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Top 2023 NFL Rookie of the Year candidates: Puka Nacua takes over top spot from C.J. Stroud

Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve now had 17 weeks to look at the NFL Rookie of the Year race on both side of the ball and things have been clarified a whole heck of a lot with just one week remaining on the regular season schedule.

Houston Texans first-year signal caller C.J. Stroud was on a record pace before missing two games due to a concussion. Stroud returned to lead Houston to a big win this past week. He’s still the odds-on NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year from a betting perspective despite strong pushes from wide receiver Puka Nacua of the Los Angeles Rams and stud Detroit Lions tight end Sam LaPorta.

On defense, Philadelphia Eagles star younger Jalen Carter has been absolutely dominant this season. The same thing can be said about another Texans rookie in that of edge guy Will Anderson as well as a certain cornerback in the NFC West.

Without further ado, let’s check in on our top NFL Rookie of the Year candidates heading into Week 18

2023 NFL Rookie of the Year candidates (offense)

Honorable mention

  • Zay Flowers, WR, Baltimore Ravens
  • Jordan Addison, WR, Minnesota Vikings
  • Rashee Rice, WR, Kansas City Chiefs

5. Bijan Robinson, RB, Atlanta Falcons

nfl rookie of the year: bijan robinson
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  • Bijan Robinson stats (2023): 948 rushing yards, 4.7 average, 51 receptions, 384 receiving yards, 1,332 total yards, 7 TD

After putting up just 11 rushing yards in Week 15, Robinson turned it around as his Falcons defeated the Indianapolis Colts in Week 16. The stud rookie from Texas recorded 122 total yards on 19 touches. While consistency has been somewhat of an issue here, Robinson is still on pace for north of 1,400 total yards. That would qualify as a solid rookie campaign.

4. Jahmyr Gibbs, RB, Detroit Lions

nfl rookie of the year candidates: jahmyr gibbs
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  • Jahmyr Gibbs stats (2023): 915 rushing yards, 5.4 average, 52 receptions, 316 yards, 1,231 total yards, 10 TD

Over the course of his past nine games ahead of Week 17, Gibbs tallied 939 total yards and 10 touchdowns. He followed that up by going for just 43 yardsin Week 17 against the Dallas Cowboys. Even then, what we’ve seen from Gibbs as a dual-threat option for the NFC North champions as a rookie has been nothing short of extraordinary.

3. Sam LaPorta, TE, Detroit Lions

nfl rookie of the year; sam laporta
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  • Sam LaPorta stats (2023): 81 receptions, 860 yards, 9 TD, 71.7% catch rate

Much like the rest of the Lions’ offense, LaPorta had a field day in a blowout win over the Denver Broncos in Week 15. The former Iowa star caught three touchdown passes from Jared Goff. He’s now just the third rookie tight end in NFL history to record at least 700 yards and seven touchdowns, joining Hall of Famers John Mackey and Mike Ditka on that exclusive list. If it weren’t for the record-setting performances from the two players ahead of him, LaPorta would be the OROY.

2. C.J. Stroud, QB, Houston Texans

nfl rookie of the year: c.j. stroud
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About NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. We thought Stroud without any further question just a few weeks back. The kid put up a record-breaking Week 9 performance in which he threw for 470 yards with five touchdowns in a win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Stroud has simply been sensational this season.

Unfortunately, Stroud has come crashing down back to earth recently. That included him completing just 10-of-23 passes for 91 yards in a blowout 30-6 loss to the New York Jets in Week 14. He then missed two games with a concussion before returning in helping Houston to a win this past week.

1. Puka Nacua, WR, Los Angeles Rams

nfl rookie of the year: puka nacua
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  • Puka Nacua stats (2023): 101 receptions, 1,445 yards, 5 TD, 65.5% catch rate

Bill Groman holds the NFL record for the most receiving yards from a rookie with 1,473 set all the way back in 1960. This fifth-round pick from BYU needs just 29 yards Sunday against the 49ers to break that record. It’s been stunning to see him work his magic with Matthew Stafford. It looks like the Los Angeles Rams have a Cooper Kupp 2.0.

Related: Predicting NFL Playoff teams and Super Bowl winner

2022-23 NFL Rookie of the Year candidates (defense)

Honorable mention

  • Keion White, EDGE, New England Patriots
  • Tuli Tuipulotu, EDGE, Los Angeles Chargers
  • Byron Young, EDGE, Los Angeles Rams
  • Ivan Pace, LB, Minnesota Vikings

5. Joey Porter Jr., CB, Pittsburgh Steelers

nfl rookie of the year: joey porter jr.
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  • Joey Porter Jr. stats (2023): 43 tackles, 10 passes defended, 1 INT

The son of former Steelers great Joey Porter, most saw greatness out of this cornerback dating back to his days with Penn State. He’s more than proven himself as a top-five DROY candidate. Porter Jr. has allowed just 27-of-54 passes thrown in his direction to be completed for a 70.2 QB rating. More than that, he’s giving up just 6.7 yards per target. Elite-level stuff here.

4. Devon Witherspoon, CB, Seattle Seahawks

nfl rookie of the year: devon witherspoon
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  • Devon Witherspoon stats (2023): 65 tackles (4 for loss), 16 passes defended, 3 sacks, INT, TD

Witherspoon might have been the best player on the field as Seattle ran roughshod over the New York Giants by the score of 24-3. back in Week 4. He sacked Daniel Jones and recorded an absurd 97-yard pick-six of the struggling quarterback. This was his coming out party, and he has not slowed down since. Quarterbacks are completing just 55% of their passes thrown in his direction. He’s also allowing a mere 5.4 yards per target. To put this into perspective, 2022 DROY Sauce Gardner gave up 5.3 yards per target a season ago.

3. Brian Branch, S, Detroit Lions

NFL: Detroit Lions at Kansas City Chiefs
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  • Brian Branch Stats (2023): 73 tackles (7 for loss), 12 passes defended, 3 INT, 1 TD

We’re still trying to figure out how Branch fell to the second round of the 2023 NFL Draft. The Chiefs were, too. In addition to recording a pick-six of Patrick Mahomes in the opener, this safety allowed a mere 40% completion rate. He’s continued to play at a high level when on the field since, yielding just 452 yards on 63 passes thrown in his direction for an average of 7.2 per.

2. Will Anderson, EDGE, Houston Texans

NFL: Houston Texans at Baltimore Ravens
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  • Will Anderson stats (2023): 44 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 22 QB hits, 7 sacks

Anderson’s numbers are finally catching up to what we’ve actually seen on the field. He recorded two quarterback hits, two tackles for loss and a sack in a Week 11 win over the Arizona Cardinals. Anderson has followed that up with nine QB hits and four sacks over the past three games. He’s certainly putting pressure on Jalen Carter heading into the finale.

1. Jalen Carter, DT, Philadelphia Eagles

NFL: Preseason-Indianapolis Colts at Philadelphia Eagles
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  • Jalen Carter stats (2023): 30 tackles (8 for loss), 9 QB hits, 6.0 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, TD

Carter was seen as the top defensive prospect in the class until shortly before the 2023 NFL Draft. An off-field issue coupled with the former Georgia standout showing up to his Pro Day out of shape dropped him to Philadelphia at nine. What we do know is that he’s an elite on-field talent. Carter has shown that through 15 games. That includes two big forced fumbles and nine QB hits, 18 pressures and a TD. His ability to hold up against the run has been big, too.

Revisiting the 2022 NFL Rookie of the Year

nfl rookie of the year
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Two New York Jets teammates in that of wide receiver Garrett Wilson and cornerback Sauce Gardner earned NFL Rookie of the Year honors last season.

Wilson, the No. 10 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, recorded 83 receptions for 1,103 yards despite disastrous QB play in Jersey.

Meanwhile, Gardner shockingly earned All-Pro honors at cornerback as a rookie. Opposing quarterbacks completed just 54% of their passes with a QB rating of 62.7 when targeting him.

Past NFL Rookie of the Year winners

  • 2022: Garrett Wilson, Sauce Gardner
  • 2021: Ja’Marr Chase, Micah Parsons
  • 2020: Justin Herbert, Chase Young
  • 2019: Kyler Murray, Nick Bosa
  • 2018: Saquon Barkley, Shaquille Leonard
  • 2017: Alvin Kamara, Marshon Lattimore
  • 2016: Dak Prescott, Joey Bosa
  • 2015: Todd Gurley, Marcus Peters
  • 2014: Odell Beckham Jr., Aaron Donald

When is the NFL Rookie of the Year announced?

The 2023-24 NFL Rookie of the Year will be announced during the league’s annual awards show on the weekend of the Super Bowl, February 11.

Who will emerge as the early ROTY candidates during the 2023-24 NFL season?

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