We’re at the halfway-ish point in the NFL calendar, so what better time to take a look back at the 2023 first-round draft class and grade their performance to date. Of course, there have been standouts outside the first round (Hello, Puka Nacua, Will Levis, Sam LaPorta, Byron Young and DJ Turner!) but for our purposes here, we’ll keep the conversation to the 31 players taken in Round 1 last April. Note that four of these first-rounders got “incompletes,” either due to lack of playing time or injury. Otherwise, it’s been a pretty impressive group.
OK, let’s get to it.
1. Bryce Young, QB, Panthers: C
Young got off to a slow start for the Panthers, but he showed steady improvement over his first two months in the NFL … until Week 9, when he took a step back. Carolina’s offensive line has been shaky at times, and Adam Thielen has been Young’s most reliable target, and despite being pressured on nearly 40% of his dropbacks, he’s completed at least 70% of his throws twice in the past five games. It’s been a bumpy road, for sure, but I expect him to continue to make progress over the second half of the season.
2. C.J. Stroud, QB, Texans: A+
The biggest question facing Stroud coming out of Ohio State was how he would cope with playing behind an offensive line that didn’t regularly give him all day to throw. Turns out, better than anyone could have imagined, even as the Texans struggled to keep several pieces of their O-line healthy early in the season. All Stroud did was play like not just one of the best rookies in the league, but one of the best passers. He looks wise beyond his years, regularly throws with anticipation and lifts everyone around him, including Nico Collins, who has had a career start to his 2023 campaign. Stroud has been incredibly fun to watch – punctuated by his otherworldly performance against the Bucs in Week 9 – and some of the credit has to go to first-year play caller Bobby Slowik, who has put Stroud in position to have early success.
3. Will Anderson Jr., EDGE, Texans: A
Yes, Anderson has just two sacks, but sacks don’t tell the entire story. He’s No. 1 in pressures among all rookie edge rushers (29 coming into Week 9). And of rookies who have played at least 300 snaps, Anderson is No. 2 in pressures per pass rush behind only Byron Young of the Rams. (Anderson is pressuring on 13.3% of his pass rushes; Young is at 13.9%). He’s only going to get better, too.
4. Anthony Richardson, QB, Colts: INCOMPLETE
The Colts got their quarterback; now they just have to figure out how to keep him healthy from one week to the next. Richardson has a chance to be special, but his season has been cut short after a shoulder injury limited him to just four games.
5. Devon Witherspoon, CB, Seahawks: A+
Witherspoon didn’t play in Week 1, but he’s been a game-changer ever since. We all remember the pick-six against Daniel Jones and the Giants on national television, but he’s excelled playing outside and in the slot, and is single handedly bringing the Legion of Boom back to the Seahawks secondary. Don’t be fooled by his measurables; he’s a thumper in the run game and already one of the most physical defensive backs in the league. In terms of completion percentage against, it’s no surprise that he’s the top rookie cornerback, but among all CBs who have played at least 300 snaps this season, Witherspoon is third behind only Martin Emerson and Jaylon Johnson.
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6. Paris Johnson Jr., OT, Cardinals: B
Johnson has been a Day 1 starter at right tackle for the Cardinals after playing left tackle and right guard his last two seasons for Ohio State. His combination of athleticism and strength has flashed through the first half of his rookie campaign, but the speed of NFL pass rushers has given him trouble at times (and understandably so). Coming into Week 9, he had given up just a single sack but was responsible for 20 pressures, which is fourth among all rookie offensive linemen and No. 1 among rookie tackles.
7. Tyree Wilson, EDGE, Raiders: C-
Wilson is one of the most physically gifted players in this entire draft class, but he still doesn’t look like he trusts himself; he suffered a foot injury last fall, didn’t participate in the college all-star games, the combine or a pro day, and he just doesn’t look to be back to full strength. He has a single sack this season, and his pressure rate of 5% is 12th among the 12 NFL rookie edge rushers with at least 200 snaps so far this season.
8. Bijan Robinson, RB, Falcons: A
Robinson, who has proven that this running back is worth a top-10 pick, has been the best, most versatile weapon on Atlanta’s offense. Now the Falcons just need to figure out their quarterback situation.
9. Jalen Carter, DT, Eagles: A+
Jalen Carter is the only player who can slow down Jalen Carter, and an ankle injury kept him out of Week 6. Otherwise, he’s been one of the most disruptive defensive lineman in the NFL. (Through eight weeks, only Dexter Lawrence, Devonte Wyatt and John Franklin-Myers have pressured the QB more than Carter’s rate of 18%.) In limited snaps, Carter also leads all rookies with 28 pressures (and that includes edge rushers Will Anderson Jr., 25, and Tuli Tuipulotu, 22).
10. Darnell Wright, OT, Bears: C+
Like Paris Johnson Jr., Wright has been penciled in at right tackle since Week 1, and while he hasn’t been as consistent as Johnson, he has flashed first-round talent. He can struggle at times staying in balance in his pass sets, which can lead to pressures (he’s been responsible for six sacks coming into Week 9), but if he continues to progress, the Bears can use their two first-round picks to target, say, quarterback and wide receiver instead of having to restock the O-line.
11. Peter Skoronski, OG, Titans: A
If Skoronski didn’t need an appendectomy after Week 1, his grade might be higher. A left tackle in college, he made the seamless transition to guard – which is rarely seamless for most people. The only sack he allowed came in Week 1, and he’s only allowed three QB hits all season, even with so much upheaval along the offensive line as the unit deals with one injury after another.
12. Jahmyr Gibbs, RB, Lions: A
Unlike Bijan Robinson in Atlanta, the Lions brought Gibbs along slowly. But when he had to step in for an injured David Montgomery, he looked every bit the playmaker who exploded onto the scene for the Crimson Tide a year ago. He’s not built like Robinson, but he’s an explosive runner who can take it between the tackles if needed. He’s a Christian McCaffrey-level threat in the pass game, too.
13. Lukas Van Ness, DT, Packers: B
Van Ness never started a game at Iowa, and he’s being brought along slowly in Green Bay. Through eight weeks, he played more than 26 snaps twice, and his most productive outing came in Week 1 against the Bears when he had a sack, four pressures and five hurries against Justin Fields. While Van Ness isn’t stuffing the stat sheet, he plays with a high motor, can be physically imposing and is due to make strides in the second half of the season.
14. Broderick Jones, OL, Steelers: B
Jones didn’t earn the starting left tackle job coming out of training camp, but when Dan Moore Jr. went down with an injury in Week 4, Jones had to step in, and he started the following week against the Ravens. He didn’t give up a sack in either game, though he struggled early against Houston, getting beat four times. But he looked every bit the first-round talent against Baltimore, and then again in Week 9 against the Titans when he started at right tackle, allowing a single hurry and pressure while keeping Kenny Pickett otherwise clean. The Steelers’ O-line has been problematic at times this season, but Jones has provided some stability.
15. Will McDonald IV, EDGE, Jets: INCOMPLETE
McDonald came into Week 9 having played just 33 pass-rush snaps and 31 run snaps, and while he has a high motor, he hasn’t had much of an impact on the stat sheet. Don’t get it confused: he’s twitchy, quick off the snap and shows the ability to bend around the edge. He’ll just need to get stronger to go up against NFL offensive tackles 50-60 times a game.
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16. Emmanuel Forbes, CB, Commanders: C-
Forbes’ size was the only concern about him coming into the league because he was so good at not only generating turnovers but finding his way into the end zone. There’s been none of that so far; he has just one pick in his first eight games, and the sure-handed Forbes has dropped three other should’ve-been interceptions (including one Sunday in the red zone vs. New England). And while the average completion percentage against for rookie defensive backs who have played at least 100 snaps is 58%, Forbes is sitting at 71%. It’s part of the reason he was benched last month, but hopefully his confidence returns and he starts playing like he did at Mississippi State.
17. Christian Gonzalez, CB, Patriots: A
Gonzalez slipped to the middle of the first round, but he was one of the best players on a deep Patriots defense before a shoulder injury landed him on injured reserve after Week 5. Still, through 200 snaps, he showed the length, athleticism and ball skills that he flashed at Oregon a year ago; he had an impressive interception against Jalen Hurts late in the game that kept the Pats close, and broke up a fourth-down throw to Devonta Smith in that same game. And his QB rating against of just 51.3 ranks fourth among all rookies, behind only Joey Porter Jr., Devon Witherspoon and DJ Turner.
18. Jack Campbell, LB, Lions: A
The Lions targeted two surprising positions in the first round – running back and linebacker – and both picks were home runs. I talked about Jahmyr Gibbs above, and Jack Campbell has been as impactful on the other side of the ball for a resurgent Detroit defense.
19. Calijah Kancey, DT, Buccaneers: B+
Kancey didn’t play in Weeks 2-4 because of a calf injury, but he has been a difference-maker when he’s on the field. In five games, he had a QB pressure rate of 13.1%, which was second among all rookies after only Jalen Carter. And twice in those five games, he’s had pressure rates north of 20%. Put another way: he pressured the quarterback one out of every five snaps in those two games.
20. Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Seahawks: C+
Smith-Njigba has been used primarily in quick game in the first half of the season with mixed results; he’s struggled at times with focus drops and generating yards after the catch. That said, he shows the ability to win off the line of scrimmage and at the top of the route; he just needs to play with more consistency. He seemed to turn a corner against the Cardinals in Week 7 (he had 11 catches for 99 yards in the subsequent two games), and despite the sluggish start, JSN has still accounted for 16% of the targets thrown to Seahawks pass-catchers.
21. Quentin Johnston, WR, Chargers: C-
Johnston has been slow to make the transition from TCU to the NFL, in part because Mike Williams got off to a red-hot start. But after Williams tore his ACL in Week 3, Johnston has been slow to pick up the slack. That said, he had a career-best five catches for 50 yards in Week 8, but prior to that he had totaled just seven catches for 64 yards. As he becomes more comfortable in the offense, Johnston should have a much bigger impact over the final two months of the season.
22. Zay Flowers, WR, Ravens: B+
The Ravens have forever been in search of a legit No. 1 WR, and Flowers is that guy. I said it during the pre-draft process and I’ve seen flashes of it this fall: on the field, Flowers looks a lot like Antonio Brown. He struggled with focus drops in that weird game against the Steelers, but he’s otherwise been sure-handed and explosive at all three levels.
23. Jordan Addison, WR, Vikings: A
Stop me if this sounds familiar: the Vikings are the last team to take a wide receiver in the first round and that player ends up being one of the best players in the draft. We saw it a few years ago with Justin Jefferson. And when Jefferson went down with a hamstring injury in Week 5, that was Addison’s cue to step up his game. In Weeks 6-8, Addison had 17 receptions for 233 yards and four touchdowns. It’s too bad Kirk Cousins went down with the Achilles injury because this team was poised to make a playoff run.
24. Deonte Banks, CB, Giants: B
The only thing more impressive than Banks’ length, speed and athleticism is the confidence with which he plays. He plays as much press coverage (49.8%) as any rookie not named Joey Porter Jr., he’s allowing just 54% of the passes thrown his way to be completed, and he’s second among all rookies in passes defended (seven) behind only Devon Witherspoon. The Giants have a lot of problems, but Banks isn’t one of them.
25. Dalton Kincaid, TE, Bills: A
Kincaid has seen his usage increase in recent weeks, in part because of Dawson Knox‘s injury and in part because he’s a legit downfield threat for this Bills offense. Lions second-round pick Sam LaPorta has been the best tight end in this class through the midway point, but Kincaid (through Week 9) is second among rookie TEs with 40 receptions (on just 45 targets), and he has yet to drop a pass thrown in his direction.
26. Mazi Smith, DT, Cowboys: C
Smith is a physical freak (it’s why he was No. 1 on Bruce Feldman’s Freaks List ahead of the 2022 season), but he hasn’t flashed that play-making potential in the NFL, at least not yet. And it may be the case that he’s doing what defensive coordinator Dan Quinn is asking — eating up blocks and letting the linebackers eat. He’s stout at the point and not easy to move off the spot, but he doesn’t disengage consistently and find his way into the backfield (and again, maybe that’s by design). Either way, the athleticism flashes, but he’s not impacting the game in the same way as some of the other defensive tackles taken in the first round.
27. Anton Harrison, OT, Jaguars: B+
Harrison played left tackle at Oklahoma in 2022, but he’s looked right at home at right tackle for the Jaguars. He has allowed five sacks through Week 8, but three of those came in his first two games. He’s been much more consistent in recent weeks for Jacksonville.
28. Myles Murphy, EDGE, Bengals: INCOMPLETE
Like Will McDonald IV, Murphy hasn’t seen much of the field; he’s played 73 snaps coming into Week 9 and has a sack and three pressures over that time. He’s just 21 years old, and he’s playing hard in his limited opportunities, so there’s no cause for concern as he grows into his role in Cincy.
29. Bryan Bresee, DT, Saints: A
Bresee has been so much fun to watch, especially after battling through injuries and personal loss during his time at Clemson. He’s looked every bit the first-round talent over these first two months. He’s been so good, in fact, that he’s looked like a top-15 talent. He plays with equal parts power and juice, and his strong hands allow him to disengage quickly from blocks and be disruptive in the backfield, both against the run and the pass.
30. Nolan Smith, EDGE, Eagles: INCOMPLETE
Coming into Week 9, Smith hasn’t played more than eight snaps in a game, in part because the Eagles are so deep along the defensive line. Still, in limited usage Smith is getting pressure on the quarterback on 9% of his pass-rush attempts.
31. Felix Anudike-Uzomah, EDGE, Chiefs: C
Anudike-Uzomah relies primarily on speed and a bull rush to get home, but he’ll struggle at times against NFL offensive tackles once they get their hands on him. That said, his burst and athleticism allow the Chiefs to scheme him into backfield by way of stunts and twists, and his high motor and sideline-to-sideline speed are all over the tape.