One short year ago, Seahawks cornerback Tariq Woolen was a widely viewed as a super-athletic project-y outside corner. Fast forward to his rookie season — the former UTSA star led the NFL in interceptions with six and defended 16 more passes. Seattle certainly fast-tracked his developmental process.
The year before that, Amon-Ra St. Brown was just an easy-to-miss, unsuspecting rookie picked after the first round, waiting for his chance in the Lions’ offense. Now, his reach is far wider than the greater Detroit area after an 88-catch eruption in Year 1 as a professional.
In 2020, Antoine Winfield Jr., Jeremy Chinn, and Antonio Gibson were NFC rookies not selected on Day 1 of the draft who sure as heck played like Day 1 selections as rookies.
In 2019, Deebo Samuel, Miles Sanders, Elgton Jenkins, DK Metcalf and Terry McLaurin headlined those outstanding value selections. And you, NFL fan starved for football, know all about your favorite team’s first-round pick in the 2023 draft. It’s time to really get acclimated with the non-Round 1 selections who have the talent — and situation — to flourish in their debut season in the NFL.
Let’s zero in on the NFC rookies picked after the first round with the best chances to earn key roles as rookies.
EDGE Viliami Fehoko
Drafted: No. 129, fourth round
Impressive stat to know: 15.8% pressure-creation rate across his final 958 pass-rush snaps at San Jose State
Fehoko has looked ready for the NFL for years. Heck, as a sophomore in 2020, he had six sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss. And his productivity only improved from there. Such a steady pass rusher in college, and Fehoko boasts serious NFL size at nearly 6-foot-4 and 276 pounds. He has long arms too and deploys them awesomely at the point of attack. He’s a mid-level athlete, yet won over and over in college. As a rotational defensive end in Dallas, Fehoko is going to make noise as a rookie.
CB Kelee Ringo
Drafted: No. 105, fourth round
Impressive stat to know: 15 pass breakups and four interceptions in his two seasons at Georgia
With Ringo, most draft analysts saw a defensive back who lacked twitch and had problems mirroring wideouts. While I noticed the latter, I viewed Ringo as one of the most effortlessly athletic movers at the position in the class. He changed directions in a flash and demonstrated the long speed needed to recover when beaten by a sharp route. Finding himself in a secondary led by veterans Darius Slay and James Bradberry, Ringo won’t be in a pressure cooker right away. I like that for him. Regardless of your thoughts on his twitch or natural route-tracking abilities, there’s no doubting his physical attributes. Ringo is a nearly 6-foot-2, 207-pound corner with 4.36 speed. Given how good Philadelphia is at generating pressure, he’s going to chip in with some big plays on the football in 2023.
S Jartavius Martin
Drafted: No. 47, second round
Impressive stat to know: 44-inch vertical, 11-foot-1 inch broad jump
There’s explosive, then there’s Martin-level explosiveness. To jump as high and far as he did is extraordinarily rare. He’s only the 12th prospect since 2000 at the combine to hit the 44-inch vertical and 130-inch broad jump marks. Not defensive back. Prospect. At any position. On film, Martin is a do-everything, cover-the-slot, make-a-circus-interception-downfield type, and he’ll gel quickly with the likes of Kamren Curl and Darrick Forrest, who also pride themselves on their legitimate versatility. Ron Rivera must be giddy thinking about how he can deploy Martin on his defense as a rookie.
OL John Michael Schmitz
Drafted: No. 57, second round
Impressive stat to know: Played nearly 2,500 snaps in his Minnesota career
If the Giants picked Schmitz in the first round, the complaints would’ve been minimal. He was the best pure center in the class thanks to his combination of first-step quickness, power, and balance. Schmitz never looks uncomfortable or awkward blocking for the run or pass, and if he’s beaten, he calmly recovers.
After his long run at the pivot for the Gophers, Schmitz is as essentially as ready to go as they come at the position — he could stand to get a tick stronger. His smooth athleticism will boost in the inside run game for the Giants and keep pressure off Daniel Jones from the inside as a rookie.
DL Colby Wooden
Drafted: No. 116, fourth round
Impressive stat to know: 76 pressures created on his final 723 pass-rushes at Auburn
Wooden is a thick, throwback, all-hustle, no-rest defensive lineman who can be deployed anywhere up front. Seriously. At 6-4 and 273 pounds, he’s a grown man inside among the 300-pounders thanks to lead pipes for arms and a relentless motor. He’s a mashing edge-setter as a defensive end. He’s precisely the type of “oversized” end the Packers have traditionally loved, and given his long illustrious career at Auburn, Wooden will hit the ground running on Green Bay’s defensive line as a rookie.
RB DeWayne McBride
Drafted: No. 222, seventh round
Impressive stat to know: Had a missed tackle forced rate of 36.1% in his three seasons at UAB
I’m way too enamored with McBride. I have to keep reminding myself he was a seventh-round pick. But if there’s one position on the field that can reasonably make an impact being that late of a pick, it’s running back, and McBride has the goods. I’m telling you. That missed-tackle rate doesn’t happen by accident. And there’s a (good?) chance Dalvin Cook isn’t on the roster at the start of the season, right? That would leave only Alexander Mattison — and 2022 late-rounder Ty Chandler — ahead of McBride on the depth chart. McBride will contribute and could sneak into a vital role in Minnesota in Year 1. He’s bouncy, with plus vision, and experience in a zone-blocking scheme .
TE Sam LaPorta
Drafted: No. 34, second round
Impressive stat to know: 40-yard dash, vertical, and three-cone drill all above the 87th percentile at the tight end position
A layup, I know. This one was too easy to pass up. LaPorta’s game is predicated on freaky YAC capabilities and, clearly, high-level athletic traits. The George Kittle comparisons are apt. For as fun as the Lions offense was in 2022, the club weirdly traded T.J. Hockenson within the division and had a gaping hole at the position entering the draft. He has strong hands, runs good enough routes and was essentially the heart-and-soul of the Iowa offense in 2022. Without him, the Hawkeyes maybe would’ve never gotten a first down. In the Ben Johnson coordinated offense, LaPorta will thrive. He was the piece Jared Goff and Co. needed over the middle and down the seam.
RB Roschon Johnson
Drafted: No. 115, fourth round
Impressive stat to know: Forced 48 missed tackles on 94 rushes at Texas in 2022
Johnson doesn’t have Earl Campbell power. Maybe not even Ricky Williams-type force through contact. He’s in the vicinity of those living legends of Texas running backs in terms of painless trucking talent. At 6-foot and 220 pounds, Johnson glides through collisions like they aren’t even happening on his frame, and as his 1.52 10-yard split — 82nd percentile — indicates, he’s quite explosive for his size. He enters a backfield with another Mack truck from the University of Texas — D’Onta Foreman. Bring the ice packs when facing the Bears in 2023. Johnson and Foreman will not make tackling fun for linebackers and defensive backs.
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EDGE Zach Harrison
Drafted: No. 38, second round
Impressive stat to know: 36 1/4″ arms at 6-foot-5 and 274 pounds
Harrison is legitimately sized like Myles Garrett. In fact, he’s longer, which seems not humanly possible. Anyway, there’s some Garrettian pass-rush moves to Harrison’s game, and despite his tall, bulky frame, he can actually bend the corner. Believe me! Harrison joins a revamped Falcons defensive line that has some veteran pieces but is still in need of a consistent outside rusher. He’ll actually learn plenty from Bud Dupree. Because of his length and speed-to-power conversion, Harrison will be a reliable disruptor around the corner for the Falcons in 2023.
OG Chandler Zavala
Drafted: No. 114, fourth round
Impressive stat to know: Four pressures allowed on 422 snaps at NC State in 2022
NFL scouting departments are savants when it comes to identifying pro-caliber talent among the sea of college football prospects. About 330 of those players get invited to the combine every year. Sometimes, a prospect or two slip through the cracks. Zavala was that non-combine invite this year. He ultimately had an elite workout at the NC State Pro Day and looks like a super-fluid athlete on film. A thick, powerful athlete with sweet feet. With Bryce Young in the shotgun, Carolina’s offensive front has to tighten up. Zavala has the complete game to start — and flourish — at guard sooner than later.
OL Nick Saldiveri
Drafted: No. 103, fourth round
Impressive stat to know: Did not allow a sack across 455 pass-blocking snaps in his final season at Old Dominion
I would’ve been fine with a club picking Saldiveri on Day 2. He was a nasty yet under control blocker on film, and at 6-6 and 318 pounds with arms over 33 inches long, he has a serious NFL-caliber frame with room to grow. Play him at tackle, reduce him down to guard. Doesn’t matter. Saldiveri blocks what’s in front of him and leaves an impression on the defender he’s assigned to on every play. The Saints needed an injection of youth to their offensive line, and Saldiveri should, at the very least, be a valuable swing tackle in Year 1. My money is on him starting and making a positive, authoritative impact on New Orleans’ blocking unit.
TE Payne Durham
Drafted: No. 171, fifth round
Impressive stat to know: Caught 21 touchdowns across four seasons at Purdue, with at least three every year
At just under 6-foot-6 and 258 pounds, Durham is an old-school, lumbering, moose of a tight end. He won’t separate on a regular basis in the NFL, nor will he juke defenders in space. Good luck corralling him though. Want proof? Durham forced 20 missed tackles on his final 101 grabs at Purdue in his last two seasons there. That’s a sizable rate for a tight end, and the vast majority of those missed tackles he forced were due to contact-balance, and major tackle-breaking capabilities. The Buccaneers did draft Cade Otton last year yet needed a TE2 with receiving talent. Durham can jump into that role instantly.
CB Darrell Luter Jr. Danny Gray
Drafted: No. 155, fifth round
Impressive stat to know: 17 pass breakups and five interceptions in his final two seasons at South Alabama
Luter Jr. was a late watch for me, and immediately became a draft crush. Extraordinarily calculated movements. Plus tackling. Ball skills of an NFL veteran. Oh, and he posted a 40.5-inch vertical at the combine. The 49ers have long been able to get the most out of late-round cornerbacks. While San Francisco’s secondary has some established pieces at corner, Luter Jr. will start his career as the backup at multiple positions — he has the quicks to live inside if need be. In today’s NFL, you cannot have too many polished and talented defensive backs. Luter Jr. will be a weapon in Year 1 for the 49ers.
EDGE Derick Hall
Drafted: No. 37, second round
Impressive stat to know: Vertical in the 95th percentile, broad jump in the 93rd percentile
In this class, Hall was a first-round prospect in my estimation. Big, chiseled, springy and demonstrated high-end productivity across multiple years, including a 13.6% pressure-generation rate over his final two seasons at Auburn. Could his pass-rush move arsenal add more maneuvers? Sure. That’s the case with just about every young edge rusher. But Hall’s physical capabilities give him a high floor, and he’s strong as an ox. The Seahawks have gone young on defense and it’s a unit still looking for an alpha rusher on the perimeter of the defensive line. That will be Hall, in time, in his rookie season.
LB Owen Pappoe
Drafted: No. 168, fifth round round
Impressive stat to know: 4.39 in the 40-yard dash at the 2023 combine
Clearly, Pappoe is a rocket to the football. He’s faster than most NFL wide receivers and plays to that level of speed on film. While not a tremendous, Fred Warner-type coverage player, being as fast as Pappoe is a great initial attribute to start with as he learns that nuance of playing the off-ball position. Zaven Collins and Isaiah Simmons were two oversized off-ball linebacker / safety hybrids who’ve taking excruciatingly long to acclimate to being a full-time second-level defender in the NFL. Pappoe is the opposite of that. He’s high floor because of how well he tackles and how explosive he is. Youngsters will play in Arizona this season, and Pappoe will be a tackling machine.
DT Kobie Turner
Drafted: No. 89, third round
Impressive stat to know: 81 pressures on his final 794 pass-rush snaps at Wake Forest (10.2% pressure-creation rate)
Turner is a wide, ultra-active, deceptively athletic interior rusher with an advanced skill set. He knows how to beat blockers in a variety of ways, the key to being a consistent disruptor at the next level. Of course, Aaron Donald will be the focal point of every opposing offensive game plan when facing the Rams, but Turner has the juice and hand work to be productive in Year 1, and he’ll learn lots from Donald on the interior.