The NFL regular season marathon of 18 weeks and 17 games is complete, with 18 of the league’s 32 teams done for the year. So now is the time to hand out some NFL Rookie Awards.
2023 NFL Rookie Awards
Defensive Rookie of the Year IVAN PACE LB Vikings Undrafted Rookie Free Agent
5’10 230 lbs. Cincinnati
Not many undrafted Rookies make an immediate contribution as a Rookie starter. Even fewer defensive Rookies start every game for their team and record over 100 Tackles, which is exactly what Ivan Pace Jr. did for the Vikings in 2023. Many teams ignored his ability and relentless love for the game of football and just saw him as a young man not really ideally suited for pro football.
Once again the inability to gauge the size of the heart and the will to compete at the highest level from measurable workouts failed an entire league through 259 player picks.
Here are PACE’s final stats for the 2023 NFL season: 102 tackles, 53 of them solo, 2 1/2 Sacks. That 102 number makes him the only Rookie defender to exceed 100.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
A tie between…
QB C.J. STROUD TEXANS Pick 2 of 2023 NFL Draft 6’3/218 Ohio State
C.J. Stroud was likely underestimated by some as if Pick 2 was too soon to take him, but though his stats were impressive it was his command of the huddle and his ability to read opposing defenses that set him apart from most rookies. His yardage total for the 2023 season was 4108 yards passing, and his completion percentage was 63.9%. I was particularly impressed with this 23 TD passing, with only 5 Interceptions. He also added 3 TD rushing and finished the regular season with a 100.8 passer rating. He missed 2 games in the Concussion Protocol and had 9 Wins, and 6 Losses in his starts.
Both on and off the field this young man performed in a manner that appears to provide the Texans with a true franchise QB.
WR PUKA NACUA RAMS Pick 177, Round 5
NACUA was a well-regarded prospect heading into the 2023 NFL Draft, but concerns about his ability to stay on the field for a full NFL season were raised based on missed games during his career at BYU. He stood out immediately in RAMS Training Camp and was starting in Game One, trying to cover for the absence of injured star wideout COOPER KUPP—no problem for Coach McVay on that count.
Nacua opened the season with an outstanding effort of 10 receptions for 119 yards in a blowout victory over the Sea Hawks. With KUPP still out for Game 2 Nacua grabbed 15 receptions. Besides good hands, Puka also showed some nice work gaining yardage after throws. He ended up with 25 receptions of over 25 yards. NACUA & a healthy KUPP should provide the RAMS with one of the top receiving combos in the NFL going forward.
To a small degree, I feel like I copped out by not choosing between STROUD & NACUA for the Offensive Rookie award but they were equally impactful for their teams and the entire NFL as a whole.
Team Draft of the Year HOUSTON TEXANS
Let’s hear it for GM Nick Caserio, College Scouting Director JAMES LLIPFERT, and the team Scouts who clearly put together a superior Draft Board. They got value at every Pick and landed 5 starters, with all their 9 Picks being on their roster.
Next week I will present my All-Rookie team in this space. I will also be presenting my first Mock Draft of 2024 next week.