Now that draft picks have become NFL rookies, it’s time to decide who is ready to become “instant impact” players – one of my favorite phrases to type on the NFL calendar this time of year. Because every team is now technically in “win-now” mode given the lack of patience in today’s NFL and society at large. It’s getting harder and harder for franchises that seem to be in “tank mode.”
Last year Sauce Gardner was a closed corner of the jump with the Jets, Charles Cross, Abraham Lucas, Kenneth Walker and Tariq Woolen were an integral part of the Seahawks surprise journey to the playoffs, and George Pickens flashed insane circus-catching abilities with the Steelers .
In 2021, Micah Parsons was an immediate threat. Rashawn Slater blocked everything in September and never looked back. Creed Humphrey took the center spot in Kansas City. And Ja’Marr Chase was sensational.
The year before it was Justin Herbert bursting out of the gate. And Tristan Wirfs. And Justin Jefferson. And Chase Young. Here is my list of the top 10 direct impact rookies from the 2023 NFL Draft class.
In 2021 I included a rule not to include quarterbacks because of how insanely clear they would have been of that draft class. Last year I added the rule that only one selection from the top five was allowed.
Honorable Mention: Michael Mayer, TE, Raiders
I had to restrain Mayer. He’s too tight not to get love here. On Jimmy Garoppolo’s offense, led by Josh McDaniels, this Raiders team will not shy away from a young tight end. Mayer isn’t crazy athletic, but he understands how to find space in the zone, has just enough power to create some separation, and he takes it all. The only reason he has an honorable mention and is not in the top 10 is Davante Adams, Jakobi Meyers and Hunter Renfrow.
JSN’s agility drill performance on the combine catapulted him from a high-quality potential receiver most concerned about athleticism to the most universally loved wideout in the 2023 class. Smith-Njigba is super fast. Is he ridiculously explosive? Not really. But he doesn’t have to be the man in Seattle right away given the established presence of DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. Those two veteran wideouts and Geno Smith likely to remain a lower volume quarterback are why such a handy slot option is lower than you probably expected on this list.
Flowers is a three-level winner in the receiver spot. The only concern I had with his game is his lack of size and the small catch radius that comes with it. It is sudden, fast, opens with good regularity and is great after the catch. He is a more polished, polished version of Marquise Brown, who was a good pass catcher early in his career with Lamar Jackson. Baltimore’s off-season moves suggest the team is gearing up to be more pass-happy in 2023 than it was during the Greg Roman era, but let’s not forget that new offensive coordinator Todd Monken also loves the powerrun game . We saw it in Georgia. That fact keeps Flowers slightly lower on this list.
Johnston was my WR1 in this class, mostly because of his impeccable yards-after-the-catch skill. And he’s ahead of JSN and Flowers because of the quarterback who will throw the football to him. To me, Justin Herbert is already an elite quarterback, a top-5 talent at the position foolishly limited by previous offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi who installed Drew Brees’ methodical, usually fast offense for a passer with one of the strongest arms. in the competition. Johnston is not Mike Evans or George Pickens when the ball is in the air. But it’s not like he never wins in a contested catch scenario. And he will be able to take the routine completion and turn it into a big win more times than anyone else on the Chargers roster.
LaPorta is George Kittle Lite. I really believe that. Not quite as powerful, but the Iowa product is a very athletic, handy-with-the-ball-in-his-hands receiver in a nearly 6-foot-4, 245-pound frame. Detroit’s offense was so much fun last season, but the recently traded D’Andre Swift finished second on the team in goals with just 70. Amon-Ra St. Brown will still get the most looks from Jared Goff – and with good reason. And we’re looking at a Marvin Jones-Lions reunion this season.
But in theory there are plenty of available targets in Ben Johnson’s attack, and I’m fascinated to see this attack take shape with a young formidable tight end. Yes, the Lions traded TJ Hockenson in the season last year, but there’s clearly a desire to keep that position in 2023 given how early Detroit chose LaPorta.
Addison was my WR5. I had a number for him in the 1940s. But I recognized that if he ended up on a team that wouldn’t immediately ask him to be an alpha receiver, Addison could have a Calvin Ridley-esque start to his NFL career. to have. And yes, Justin Jefferson is arguably the most alpha wideout in football, so Addison will take the backseat early, leading to plenty of one-on-one matchups and limited safeties over the top. Ideal situation for Addison to thrive. Recall that Ridley, as the Robin of Julio Jones’ Batman, passed for 821 yards with 10 touchdowns in his rookie season with the Falcons. Believe it or not, the Vikings attempted the third most passes in football last year (672!) during the regular season.
As my colleague Tyler Sullivan mentioned in our episode of the Pick Six Podcast’s NFL Draft numbers, the Patriots’ great defenses have always featured a leading, man-to-man cornerback. Ty law. Darrel Revis. Stephen Gilmore. Gonzalez could become that kind of lockdown presence on the outside. Not necessarily insinuating that he’ll be an obvious future Hall of Famer right away. But he has the athleticism to be tacky on all three levels of the field. Bill Belichick will join him immediately, and during three seasons in the Pac-12, Gonzalez proved himself to be a star in the making.
Banks was born to play the aggressive press man in Wink Martindale’s system. That’s probably why the Giants traded to pick him. He is 6 feet, 197 pounds with arms just under 32 inches. Not surprisingly long or long. Perfectly sized to handle many of the smaller elite receivers in today’s football. Where Banks’ profile is special is his explosiveness – 4.35 speed, 42-inch vertical and an 11-foot-4 inch wide jump. Damn. No receiver in football will be able to beat Banks on suddenness or sheer downfield speed. Banks’ dynamic movement skills allow him to effectively cram receivers onto the line, which is exactly what Martindale will be asking him to do as a rookie on a run-up defense.
Yes, the Lions signed David Montgomery into free service. Gibbs couldn’t be more of another back. Montgomery has always won sideways with insane jump cuts and low center of gravity contact balance. Gibbs is a streamlined rocket ship ready to take off every time he touches the soccer ball. Right around 5-foot-9, 199 pounds at a seriously staggering 4.36. It accelerates like a Tesla and has soft hands as a sub-receiver. Detroit didn’t pick him as No. 12 overall—and then ferociously celebrated him—to barely use him as a rookie.
In terms of usage, a lot of what I wrote about Gibbs applies to Robinson, though it feels like Robinson will be #1 on the Falcons offense from week 1. Never mind Tyler Allgeier’s rookie season with over 1,000 yards. Robinson will be the dude in Arthur Smith’s run-oriented attack from the jump. And I can’t blame him. Robinson is the best pure runner to come into the league since Saquon Barkley, although people quickly forgot how damn good Najee Harris was in Alabama too. He breaks tackles with ease, processes blocks quickly, and is a weapon as a receiver. Atlanta accelerated football 559 times in 2022, the most in the NFL. That number could be higher in 2023 with Robinson in the backfield.
An offensive lineman at number 1?! Yes. An offensive lineman at number 1. Not flashy, I know. But of all the rookies, Wright will have the biggest direct impact on his team. In Sharpie, you scribble him as the Bears’ starting right tackle. And he’s ready to beat NFL defenders today. Wright is 6-foot-5 and 330-plus pounds with nearly 34-inch arms and one of the most advanced craft toolboxes I’ve ever scouted at his position. He is an elite pass guard and giving Justin Fields more clean pockets in Year 3 is vital for him and the Bears to take the next step as an organization. Wright isn’t quite Tristan Wirfs — remember the impact he had in Tampa Bay in 2020?! — but as a monster and pass blocker, he’s close.