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The Finest of the NFL Rookies in 2023/24

The climax of the NFL extended season will live long in the memory. The Kansas City Chiefs beat the San Francisco 49ers 25-22 with three seconds of the first overtime period remaining in the 58th Super Bowl. Despite a difficult year, Patrick Mahomes was the cool personified as he made the three-yard touchdown pass to draw comparisons with Tom Brady as one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.

While Mahomes’ legacy is safe after ensuring the Chiefs retained the Lombardi Trophy, plenty of new kids on the block also caught the eye during the regular season.

CJ Stroud

C.J. Stroud may be looking at Mahomes as a role model for the quarterback position, but he had a mighty impressive campaign for the Houston Texans. Stroud was voted Offensive Rookie of the Season.  His ratio of 23:5 touchdown-to-interceptions led the NFL, making the 22-year-old the youngest in league history to achieve that.

He was a shoo-in for NFL player props, breaking two records against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in November. He made the most passing yards by a rookie (470) and tied for the most touchdowns (five) in a single game.

Stroud has all the attributes of a future great, displaying great arm strength for passing accuracy, nimble footwork, and great processing speed. For one so young he displays leadership qualities and an excellent work ethic. With a breakout season like 2023, Stroud is one of the few names that can potentially challenge Mahomes for an elite position. That is how good he is already.

Puka Nacua

Puka Nacua would probably have lapped the title of Offensive Rookie of the Year if it hadn’t been for Stroud.

The Los Angeles Rams wide receiver set records with 105 receptions and completing 1,486 receiving yards. His last campaign action was a bittersweet one against the Detroit Lions. The 23-year-old caught nine passes for 181 yards, including a 50-yard touchdown in the NFC Wild Card Round. Unfortunately, the 24-23 loss overshadowed the fact that this was a single-game record for receiving yards by a rookie in a playoff match.

Nacua can handle pressure moments, and his athleticism in making acrobatic catches on the sideline is terrific to watch. Season two should see him continue making gains in terms of man and press coverage. Avoiding the first man is a talent that this young man has in his locker, and he can muck in with the hard and dirty yards.

Jalen Carter

Jalen Carter of the Philadelphia Eagles was another who caught the eye earlier in the season although he faded a bit when the team’s defensive struggles caught up with them. The 23-year-old defensive tackle was named in the PFWA All-Rookie Team of 2023. Carter’s get-off rate of 0.86 was the most impressive set of rookie defensive tackles. It also tied for second in the league with Chris Jones of the Kansas City Chiefs. He combined excellent pass-rush abilities with a strong run-grade rate, which showed versatility.The player himself is aware of needing to step up next season, saying that his first was just “ok”. With more conditioning and stronger cardio for the run-in, he will look to improve on the lower output of sacks over the final eight matches.

Kobie Turner

Kobie Turner of the Los Angeles Rams made a huge impact in his breakout, leading the defensive rookie record in the NFL with nine sacks.

No rookie interior defensive lineman had more pressures than Turner’s 45 during the regular season, with 11 sacks, five quarterback hits, and 29 quarterback hurries. He has speed and electric explosiveness through the gaps but also shows great contact balance for someone considered a smaller defensive linesman. The 25-year-old nose tackle definitely has more than a sniff of confidence.

2024 will be an exciting prospect given that Turner has been touted as a real future defensive star. The promising thing is that he finished the season fast rather than fading away. How much he benefited from playing alongside the now-retired Aaron Donald cannot be discounted. Some regression is possible but the sky is the limit.

It won’t be long before the 2024 NFL season is in full flow. The Draft has already been and gone, and the training camps follow. If the Kansas City Chiefs win again, they will be the first team ever to win the Super Bowl in three consecutive seasons. One thing is for sure: There will be some young twentysomethings who will bring the noise in their breakout campaign.

As Chiefs’ linebacker coach Brendan Daly said: “To me, it doesn’t matter if a guy is a 10-year veteran or a rookie.  If the rookie is better, he finds his way onto the field.”