Several NFL rookies made crucial impacts throughout the league’s Week 1 calendar. First-year contributors carry the potential to elevate their team’s performance ceiling and we’ve identified five rookies who could continue their momentum by putting forth big-time performances in Week 2.
PUKA NACUA WR, LOS ANGELES RAMS
No rookie put forth a more unexpected performance than Rams first-year wideout Puka Nacua. The No. 177 overall selection in the 2023 NFL Draft totaled 10 receptions for 119 yards in the Rams’ 30-13 dominant win over their NFC West rival Seattle Seahawks. Nacua’s team-high 15 targets were the highest amount for a rookie wide receiver in Week 1 since 1992. No receiver saw more targets in Week 1.
Nacua’s breakout potential is about to be tested versus the top-ranking defense in the NFL. The San Francisco 49ers held the Pittsburgh Steelers to a pathetic seven points in Week 1. Steelers starting quarterback Kenny Pickett threw for just one touchdown and under 200 net passing yards.
Nacua could draw attention from 49ers No. 1 cornerback Charvarius Ward, who recorded an interception against the Steelers. If Nacua can keep his momentum going versus San Francisco, there will be no remaining doubt that he’s the real deal.
WILL ANDERSON JR. EDGE, HOUSTON TEXANS
Will Anderson Jr. quietly enjoyed an excellent showing in the Texans’ 25-9 defeat to the Baltimore Ravens. Anderson Jr. totaled five pressures against a stout Ravens offensive line. A 21.7% pass-rush win rate helped lead to the first of many Anderson Jr. sacks, per Pro Football Focus.
Anderson Jr.’s impact went beyond the stat sheet. On this pressure in particular, Anderson Jr. stunts inside, does an excellent job keeping his pad level down, and beats Kevin Zeitler to the pocket, forcing an early throw that results in an interception. Anderson Jr. is going to create havoc in backfields all season long.
.@HoustonTexans pick, courtesy of Steven Nelson!
— NFL (@NFL) September 10, 2023
The upcoming matchup against the Indianapolis Colts is favorable for Anderson Jr. Rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson is prone to holding onto the football, which should allow Anderson Jr. to get home on occasion. The Colts offensive line posted a surprisingly effective 67% pass-block win rate in Week 1, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That number should regress against a DeMeco Ryans-coached defense that features Anderson Jr. in its starring role.
JAHMYR GIBBS RB, DETROIT LIONS
The Lions have had to wait 10 long days to follow up their season-opening performance, a thrilling 21-20 victory over the Super Bowl defending champion Kansas City Chiefs. Many were displeased with the usage (or lack thereof) of rookie running back Jahmyr Gibbs. Gibbs turned nine total touches (seven carries, two receptions) into 60 yards (6.6 yards per opportunity).
There could be plenty of touches for both Gibbs and David Montgomery against the Seattle Seahawks this weekend. The Rams stayed committed to the run versus the Seahawks last weekend, with Cam Akers and Kyren Williams combining for 37 total carries and three rushing touchdowns. It could serve as the blueprint for Ben Johnson‘s offensive game plan for the Lions on Sunday. Expect Gibbs’ workload to gradually increase as the weeks progress.