Not every landing spot is created equal in the NFL. Some rookies from the 2023 NFL Draft class went to teams where they won’t be primed for early success. However, a lucky few will have an opportunity to succeed early with their new teams.
Charles Davis and Paul Burmeister look at six rookies who could find early success in 2023.
6 Rookies In Good Spots to Succeed
Anthony Richardson, QB, Indianapolis Colts
With his athleticism, Anthony Richardson is the next level of what we’re looking at the quarterback position. The Indianapolis Colts might have to play him early. If he can take the first snap of the season, he will.
So looking at it that way, if you’re going to force-feed a youngster who hasn’t had many starts (13 at Florida), you better give him pieces around him that can help and also meet him halfway with the skills that he possesses in terms of play calling and decision making. Coach Shane Steichen learned to do that with Jalen Hurts, who turned into an All-Pro quarterback in Philadelphia.
The Colts have big receivers outside in Alec Pierce and Michael Pittman. They’ve got a plus-size tight end in Jelani Woods. They drafted a slot receiver in Josh Downs.
If the offensive line can regain its form, and if you get Jonathan Taylor back in form at running back, Richardson has pieces around him to be successful as a rookie quarterback. — Davis
Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Seattle Seahawks
Jaxon Smith-Njigba is the highest-drafted receiver in the John Schneider-Peter Carroll era. I will start with the big picture to build my case for Smith-Njigba’s fit on the Seattle Seahawks.
The Seahawks have a lot of continuity on offense. Offensive coordinator Shane Waldron did a good job last season, and he’s back. QB Geno Smith won Comeback Player of the Year, and he’s returning with a new contract this season. I think he’ll be even better in Year 2 as Seattle’s starter.
Then you go even further down the line, and 1,000-yard rusher Kenneth Walker is returning along with two 1,000-yard receivers in Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf.
That’s a lot of assets on that side of the ball. But greed is good this time of year. What’s one thing the Seahawks want when it comes to playmakers? A slot wide receiver. They’ve been looking for one. Whether it’s through a late draft pick, a big-name free agent, or an under-the-radar signing, they’ve wanted one for a while.
They just haven’t hit, but they can hit now with Smith-Njigba. Look at what the Cincinnati Bengals do with Tyler Boyd in the slot and Tee Higgins and Ja’Marr Chase on the outside. Seattle has that now.
There are games where Boyd is a bigger threat than Higgins and Chase on the outside. That’s what Seattle has desperately wanted from a slot receiver. The Seahawks get that threat right now. Not November or December. Smith-Njigba gives them that threat right now. — Burmeister
O’Cyrus Torrence, IOL, Buffalo Bills
I remember when Mike Tyson returned to boxing, and he was at his first press conference. There’s always that hype guy yelling and holding the belt as the boxer comes down the aisle.
In Tyson’s first press conference back, the hype guy kept yelling, “The No. 1 butt kicker in the business is back!”
O’Cyrus Torrence is an interior offensive lineman out of Florida and the No. 1 butt kicker in this year’s draft. He was the guy who moved people in the run game and the guy who beat people up. He went chest-to-chest with Jalen Carter from Georgia. Boy, that was a titanic battle.
Now, he goes to the Buffalo Bills, and I see him fitting in at left guard almost immediately. In a news conference this offseason, Josh Allen said he needs to learn to play the game differently. That means the Bills need to run the ball more.
They’ve said that before, but this season, they’ll finally will do it because Torrence can help them right away. In the AFC East, Quinnen Williams is sitting in there. Christian Wilkins is sitting in there. You need someone who can match up with those interior pass rushers. Torrence will do that for Buffalo this season. — Davis
Sam LaPorta, TE, Detroit Lions
The Detroit Lions went to my alma mater (Iowa) and took Sam LaPorta instead of Michael Mayer from Notre Dame. I love LaPorta’s talent, but what I love even more is how he fits into Detroit’s offense.
Offensive coordinator Ben Johnson was the No. 1 star for an offense that finished in the top five in points per game last season. Johnson is “the guy,” and his No. 1 asset is the command and decision-making of QB Jared Goff.
So the question becomes: How do we build around those two strengths in the draft? The reason I like Johnson’s offense so much is the diversification of formations.
They could line up in an empty, shotgun formation and spread you out horizontally on first down and then on second down, in the middle of the field, line up like it’s fourth-and-1 on the 5-yard line with two tight ends.
What if we could bring that tight end in on second down and then show the linebackers a run-heavy formation? The linebacker won’t know if the tight end is blocking or running a sail route right by them.
I don’t think the Lions found an All-Pro piece with LaPorta, but they found a tight end they can use well in Johnson’s offense. LaPorta will also allow Brock Wright, who became the team’s top tight end last season, to step into a role he’s more comfortable with. — Burmeister
Myles Murphy, DE, Cincinnati Bengals
The Cincinnati Bengals’ defense needed some shoring up because they feel like the next step for them is to slow some people down to get back to the Super Bowl. They drafted Myles Murphy in the first round out of Clemson. This is a perfect pick because Murphy’s potential is vast, but he’s got to add more to his arsenal now.
Murphy gets to learn behind Trey Hendrickson, Sam Hubbard and Joseph Ossai: being in the room with them, watching their work ethic and watching the things they’re going to do.
Lou Anarumo, the defensive coordinator, will put Murphy in good spots to get him going early. But there’s a secret weapon in Cincinnati that we don’t talk about enough: their defensive line coach, Marion Hobby. Hobby builds defensive fronts and makes them play better. He’s one of the best defensive line coaches in the league.
This is perfect for Murphy. He doesn’t have to be a star right out of the gate, but boy, he’s got a chance to get better in a hurry. — Davis
Ji’Ayir Brown, S, San Francisco 49ers
Ji’Ayir Brown is probably feeling a little more special than most third-round picks in his building because the San Francisco 49ers didn’t make a selection in the first two rounds.
The 49ers had the No. 1 defense in the NFL last year. They didn’t have to select anybody on defense. You look at it from the player’s point of view: Brown’s thinking, “Well, I bring a lot to the table as well.”
He had 10 interceptions in the past couple of years. If you flipped on a Penn State game any time, he was always around the ball, making a tackle, chasing the playmaker or coming up with the ball himself.
If you want to look into the need a little bit, DeMeco Ryans took Jimmie Ward, the longtime defensive back, with him to Houston. The 49ers need somebody to fill that role to be that third safety. They get that in a playmaking machine in Brown. — Burmeister
Charles Davis is an NFL analyst for CBS and NFL Network. He joined the sports media world after playing safety at the University of Tennessee.
Paul Burmeister, a former starting quarterback at Iowa, is a studio host with NBC Sports and the radio voice of Notre Dame Football. For a decade he worked as a studio host at NFL Network. Follow him on Twitter at @PaulWBurmeister