Top 10 rookie debuts of the 2023 NFL season: Fifth-rounder at No. 1! Rams, Texans each boast two picks

Each week of the 2023 NFL season, the Next Gen Stats analytics team will present a different Position Power Ranking, meant to spotlight the top performances among a specific group of players. To kick things off, we’ve assembled a list of the top 10 rookie debuts coming out of Week 1.

Before we dive in, though, a note on our methodology: To help create quantifiable rankings, we have devised a formula that yields a Next Gen Stats percentile score, which measures how a player is performing relative to his peers. The formula uses each player’s percentile score across a series of key metrics to create one composite score, ultimately indicating which players at that position performed best. We will lean on this formula to inform our rankings when applicable.

For example, the formula assigned the top player below, Los Angeles Rams receiver Puka Nacua, a composite score of 91. In other words, his performance placed him in the 91st percentile of all receivers — at all experience levels — in Week 1. When compared with the percentile scores of all rookies at every measurable position, Nacua’s 91 was the top overall score.


  • 15 targets, 10 receptions, 119 receiving yards, +7.9 receiving EPA (expected points added) when targeted — led all rookies in all four categories
  • 45 yards after catch, +19 yards after catch over expected


While Nacua was a hot name in dynasty circles this summer, few likely expected the fifth-round rookie to deliver that kind of production in his NFL debut. The BYU product exploded out of the gates, tying Tyreek Hill for most targets (15) in Week 1, while leading all rookies in receptions (10), receiving yards (119) and expected points added on targets (+7.9). Nacua is just the fourth player in NFL history to finish with 10 or more receptions and over 100 receiving yards in his debut (Keke Coutee, 2018; Anquan Boldin, 2003; Sid Blanks,1964).

Matthew Stafford targeted Nacua on 15 of 34 routes run (44.1 percent), tied with Tyreek for the highest target rate of any receiver with 10 or more routes in Week 1. Perhaps it was the 22-year-old’s feel for zone coverage that made him such a reliable target on Sunday. Nacua was targeted on all five of the hitch routes he ran against the Seahawks’ zone looks, hauling in four receptions for 50 yards (including 24 yards after the catch).

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  • 6 tackles, 6 pressures, 1.0 sack, 1 run stuff on 44 defensive snaps
  • All 6 tackles resulted in positive plays for the defense (i.e., defensive stops)


Expectations have been sky high for Anderson since the Texans’ front office made a splash trade during the 2023 draft for the right to select him at No. 3 overall. And in his NFL debut, the Bama prospect delivered. Just seven-plus minutes into his pro career, with his defense backed up in its own red zone, Anderson got pressure on Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, forcing a low pass that would be intercepted by teammate Steven Nelson. The edge rusher was a presence throughout Sunday’s game, finishing his debut tied with the Eagles’ Jalen Carter for the most QB pressures (6) among all rookies in Week 1.


  • 6 QB pressures, 1.0 sack (tied with Will Anderson Jr. for most pressures among rookies)
  • 32 of 38 snaps as a pass rusher (6 run snaps)


Heralded as one of the most talented prospects in last year’s class, Carter fell to the Eagles largely due to off-the-field concerns. Yet, if Week 1 is any indication, the Eagles’ gamble is certain to pay dividends for an already loaded defensive front. Carter played primarily as a pass rusher in his Week 1 debut, and not only did he tie for the most QB pressures among rookies, but the former Georgia Bulldog had the fastest average pass rush get-off among interior defensive linemen at 0.68 seconds (min. 15+ pass rushes). Carter is just one piece in a Philly pass rush that should have no issue causing pressure this season, as teammates Fletcher Cox and Milton Williams were just behind Carter at second and third, respectively, in average pass rush get-off among interior defensive linemen.

The Eagles accounted for the three quickest defenders by interior pass rush get-off in Week 1 (min. 15 pass rushes):

🥇 Jalen Carter: 0.68 seconds
🥈 Fletcher Cox: 0.72 seconds
🥉 Milton Williams: 0.72 seconds#FlyEaglesFly


  • 10 targets, 9 receptions, 78 yards (all second-most among rookie WRs)
  • 54 of 78 yards after the catch (69.2% of yards from YAC)
  • 5 targets, 5 receptions, 16 yards (26 YAC, -10 air yards) on 7 wide receiver screen routes


New Ravens offensive coordinator Todd Monken’s plan for Flowers was clear: get the rookie playmaker the ball in space. Across 25 routes, Flowers was targeted 10 times in Week 1, the second-most targets among rookies and seven more targets than the next-closest Ravens pass catcher. Flowers hauled in nine of those targets for 78 yards, with 54 of those yards coming after the catch. By design, Flowers was targeted five times on wide receiver screens, gaining 26 yards after the catch across those five receptions. Flowers also showed the ability to work as a vertical threat, with a 21-yard go route in the first quarter and a 20-yard catch on an out route in the third quarter.


  • 5 attempts, 24 yards, 1 TD on designed QB runs
  • 14/18, 109 yards on short passes (+1.9% CPOE)
  • Threw 33 of his 37 pass attempts to the middle/right side of the field


Richardson blew up the 2023 NFL Combine with his rare combination of size and speed, and that athleticism translated to the pro game immediately. Colts coach Shane Steichen was not shy in using Richardson in the ground game last Sunday, calling five designed QB runs that generated 24 yards and a TD. What was a bit unexpected, though, is that the bazooka-armed passer averaged just 5.5 air yards per attempt — seventh-lowest of the week. One of the biggest knocks on Richardson entering the draft was his short-area accuracy (0-9 air yards), but he actually completed more of these throws than expected (14/18, 109 yards, +1.9% CPOE) in Week 1. If he can continue to prove those concerns were overblown, the sky’s the limit for the 21-year-old.


  • Aligned in slot on 33 of 42 defensive snaps (78.6%)
  • Allowed 23 yards on 31 coverage snaps
  • Lions’ win probability increased from 16.1% to 39.0% after pick-six


Winning the starting nickel corner job as a rookie, Branch saw extended action in the NFL Kickoff Game last week as Detroit used nickel personnel on almost three-quarters of their plays to match Kansas City’s usage of 11 personnel. Branch’s big moment came in the third quarter at a time when Detroit’s offense was struggling to get anything going and Kansas City was holding on to a one-score lead. A Patrick Mahomes pass ricocheted off of Kadarius Toney’s hands to a nearby Branch, who hit 20.74 MPH on his way to the end zone — a top speed broken by only three defenders all of last season. Much of the Lions’ offseason hype was focused on their offense, but Branch’s play underscored Detroit’s talent on the defensive side.


  • 10 rushes, 56 yards, 5.6 yards per carry, 40.0% success rate
  • 6 targets, 6 receptions (all behind line of scrimmage), 27 receiving yards, 1 TD


Robinson split time with second-year back Tyler Allgeier in Week 1, finishing his debut with 10 rushing attempts, of which nine went outside the tackles for a total of 46 yards (5.1 per carry). Through the air, Robinson caught all six of his targets for 27 yards and a highlight-reel touchdown. (All of Robinson’s targets came behind the line of scrimmage.) Even if Falcons coach Arthur Smith is going to mess with fantasy owners by giving a healthy share of the carries to Allgeier, it appears Robinson could be a mainstay in Atlanta’s passing game.


  • 77 Next Gen Stats Passing Score
  • 23/36, 164 yards on passes of 10-plus air yards
  • 8/8, 80 yards targeting hitch routes


An injury-plagued offensive line combined with an ineffective run game is not a great recipe for a successful debut under center, but Stroud held his own despite taking five sacks. Texans OC Bobby Slowik kept the passing game short for Stroud, with the No. 2 overall pick throwing 36 of his 44 passes to within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. Stroud saw the most success targeting hitch routes, completing all eight of his attempts on such play for 80 yards. While his box score stats didn’t pop off the page, Stroud kept his poise and showed he can competently run an NFL offense. Hopefully the Texans’ pass protection can hold up better in Sunday’s home opener against a Colts pass rush that registered the second-lowest pressure rate in Week 1 (22.9%).


  • 38 defensive snaps (82.6% play time)
  • Team-high 5 pressures (second-most among rookie edge rushers), 0.5 sacks
  • 0.85-second average get-off (fastest among rookie edge rushers, min. 10 pass-rush snaps)


The Rams began camp with nearly 40(!) rookies, and all 14 drafted newbies ultimately made their final 53-man roster. While Puka Nacua was the rookie standout in Los Angeles’ passing attack, Young led the Rams’ pass rush with five pressures on the day (behind only Will Anderson Jr. among rookie edge rushers). The third-rounder out of Tennessee also had the fastest average get-off among rookie edge rushers who saw at least 10 pass-rush snaps. While expectations were low for this roster heading into the season, having two Day 3 draft picks make an immediate impact is a good sign for L.A.’s ability to field a competitive team in 2023.


  • 38 defensive snaps (65.5% play time)
  • Allowed just 1 reception for 8 yards on 3 targets as nearest defender
  • Aligned as the boundary corner on 33 of 38 snaps


Forbes was far from the obvious selection when the Commanders were on the clock with the No. 16 pick in Round 1, especially considering ballyhooed Oregon cornerback Christian Gonzalez was still on the board. While Gonzalez was the most targeted player in the league in Week 1, Forbes was targeted on just three of his 23 coverage snaps (13.0%). When the lights were brightest and Washington needed a stop to secure a win in the first game of the Josh Harris era, Forbes jumped a Michael Wilson route on 4th-and-10 and knocked the ball to the turf.

HONORABLE MENTION: Xavier Gipson, RET, New York Jets; Cody Mauch, RG, Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Jordan Addison, WR, Minnesota Vikings; Bryce Young, QB, Carolina Panthers; Sam LaPorta, TE, Detroit Lions; Ivan Pace Jr., LB, Minnesota Vikings; Keeanu Benton, DT, Pittsburgh Steelers.

— Mike Band, Keegan Abdoo and John Andersen contributed to this story.

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