No reason to wait for the remainder of the Week 1 NFL schedule before handing out some roses for exemplary Rookie performances.
2023 NFL Rookie Progress – Week One
And early season kudos have to go out to LIONS GM BRAD HOLMES and all those in the Lions’ chain of command who put together what looked like an exemplary Draft Board, with all 4 of their top Picks playing major positive roles in their big road game victory in Kansas City last Thursday night. JAHMYR GIBBS got the opening nod at RB and showed speed and good hands as a multi-purpose, run/catch RB in their Offense. SAM LaPORTA showed excellent hands and the ability to get separation on his routes… not to mention some solid blocking in the run game.
On Defense, LB JACK CAMPBELL was all over the field in ball pursuit and defending against the pass, while BRIAN BRANCH/S showed off with his excellent tackling technique, as well as the awareness to pick off a tipped throw and return it to the house. In a nutshell, it was one helluva night for their top 4 Draft Picks. Quite a start for the Lions’ top Rookies.
Moving along let’s look at some outstanding performances in games that I watched over the Week One weekend landscape.
It looked like there might be some concerns for the health of star QB Trevor Lawrence in Jacksonville when the NFL announced an opening season suspension for starting LT CAM ROBINSON. The team already had some concerns about their RT spot with the VFA loss of Jawaan Taylor to the Chiefs. Walker Little manned that RT slot and didn’t look too bad, most of the time. But the biggest surprise to me was the steady performance of ANTON HARRISON/LT, their First Round Rookie who handled Lawrence’s blindside protection site capably. Just what the team was hoping for when they took him with the 27th Pick of the 2023 Draft.
TAMPA BAY BUCS
Let’s stick with the OL group and give a shoutout to Cody Mauch, who is now the starting RG for the Buccaneers. And after watching him carefully I felt he looked more than adequate handling his job while displaying high energy and sticking his face into multiple scrums in the run game. He continues the string of smaller school OL prospects to march through Mobile during Senior Bowl Week during the JIM NAGY regime. QUINN MEINERZ & COLE STRANGE have preceded Mauch as they emerged quickly from small schools to the NFL competition level.
On the other side of the field in a BUCS uniform was another standout, who was also measured outside of the standard NFL minimum requirements according to the tape and timer; CHRISTIAN IZIEN/S of Rutgers, who wasn’t even invited to the NFL Combine because of his short 5’8″ height. But he made the BUCS roster as a Special Teamer and a sub-package defender. And he stood out early and often. Near the end of the first half, he stopped the Vikings’ attempt to add late half points with an Interception in the Red Zone. He also recorded another PD and had 3 Tackles, 2 of them solo. He’s a very active player with a high FBI.
The Bucs’ victory in Minnesota featured two Undrafted Rookies who played major roles in their pro debuts.
You just knew that IVAN PACE/LB/Cincinnati was going to make his mark in the pro game despite being 5’10/230. Just as he was in college, PACE was an impact force on game day. He garnered the majority of snaps as an ILB for the Vikings and had eye-opening stats for his first NFL game action. PACE recorded 8 Tackles, 6 of them solo, and including 1 QBH. Lack of height and length played heavily into not being drafted last Spring, but heart and hustle can’t be gauged by a tape measure or stopwatch. The Vikings may have found a gem with this guy. Dare we bring up the name of Sam Mills? Not this early, please.
Time for a quick projection to watch for… I have a strong feeling that the current RB3 for the BEARS may be RB1 before the weather gets cold in the Windy City. His name is ROCSHON JOHNSON, #30, who they drafted in Round 4 out of Texas. He backed up Bijan Robinson after coming to the Longhorns as a High School QB. At 6’1/225, he is a violent runner and surprised me with his natural hands and pass-catching skills. In the Loss to the Packers JOHNSON rushed 5 times for 20 yards, and a TD, while also catching 6 passes, out of 7 targets, for 35- yards. Look for his “touches load” to increase soon!
Now let’s close with the glamorous QB evaluation of ANTHONY RICHARDSON/Colts. I thought it was a very solid start for the “raw” but uber-talented big guy. In truth, I did not expect RICHARDSON to post the kind of numbers he did, and look as poised as he did overall in his first NFL start. In fact, if Owner Jim Irsay had not initiated a Summer verbal assault on RB/Jonathan Taylor this well might have been an upset special for the Colts. (Another story for another day, perhaps.) RICHARDSON has some work to do on his throwing fundamentals, but under serious pressure from the JAGS Defense most of the day, his personal stats in the 21-31 Loss were not bad at all.
Throwing the ball, RICHARDSON was 24/37- 64.9%- 223 yds- 1 TD- 1 INT. He was sacked 4 times, escaping perhaps another half dozen. He rushed 10 times, some on purpose, for another 40 yards and 1 TD. The COLTS rushing game was pathetic, if not non-existent, with 26 attempts for 65 yards, 2.5 ypc. So if you take out his 40 rushing yards this RB group gained 25 yards on 16 carries. TAYLOR can do better than that in his sleep. I should also add that in the coverage I watched it was clear that this team locker room, has Richardson’s back. So do I.
Enough for Week One. I will be watching games for some other teams this coming weekend. Look for these articles each and every Friday.