Today, we look at the performances of a number of 2023 NFL rookies during Week 2.
2023 NFL Rookies Progress – Week Two
Unfortunately, the BROWNS appear to be one of the unlucky NFL teams whose locker room has been infested by the ugly “injury bug”. There was of course a frightening leg injury to NICK CHUBB in the Monday Night AFC North showdown with the STEELERS. In the season opener, they lost RT JACK CONKLIN. This brings us to the first Rookie watch of Week Two in the NFL.
To replace CONKLIN the team turned that RT spot over to massive Rookie DAWAND JONES. When I say massive there can be no doubt he qualifies for that title measuring 6’8″ tall and weighing 375. Even for the big-man world of NFL Linemen, that is massive indeed. The Browns selected him in Round 4, Pick 111. Even for the NFL JONES is a giant. During Draft season many pegged him to slide inside to OG, but he surprised most folks and performed well in Training Camp.
And overall he looked more than adequate against the Steelers. His wingspan is gargantuan and most surprisingly he has relatively quick feet. Jones’ footwork is due in part to being a solid basketball big man in high school. His long arms are strong, and the only guy who really took advantage of him Monday night was T.J. WATT, who got around him with speed and bend on about 4 occasions.
His hand punch should get stronger and stronger with pro coaching. But overall he held his own and moved well moving forward in run block work. He looks like a big win for the Browns OL room. With his acceptance of coaching and plenty of playing time, he should progress well as a rookie.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
Many football folk were quite surprised when CB CHRISTIAN GONZALEZ was not taken as a Top Ten Pick and lasted until Pick 17 in the 2023 Draft. The PATRIOTS did not hesitate to jump on the opportunity to select him there and he has been an instant starter for the team, making impact plays including a crucial Interception to snuff out an apparent Dolphins scoring drive and give the PATS a legit chance to complete a late-game comeback victory, which was not to be. His stat sheet listed 6 Tackles, 1 PD, and 1 INT. The first word that continues to come to my mind watching this young man cruise in secondary coverage is “SMOOTH”. He is also not timid when it comes to assisting in run-D support. He is off to a great start in his Rookie season.
Let’s look at another Rookie CB who is also making waves, just in a different manner. The early season mess, which is the BEARS Defense, may have found at least one meaningful new member of their solid (when healthy) secondary in TYRIQUE STEVENSON, who was a 2nd Round Pick for them. Even though his secondary coverage work needs some serious improvement to cover NFL-level receivers, there is no question he can excel in the box, in run D. STEVENSON was credited with 9 Tackles, all solo, last weekend against Tampa. His coverage skills need honing, but his nose for the ball, and runner is a highly desirable aspect of today’s secondary defenders’ arsenal.
DARNELL WRIGHT, RT is another Bears Rookie who has earned a starting spot at RT. Or should I say he was handed that job? It was his to lose during pre-season play and he played well enough to hold onto that spot. Like JONES above, he is a strapping fellow at 6’5, 335 lbs. I actually think JONES moves a bit more smoothly than WRIGHT, but Darnell found his sweet spot for the Vols last season at that RT spot, after failing to impress over at LT. I am not saying I see Pro Bowls in his future, but combined with NATE DAVIS at RG, that side of the BEARS OL looks vastly improved over the past couple of seasons with these two in place. WRIGHT may not be up to Jone’s level for quickness, but he has solid hand work in punch blocks, especially in the run game.
LOS ANGELES RAMS
I am not telling most of you much that you don’t already know about RAMS Rookie WR PUKA NACUA who has greatly eased the plain of the early season loss of Cooper Kupp, with two monster-receiving games to open the season. Like Kupp, NACUA is an excellent route runner, with sure hands and some run after the catch to him. He wasn’t highly regarded coming out of BYU primarily because he was plagued by some nagging injuries, and mediocre BYU QB play once Wilson headed to the NFL.
Against the 49ers last weekend NACUA was targeted 20 times and had 15 receptions for 147 yards. Mr. Stafford has to be having sweet dreams about his passing attack once KUPP comes back to the active roster to pair with PUKA. He had 10 catches, for 119 yards in Game One versus the SEA HAWKS. During Training Camp, KUPP coached up PUKA constantly and it seems to be working quite well. Just ask STAFFORD.
The days of Bell Cow RB who carries 25+ times per game in the NFL are over. Now they may get 25 touches when you include receiving numbers. That in good part, is why BIJAN ROBINSON of the Falcons won’t run for 2,000 yards this season. However, he should top 2,000 easily with his ability to tote the rock and catch passes, with considerable run-after-catch yards.
ROBINSON’s work against the PACKERS last weekend should be a preview of what you may see most weekends out of the 8th player taken in the 2023 NFL Draft. He rushed for 124 yards on 19 carries, as well as catching 4 balls for 48 yards. Robinson looks to be pushing 200 net yards from scrimmage per game at about 25 touches per game. He is fast, he is powerful, he has good hands, and he is already pushing for locker room leadership roles. The top candidate to be the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in my mind.
As you must remember, the BRONCOS traded away a treasure trove of players and Draft Picks to acquire QB RUSSELL WILSON in 2022. Results were disappointing to say the least last season for a 5-12 team. The hope this season is for WILSON to resurrect his career under new QB whisperer Head Coach SEAN PAYTON. The 2023 DRAFT class was a bit lean for the Broncos, with only 5 Picks overall.
But they may have scored a big prize with their Round 2, Pick 63, MARVIN MIMS/Oklahoma. Listed as a WR, MIMS is also prolific as a Return Specialist. In the heart-breaking, give-away loss to the Commanders last Sunday MIMS was a multiple-role assassin. He carried the ball twice for 10 yards, caught 2 passes for 113 yards and 1 TD, and returned 1 Punt for 45 yards. Mims is going to be a multi-purpose threat on gadget plays with attempts to get him into open spaces as often as possible. He is fast, he is quick and he is elusive. Just what the Broncos needed to supplement their rebuilt roster.
More NFL rookies are likely to crop up each week as young players emerge, and vets fall prey to the Injury Bug. I’ll be watching for them to emerge and will report them to you in this weekly article.