Worst game: vs. Colts (Week 3)

Flowers leads his team, and every first-round wideout, with 24 catches, 244 yards, and 10 receiving first downs – including one on a 43-yard reception in Week 4 on second-and-29 with seconds left in the first half to help set up a clutch Mark Andrews TD. Flowers has been a big part of a Ravens offense that’s battled wide receiver injuries. He has yet to score, which stops him from getting a better grade here, but it seems like it’s just a matter of time until he finds the end zone.

Grade: B+

23. Jordan Addison, WR, Vikings

Best game: at Eagles (Week 2)
Worst game: at Panthers (Week 4)

Addison started his NFL journey with a 39-yard touchdown in Week 1 and followed it up with a 62-yard TD in his second game. Though he’s racked up just 13 catches so far in 2023, the USC product proved he can be a valuable deep threat for the Vikings. Addison didn’t have any receptions for the first time versus Carolina but still drew a 45-yard defensive pass interference penalty.

Grade: B-

24. Deonte Banks, CB, Giants

Best game: vs. Cowboys (Week 1)
Worst game: at 49ers (Week 3)

You’ll see mixed reviews about Banks out there, and his allowing a touchdown catch in back-to-back weeks doesn’t look good. However, the former Maryland stud had his moments and finished his first four NFL appearances allowing a 52.6% completion rate and 96 total yards despite the subpar Giants defense. He also had three pass breakups, including an end-zone stop versus Dallas.

Grade: C+

25. Dalton Kincaid, TE, Bills

Best game: vs. Raiders (Week 2)
Worst game: at Commanders (Week 3)

We expected Buffalo to use Kincaid as an explosive weapon in the passing game, but that hasn’t been the case. The Utah product has recorded 15 receptions – the second-most on the team – but amassed just 99 yards (6.6 per catch). The 23-year-old has had good snaps as a blocker in the run game, but the Bills need to figure out a way to better utilize his abilities.

Grade: C

26. Mazi Smith, DT, Cowboys

It’s hard to evaluate Smith’s Year 1 performance, as he’s played just 57 defensive snaps thus far. That said, he didn’t look good and put up only three tackles (one for loss). It’s early in the season, so instead of giving the 22-year-old a low grade right away, let’s wait and see if he can prove doubters wrong as the campaign progresses.

Grade: N/A

27. Anton Harrison, OT, Jaguars

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Best game: vs. Falcons (Week 4)
Worst game: vs. Chiefs (Week 2)

As expected, Harrison had ups and downs, but his zero-pressure outing versus Atlanta in London – easily the best game of his young career as a pass-protector – shows that he can be developed into a quality starter for Jacksonville. He wasn’t as impressive earlier this year, though, allowing six pressures and three sacks in three contests, according to PFF.

Grade: C+

28. Myles Murphy, DE, Bengals

It’d be unfair to judge Murphy given that he’s only played 22% of Cincinnati’s defensive snaps and didn’t register a single tackle in the first three games. He did record his first NFL sack in Week 4 – along with three tackles and a QB hit – which should give Bengals fans hope that he’ll have a bigger impact moving forward.

Grade: N/A

29. Bryan Bresee, DT, Saints

Best game: vs. Buccaneers (Week 4)
Worst game: at Panthers (Week 2)

The more the Saints put Bresee on the field in his first four NFL games, the more impressive plays the rookie put together. He isn’t a full-time starter (he played 45% of the team’s defensive snaps), but his Tampa Bay game with four tackles (three for loss), one QB hit, and one sack should make fans in New Orleans excited. Bresee didn’t fill up the stat sheet as nicely in the previous weeks, but his future is bright.

Grade: C+

30. Nolan Smith, DE, Eagles

Smith was active for every game in the first four weeks but played just 28 defensive snaps. The Georgia product, who’s posted one tackle and one QB hit, has been playing mostly on special teams.

Grade: N/A

31. Felix Anudike-Uzomah, DE, Chiefs

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Best game: at Jaguars (Week 2)
Worst game: vs. Bears (Week 3)

Anudike-Uzomah was only on the field for 29.5% of the Chiefs’ defensive snaps in Weeks 1-4 (73 total) and didn’t do much. The former Kansas State stud did get credited with an odd sack and forced fumble against Jacksonville in his most effective NFL appearance. He’s part of a Kansas City rotation that has mostly been looking for long-term returns from its younger pass-rushers.

Grade: C-

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