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

Julian Catalfo / theScore

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 seasons.

1. Bryce Young, QB, Panthers

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Best game: vs. Packers (Week 16)
Worst game: vs. Colts (Week 9)

It's hard to identify many promising moments from Young's campaign. He only had two games with a 100-plus passer rating and finished the season with 11 passing touchdowns to 10 interceptions. PFF also determined he made more turnover-worthy plays than big-time throws. The Alabama product's supporting cast wasn't great; the Panthers have O-line issues and lack star power at wide receiver. Still, Young didn't do much to elevate his game and will be under a lot of pressure in 2024.

Grade: D

2. C.J. Stroud, QB, Texans

Best game: vs. Buccaneers (Week 9)
Worst game: at Jets (Week 14)

Stroud had one of the greatest rookie seasons ever. Despite several significant injuries to Texans players, the Ohio State product guided a Houston team that had won seven combined games in the previous two seasons to the playoffs. Stroud finished Year 1 with 4,108 yards and 23 touchdown passes to five interceptions. He led the NFL in yards per game and TD/INT ratio, joining Tom Brady and Joe Montana as the only quarterbacks in the last 50 years to do so. In Week 9, he had arguably the greatest rookie performance ever, setting first-year records with 470 yards and five touchdown passes. A concussion sidelined Stroud for two December games, but his freshman campaign couldn't have gone much better.

Grade: A+

3. Will Anderson Jr., LB, Texans

Best game: vs. Broncos (Week 13)
Worst game: at Colts (Week 18)

It's easy to understand why the Texans are so excited about Anderson. Granted, a top-three pick needs more game-changing plays; the Alabama product recorded sacks in just five different games and didn't force any turnovers. But Anderson did have a pair of two-sack outings - including an inspired performance versus the Broncos - en route to finishing the season with seven sacks in 15 games. He also had 22 QB hits and 10 tackles for loss. Plus, the 22-year-old created pressures, was solid against the run, and didn't show many flaws.

Grade: B+

4. Anthony Richardson, QB, Colts

Richardson flashed his potential and accounted for seven TDs in his first four NFL starts, but a Week 5 shoulder injury ended his season prematurely.

Grade: N/A

5. Devon Witherspoon, CB, Seahawks

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Best game: at Giants (Week 4)
Worst game: vs. Steelers (Week 17)

Seattle found a stud in Witherspoon. The transition to the NFL can be challenging even for more talented corners, but the Illinois product looked like a veteran for most of the season. He was arguably Seattle's best defender and made plays all over the field, racking up 79 tackles (eight for loss), 16 pass breakups, three sacks, and a forced fumble. He allowed a sub-90 passer rating, and his game versus the Giants featured a 97-yard pick-6 and two sacks. His season would've been even more impressive if he hadn't missed three games due to injury.

Grade: A-

6. Paris Johnson Jr., OT, Cardinals

Best game: at Eagles (Week 17)
Worst game: at Browns (Week 9)

Johnson was far from great but passed the test as a rookie despite facing football's best edge rushers. Although he had a lot of ups and downs in the first half of the season, his performances in the final nine weeks showed that he can become a cornerstone of Arizona's offensive line. The Ohio State product received a top-30 grade among all tackles since Week 10, according to PFF.

Grade: B

7. Tyree Wilson, DE, Raiders

Best game: vs. Broncos (Week 18)
Worst game: at Bills (Week 2)

Raiders fans don't have a lot of good memories from Wilson's first year. The Texas Tech product only racked up 3.5 sacks, with one coming outside the pocket on a Hail Mary attempt by Nathan Peterman. He improved later in the season when Las Vegas used him more as an interior lineman than an edge rusher, but Wilson remained far from living up to the hype of a top-10 pick.

Grade: D-

8. Bijan Robinson, RB, Falcons

Best game: vs. Packers (Week 2)
Worst game: at Panthers (Week 15)

Robinson's season was weird. He had 1,463 yards and eight TDs from scrimmage and, as expected, made jaw-dropping plays. That would earn most rookie skill-position players an "A" grade, right? However, there was a lot of debate about Robinson's usage, as Atlanta could've done a better job of capitalizing on his big-play potential instead of limiting the Texas product's ceiling. He was outside the top 50 among running backs in EPA/rush and finished the year with as many rushing touchdowns as fumbles (four). Robinson was expected to have a Saquon Barkley-like rookie year. Instead, the Falcons tailback was good but not great.

Grade: B+

9. Jalen Carter, DL, Eagles

Best game: at Patriots (Week 1)
Worst game: vs. 49ers (Week 13)

The Eagles have long boasted solid defensive line play, and that will remain the case with Carter in the mix. The Georgia product's rookie season confirmed what we all thought in April: He would've been a top-five pick if not for off-field issues. Not only was Carter the best first-year defender in 2023, but he has already established himself as one of football's most disruptive interior linemen. Regressing in the season's second half prevented him from receiving a perfect grade, but his campaign included 33 tackles (eight for loss), nine QB hits, six sacks, two forced fumbles, and a defensive TD.

Grade: A

10. Darnell Wright, OT, Bears

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Best game: vs. Lions (Week 14)
Worst game: vs. Raiders (Week 7)

Bears fans should like what they saw from the Tennessee product. PFF gave him a whopping 51 pressures allowed as a rookie, but that may not be entirely his fault, since few quarterbacks hold onto the ball longer than Justin Fields. Wright was durable and gave up only seven sacks, including just one in Chicago's final six games. He also helped the Bears become one of the league's most successful teams when running off right tackle.

Grade: B

11. Peter Skoronski, OL, Titans

Best game: at Saints (Week 1)
Worst game: at Dolphins (Week 14)

Skoronski's career began with an encouraging performance, but then an emergency appendectomy sidelined him for three games. The Northwestern product lacked consistency upon returning and seemed to hit the rookie wall in the season's final month. It didn't help that the Titans had a subpar offense whose O-line struggled as a whole.

Grade: C+

12. Jahmyr Gibbs, RB, Lions

Best game: vs. Raiders (Week 8)
Worst game: vs. Seahawks (Week 2)

Detroit limited Gibbs' touches in the first few weeks and an October injury sidelined him for two games, so the Alabama product didn't really start making a big impact until Week 7. Once he got more involved, though, the results were impressive. He didn't have as many carries as David Montgomery on the season, but Gibbs scored at least one TD in eight of the Lions' final 11 games. He recorded 11 touchdowns (the most among rookies) and 1,261 yards from scrimmage this season. He also averaged 5.2 yards per carry, the third-most among qualified running backs.

Grade: A-

13. Lukas Van Ness, DE, Packers

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

Van Ness wasn't great but flashed his potential on many occasions, showing more consistency in the second half of the season. The Iowa product racked up 32 tackles (eight for loss), 10 QB hits, and four sacks - not bad for a rotational pass-rusher labeled a long-term project. He still needs work but can become a quality starter if the Packers develop him in the right system.

Grade: C+

14. Broderick Jones, OT, Steelers

Best game: vs. Ravens (Week 5)
Worst game: at Colts (Week 15)

After starting the season as Pittsburgh's backup left tackle and making just one start before Week 8, Jones moved to right tackle, where he started 10 games and helped improve the Steelers' O-line. As expected, he showed some flaws in pass protection; he allowed five pressures and two sacks versus Indy. But Jones was mostly able to hold his own at right tackle. His best rookie game came at LT, showing that he can be a valuable and versatile piece of Mike Tomlin's outfit as he gets more comfortable in the NFL.

Grade: C+

15. Will McDonald IV, DE, Jets

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Best game: at Bills (Week 11)
Worst game: vs. Falcons (Week 13)

No 2023 rookie logged fewer defensive snaps than McDonald's 184. Playing behind a deep group of Jets edge rushers, the Iowa State product was a healthy scratch in Week 2, didn't play more than 20 snaps defensively in any of his 15 appearances, and finished with three sacks. He had two QB hits and a tackle for loss in 12 snaps versus Buffalo, his most encouraging game. Hopefully, McDonald can have a second-year jump like Jermaine Johnson II, the Jets' 2022 first-round edge rusher who was solid as a sophomore after not seeing a ton of action as a rookie.

Grade: D

16. Emmanuel Forbes, CB, Commanders

Best game: at Patriots (Week 9)
Worst game: vs. Bears (Week 5)

It's hard to find positives from Forbes' 2023 season. He had a promising debut, and his performance versus New England was good, but that's basically it. He was largely inconsistent as a freshman, reaching a low in prime time against Chicago when he was benched in the fourth quarter. With more limited playing time in most of the campaign's second half, the Mississippi State product was slightly better, but not good enough to save his year. Forbes also missed multiple games with an injury.

Grade: D-

17. Christian Gonzalez, CB, Patriots

An early Defensive Rookie of the Year contender, Gonzalez saw a shoulder injury end his impressive campaign after four games.

Grade: N/A

18. Jack Campbell, LB, Lions

Best game: vs. Vikings (Week 18)
Worst game: vs. Bears (Week 11)

It took the Lions a while to figure out how to utilize Campbell. Frequently lining him up as a pass-rusher didn't work in the season's first two months. Pass coverage also remains an issue. But the Iowa product was effective in the box and flashed a lot of potential as an off-ball linebacker, posting 95 tackles (five for loss), three QB hits, two sacks, and one pass breakup. He had his two best NFL games late in the season versus Minnesota, setting a career high with 12 tackles and picking up a sack in Week 18.

Grade: B-

19. Calijah Kancey, DL, Buccaneers

Best game: at Texans (Week 9)
Worst game: at Bills (Week 8)

Only the Rams' Kobie Turner and the Eagles' Carter generated more pressures than Kancey among rookie defensive linemen. The Pitt product, who was named Defensive Rookie of the Month in November, improved Tampa Bay's pass rush and amassed 12 QB hits, 10 tackles for loss, and four sacks across 14 games. He didn't make an impact in many other ways, though, and run defense proved to be a major issue.

Grade: C+

20. Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Seahawks

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Best game: vs. Eagles (Week 15)
Worst game: at Giants (Week 4)

As the first receiver off the board, fans didn't exactly expect Smith-Njigba to finish Year 1 with 63 catches, 628 yards, and four TDs. He did catch two game-winning touchdowns, but the lack of explosive plays was concerning. JSN's average depth of target was 6.3 yards, down from 9.3 in his best year at Ohio State (2021). It didn't help that DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett were ahead of him on the depth chart and that Seattle lined up in 13 personnel (one RB and three TEs) on first down more than any NFC team.

Grade: B-

21. Quentin Johnston, WR, Chargers

Best game: vs. Broncos (Week 14)
Worst game: at Packers (Week 11)

Johnston was a major disappointment. Brought in to be an explosive vertical threat for Justin Herbert, the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Johnston struggled to create separation, didn't make many big plays, and had costly drops, including one versus Green Bay that could've been the game-winning play. The TCU product had 38 catches for 431 yards and two touchdowns despite L.A. missing top weapon Mike Williams for most of the campaign, which should've created more opportunities for Johnston. The Denver matchup was the only game where he topped 55 yards.

Grade: D-

22. Zay Flowers, WR, Ravens

Best game: vs. Dolphins (Week 17)
Worst game: at Jaguars (Week 15)

Baltimore needed to bolster its wide receiver corps and found a stud in Flowers. With Mark Andrews sidelined for almost two months, Flowers emerged as Lamar Jackson's favorite option: He was the only Raven to be targeted more than 70 times. Flowers' production wasn't off the charts - and scoring was an issue early in the season - but the Boston College product proved to be a perfect fit for offensive coordinator Todd Monken's system due to his yards-after-catch potential. The 23-year-old didn't play Week 18 and finished the campaign with 77 receptions for 858 yards and five touchdowns, including four in his last five games. He also scored a rushing TD in that span.

Grade: A-

23. Jordan Addison, WR, Vikings

Best game: vs. 49ers (Week 7)
Worst game: at Panthers (Week 4)

Addison was the most effective 2023 first-round rookie receiver. He fell short of the 1,000-yard mark, but by catching 70 passes for 911 yards and 10 TDs, the USC product joined Odell Beckham Jr. and Ja'Marr Chase as the only rookies in the Super Bowl era to post 70/900/10. And Addison did so despite Minnesota losing Kirk Cousins to an Achilles injury midway through the season and starting four different QBs throughout the campaign. With Addison and Justin Jefferson, the Vikings feature one of the sport's best receiver duos.

Grade: A

24. Deonte Banks, CB, Giants

Best game: vs. Packers (Week 14)
Worst game: at Raiders (Week 9)

Banks was fine as a rookie despite playing in a Giants scheme that wasn't an ideal fit for his game. Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale often had his corners play press coverage, which sometimes exposed Bank, as he normally shadowed top wideouts. That explains the 606 yards he allowed in 15 games. Once New York played more zone coverage, however, the Maryland product showed why he was a first-round pick. Overall, he allowed 55.2% pass completion and a 79.6 passer rating when targeted. The 23-year-old, who missed the last two games due to injury, finished with 64 tackles, 11 pass breakups, and two INTs, the most among 2023 first-round rookies.

Grade: B-

25. Dalton Kincaid, TE, Bills

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Best game: vs. Buccaneers (Week 8)
Worst game: vs. Cowboys (Week 15)

Kincaid finishing with two touchdowns was disappointing, but his 73 receptions (a Bills TE single-season record) and 673 yards in 16 games were solid, especially considering he wasn't really involved in Buffalo's passing game until Dawson Knox was injured in late October. Despite a zero-catch game versus Dallas, Kincaid ranks in the top 10 at his position in catches and yards since Week 7. That includes the Tampa Bay game in which the Utah product turned five catches into 65 yards, three first downs, and a TD. He also caught a career-best 10 passes in Week 9 but lost a fourth-quarter fumble in the red zone.

Grade: B

26. Mazi Smith, DL, Cowboys

Best game: at Bills (Week 15)
Worst game: at Eagles (Week 9)

Cowboys fans hoped that they - not the Eagles - landed the best interior defensive lineman in the 2023 class, but Smith's rookie campaign wasn't encouraging. The Michigan product played only 28% of Dallas' defensive snaps and made three starts to replace an injured Johnathan Hankins. Smith amassed 13 tackles (three for loss) and one sack across 17 appearances. He ranked 131st out of 143 interior linemen in run defense, according to PFF.

Grade: D

27. Anton Harrison, OT, Jaguars

Best game: vs. Colts (Week 6)
Worst game: vs. Chiefs (Week 2)

Harrison was solid in pass protection for most of his freshman year. Though his flaws as a run blocker were exposed as the season progressed, he proved he can be Trevor Lawrence's right tackle of the future and allowed just one pressure in his final three appearances, according to PFF. The Oklahoma product gave up 27 pressures as a rookie, the best mark among the four offensive tackles drafted in Round 1 in 2023.

Grade: B

28. Myles Murphy, DE, Bengals

Best game: vs. Vikings (Week 15)
Worst game: vs. Colts (Week 14)

Bengals fans wanted to see more of Murphy in Year 1, but the Clemson product's development was always going to be a long-term process. He did flash his potential, though, amassing 20 tackles (three for loss) and three sacks while playing 28% of Cincy's defensive snaps. That included a three-pressure game versus Pittsburgh in just nine pass-rushing snaps. His limited opportunities hurt his grade, but Murphy can become a quality starter soon.

Grade: C

29. Bryan Bresee, DL, Saints

Best game: vs. Giants (Week 15)
Worst game: at Patriots (Week 5)

Bresee contributed immediately to a top-10 Saints defensive unit. The Clemson product can be more consistent, and his run defense is a work in progress. That said, he showed off his potential as an ideal interior defensive lineman who can create pressure in today's game, registering 24 tackles (seven for loss), nine QB hits, six pass breakups, and 4.5 sacks while playing 49% of New Orleans' defensive snaps in 17 appearances.

Grade: C+

30. Nolan Smith, DE, Eagles

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Best game: vs. Dolphins (Week 7)
Worst game: at Cowboys (Week 14)

Smith's low grade is more about his playing time than his performance. The Georgia product averaged nine defensive snaps per game before he played a season-high 41 in Week 18 with Philadelphia lifting its starters. The 22-year-old - who wasn't under a lot of pressure in 2023 while playing in one of the deepest defensive fronts in football - didn't do much in the season finale and capped Year 1 with 18 tackles, three QB hits, and one sack.

Grade: D+

31. Felix Anudike-Uzomah, DE, Chiefs

Best game: vs. Lions (Week 1)
Worst game: vs. Bills (Week 14)

We didn't see a lot of Anudike-Uzomah as a rookie. The Kansas State product averaged 19 defensive snaps through the season's first five weeks and the Chiefs reduced his playing time as the year progressed - a bad sign for a team that lacks depth at his position. He generated two pressures and had two tackles for loss in Week 18 while playing a season-high 61 defensive snaps due to Kansas City resting its main starters.

Grade: D

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