2023 NFL All-Rookie Team: Stroud, LaPorta, Witherspoon lead the way

The 2023 NFL regular is in the books and after taking a little extra time to evaluate this past draft class, it is time to start giving some recognition to the rookies that hit the ground running.

All stats are from Pro Football Reference, unless otherwise noted.

LaPorta set several records for rookie tight ends in his unmatched debut season.
LaPorta set several records for rookie tight ends in his unmatched debut season. / Nic Antaya/GettyImages
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EDGE - Will Anderson Jr.

The defensive side of the ball is a very different beast. There was a ton of competition for these spots. We lead off with Anderson, the highest-drafted defensive player and non-quarterback from this 2023 draft class. He finished fourth in the draft class with seven sacks in 15 games and ranked just outside the top 20 in the league with 32 pressures. That does not even do justice to how impactful Anderson has been this year. The only two edge rushers in the league to post a higher pass-rush win rate this season are Micah Parsons and Myles Garrett. Few prospects hit the ground running at as high of a level as Anderson did this season.

DT - Jalen Carter Jr.

There were thought to be two elite defensive prospects in the 2023 class. Anderson was one. Carter was the other. Off-the-field issues pushed Carter down the draft board, but he landed in the perfect spot. Carter got the structure needed to thrive and got a chance to play alongside an elite interior pass rusher in Fletcher Cox. Carter took the opportunity and ran with it, racking up six sacks and posting the sixth-best pass-rush win rate. He will be in the running for Defensive Rookie of the Year.

DT - Kobie Turner

One of the biggest surprises of this 2023 season, it wasn't Anderson or Carter who led the league in sacks among rookies. It was Turner. The third-round pick out of Wake Forest has been a major part of the Rams' turnaround this season. Sure it helps to play next to Aaron Donald, but Turner ranked 16th in the league in pass-rush win rate among defensive tackles, ahead of guys like Jonathan Allen, Kenny Clark and Leonard Williams. What's more impressive is that he managed all of that despite having a higher double-team percentage of anyone in the top 20. Let's you know that offenses are already trying to scheme up ways to limit his impact.

EDGE - Byron Young

As it turns out, Turner's biggest competition for the title of "Most Sacks by a Rookie" was actually from his own teammate. Young, a fellow third-round pick, racked up eight sacks in his debut campaign for the Rams. His 30 pressures rank top 25 in the league as well, which underlines how impactful he is as a pass rusher. He was solid against the run as well. The next step for Young will be improving his tackling. He was credited with eight missed stops this year, putting his missed tackle rate over 11 percent.

LB - Ivan Pace Jr.

This is one of those situations where you want to be shocked, but you really shouldn't be. He is undersized, but he was incredibly productive at Cincinnati. He had 10 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss as an off-ball linebacker in his final year in college. I can't pretend that I saw this coming, but he did land in the perfect spot with Brian Flores as his defensive coordinator. Flores loves to blitz and Pace is credited with the ninth most blitz opportunities in the league this year. He is a sure tackler with a good football IQ and decent coverage skills.

LB - Jack Campbell

Many were surprised when the Lions opted to draft Campbell in the first round. So far, he has largely rewarded their faith in him. His 52 solo tackles were tops among rookie linebackers this year and fourth-most in the class as a whole. He struggled a bit in coverage this season, but that is somewhat expected when making the jump from college to the pros. This was a good start to his career. With athleticism, he has a very high ceiling in this league.

CB - Devon Witherspoon

Far and away the top corner in this draft class so far, Witherspoon looked the part of a top-five pick. He rightfully earned a Pro Bowl nod for his stellar play, which is highlighted by a healthy 58.9 completion percentage allowed when targeted and the second-most solo tackles in the entire draft class. He also added three sacks, which is pretty impressive for a cornerback, and an interception. There are areas that need improving. He allowed five touchdown catches this year and posted a missed tackle percentage of 13.2 percent. Like many rookies, it was far from perfect, but Witherspoon is already challenging to be considered one of the best young cover corners in the league.

S - Brian Branch

Is he a safety? Is he a slot corner? It really doesn't matter. Branch is a damn good football player. He had three interceptions this season, good for second-most among rookies. He also finished fifth in the class for solo tackles. His versatility made him a huge asset for this Lions' defense all year long. He is still improving in coverage, but allowing roughly 61 percent of passes completed when he was in coverage and posting a passer rating of below 88 when he was targeted are solid starts, especially for a player who primarily plays off coverage or in the slot.

S - Jordan Battle

This was a bit trickier. Battle had a really strong season in run defense and as an open-field tackler. He racked up 43 solo tackles and only missed on 6.6 percent of tackle opportunities. He even capped the year off with an interception against the Browns. However, he did not play a ton. Nick Scott actually saw more snaps on defense than Battle, making him the Bengals' third safety, rather than a full-time starter. Still, his impact was significant enough, coupled with a lack of clear competition, that I felt he deserved to be included. He has room to grow in coverage, allowing a reception 90.5 percent of the time he was targeted, but he has a clear role as a tone-setting safety who should see even more time in 2024.

DB - Clark Phillips III

Phillips was one of my favorite players in the 2023 draft. I went back and forth for this spot a lot, but I am giving Clark the nod. Even though he only played in 11 games, he still played more defensive snaps than guys like Ji'Ayir Brown and Quan Martin. Another feather in Phillips' cap is his strong track record when targeted. He allowed a completion on just 50 percent of his targets, a mark that puts him second among rookies and in the top 25 in the league. He is certainly undersized, but I like his mentality and his coverage skills. I think he will be even better in 2024.

CB - Joey Porter Jr.

Let's be clear, this spot would likely belong to Christian Gonzalez if the standout rookie for the Patriots had not suffered an injury just four games into the season. His absence opens the door for Porter, who had a solid debut campaign. He was the only rookie to allow a lower completion percentage when targeted this season than Phillips, giving up a reception just 47.6 percent of the time. That number stands as the sixth-best in the league. Porter also only allowed one touchdown catch and a passer rating of 70.1, both very impressive for a rookie defensive back. I might have to backtrack on my earlier statement. Maybe this would have been Porter's spot all along. We can merely speculate as to what might have happened, but it would have been fun to watch.