The 2023 NFL season is rapidly approaching, and this spring’s draft picks have gotten their first taste of life in the NFL during OTAs and minicamps, so it is fair to begin projecting which rookies have the best chance of becoming immediate stars this fall.
Who will follow in the footsteps of Christian Watson, Kenneth Walker Jr., Garrett Wilson, and Brock Purdy as the offensive players who made their presence felt out of the chute and had a significant impact on their team’s season?
Here’s a look at the five offensive rookies who have a legitimate chance to make a significant impact on their teams during the 2023 season.
5. Zay Flowers, WR, Baltimore Ravens
Flowers is a prototypical field-stretcher with 4.2 40-yard dash speed, and he lands in an offense where he’ll be on the receiving end of passes from Lamar Jackson and surrounded by playmakers Odell Beckham Jr. and Rashod Bateman who will command plenty of attention from opposing defenses.
If Baltimore becomes an offense that pushes the ball vertically downfield, and Jackson continues to make the strides as a passer he showed prior to getting injured last season, Zay stands to be the biggest beneficiary.
4. Jahmyr Gibbs, RB, Detroit Lions
It’s Gibbs’ show in the Motor City, after averaging 6.1 Yards per Carry last season at Alabama and finishing sixth among running backs with a 1.83 Yards per Route run in the receiving game.
“He’s fast, elusive, instinctive, and can break off a big run at any time,” an NFC scouting director told Heavy. “He’s not overly powerful, but should complement David Montgomery very well in that backfield.”
Gibbs’ burst gives him the chance to be a slasher both on zone runs and getting to the outside, while his versatility as a receiver out of the backfield could create new layers to the Detroit Lions‘ offense.
3. Bryce Young, QB, Carolina Panthers
Bryce Young hasn’t wasted any time making an impact.
Before training camp even gets underway this summer, Carolina Panthers head coach Frank Reich has already named Bryce Young the team’s starting quarterback, after choosing him with the No. 1 overall pick in April’s 2023 draft.
Young represents Reich’s first chance to develop a young quarterback since playing a hand in turning Carson Wentz into an MVP candidate in his second NFL season, and the Panthers have done their part to set the Alabama product up for immediate success after adding Adam Thielen, Miles Sanders, and reliable tight end Hayden Hurst to his arsenal. Young has the opportunity to provide much-needed stability in Carolina, which would be a big upgrade at quarterback.
2. Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Seattle Seahawks
It might be easy for Jaxon Smith-Njigba to get lost in a Seattle Seahawks receiving corps that includes D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, but that would certainly be a mistake for opposing defensive backs.
Smith-Njigba is one of the more athletically gifted receiver prospects to enter the draft in recent years.
“He’s an exciting young player,” an NFC wide receivers coach told Heavy. “He’ll be an instant chain-mover on third down. Watching him, he’s extremely quick, plus he has all the natural instincts and ball skills that will allow him to be great early on.”
He was also ridiculously productive last season at Ohio State. During the 2021 campaign, Smith-Njigba averaged 16.8 Yards per Catch, while pulling down 95 of 112 targets for 1,595 yards and 9 touchdowns.
“Jaxon’s going to be a great fit with Lockett and Metcalf,” the coach explained. “They’re going to help him get up to speed quickly. I think he’s going to have a great rookie year.”
Seattle just might have the most complete receiving corps in the league, and Smith-Njigba has the chance to be an immediate playmaker in it.
1. Bijan Robinson, RB, Atlanta Falcons
Bijan Robinson is a silky smooth but ridiculously explosive runner, who now becomes potentially the focal point of the Atlanta Falcons‘ offense.
Not only did Robinson lead the nation in forced missed tackles, with 104, but 1,071 of his 1,575 rushing yards in 2022 came after contact, demonstrating just how equally elusive, explosive, and difficult he is to bring down. But, that’s not all, Robinson also logged 21 explosive runs of 10 yards or more.
“All the people criticizing the Falcons taking Bijan Robinson will be eating crow,” an AFC scout told Heavy during the NFL draft. “Bijan’s the closest thing I’ve seen to Marshall Faulk.”
Atlanta has quietly built an exciting young supporting cast around quarterback Desmond Ridder, but Robinson not only has the most upside but might play the biggest role in 2023 of any of the young weapons in the Falcons’ offense.