Stacking the NFL’s best rookies through 14 weeks: Where do Stroud, LaPorta and Nacua rank?

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The 2023 NFL rookie class has continued to impress through 14 weeks of the season. The Houston Texans’ and Detroit Lions’ impressive turnarounds have been spearheaded by their groups of talented first years, while Puka Nacua has continued to play a large role in the Los Angeles Rams’ offense. And Jalen Carter and Devon Witherspoon have remained bright spots for their respective defenses.

With the season winding down, conversations about the Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year awards are beginning to erupt — so we stacked the top rookies as things stand. We polled five NFL analysts — Matt Bowen, Jeff Legwold, Matt Miller, Brooke Pryor and Jordan Reid — to make a consensus ranking of the top 10 rookies. The analysts also picked out which position group has stood out the most, explained how No. 1 overall pick Bryce Young can end his season on a high note, named a sneaky impact rookie for a playoff contender and identified an overperforming late-rounder and an underperforming first-rounder.

Let’s begin with a player who shouldn’t be surprising on this list because he has been the No. 1 choice since October.

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Top 10 | Just missed
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Stats: 3,631 passing yards, 20 TD passes, 5 INT; 3 rushing TDs, 143 rushing yards
Drafted: No. 2 overall

While Stroud has struggled the past two weeks against the Jets and Broncos — he had a combined 52% completion percentage and a 12.5 QBR in those games — he still has been the most impressive rookie this season. The Texans signal-caller is the consensus favorite for Offensive Rookie of the Year, and there have been some moments this season when he has been in the MVP conversation.

Through Week 14, Stroud was second in the league in passing yards, third in yards per attempt and tied for ninth in passing touchdowns. With poise in the pocket and great ball placement, he has surpassed expectations for his first season. — Reid

Stats: 27 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 4 sacks, 1 fumble recovery, 1 defensive TD
Drafted: No. 9 overall

Carter continues to get it done on the defensive front and seems like a lock for Defensive Rookie of the Year. He is already emerging as one of the best young defensive tackles in the league and playing better with each passing week. In Week 14, Carter scored the Eagles’ second defensive touchdown of the season with a scoop-and-score 42-yard score.

With the rest of the regular season and a playoff run forthcoming, Carter can cement his status as the league’s top defensive rookie. — Miller

Stats: 65 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 INT, 1 defensive TD, 12 pass breakups
Drafted: No. 5 overall

Before exiting Sunday’s loss to the 49ers with what turned out to be a hip pointer, Witherspoon made the most of seven snaps, breaking up a pass intended for George Kittle and nearly picking off Brock Purdy. That’s just the kind of season he is having for the Seahawks.

He is tied for sixth in passes defended (nine) and continues to be a great draft pick for Seattle. Witherspoon is allowing minus-6.3 receptions over expected, which is the second fewest among all cornerbacks, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. And it’s not just what he’s doing in coverage — he has 13 defensive run stops, tied for the most among cornerbacks. — Pryor

Stats: ​82 catches, 1,113 receiving yards, 4 TDs
Drafted: No. 177 overall

If the next two guys behind you in reception totals are Travis Kelce (80) and Davante Adams (76), you’re having a top-tier season. With four games remaining, Nacua is on track to break the NFL’s single-season record for catches by a rookie (Jaylen Waddle with 104 in 2021).

He also needs 287 receiving yards over the last four games to be the fourth rookie receiver to reach the 1,400 mark in a season (Ja’Marr Chase, Justin Jefferson and Bill Gorman). Nacua is ranked ninth in the NFL in yards after the catch (437), too. If he keeps up his current volume, he could threaten the greatest statistical rookie seasons ever at the position. — Legwold

Stats: 66 catches, 702 receiving yards, 6 TDs
Drafted: No. 34 overall

LaPorta ranks fourth in the NFL among tight ends in receiving yards, trailing Travis Kelce, T.J. Hockenson and George Kittle. He has caught 66 of 93 (71%) targets this season to go with six touchdown receptions.

The rookie out of Iowa is a three-level target in the Lions’ offensive system, where he can win man-to-man matchups or use his coverage awareness to find open grass against zone schemes. Plus, LaPorta is a willing blocker in the run game. I see some veteran traits from him. — Bowen

Stats: 42 tackles, 5 sacks
Drafted: No. 3 overall

There were plenty of discussions surrounding the draft capital that the Texans spent to move up to select Anderson at No. 3 overall. But similar to what we saw from him at Alabama, he has been one of the best pass-rushers in the league through 14 weeks.

Anderson ranks third in pass rush win rate (24.8%), behind only Micah Parsons and Myles Garrett. And he has continued to cause disruption in the backfield as a constant pressure generator. His 39 first pressures are tied for the ninth most in the league. — Reid

Stats: 47 catches, 709 receiving yards, 7 TDs
Drafted: No. 69 overall

Dell was placed on injured reserve because of a season-ending fractured left fibula but not before he emerged as a true top-tier threat in the Houston passing attack. Dell posted three straight games with more than 10 targets and four straight with at least one touchdown catch before his injury. Among rookie receivers, he ranks second in yards per catch (15.1) and yards per game (64.5), and he is third in receiving yards.

The Texans have a legitimate young star at wideout for the future in Dell. — Miller

Stats: 169 rushes, 790 rushing yards, 4 rushing TDs; 40 catches, 320 receiving yards, 3 TD catches
Drafted: No. 8 overall

After scoring two touchdowns in the first seven weeks, Robinson is finding the end zone more often with five scores in the past six weeks. He has recorded at least 100 yards from scrimmage twice in the past four games, matching his total from the first half of the season.

He leads the Falcons in scores and rushing yards, but his role in the offense remains one of the bigger mysteries of the Falcons’ season. Robinson has 17 more carries than Tyler Allgeier, despite averaging 4.7 yards per carry to Allgeier’s 3.5. He had all the makings of a Rookie of the Year candidate when he was drafted, but the inconsistent performance of Atlanta’s offense and Robinson’s role might have taken him out of the race. — Pryor

Stats: 56 catches, 713 receiving yards, 7 TDs
Drafted: No. 23 overall

Addison’s momentum has slowed some since quarterback Kirk Cousins suffered a season-ending Achilles injury. Addison hasn’t topped 70 yards in the past five games and hasn’t reached 50 yards in the past three, as the offense as a whole struggled. But he is still fourth among rookie receivers in receptions behind Nacua, Zay Flowers and Rashee Rice, and he has a bright future in the Vikings’ offense. — Legwold

Stats: 52 tackles, 6 sacks, 2 forced fumbles
Drafted: No. 77 overall

Young leads all rookies with six sacks and is second with 27 pressures. He is still developing as an edge rusher and is working to build a deeper toolbox of counter moves. However, his explosive movement off the ball puts him in a position to create disruptive plays, and his effort level allows him to produce late in the play. The arrow is pointing up for Young. — Bowen

Just missed

Brian Branch, S, Detroit Lions

Branch has been rock solid in the nickel for the Lions’ defense. He registered seven tackles and an interception against the Saints in Week 13, and he also had an eight-tackle effort against the Packers on Thanksgiving. He’s tied for second on the Lions in interceptions (two) and has played 81.4% of the team’s defensive snaps. — Legwold

De’Von Achane, RB, Miami Dolphins

Achane has slowed from his heady start to the season. He returned from a knee injury in Week 11 after missing five games, and since then, he has averaged 5.3 yards per touch with two scrimmage TDs — a far cry from 11.2 yards per touch and seven TDs from Weeks 2 to 5. But Achane still turned 12 touches (seven carries, five receptions) into 71 yards in Monday night’s loss to the Titans and has been reliable for the Dolphins. — Legwold

Jahmyr Gibbs, RB, Detroit Lions

Gibbs is second among the league’s running backs in averaging 5.4 yards per carry. He has had 14 carries or fewer in every game since David Montgomery’s return from injury, but he continues to flash the explosiveness offenses want — he has four games this season with a run of at least 26 yards, including one in each of the past two games. ​– Legwold

Which position group has impressed the most so far for this rookie class?

Wide receiver. It was a tough call between the receivers and the running backs, but the edge goes to a deep receiver class for its difference-making contributions this season. Perhaps the most impressive part about this bunch is that the stars of the class aren’t just the first-round picks. Yes, Addison, Flowers, Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Quentin Johnston have made clutch contributions to their teams, but Nacua was taken in the fifth round, and both Dell and Josh Downs were selected in the third. The receiver class was expected to be good … but not this good. — Pryor

How can Bryce Young find some success down the stretch to build on for 2024?

The Panthers’ offense has been a tough watch. They lack perimeter speed, the interior of the offensive line needs upgrades, and Young has played frantically from the pocket. He has posted a QBR of less than 20 in three of his past four games while completing over 65% of his throws in only three starts.

If we are looking at how he can gain some traction over the final four weeks, I’d like to see Young improve his pocket poise. He needs to reduce the unnecessary movement (and keep his eye level up), take the throws that are available and deliver the ball with better timing. He must get into a rhythm as a passer, even in tough circumstances, like we saw on his college tape at Alabama. — Bowen

Which rookie is making a sneaky big impact for a playoff contender?

Brandon Aubrey, K, Dallas Cowboys. The 28-year-old former software engineer is 30-for-30 in field goal attempts, including 8-of-8 from 50 or more yards, with his longest being a 60-yarder. While many rookies will have significant plays down the stretch to help their teams make a playoff push, no rookie has the potential to face a bigger end-of-game moment than Aubrey. He could have his team’s season hanging on the result of a kick at some point. — Legwold

Which late-rounder is overperforming right now?

Ivan Pace Jr, LB, Minnesota Vikings. One of the biggest steals of the 2023 draft came after its conclusion. Pace, who went undrafted, has been an unsung hero for the Vikings’ defense. He took control of Brian Flores’ unit after linebacker Jordan Hicks suffered a leg injury in Week 10. Pace is an instinctive and aggressive tackler (68 this season, along with 2.5 sacks and an interception), and he is playing in the perfect defense to showcase his skill set. — Reid

Which first-rounder is underperforming right now?

Tyree Wilson, DE, Las Vegas Raiders. The Raiders desperately needed pass-rushing help opposite Maxx Crosby and hoped to get it from the No. 7 overall pick. To date, that hasn’t been the case, as Wilson has struggled to acclimate after a foot injury limited him early. He has just 2.5 sacks — one of those coming this past weekend — and is a rotational player on a defense that needed him to step in and contribute immediately. — Miller



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