With the 2023 NFL season kicking off Thursday night, let's piece together a Preseason All-Rookie Team.
Instead of one selection for every spot on the field, I've provided second-team picks along with honorable mentions. I watched quite a few prospects this past pre-draft process, so might as well write about as many of them as I can, right? Let's go!
Quarterback: Bryce Young, Panthers
This is the inverse order of my quarterback rankings before the 2023 draft, and for as much as I have to trust my evaluations -- especially before a new rookie class takes the field -- I like the entirety of the environment Young finds himself in most among the first three quarterbacks taken in April. Frank Reich, Thomas Brown, Jim Caldwell, and Josh McCown will construct a comfy, passer-friendly offense for Young, the blocking unit is improving, and the receiver group is at least intriguing albeit unspectacular with Adam Thielen, D.J. Chark, Laviska Shenault, Terrace Marshall, Shi Smith and third-round pick Jonathan Mingo, who rocked after the catch at Ole Miss.
Stroud is too polished of a passer to be a dud as a rookie, even in a less-than-ideal situation in Houston -- minus Kevlar blocker Laremy Tunsil at left tackle. Richardson clearly possesses the most tantalizing upside of the group, yet I acknowledge it will probably take him the longest time to grow into a stable NFL quarterback. In Shane Steichen's offense, Richardson will generate some jaw-dropping plays in Year 1. Count on that.
Running back: Bijan Robinson, Falcons
First-rounder, first-rounder, and, yes, a seventh-round selection. I've been riding the McBride train from the moment he was picked by the Vikings in the final round of the 2023 draft, and said train got a fuel-boost when Dalvin Cook was released weeks ago. McBride had Day 2 talent and is part of a running back room with Alexander Mattison and Ty Chandler that operates behind a fortified offensive line in Kevin O'Connell's branch-off-the-Shanahan-tree rushing attack.
As for the first-team selection -- Robinson is as-advertised. Saquon Barkley without the scintillating, breakaway speed. Tackling-breaking phenom who'll get RB1 touches in one of football's most well-conceived ground games. He's going to be a star. Gibbs will be the RB1 in Detroit by November and has some of the most effortless acceleration and long speed I've ever witnessed in a running back prospect. The pass-happy ways of Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson and the presence of lateral-juking stud David Montgomery will eat into Gibbs' opportunities as a rookie.
Perimeter wide receiver: Quentin Johnston, Chargers
Johnston is the final piece of the puzzle in the receiver group for Justin Herbert. He has the size and skill set unlike anyone else on Los Angeles' roster. I'm most fascinated by his run-after-the-catch prowess. Easiest path to production as a rookie for a receiver, beyond being an absolute freakshow athlete or route runner -- the former is natural and the latter typically takes at least a season to fine-tune as a pro. While occasionally clunky as a rebounder at his stature, Johnston is an agitated gazelle in the open field. Oh and if you call Herbert an elite quarterback, you won't hear gripes from me -- he's capable of elite quarterbacking flashes every time out. That helps.
Mims is a serious burner with strong hands and nifty maneuverability after the catch. I love how he theoretically fits into the passing offense that features Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy. Yes, it is a risk selecting someone in the Broncos offense after the season-long abomination we collectively grimaced through in 2022. But Russell Wilson has to be better with Sean Payton designing and calling the plays right? RIGHT?!
Scott is a near spitting image of Mims on the field, except his hands aren't as reliable. Yes, there is an established veteran directly in front of him in the "vertical threat" niche -- Darnell Mooney -- but Scott is gifted enough to see action as a rookie, and we very well could see liftoff from the Bears offense in Year 2 of the Justin Fields era.
Perimeter wide receiver: Rashee Rice, Chiefs
Second team: Jordan Addison, Vikings
Honorable mention: Jonathan Mingo, Panthers
Rice is a ferocious, amped-up YAC specialist with the optimal "RB-like" frame that lends itself to low-center-of-gravity power and exceptional contact balance. While Rice's compact build -- 6-foot and 1/2 inches and 204 pounds -- is not inherently conducive to jump-ball dominance, his leaping ability, concentration, and rugged hands lead to surprisingly steady play in those situations vital to success as an outside receiver in today's NFL. I, of course, trust the masterful duo of Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes to maximize Rice's talents in Year 1.
I was lower on Addison than the masses, mostly due to his tiny frame and average-at-best pre-draft workout. He is a smooth, slippery route runner and plays more athletically with the ball in his hands. Plus ball-tracking to his game too, and he's unlikely to see much coverage rolled in his direction playing in the same offense as Justin Jefferson.
Mingo isn't A.J. Brown 2.0. There are Brownian flashes with the ball in his hands. Young will get it out quickly to Mingo in space frequently as an extension of the run game. He'll be sneaky productive in his debut season.
Slot wide receiver: Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Seahawks
Smith-Njigba knows how to stand out in a crowded receiver room, just ask Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson. Even with D.K. Metcalf and perennially underrated Tyler Lockett soaking up most of the targets in Seattle, Smith-Njigba's fluidity, reliable hands, and subtle route salesmanship will spark plenty of splash plays underneath and down the seam for the first receiver picked in the 2023 draft. Despite years of run-game dedication during the Wilson era, under new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron in 2022, the Seahawks attempted the eighth-most passes in football. There'll actually be a reasonable amount of opportunities for JSN this season.
Flowers is going to be the spark plug that helps ignite the new-look Ravens offense, and his well-rounded game will allow him to acclimate quickly to the variety of job responsibilities he'll undertake in the offense of Baltimore's offensive coordinator Todd Monken.
And if you're wondering who Gipson is, you are not alone. He went undrafted out of Stephen F. Austin. I fell in love with his film, and he tested like an NFL-caliber slot wideout. Sure, the Jets have a massive collection of receivers now, so a lowly UDFA from the small-school level naturally is up against it. Gipson's quickness, long speed, YAC prowess, and ball-tracking skills give him future obscure favorite of Aaron Rodgers vibes, kind of like Allen Lazard was early in his Packers career after going undrafted in 2018.
Tight end: Sam LaPorta, Lions
The T.J. Hockenson trade came when the Lions were 1-6, and, ironically, they could've used him down the stretch during an 8-2 heater to end the season. Now the ferocious LaPorta steps into a TE1 role in what was a dynamic aerial-driven attack in 2022 -- only the Chiefs and Bills had a higher Expected Points Added total on dropbacks!
LaPorta has an NFL frame, a thick lower half that makes him a moose in the open field, and he's an explosive athlete, so he'll be able to get open underneath and at the intermediate level. Kincaid is an older prospect, but he was the most electric route runner in a loaded tight end class and has incredible, super-steady hands in any scenario -- arms extended, in traffic, or when absorbing contact from a defensive back, doesn't matter. Kincaid will be a possession slot target for Josh Allen, and he'll break away from tacklers relatively often to generate the ever-important YAC. Buffalo's offense needs more of that.
When it comes to Packers rookie tight ends, I dig Kraft more than Luke Musgrave, and while the latter will probably be given a chance first to star in the Jordan Love offense, Kraft is more flexible with more threatening YAC capabilities and power. There are a lot of young, hungry mouths to feed in Green Bay. Kraft will eventually work his way near the top of the target pecking order for Love.
Offensive tackles: Darnell Wright, Bears and Paris Johnson Jr., Cardinals
Wright had one of the finest pass-blocking seasons I've ever scouted at the offensive tackle position, particularly given the competition he faced on the outside in the SEC. His game is built to be a devastating right tackle thanks to his width, sheer power, and athleticism to stay with bendy speed rushers.
Johnson needs to improve his nastiness and overall balance. His athleticism and, particularly, his length are off the charts, which are nice elements to have as a young offensive tackle as the nuances needed to thrive in the NFL are being learned. The athletic Harrison will get an opportunity at one of the tackle positions in Trevor Lawrence's quick-strike offense, which will boost the efficiency of the rookie's pass blocking. In 2022, Lawrence tied Joe Burrow for the third-fastest average time to attempt (2.51 seconds) in the NFL.
Skoronski may scoot inside to guard, so there's some gray area with the selection. He's too polished with his footwork and hand positioning to be a liability in Year 1.
Interior offensive line: John Michael Schmitz, Giants and O'Cyrus Torrence, Bills
Reducing guard and center to "interior offensive line" because there are so few rookie guards and centers actually slated to start to begin their NFL careers. Schmitz was one of the few plug-and-play centers in the 2023 class -- you'll get that label after stellar play across nearly 2,500 collegiate snaps -- and the Giants waited patiently for him in the second round to be their starting pivot in 2023. He's ready.
Torrence will have to earn his right guard gig, and I think he's up for the challenge although incumbent Ryan Bates won't be a cinch to unseat. Torrence provides the Bills more size, length, and nastiness than Bates, and Buffalo does adore the veteran's genuine versatility to play all five offensive line spots. Torrence made the jump from the Sun Belt to the SEC with his Louisiana-to-Florida transfer last season. He'll acclimate relatively quickly in his next leap in competition with the Bills as a rookie.
Tippmann has to get stronger. Otherwise he's a squeaky-clean center prospect who'll get the luxury of playing between two smart, powerful, and athletic guards in Laken Tomlinson and Alijah Vera-Tucker. Oluwatimi was my IOL1 in the 2023 class. He's different though. Not a Schmitz or Tippmann-like athlete. More like a smaller version of Packers devastating blocker Elgton Jenkins. Sturdy, unshakeable, and rarely off balance. Yes, he could beat out veteran free-agent signee Evan Brown for the center job out of camp.
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Edge rushers: Will Anderson Jr., Texans and Drew Sanders, Broncos
Anderson is too crafty, too athletic, too deceptively strong, too NFL-ready to not be a three-down standout as a rookie. I do wish the Texans had a veteran opposite him that offensive lines desperately needed to game plan for, but Jonathan Greenard can flash, and Anderson is accustomed to plenty of game-plan attention.
I nearly went with Packers rusher Lukas Van Ness for the second-team selection here. I decided against it because the Packers are oozing with edge-rushing talent, and after witnessing how patient Green Bay was with Rashan Gary -- and how much it paid off -- I expect the club to taken a similar approach with the former Iowa star and first-round pick.
Now to my actual selection, Hall, a strapping, powerful outside rusher with a non-stop motor. He too joins a relatively crowded EDGE room in Seattle. Most of his competition is relatively unproven though -- beyond Uchenna Nwosu. He has the explosiveness, jolting hands, and strength through contact to be a steady disruptor in Year 1.
As for Wilson, he first needs to get fully healthy. Then he must learn to get off the ball faster. Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones will aid in the latter. When he's 100%, Wilson is one of the only humans on this planet capable of Myles Garrett-type flashes. Before his 2022 injury, Wilson racked 50 pressures on 257 pass-rush snaps. Big-time pressure rate of 19.4%.
Defensive tackles: Jalen Carter, Eagles and Calijah Kancey, Buccaneers
Carter couldn't be in a better situation in Philadelphia, and it's not just because he'll take the field with a pair of his former Georgia teammates in the Eagles front seven. With the likes of Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Josh Sweat, and Derek Barnett, heck even Milton Williams, Carter has established rushers all around him. He needs to soak up as much knowledge from them as possible. Because combined with such remarkable talent, Carter could be an All-Pro in a hurry.
Kancey is too explosive to be corralled on a regular basis by NFL interior offensive linemen, even if his length will be a hindrance at times. Playing alongside Vita Vea and Greg Gaines will provide Kancey many one-on-one scenarios that'll allow him to deploy his array of pass-rush counters when he's not winning on acceleration alone.
Wooden is the ideal Packers inside-out defensive lineman. His relentless motor, lead-pipe arms, and block-shedding ability will catalyze a surprising rookie campaign in Green Bay. I had a blast watching Turner at Wake Forest. Such a sudden, bouncy interior defender who knows how to beat blocks in a hurry and his flexibility makes him a real challenge to pin down. Learning from Aaron Donald? Quite the teacher for Turner in Year 1.
Linebackers: Jack Campbell, Lions and Daiyan Henley, Chargers
Campbell and Henley were my top two linebackers in the class, and they landed in tremendous locales. The only gripe I had with Campbell -- and I mean, the only gripe -- was his shorter arms. Otherwise, he ticked every box for me on film. Range, blocking-shedding, and coverage mastery. I love what Detroit has along the defensive line in front of him too. Monster first season ahead for him with the Lions.
Henley is an older prospect but glides in coverage and plays with the ball skills of a safety. While Los Angeles isn't rock-solid in the middle of its defensive line, there are plenty of stars on that side of the ball that'll help get Henley into advantageous situations as a rookie.
Williams is a lot like his new teammate Matt Milano. Shorter, stocky, ultra-aggressive linebacker who plays much bigger than his size and with zero hesitation. While he may not start next to Milano Week 1, the complete game of Williams will get him on the field sooner rather than later, and Sean McDermott's defense is conducive to quality linebacker play. Pappoe is going to be a tackling machine in Arizona, where youngsters will dot the field for the Cardinals in 2023. His sub 4.40 speed is legitimate, and he can hold his own in coverage.
Boundary cornerbacks: Christian Gonzalez, Patriots and Joey Porter Jr., Steelers
Gonzalez is next in an incredibly long line of stellar man-coverage perimeter cornerbacks to play for Bill Belichick. He has all the goods to be a star right away, and the Patriots pass rush should be just disruptive enough that Gonzalez won't be asked to cover for too long, too frequently.
Banks is another cornerback with adhesive-like coverage skills who'll play for a press-man enthusiast in Giants defensive coordinator Wink Martindale. There's part of me worried about Banks' awareness as the ball is arriving into his target area. His explosion profile -- 4.35 40-yard dash, 42-inch vertical, 11-foot-4 inch broad -- will make him nearly impossible to beat over the top.
I have been on the #RileyMossIsACornerback train since I finished his evaluation during draft season, and nothing from the Broncos brass has indicated he'll move to safety in the NFL. Moss played for like two decades at Iowa, overflowed the stat sheet with ball production and tested as a freaky athlete, which he plays like on the field. I love him lurking behind the likes of Randy Gregory, Baron Browning, Frank Clark, Zach Allen, Drew Sanders and Co. along Denver's revamped defensive front.
Slot cornerback: Jakorian Bennett, Raiders
Bennett is a scorchingly explosive athlete with a feisty attitude in coverage, a combo that produced 22 pass breakups and five interceptions. The Raiders secondary has been void of serious playmakers for years now, and Bennett can be one instantly. The only roadblock for the rookie from Maryland? Nate Hobbs, he's become a good one in the slot.
Martin was a slot-defender/safety hybrid at Illinois and a productive one at that with 11 pass breakups and three interceptions covering an insane amount ground in coverage thanks to explosion and speed that seem fake when you read them from the combine -- at 5-foot-11 and 194 pounds, he ran 4.44 with a 44-inch vertical and 11-foot-1 broad jump. Kamren Curl and Darrick Forrest represent the league's best complementary young safety duo, so Martin will be positioned to the slot where he can undercut routes and play outside runs in Washington's defense.
Tomlinson has the requisite frame and ultra-agile ways to star in the slot instantly in the NFL. He'll get to learn from Decobie Durant who went from South Carolina State to ball magnet in Year 1 a season ago. The super-compact 5-foot-8, 178-pound Tomlinson had a 40-time, vertical, and broad all above the 77th percentile at the cornerback spot and defended 35 passes with five picks in his final three seasons at TCU. Pass breakups and interceptions don't happen by accident. Dude can ball.
Safeties: Ji'Ayir Brown, 49ers and Brian Branch, Lions
Honestly, Brown is a lot like new safety bud Tal Hufanga who's become a fun, do-everything playmaker early in his 49ers career. I did not see a poor workout from Brown coming after dissecting his Penn State film. He flew to the football repeatedly and hit like a linebacker.
I know there's Tracy Walker and 2022 rookie stud Kerby Joseph in Detroit's safety room. The Lions did not pick Branch -- such a pro-ready prospect -- in Round 2 for him to stand on the sidelines in 2023. He's the best tackling defensive back I've ever scouted and has tremendous instincts and ball skills in coverage. He'll be a cozy fit into the nickel role.
Howden was such a dependable, seemingly never out-of-position safety at Minnesota, and he's a sure tackler. The latter will get you on the field quickly as a rookie, and I won't be shocked if the Saints deploy some three safety looks with Tyrann Mathieu and Marcus Maye alongside Howden in 2023.
As for Robinson, he'll come up and strike ball-carriers and underneath routes despite being built like a skinny nickel corner. He has lightning-quick feet and is comfortable finding the football in the air. On a still improving, relatively youth-based Carolina defense, the former Florida State star will fill the stat sheet in 2023.