The Super Bowl is over and you’re on the internet scouring mock drafts and message boards trying to gain the edge for next year. Whether it is fantasy football, sports betting, or you cheering for your hometown team, football has become a 24/7/365 sport.
We have reached the offseason and now teams are trimming the roster fat in hopes that during the draft, they get their next guy. Most teams will get at least one guy who will impact their team. Every so often, a team like the New York Jets or Seattle Seahawks of 2022 strike gold and get cornerstone pieces for their team’s future. Just because a guy is set to go early doesn’t mean he will immediately impact the league.
Let’s look past the glitz and glamor and dive deep into the rookie class, just after the Combine. Here are your five NFL rookies that will immediately impact their team upon entering the 2023 season.
5 NFL Rookies Who Will Have an Immediate Impact
1. Bijan Robinson: Running Back, Texas Longhorns
Before all you pass-happy fans throw rocks at me for taking a running back first on this list, let’s take a step back and look at the body of work we have.
Bijan Robinson was an absolute animal for Texas this past season, rushing for 1,500+ yards and 18 touchdowns. This was his second straight year of 1,000+ yards and 10+ touchdowns, so it was all but a formality that he would forgo his senior season. The stats are great, but watching this guy run the ball is a thing of beauty. The highlights remind you of the old football, heavily dominated by running backs who were the stars of their team: Barry Sanders, Marshall Faulk, LaDainian Tomlinson, etc.
READ MORE: Running Back Mount Rushmore Since 2000
Then came the NFL combine this past weekend. His measurables were almost as unbelievable as his runs. He’s 5’1’’ 215 lbs, and ran a 4.46-second 40-yard dash, sixth best overall, but he outweighed four of the five players who ran faster than him. There is no doubt that the league is run first, but don’t be shocked if some of the teams like Baltimore or Buffalo look to move up in the draft to take a rare first-round running back.
Whoever gets Robinson could be getting the best running back prospect we have seen in a while.
2. Anthony Richardson: Quarterback, Florida Gators
This may be looked at as a controversial take, but I don’t believe Anthony Richardson should be viewed as a “project” player. He may be the most physically gifted quarterback we have ever seen come out of the draft.
To start, he was the fourth highest-rated quarterback at the combine, proving that he belongs in this conversation based on athleticism and production. His athleticism was #1. He measures at 6”4” and 244 lbs, and ran a 4.43 40-yard dash. All of those measurables were better than the aformentioned RUNNING BACK, Bijan Robinson.
He had 10.5” hands (for those that really care) and has the arm strength that shows an ability to not only throw the ball deep but also hit immediate slants/short throws. What really separates Richardson from the pack for me is the sheer rarity he shows us at a position that is the most important in all of sports.
If you’re a team early in the draft that needs a quarterback, he is absolutely worth the “risk” associated with him. Get his prototype athleticism matched up with professional coaching, strength training, and nutritionists and we could have ourselves the next big thing at the quarterback position. NFL coaches can work on his weaknesses while accenting his strengths on the way to building a team around him.
You can’t hit home runs without big swings.
3. Jaxon Smith-Njigba: Wide Receiver, Ohio State Buckeyes
Maybe this is viewed as another risk, but we have a body of work from Ohio State to know that there is something in the way they develop wide receivers.
In his sophomore season, Jaxon Smith-Njigba was the third best receiver on the team (Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson were both All-Americans) and still posted 95 catches, 1,606 yards receiving, and nine touchdowns. Coming into his junior year, the hopes were high until injury took most of his season away.
I believe this was a precaution for his NFL career, which could be an immediate surge in his team’s passing production. There’s no doubt he comes with risk, but his body was awarded a year without hits, while he rehabbed a leg injury.
He also has the ability to make contested catches, which is crucial for success as a receiver in the NFL. He was the fourth highest athleticism-tested rookie at the combine. Pair that with an ability to make the tough catches and a slot receiver proficiency and he can be a dangerous red zone/third down asset for the team to take him. He would be a young quarterback’s dream safety valve who likely wouldn’t receive the double team from the secondary.
Don’t be shocked if he slips in the draft a little and is taken by a better team, ultimately raising his rookie-year statistics ceiling.
4. Nolan Smith: Edge, Georgia Bulldogs
As we mentioned before with Jaxon Smith-Njigba, some schools just have positions/units that have a body of work that allows us to trust the players coming into the league.
Recently, no one does defense quite like the Georgia Bulldogs and Nolan Smith could be the next great pass rusher in our league. He has a smaller build for the position which does bring up concerns for teams, but in this day and age of defense in the NFL, you have to be able to get to the quarterback and he has shown an ability to do so.
He is coming off a torn pec that ended his season halfway through. He was leading the Bulldogs in sacks, quarterback hurries, and tackles for loss at the time of the injury even surrounded by fellow future NFL draft picks such as Jalen Carter. At the combine, he participated in the 40-yard dash and posted the second-fastest time for his position since 2003 and he was also the heaviest to post this feat.
He is a physical anomaly and in the draft, you have to look for potential game-altering players. Smith has the chance to be one in the NFL.
5. Joey Porter Jr.: Cornerback Penn State Nittany Lions
The theme of this article should be risk/reward. Joey Porter Jr. also comes with his fair share of risk, but it is more on the nuances of the position than it is the ability to make plays.
He has the potential to be a lockdown corner in this league and has a unique ability to reroute receivers while playing press coverage. He also is the son of former Steelers linebacker Joey Porter who was a strong leader for the team and will almost assuredly have an impact on his son’s growth and development as a player, a unique advantage he has over his contemporaries.
The name of the game in the NFL is passing, so teams have to build their defenses to disrupt the quarterback and lock down the receiving threats. At 6’2” 193lbs, Porter Jr. can match up against any sized receiver with his 35” vertical leap. It’s hard to find an elite corner in the league, but we usually get 1-2 each year out of the draft. I believe Porter Jr. has the makeup to be one in this draft class.
Main Image: Matt Pendleton / USA TODAY