2023 NFL Season: Day 2 rookies on offense poised to start

May 12, 2023; Flowery Branch, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons guard Matthew Bergeron (65) shown on the field during rookie camp at IBM Performance Field. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
May 12, 2023; Flowery Branch, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons guard Matthew Bergeron (65) shown on the field during rookie camp at IBM Performance Field. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports /

Expectations are generally high for rookies selected on Day 2 of the NFL Draft, but last year just 22 of the 73 players picked in the second and third-round of the 2022 NFL Draft were primary starters for their teams in year one. Adjusting to the NFL takes time between the level-up in competition and fitting into a new scheme all while having to beat out veterans for starting roles. When fans look at their teams shiny new rookies it’s a total mystery what they’ll be upon taking an NFL field, but the vast majority expect the most out of top-100 picks… and often right off the bat.

Unlike first-round picks, Day 2 selections shouldn’t be assumed to start during their rookie years let alone become Pro Bowl level players early in their careers; while Day 3 picks on offense or defense contributing in any meaningful way should be viewed as a big victory. Obviously, every NFL Draft class has Day 2 starters and many do become Pro Bowlers, however until we see these talents take the field on a Sunday, it’s impossible to know what they’ll become.

Fantasy football has accelerated expectations out of Day 2 picks at offensive skill positions, especially with the way we’ve seen certain players hit the ground running as rookies (Breece Hall and Kenneth Walker last year). This year’s Day 2 rookie class doesn’t have a running back who will be a clearcut starter in their first season, but it does have several players who should be expected to start this season, even if it’s not from the jump.

2023 NFL Season: Day 2 rookies on offense poised to start

Sam LaPorta, TE, Detroit Lions

Tight end is often a position pointed at as one that takes time for a young player to make an impact and the numbers support that sentiment. Looking at the 27 tight ends selected in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft over the last five classes, they’ve averaged just 20.5 receptions for 236.4 yards and 1.3 TDs as rookies. If the Detroit Lions are going to be legitimate threats in the NFC, they need Sam LaPorta to surpass those numbers. The No. 34 pick out of Iowa, and the second tight end drafted, should be starting immediately and filling the void left by fellow Hawkeye TJ Hockenson.

With Brock Wright as his only competition at tight end, LaPorta offers a far more dynamic skillset with his YAC ability and athleticism. His change of direction skills make him a smooth route runner who can consistently win one-on-one matchups. While he’ll need to continue to improve his technique and play strength as a blocker, the want and effort are there, pressure for him to play in-line is reduced by Wright’s capability as a Y. Now, with Jameson Williams suspended, LaPorta will be an even more important player for Ben Johnson, Jared Goff, and the Lions offense as a rookie.

Michael Mayer, TE, Las Vegas Raiders

Similarly to LaPorta in Detroit, Michael Mayer walks into a position room in Las Vegas that traded its Pro Bowler (Darren Waller) and used an early second-round draft capital (35th overall pick) to replace him. Given the production of tight ends taken in the first three rounds as rookies, expectations for Mayer should be tempered, even more so when you consider that the 23 Day 2 tight ends selected in the last five NFL Draft’s have averaged approximately 17 receptions for 185 yards and 1 TD in their first NFL season. What could help Mayer’s case though is the fact that head coach Josh McDaniel’s and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo both have a strong history of tight end use (see: Rob Gronkowski and George Kittle), but first he’ll need to start.

This offseason the Raiders signed both Austin Hooper and OJ Howard as stop-gap options, so it’s fair to assume that Mayer may not be the top tight end in Week 1. Yet, it’s hard to imagine with his potential that he’s not taking the majority of the snaps by the mid-point of the season. With the size and blocking potential to be an in-line Y, Mayer also offers some of the best ball skills in the rookie class to go with his contested catch ability, understanding of how to work open against zone, and penchant for winning over the middle and down the seam. With Davante Adams, Jakobi Meyers, and Hunter Renfrow on the roster (for now), Mayer can take advantage of favorable matchups.

Steve Avila, OG, LA Rams

If you want to spend a Sunday afternoon seeing a bunch of NFL rookies hit the field, look no further than the atrocity that is the Los Angeles Rams roster. Currently, the Rams have just two rookies pencilled in to start on offense and defense (Steve Avila and Byron Young), but 11 others on their two-deep and a rookie kicker, punter, and long snapper set to start. Looking beyond the two-deep, they currently have a whopping 23 other rookies on the roster. Point being, people aren’t even going to notice Avila, the 36th overall pick, starting at left guard with all the other rookie chaos.

Avila is joining a precarious situation in LA and Sean McVay has no choice but to start the Rams first selection in the 2023 NFL Draft. Luckily for McVay, Matthew Stafford, and Co. Avila is a clear plug-and-play player. He possesses the power and short area quickness to be a dynamite run blocker immediately and plays with natural balance and bend in pass protection where his anchor and hand placement help him shut down interior pass rushers. Not only will Avila start Week 1, he should compete for All-Rookie honors this season and has a chance to be the Rams best blocker.

Matthew Bergeron, OG, Atlanta Falcons

We can debate positional value all we want, but at the end of the day Bijan Robinson is going to be a dynamo for the Atlanta Falcons. Right or wrong, he gives one of the NFL’s best rushing attacks a running back with All-Pro potential. Not only did the Falcons add to their run game with Robinson, but they also reinforced an already strong offensive line by taking Canadian Matthew Bergeron with the 38th pick. While he will see some competition from Matt Hennessy, the left guard spot is Bergeron’s job to lose.

A left tackle at Syracuse, Bergeron’s biggest knock was his footwork and hand placement in pass protection when dealing with more explosive edge rushers. Those issues can be covered up some inside where his anchor and strength will help him deal with more powerful pass rushers. The most exciting part about this pick and fit is that Bergeron, an explosive run blocker who consistently reaches the second level, will be playing opposite Chris Lindstrom, arguably the best guard in the NFL. While he may take some time to get comfortable playing inside and does need to clean up his technique in pass protection, Bergeron is joining a perfect team to get the most out of him. Learning from Lindstrom and with Robinson behind him, Bergeron has All-Rookie potential in Atlanta.

Joe Tippmann, OC, New York Jets

After trading for Aaron Rodgers, it was imperative that the New York Jets upgrade their offensive line as they try to get the most out of this Super Bowl window they’ve cracked open. With the top offensive tackles flying off the board before their first-round pick, GM Joe Douglas opted to wait until the second round to bolster the unit upfront with center Joe Tippmann. A rookie center with a veteran quarterback can be iffy, and the Jets brought Connor McGovern back as insurance, but Rodgers has done it as recently as 2021 with Josh Myers in Green Bay.

Taking on the role of signal caller on the offensive line is no small task for a rookie, especially when the passer under center is a four-time MVP, yet Tippmann offers such athletic upside and potential as a run blocker that it’s hard to imagine he won’t be starting the vast majority of the season. With his ability to get out in space as a puller and chip and climb to the second level on double teams, Tippmann should help Breece Hall recapture his electric running style that had him surging towards Offensive Rookie of the Year last season before the injury.

It also helps Tippmann’s cause that he’s playing beside a guard with Pro Bowl ability in Alijah Vera-Tucker and a grizzled vet in Laken Tomlinson. While he has the length and lateral agility to be a plus-pass protector, what will really set Tippmann up to thrive, and could be one of the biggest keys to the Jets reaching the playoffs in a loaded AFC, is if he can improve his base, balance, and anchor in pass pro.

Cody Mauch, OG, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Few teams are in a more curious situation than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. On paper they have a roster ready to compete in the NFC South, however the quarterback position remains a blackhole with Baker Mayfield and Kyle Trask. Rather than give up capital to move up for a quarterback, GM Jason Licht added to the trenches on both sides of the ball in the 2023 NFL Draft. Nobody loves non-FBS offensive guards more than Licht, who for the third time since 2015 used a Day 2 pick on one by selecting Cody Mauch in hopes he becomes as consistent a starter as the previous two (Ali Marpet and Alex Cappa).

With similar absurd athleticism to Marpet and playing style to Cappa, Mauch should be inserted as a starting guard by Week 1. A former tight end before becoming the starting left tackle at North Dakota State, Mauch’s suddenness and nastiness as a run blocker should quickly make him an impact player at guard. He explodes out of his stance and has no trouble finding work in space or taking on a linebacker at the second level and riding them out of the play. The big question for Mauch is how quickly he can refine his pass protection to handle more powerful rushers inside, his anchor needs to get stronger and playing with better balance and leverage will be key. Either way, the Buccaneers aren’t afraid to start young offensive linemen and Mauch will see plenty of action early.

Jayden Reed, WR, Green Bay Packers

Now that Aaron Rodgers is in New York and the crown of Green Bay Packers quarterback is being passed down to Jordan Love, Brian Gutekunst and the front office are doing everything they can to ensure it goes as smoothly as the last time they sent a Hall of Fame passer to the Jets. Last offseason the Packers traded Davante Adams and invested in Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs with the 34th and 132nd picks, respectively. While they once again opted against going offense in the first-round of the 2023 NFL Draft, they must have seen something special in Jayden Reed, taking him 50th overall despite him not reaching their 200 pound threshold at receiver.

Given the hole at slot, and the Packers obvious love for the player, Reed will likely be starting in Week 1 as the heir apparent to Randall Cobb. Over the last five NFL Draft classes, the 49 Day 2 WRs (excluding John Metchie) have averaged approximately 29 receptions for 386 yards and 3 total TDs as rookies, Reed’s joining a duo in Watson and Doubs who both surpassed those numbers last season. Between his explosive route running, burst to separate when the ball is in the air, physicality at the catch point, and eagerness to create YAC plays, Reed is in a perfect spot to also top those rookie averages. With Love being inexperienced, he could lean on Reed as his safety net given his skillset.

John Michael Schmitz, OC, New York Giants

After Joe Schoen and Brian Daboll’s unbelievable turnaround in their first year helming the New York Giants, it was clear that the infrastructure is there for this franchise to be a consistent playoff team in the NFC once again. Extending Daniel Jones and franchise tagging Saquon Barkely ensured all the key pieces of this offense would be back, but to take it up a notch it was clear another playmaker was needed and improving the interior offensive line must be prioritized. Schoen and Daboll did both by trading for Darren Waller and selecting John Michael Schmitz in the second-round.

Schmitz is basically walking into the starting role in the middle of the Giants offensive line, and rightfully so, he’s a terrific scheme fit for Daboll with his short area quickness making him an impact zone run blocker. Able to make reach blocks with ease and with an understanding of attack angles when sealing on the move, Schmitz can instantly improve the interior run blocking for Barkley and help improve the running game between the tackles. Another major reason Schmitz will be starting Week 1 is his IQ, he’s a cerebral center who was making calls up front throughout his career at Minnesota and will give the Giants blitz pickup a boost. Overall, his high-floor and well-rounded game should make him the favorite to be the All-Rookie center this year.

Luke Musgrave/Tucker Kraft, TEs, Green Bay Packers

Pointing back towards the lack of early production from rookie tight ends over the last five years, it’s hard to project just how impactful either of the top-100 tight ends the Green Bay Packers selected in the 2023 NFL Draft will be in year one. However, one of Luke Musgrave (selected No. 42) or Tucker Kraft (selected No. 78) will start as a rookie out of sheer need, Green Bay just doesn’t have many other options; Josiah Deguara, another former top-100 pick, is the next best option. The most realistic outcome is that both will play and join head coach Matt LaFleur’s young core on offense that includes Reed likely starting in the slot.

The reason it makes sense for both Musgrave and Kraft to have roles early on isn’t just because of the lack of depth at the position for the Packers, but because they complement each other quite well. Musgrave is a long, smooth, and explosive ball winner who plays above the rim and can stretch the seam. He’s a classic F who can move around the formation and create mismatches. Kraft on the other hand, is a little more old school and has the blocking ability to play as a Y while providing a chain moving target with consistent hands and the frame to box out defenders and win 50/50 balls. While just one will technically start, both will play plenty.

Juice Scruggs, OC, Houston Texans

The third Day 2 center expected to be a primary starter as a rookie, the Houston Texans surprised most NFL Draftniks by taking Juice Scruggs with the 62nd pick. With center being a blatant need, and Tippmann and Schmitz both off the board, Houston GM Nick Caserio clearly didn’t want to be left in the cold and pulled the trigger on a player that he and head coach DeMeco Ryans see as a plug-and-play player. Scruggs and Texans first-round pick CJ Stroud also have the rare situation of being a starting rookie center and quarterback duo. With Scott Quessenberry, who started all 16 games last season for the Texnas, still on the roster, Scruggs may not be the man in the middle right out of the gate, but it’s hard to imagine he isn’t starting the vast majority of the season.

While Scruggs isn’t the same caliber of player as Tippmann and Schmitz — he was arguably the biggest reach of Day 2 — he’s a natural fit in Texans offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik’s scheme that he learned under Kyle Shanahan. Despite not being the most explosive athlete or the most powerful player at the point of attack, Scruggs technique is how he wins. Playing with consistent hand placement and balance, he’s able to anchor down in pass pro against power and mirror more athletic pass rushers with his footwork and base. In the run game, he’s able to create movement with leverage and leg drive but will need to be more consistent with sustaining blocks. Overall, with his football smarts and technique, Scruggs should start a lot of games over the next few years.

Josh Downs, WR, Indianapolis Colts

If Josh Downs were a bit bigger and a bit faster, he would have been a top-50 selection in the 2023 NFL Draft. While he’s not a blazer (4.48 40) at only 5-9, 171 pounds, he has his doctorate in route running with a minor in coverage recognition. Flat-out, Downs gets open. There’s a reason Indianapolis Colts GM Chris Ballard, a known lover of height-weight-speed prospects and size at the receiver position, broke his own draft strategy to take Downs in a class where every other pick he made was an athletic freak. Clearly Ballard and new head coach Shane Steichen wanted a player of Downs’ skill set to put in the slot for new quarterback Anthony Richardson.

With Michael Pittman Jr. and Alec Pierce, both over 6-3, 210 pounds, set to start on the outside, Downs can provide Richardson with a nuanced route runner and chain mover. It’s a similar situation for Downs as it is for Reed with the Packers, a young quarterback looking to build rapport with a third down target who works open in key situations, and that’s why both should surpass the Day 2 rookie receiver average of 386 yards. Currently the main competition in Indianapolis for Downs is Isaiah McKenzie, but what should separate the rookie from the vet is his fluidity and suddenness as a route runner and his understanding of setting up a route with his stem and pacing. Downs can be a high-impact slot like Hunter Renfrow.