Post-Week 4 NFL Rookie Report: C.J. Stroud, Puka Nacua enter the record books
It’s been an exciting first month of the season, and much has to do with the rookies making their presences felt. We’ve seen record-breaking and game-impacting moments from rookies selected in the early rounds of the 2023 NFL Draft and a few who waited around three days before hearing their name called.
Here’s a look at the top rookies from the offensive side of the ball four games into the season.
NFL Rookie Report after Week 4
1] C.J. Stroud, QB, Houston
Four games into the 2023 season and C.J. Stroud has been everything the Texans had hoped for, and much more. Stroud has passed for 1,212 yards, a rookie mark only surpassed by Cam Newton four games into their rookie seasons.
He’s completed 62.3% of his passes while tossing six touchdowns and, most importantly, no interceptions to date. And Stroud is doing this behind a banged-up offensive line that’s been forced to move pieces around from the get-go.
I was very outspoken in my criticism of the coaching Stroud received during his time at Ohio State, stating on multiple occasions that I thought the Buckeyes’ staff handcuffed the quarterback rather than letting him loose. In Houston, we’re seeing what Stroud is capable of, and the Texans hope this is the shape of things to come.
2] Puka Nacua, WR, LA Rams
Right now Nacua, who was a fifth-round pick by the LA Rams, is the steal of the draft. Four games into the season, Nacua has tallied 39 receptions, the most ever by a rookie this early into his career. His 501 receiving yards is another rookie record.
Nacua finally caught the first touchdown pass of his career this past Sunday against Indianapolis. So why did this record-breaking wideout fall so deep into the draft? At 6-foot-1.5 and 200 pounds, he wasn’t deemed big enough, fast enough or athletic enough to be an early-round pick. Yet Nacua is proving to be productive enough to be a No. 1 wideout in the NFL.
3] Zay Flowers, WR, Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens’ draft history is ripe with first-round receivers who went bust. Eventually, something had to change, and Flowers is forcing that change. The quick receiver has 24 receptions during the Ravens four games for 244 yards.
He’s quickly become the favorite target of Lamar Jackson and leads Baltimore in every pass-catching category except touchdowns. Coaches have said it’s not just the quickness and reliable hands that separates Flowers from the other pass catchers, but his football intellect and ability to work with Jackson to find open space on the football field.
4] De’Von Achane, RB, Miami Dolphins
When the conversation focuses on available veteran running backs, the Miami Dolphins are a team automatically thrown into the mix. They’ve been linked to disgruntled running back Jonathan Taylor and were also a contender for free agent Dalvin Cook. Yet their third-round pick, De’Von Achane, is helping change the narrative.
Achane was inactive Week 1 with a shoulder injury, then carried the ball just a single time the following game. If the past two contests are any indication of Achane’s future in the NFL, opposing defenses should be terrified.
During Week 3, Achane rushed for 203 yards on 18 carries with two TDs against Denver. This past week against the Bills, he was over the century mark again with 101 yards on eight carries and two more scores. That’s an average of 11.5 yards per carry. Displaying big-play ability, Achane has had runs of 55 and 67 yards this season.
Despite being a smaller back who does not fit the mold of “feature ball carrier”, Achane does more than enough that the Miami Dolphins are no longer a team in desperate need of a running back.
5] Sam LaPorta, TE, Detroit Lions
The tight end-needy Detroit Lions made Sam LaPorta the second pick of the second round last April. Yet in the early part of the season, it looks like the franchise got a first-round player.
LaPorta made an impact for the Lions offense from Week 1, catching all five passes thrown in his direction in the victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. Four games into the season and LaPorta has caught 27 passes for 242 yards, second on the team in both categories. LaPorta not only filled the Lions’ need at tight end, he has also helped fill the void for another pass catcher, as 2022 first-round pick Jameson Williams missed the first month of the season after violating the league’s gambling policy.
LaPorta is not a game breaker at the tight end position, rather he’s an incredibly reliable and intelligent player at the position, which is exactly what Detroit needed.
6] Steve Avila, G, LA Rams
Another Rams draft pick makes this list. Peter Skoronski of Tennessee could have easily been listed at this spot, but I’ll go with Avila, who was drafted a round later.
Breaking into the starting lineup Week 1, Avila has been absolutely dominant as a run blocker and better than expected in pass protection. Teammates have applauded Avila for his awareness and the ability to understand blocking assignments even veterans struggle with.