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Best 2023 NFL rookie classes: Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Los Angeles Rams lead the way

Best 2023 NFL rookie classes
David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports

Football fans love checking out draft grades immediately after the picks are made. However, it takes time before young players and the teams that drafted them can truly be judged. A year after the 2023 NFL Draft, we now have concrete ways to evaluate the best 2023 NFL rookie classes.

When you look back at the 2023 NFL Draft class and examine this season’s playoff teams, you’ll immediately notice the trend. Teams like the Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers and Los Angeles Rams relied upon rookies this season and those first-year players are some of the biggest reasons why their clubs made the playoffs.

Related: 2024 NFL Draft order, picks by team

Here are the best rookie classes from the 2023 NFL Draft.

Examining the five best 2023 NFL rookie classes

1. Houston Texans

NFL: Houston Texans at Jacksonville Jaguars
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  • Houston Texans draft class 2023: QB C.J. Stroud, EDGE Will Anderson Jr, iOL Juice Scruggs, WR Tank Tell, DL Dylan Horton, LB Henry To’oTo’o, OL Jarrett Patterson

Related: How Houston Texans’ DeMeco Ryans had one off the best rookie seasons ever

The 2023 NFL Draft changed the future for the Houston Texans. They made a bold move, trading their 2024 first-round pick and additional assets to ensure they could land quarterback C.J. Stroud and edge rusher Will Anderson Jr. What seemed like a very risky bet on the future turned out to be a brilliant decision.

Stroud had the best rookie season ever by a quarterback, immediately putting himself in consideration for one of the 10 best passers in the NFL. The Texans not only upgraded over Deshaun Watson, but they now have the face of the franchise who still has four years of his rookie contract left. That’s the holy grail of NFL roster construction and it’s just the beginning.

As for Anderson Jr, the rookie pass rusher netted 22 QB hits, 10 tackles for loss and 7 sacks in just 15 games played this season. He already looks like a viable breakout next season who could earn his first Pro Bowl selection as a second-year player. The two most important positions in the NFL have been addressed.

Tank Dell, the receiver Stroud specifically wanted, pulled in 47 receptions for 709 receiving yards and 7 touchdowns, averaging a higher yards per reception average (15.1) than Jaylen Waddle (14.1) and DJ Moore (14.2). Plus, offensive lineman Juice Scruggs closed out the year as a starter.

2. Detroit Lions

NFL: Detroit Lions at Kansas City Chiefs
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  • Detroit Lions draft class 2023: RB Jahmyr Gibbs, LB Jack Campbell, TE, Sam LaPorta, DB, Brian Branch, QB Hendon Hooker, DT Brodric Martin, OL Colby Sorsdal

The Detroit Lions received plenty of criticism for their 2023 NFL Draft class, especially after Round 1, and we were among those low on the selections. While linebacker Jack Campbell right not have turned into a success story as a rookie, the remainder of the Lions’ top draft picks feel legendary.

Jahmyr Gibbs, taken 12th overall, is already one of the most dynamic players in the NFL with the football in his hands. In his final seven regular-season games, Gibbs averaged 5.15 yards per carry and he recorded 182 scrimmage yards heading into the NFC Championship Game.

All Sam LaPorta did after being taken with the 34th overall pick is deliver arguably the greatest rookie season ever by a tight end (86 receptions, 889 receiving yards, 10 touchdowns) at a position where first-year success is rare. Brian Branch became the best player in the Lions’ secondary and looks like he could challenge for a spot in the Pro Bowl by 2026. The top of the Lions draft’ class, outside of Campbell, will set them up for excellence for five-plus years.

Related: Highest-paid NFL players

3. Green Bay Packers

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears
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  • Green Bay Packers draft class 2023: EDGE Lukas Van Ness, TE Luke Musgrave, WR Jayden Reed, TE Tucker Kraft, DL Colby Wooden, WR Dontayvion Wicks, DT Karl Brooks, DB Carrington Valentine, K Anders Carlson

Related: Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator candidates

Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst needed a strong 2023 NFL Draft class after some hits-and-misses in previous years. He didn’t just provide the Packers with a young foundation to build around, he created one of the brightest futures in the NFL.

What’s unique about this draft class, as opposed to Detroit’s rookies, is where the production came from. First-round pick Lukas Van Ness only played 33 percent of the defensive snaps this season, while tight end Luke Musgrave missed significant time with a lacerated kidney.

Jayden Reed, selected 50th overall, was one of the best wide receivers from the 2023 NFL Draft, Tucker Kraft (78th overall pick) emerged as an excellent No. 2 tight end. On Day 3, Dontayvion Wicks (39-581-4) and Karl Brooks (4 sacks) demonstrated they can be impact players. Finally, Green Bay potentially found a starting cornerback in Carrington Valentine with the 232nd overall pick. The Packers’ future is glistening because of this class.

4. Los Angeles Rams

NFL: NFC Wild Card Round-Los Angeles Rams at Detroit Lions
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  • Los Angeles Rams draft class 2023: iOL Steve Avila, EDGE Byron Young, DT Kobie Turner, OLB Nick Hampton, TE Davis Allen, WR Puka Nacua

Related: Los Angeles Rams mock draft 2024

Los Angeles Rams general manager Les Snead wore a “(expletive) them picks” shirt at the team’s Super Bowl parade. However, he also had to start rebuilding this roster to prepare for a new era last offseason. While Los Angeles didn’t have a ton to work with, Snead came out of the 2023 NFL Draft with some gems.

Rookie offensive Steve Avila led all rookies with a 75.3 PFF pass-blocking grade after Week 9, showcasing his growth as he gained more experience and coaching. Defensive back Tre’Vius Tomlinson, a sixth-round pick, appeared in 15 games and tight end Davis Allen provided depth.

Byron Young (8 sacks, 2 forced fumbles) was an excellent rookie, playing 85 percent of the Rams’ defensive snaps and defensive tackle Kobe Turner (16 QB hits, 9 sacks) earned All-Rookie Team honors. Best of all, Puka Nacua emerged as the new Cooper Kupp of the Rams’ offense. Los Angeles doesn’t sniff the playoffs without these rookies.

5. Pittsburgh Steelers

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers
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  • Pittsburgh Steelers draft picks 2023: OT Broderick Jones, CB Joey Porter Jr, DT Keean Benton, TE Darnell Washington, EDGE Nick Herbig

The defensive side of the Pittsburgh Steelers rookie class really stood out this past season. Fans loved the Joey Porter Jr. pick the moment it was made and he still found a way to surpass expectations. Meanwhile, both Keeanu Benton and Nick Herbig became important players in Pittsburgh.

It all starts with Porter Jr, who held opponents to 24 receptions and a 65.9 QB rating on 53 targets (PFF). Having already proven he has the skills to be a No. 1 cornerback, the next step for Porter Jr. is just cleaning up the penalties (12).

While Benton registered just 1 sack and 1 tackle for loss in 17 regular-season games, but generated 22 pressures with 16 stops in 483 snaps. As for Herbig, 5 tackles for loss with 3 sacks while playing just 17 percent of the defensive snaps is simply incredible for a fourth-round pick.

As for left tackle Broderick Jones, it wasn’t a promising year for the first-round pick. However, there’s a steep learning curve for offensive tackles and he was always viewed as someone who needed development. The success of the other Steelers’ rookies just means there was less pressure on Jones, his future is still bright.

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