Nearly a month removed from the 2023 NFL Draft, this year's rookies are now mixed in with veteran players at their respective team's OTAs.
Only time will tell, of course, which first-year players will have an immediate impact on the league, but it's always fun to speculate. ESPN's Mike Clay did just that recently, ranking top five projected rookie leaders by various stat categories.
Clay highlighted Vikings first-round pick Jordan Addison in the receiving yards and touchdowns category, ranking him tied-for-first with Seahawks wideout Jaxon Smith-Njigba. Clay projected 766 receiving yards for each receiver, with Smith-Njigba grabbing six touchdowns and Addison recording five.
Behind the top two, he listed Chargers WR Quentin Johnston (715 yds, 5 TDs), Panthers WR Jonathan Mingo (659 yds, 3 TDs) and Ravens WR Zay Flowers (616 yds, 5 TDs). Clay wrote:
After three consecutive drafts in which at least three wide receivers were selected prior to pick No. 20, there were none this past April. In fact, Smith-Njigba, Johnston, Flowers and Addison were selected with four straight picks (Nos. 20-23) and were the only WRs picked in the first round. This area of the draft has rarely been a breeding ground for big rookie seasons. Since 2011, 17 WRs have been drafted in the 15-25 range, and only three of the 17 reached 800 yards (Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb and Justin Jefferson). And interestingly, only four of the 17 even played in at least 16 regular-season games, as the whole lot averaged 12.2 games played.
Smith-Njigba was the most highly regarded WR in this class, but he's stepping into an offense where he'll be no higher than third on the depth chart (behind DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett).
View photos of Vikings WR Jordan Addison at the 2023 NFLPA Rookie Premiere.
Clay believes Addison "has the easiest path to snaps among the first-round receivers."
Johnston is in a similar spot to Smith-Njigba, with Mike Williams and Keenan Allen locked in atop the Chargers depth chart. And Flowers will need to overcome a low-volume Baltimore passing game that will also feature Mark Andrews, Odell Beckham, Jr., and perhaps Rashod Bateman.
Packers receiver Jayden Reed (585 yards), Bills tight end Dalton Kincaid (493) and Chiefs wideout Rashee Rice (456) just missed the cut. Kincaid's projection of 493 yards would rank 10th among rookie TEs over the past decade.
Addison also was included in Clay's rankings for touchdowns from scrimmage, a category in which he placed Addison, Flowers and Johnston tied for fourth with five scores from scrimmage apiece.
Clay topped the group with Falcons running back Bijan Robinson with a projected 10 touchdowns and Lions running back Jahmyr Gibbs with nine.
Touchdowns by rookies are on the decline, as the 139 scored in 2022 were the fourth-fewest by first-year players over the past decade, while the 133 in 2021 were the second-fewest. And that's despite a full extra week of games. Twenty rookies reached 10 TDs during the span, though zero did last season (Christian Watson and Walker each scored nine, Jahan Dotson scored seven and no one else cleared five).
Of the 20 double-digit TD scorers, 15 were running backs, so it should be no surprise that Robinson and Gibbs lead this list. Robinson could lose the occasional red zone touch to Cordarrelle Patterson or [Tyler] Allgeier, but his combination of role, talent and size (215 pounds) will allow plenty of scoring opportunities. Gibbs is 199 pounds and will lose goal-line work to 222-pound [David] Montgomery, but note that Detroit had 27 touchdowns scored by a running back last season, and the man he's essentially replacing (D'Andre Swift) scored at least seven TDs all three seasons in Detroit.
Darrisaw & O'Neill in PFF's 'Top 32' list of tackles
Analytics site Pro Football Focus has been rolling out its "Top 32" position rankings ahead of the 2023 NFL season, and tackles were posted Thursday.
PFF's Gordon McGuinness included both of Minnesota's tackles in the top of half of the rankings, with left tackle Christian Darrisaw at No. 5 and right tackle Brian O'Neill at No. 16. McGuinness wrote:
The 23rd selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, Darrisaw impressed as a rookie before taking a big step forward in 2022. Just two players at the position bettered the 90.6 PFF run-blocking grade produced by the former Virginia Tech standout, and while he still needs to improve his consistency in pass protection, his 82.4 PFF pass-blocking grade in 2022 was the eighth-best mark at the position.
View the best photos of Vikings T Christian Darrisaw from the 2022 season.
McGuinness said O'Neill, a 2018 NFL Draft selection, "has developed into one of the best right tackles in football." He noted that O'Neill is coming off a career-high 82.7 PFF grade that ranked eighth among all tackles last season.
Even if that's his peak, his floor is a player who hasn't graded below 70.0 in each of the past four seasons, logging more than 1,000 snaps in each of those years, too.
The four tackles ranked ahead of Darrisaw were (from 1-4, respectively) San Francisco's Trent Williams, Philadelphia's Lane Johnson, Houston's Laremy Tunsil and Giants tackle Andrew Thomas.
The Vikings are slated to see Williams and Johnson this season, with the latter coming up in Week 2.
Johnson dealt with injuries throughout the 2022 season but still put together his best season in pass protection since entering the NFL. His 90.1 PFF pass-blocking grade trailed only Laremy Tunsil at the position, with Johnson not allowing a single sack or hit through the regular season and playoffs.