These Rookies Were Outstanding in Week 3
Ronnie Bell, WR, San Francisco 49ers
Drafted late in the seventh round, the former Michigan Wolverine had an instant impact in the home opener against the New York Giants on Thursday night. Bell started the game with a vital tackle as a gunner on the punt team that really set the tone for the team all night. He was then lined up on offense in the spot usually occupied by the injured Brandon Aiyuk for most offensive snaps and really looked the part as he caught his first career pass for a touchdown.
All night, the 253rd pick was a key contributor in the run game as he made some great blocks down the field for Christian McCaffrey and Deebo Samuel as they fought for extra yardage after first contact. Bell was running good routes when he was on the field, clearing the way for Kittle and Samuel to thrive and get open for Purdy to target.
Last season, the 49ers struck gold by selecting quarterback Brock Purdy as Mr. Irrelevant on draft day and Bell was just six picks away from being Mr. Irrelevant himself. General manager John Lynch took a lot of criticism for trading high-value picks and missing on Trey Lance with the third overall pick in 2022 but getting this type of value at the end of the draft and building such a strong roster has resulted in extensions for both Lynch and Head Coach Kyle Shanahan.
Sam LaPorta, TE, Detroit Lions
Detroit Lions tight end Sam LaPorta had eight receptions for 84 yards and caught a brilliant 45-yard touchdown to break open the game against the Atlanta Falcons at Ford Field on Sunday. LaPorta now has 18 receptions in three games and that’s the most by a rookie tight end in NFL history. The previous record was held by Keith Jackson in 1988 with 17 receptions.
LaPorta was drafted 34th overall, the second tight end behind Dalton Kincaid who went to Buffalo with the 25th pick and a pick before Michael Mayer who went to Las Vegas with the 35th pick. LaPorta became the 12th tight end drafted from Iowa in the Kirk Ferentz era and replaces fellow Hawkeye T.J Hockenson who was traded from Detroit to Minnesota last season after being drafted eighth overall in 2019.
The Lions seem to have struck gold with this draft class as all of the first four picks have had a significant impact over the first three weeks of the regular season. In a rich class of tight ends, LaPorta may well prove himself to be the best. He’s got great hands, he’s very quick in and out of breaks and he can do all the dirty work. Head Coach Dan Campbell, tight ends coach Steve Heiden, and offensive coordinator Ben Johnson are all perfect coaches for LaPorta and knew what they wanted at the position going into the draft. The sky is the limit for LaPorta in the motor city.
C.J. Stroud, QB, Houston Texans.
Texans second overall pick, Coleridge Barnard ‘C.J’ Stroud was outstanding against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday. He completed 20 passes off 30 attempts for 280 yards and two touchdowns whilst avoiding a single sack and interception. He became just the third quarterback in NFL history with at least 900 yards passing in his first three starts and the first quarterback in NFL history to have 121 pass attempts with no interceptions through his first three career starts.
Of all the rookie quarterbacks, Stroud was the only one to play in Week 3 and has looked the best from this draft class so far. Although it’s early, he looks to have made a smooth transition from Ohio State to the pro game and seems to be elevating the play of his receivers as he moves the ball clinically down the field. In two years as a starter at Ohio State, he threw for 8,123 yards and 85 touchdowns with 12 interceptions. He was a Heisman finalist in 2021 and 2022.
Houston Texans GM Nick Caserio did a masterful job with maneuvering the draft board and getting both Stroud and ultra-talented defender Will Anderson in the top five on draft day. Both are solid prospects to build around and Head Coach DeMeco Ryans must be delighted with the start of his career as a Head coach in Houston.
Nathaniel ‘Tank’ Dell, WR, Houston Texans.
At 5’10”, 165 pounds you have to be a special type of athlete to make it into the NFL and that’s exactly why Houston drafted Tank Dell with the 69th overall pick. On Sunday he had five receptions for 145 yards and a 66-yard touchdown reception as the Texans got their first victory in Jacksonville.
Dell’s had a very impressive start to his career with 15 receptions for 251 yards and two touchdowns in his first three games. I love him as a compliment to Nico Collins and Robert Woods in this offense and there’s a good chance he will lead the team in receiving yards and receptions if he continues this form. His elusiveness and ability to separate from defenders is something offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik loves in his system.
Dell played his college ball just a few blocks away from NRG Stadium at the University of Houston and the familiarity with his surroundings seems to be a huge factor for him as he’s quickly become a favorite target of fellow rookie Stroud as they navigate through this rookie campaign together. Last season, Dell led the NCAA in both receiving yards and touchdowns.
De’Von Achane, RB, Miami Dolphins.
With four touchdowns and 203 rushing yards on 18 carries, De’Von Achane showed the league just how well he fits into Mike McDaniel’s offense as he and his track buddies showed Denver just how much speed can kill in their 70-point outing on Sunday. Achane had two rushing touchdowns and two receiving touchdowns with four receptions for 30 yards. It’s possible they would’ve scored more with Jaylen Waddle healthy but McDaniel showed class by toning it down late in the game regardless.
The former Texas A&M Aggie was the sixth running back selected in the draft and his skill set fits perfectly in McDaniel’s zone scheme. Many had already penciled him into the Miami offense even before they selected him with the 84th overall pick. His incredible ability to cut and explode for big yardage follows the theme of other backs that’ve had success in this offense. He fits in perfectly behind Raheem Mostart who’s now 31 years old and still playing at a very high level.
At 5’9” and 188 pounds, Achane’s strength is in space as a creative runner and pass catcher with his 4.32 40-yard speed but he showed great toughness for his size against LSU last season and is a very underestimated part of his game. With his fellow track mates and the elevated play of Tua Tagovailoa, it’s going to be a very good season for him if he can stay healthy in Miami.