Do you know what else adds to the energy and intrigue of opening kickoff week every year in the NFL? The future of the league.
Numerous members of the 2023 rookie class got their debuts on Sunday in Week 1. One first-rounder, though, had his impressive start on Thursday night. Nevertheless, from first-rounders to the mid to late-round gems who saw early action, here are our rankings of the top rookie performers from Week 1.
NFL Preseason Rookie Rankings
Before we begin, let’s make one thing clear: I understand it’s just one game. And time will still tell how valuable these players become. But, the guys we chose showed samples of the damage they can bring against veterans instead of second and third-stringers in August. And our first choice balled out while facing two notable odds in his game.
1) Puka Nacua, WR, Los Angeles Rams
From having to move on without Cooper Kupp to literally playing like him.
The fifth-rounder — rolling without the Los Angeles Rams’ prized offensive option and facing a Seattle Seahawks secondary featuring past Pro Bowl representation (Jamal Adams and Quandre Diggs) and a prized 2022 rookie defender (Tariq Woolen) — snatched 10 receptions for 119 yards in the stunning 30-13 rout at Lumen Field. And, in front of Kupp and the Rams on the sidelines, the fifth-rounder executed this toe drag grab:
PUKA ARE YOU KIDDING!
— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) September 10, 2023
For a Rams team that faced constant questions about whether they had trusted receiving options outside of Kupp, the rookie out of BYU certainly answered that right away.
And in the process, he got in the franchise record books with 120 receiving yards in his Week 1 matchup.
With 120 receiving yards in Sunday’s game, Puka Nacua recorded the most receiving yards in a rookie debut in Rams history, including shattering Kupp’s past mark. He is the second player drafted in the fifth round or later with 100+ receiving yards in his NFL debut.
2) Jahmyr Gibbs, RB, Detroit Lions
Yes, Chris Jones was in a suite and not on the field. And the Detroit Lions came off as predictable offensively. But still, what was once considered a reach in the first round ended up averaging six yards a carry against the Super Bowl defending champion Kansas City Chiefs.
Seven carries for 42 yards comes off as preseason numbers, but it’s the way Gibbs got his yards that becomes most impressive — especially this first carry in his NFL career.
Gibbs brought his early blend of vision, power, speed, and determination in that order in a game that sent out the early sign that the Lions will be a force. Now the league gets to see if he can build and stack more days like Thursday night.
3) Zay Flowers, WR, Baltimore Ravens
Back in May, there was the early thought about the speedy rookie out of Boston College Zay Flowers becoming WR1 for Lamar Jackson — even with Odell Beckham Jr. on board.
That thought became a reality as Flowers led the Ravens with nine catches for 78 yards. And while he averaged 8.7 yards per catch, he still put defenders on roller skates on this reception:
Zay Flowers is already dropping FILTHY moves on NFL defenders pic.twitter.com/v4W0uYTt0F
— Ben Brown 🌻 (@BenBrownPL) September 10, 2023
4) Will Anderson Jr., EDGE, Houston Texans
Despite the loss, the No. 3 overall pick already matched elite company in his league debut.
According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Houston Texans edge rusher Will Anderson Jr.’s six quarterback pressures tied the debut of two notable edge defenders: Josh Allen of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Nick Bosa of the San Francisco 49ers. Fittingly, he’s in a defense that produced Bosa under first-year head coach DeMeco Ryans.
5) Anthony Richardson, QB, Indianapolis Colts
Anthony Richardson showed plenty of intrigue for the Indianapolis Colts — going 24 of 37 for 223 yards and one touchdown with one interception despite the 31-21 loss to the reigning AFC South champion Jaguars. It also didn’t help that he was sacked four times. But he hit three completions between 20 to 39 yards. He also trucked a defender on his way to the end zone.
6) Bijan Robinson, RB, Atlanta Falcons
Bijan Robinson got his chance to show why he was taken in the first round on Sunday by the Atlanta Falcons, let alone as the eighth overall pick. Robinson only settled for 10 carries, but he averaged 5.6 yards per carry facing Super Bowl-winning coordinator Ejiro Evero during his first attempt at running the Carolina Panthers defense. But his best highlight was this stop-and-go for career touchdown No. 1.
BIJAN ROBINSON, MY GOODNESS 😤
— Pro Football Network (@PFN365) September 10, 2023
7) Jordan Addison, WR, Minnesota Vikings
Jordan Addison might not have been the leading wideout in his game compared to Flowers. Justin Jefferson took that title versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. However, the No. 23 overall pick showed glimpses of his firework potential on this deep connection from Kirk Cousins. On six targets, Addison snatched four catches for 61 yards and that touchdown for the Minnesota Vikings.
8) Brian Branch, Safety, Lions
Gibbs wasn’t the only impactful rookie on the Lions. His fellow Alabama Crimson Tide teammate Brian Branch showed his awareness and instincts on a third-quarter interception that swung the tide of the game in Kansas City.
9) Christian Gonzalez, Cornerback, New England Patriots
It didn’t take long for Christian Gonzalez to establish himself as the next potential breakout CB for a franchise that produced Hall of Famer Ty Law and had a past Defensive Player of the Year in Stephon Gilmore. Despite the loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, Gonzalez tied for the team lead with five solo tackles and got his first career sack.
— Jaime Eisner (@JaimeEisner) September 10, 2023
10) Jalen Carter, Defensive Tackle, Philadelphia Eagles
Jalen Carter ended up being a winning rookie in Foxborough, Mass., with the NFC champs. While a one-tackle outing doesn’t point to a dominating day, he still gave the New England Patriots’ protection hell and got a critical sack of Mac Jones with the game on the line.
Jalen Carter first sack of his NFL career! pic.twitter.com/xWcj3BT4wr
— Word On The Birds (@WordOnTheBirds) September 10, 2023
11) Luke Musgrave, TE, Green Bay Packers
With past star tight end Robert Tonyan on the other sidelines, the rookie second-rounder out of Oregon State made him a quick afterthought. Luke Musgrave caught three passes for 50 yards and averaged 16.7 yards per reception in the Green Bay Packers’ 38-20 romp of the Chicago Bears. Though, he could’ve had one touchdown had he not stumbled.
12) C.J. Stroud, QB, Houston Texans
Not the kind of debut C.J. Stroud was hoping for. But he faced what’s anticipated to be a heavy contender for the AFC title. And he still threw for 242 yards on 28-of-44 passing in the 25-9 loss. Houston will need to improve its protection of Stroud moving forward after watching him get sacked five times. Surprisingly, the first receiver he threw to was himself.
13) Bryce Young, QB, Carolina Panthers
By no means are we saying he was the worst among the rookies. However, other rookies out-performed him across the league, hence how deep this list is. Bryce Young settled for a rough day of two interceptions, just 17 rushing yards, and settled for 146 passing yards in the 24-10 loss to Atlanta.
— NFL (@NFL) September 10, 2023
But he threw what’s expected to be the first of many touchdowns in his league debut. Young is certainly not the first top overall pick who had a rough debut. Trevor Lawrence and even Peyton Manning had losing debuts.