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国产探花rookie grades, NFC South: Bijan Robinson flashes for Falcons; Bucs' group shows promise

In a matter of months, the 2024 国产探花Draft will usher a new wave of talent into the league. Before we get there, though, Eric Edholm and Chad Reuter are taking a team-by-team look back -- at the rookie class of 2023. Eric examines the NFC South below.

Grade
B-
Atlanta Falcons
Total picks: 6 · 2023 record: 7-10

Round 1

  • (No. 8) Bijan Robinson, RB | 17 games/16 starts

Round 2

  • (38) Matthew Bergeron, OL | 17 games/starts

Round 3

  • (75) Zach Harrison, DL | 16 games/0 starts

Round 4

  • (113) Clark Phillips III, DB | 11 games/5 starts

Round 7

  • (224) DeMarcco Hellams, DB | 15 games/4 starts
  • (225) Jovaughn Gwyn, OL | 1 game/0 starts


Though the Falcons' season ended in disappointment, they did receive good contributions from their draft class, primarily from five of their six picks. In spite of some lulls in production and curious usage (he only logged one game with more than 19 carries), Robinson had some wow moments, flashing impressive receiving ability and finishing his rookie season with 1,463 yards from scrimmage (10th most in the NFL). He also only hit one home run (a 71-yard catch-and-run in Week 1) and registered four fumbles (three lost). He hasn't proven -- yet -- that he was worth the eighth overall pick in the 2023 国产探花Draft.


Bergeron opened camp with the second team, but when Matt Hennessy was hurt, Bergeron grabbed the job at left guard -- a brand-new position to him -- and never looked back. He started 17 games, showing some rawness in pass protection but performing steadily as a run-blocker. I think he can have a bright future.


Harrison's snap counts increased slightly over the course of the season, and he had all three of his sacks in Weeks 15 and 16, putting up a strong showing against the Colts in the latter matchup. He might be in line for more snaps in 2023, with Calais Campbell headed for free agency.


Phillips didn't make his defensive debut until Week 10, but he went on to total five passes defensed and ended up starting the final five games. Interestingly, Phillips played far more outside than he did in the slot, where many 国产探花scouts projected him. Depending on what new head coach Raheem Morris decides to do, Phillips could compete for a starting job in 2024.


Like Phillips, Hellams needed some time to crack the rotation. But he started four games and acquitted himself well, often manning the post when Jessie Bates III roamed closer to the line of scrimmage. Hellams has the looks of a solid safety.


Grade
B-
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Total picks: 8 · 2023 record: 9-8

Round 1

  • (No. 19) Calijah Kancey, DL | 14 games/starts

Round 2

  • (48) Cody Mauch, OL | 17 games/starts

Round 3

  • (82) YaYa Diaby, LB | 17 games/7 starts

Round 5

  • (153) SirVocea Dennis, LB | 13 games/0 starts
  • (171) Payne Durham, TE | 13 games/2 starts

Round 6

  • (181) Josh Hayes, DB | 15 games/0 starts
  • (191) Trey Palmer, WR | 17 games/8 starts
  • (196) Jose Ramirez, OLB | 0 games/starts

Notable Free Agent Signees


The Buccaneers had 15 rookies appear in at least one game throughout the season, receiving respectable contributions from several of them, especially on defense. 


The undersized Kancey dealt with a calf injury early, missing three games, but ended up second on the team in DT snaps, behind only Vita Vea. Kancey had four sacks and 33 pressures, per Next Gen Stats, showing the ability to knife into backfields with his quickness, although his run-stopping was very inconsistent, especially when teams ran right at him. 


After a slow start, Diaby developed into a pleasant surprise. He began to come on in October, using his impressive physical toolset to ring up 7.5 sacks (including against the Jags) in the final 11 games. The Bucs have not asked him to do much in coverage, and that might never be a strength, but Diaby is an ascending pass-rush talent.


Izien was an even more surprising contributor. The undrafted Rutgers product intercepted passes in Weeks 1 and 2, and though Izien didn't make any plays on the ball thereafter, he established himself in the slot as a tough run defender and quality blitzer, despite his lack of size (5-foot-8). Another undrafted player who made his impact felt was Merriweather, a special teams regular and a contributor on defense from Week 10 on (logging two starts). Dennis, Hayes and Durham were mostly special teams performers. 


Mauch and Palmer were big contributors on the offensive side. Each had their ups and downs, but they established themselves as starters for a playoff team down the stretch. Mauch had some tough games when he was beaten by a pass rusher, but he kicked his midseason holding habit and made the tough adjustment from FCS to 国产探花starter. Even with some late-season fumble concerns, Palmer's big-play ability added juice to the Bucs' offense. He and Jarrett appear to be worth developing. 


Grade
C+
New Orleans Saints
Total picks: 7 · 2023 record: 9-8

Round 1

  • (No. 29) Bryan Bresee, DL | 17 games/0 starts

Round 2

  • (40) Isaiah Foskey, DL | 10 games/0 starts

Round 3

  • (71) Kendre Miller, RB | 8 games/0 starts

Round 4

  • (103) Nick Saldiveri, OL | 4 games/0 starts
  • (127) Jake Haener, QB | 0 games/starts

Round 5

  • (146) Jordan Howden, DB | 16 games/7 starts

Round 6

  • (195) A.T. Perry, WR | 10 games/3 starts

Notable Free Agent Signees

  • Blake Grupe, K | 17 games
  • Lou Hedley, P | 17 games


Bresee didn't start any games but was a regular contributor in the Saints' DT rotation. He went through a bit of a lull around midseason, then picked it up late in the year, with three of his 4.5 sacks and five of his nine QB hits coming in December. Bresee might never be a star, but he improved as a run defender and should be a solid piece for years.


Howden started seven games as a rookie and was a pleasant surprise. He mostly played as the high safety but also moonlighted in the slot and as a box safety and was fairly dependable when called upon. One disappointment on defense was Foskey, who went three rounds higher than Howden but played more on special teams. After receiving some rotational snaps early on, Foskey was often inactive down the stretch with a quad injury. The Saints will expect more in 2024.


It was a redshirt type of season for Haener, who sat and watched behind , Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill and wasn't ever active. In order to guarantee a roster spot, he'll need to have a good offseason; last preseason, he struggled with accuracy and interceptions. Like Haener, Saldiveri didn't do much as a rookie. It might be telling that he didn't see the field more for a Saints team dealing with OL issues, although a shoulder injury did set him back.


Perry and Miller finished the season strong, albeit with smaller sample sizes. Miller shined in Week 18, running hard and giving hope to the idea he could join the RB rotation more regularly next season. Perry was a big-play artist who'd done a bit more than Miller prior to the regular-season finale, but he also had his best game in that Week 18 blowout of Atlanta, catching two TDs. It wouldn't be shocking if both players took strides next season.


The Saints' rookie kicking duo provided mixed results. Grupe went from feel-good story to the doghouse in a few months, missing some clutch kicks and losing kickoff distance throughout the season, but he finished strong (12-of-14 on field-goal attempts from Week 10 on) and didn't miss an extra point. Hedley followed a similar wave. The 30-year-old Aussie was busy (75 punts), thanks to a hot-and-cold Saints offense, and was brought in as a directional kicker; he pinned 41.3% of his punts inside the 20 and allowed the second-fewest return yards (168) among 17-game punters. But when the Saints were backed up, Hedley's lack of leg strength showed; he's not a field-flipper.


Grade
D+
Carolina Panthers
Total picks: 5 · 2023 record: 2-15

Round 1

  • (No. 1) Bryce Young, QB | 16 games/starts

Round 2

  • (39) Jonathan Mingo, WR | 15 games/14 starts

Round 3

  • (80) DJ Johnson, LB | 13 games/3 starts

Round 4

  • (114) Chandler Zavala, OL | 10 games/7 starts

Round 5

  • (145) Jammie Robinson, DB | 15 games/2 starts

Notable Free Agent Signees


The prime disappointment was Young's rookie season. The No. 1 overall pick started 16 games, and it was tough sledding for most of it. The environment seemed extremely unfavorable for learning on the fly, with the Panthers lacking elite weapons and cohesion on the offensive line. Carolina also fired head coach Frank Reich midseason, and it's fair to wonder if turmoil on the coaching staff stunted Young's growth. Tight end Hayden Hurst said after the season he thought Young had "too many voices in his head" during the trying season.


Young completed 59.8% of his passes for 2,877 yards, 11 TDs and 10 INTs -- fairly meager totals, especially with fellow rookie QB C.J. Stroud flying high in Houston. But even more concerning statistics include Young's 62 sacks taken (for a league-worst 500 yards lost) and 11 fumbles. Dave Canales -- who helped another former No. 1 overall pick, Baker Mayfield, resurrect his career in Tampa -- is Young's new head coach, and Dan Morgan is the new GM/president of football ops. Their focus this offseason must be on surrounding Young with a better complementary cast, and they'll have to do it without a first-round pick in 2024.


The Panthers fielded a dozen rookies while searching for answers in their 2-15 campaign, with all five draft picks playing 10 or more games. Mingo had some moments in Year 1, but he and Young had trouble connecting downfield. Mingo's longest catch was 40 yards; he had zero TDs and was guilty of dropped passes and some mental mistakes. 


Johnson was trending in the right direction around midseason, starting three straight games, before an elbow injury sidelined him, and then he really didn't see much time after getting healthy. He's a raw, toolsy prospect who remains an unknown commodity heading into Year 2.


Zavala was thrown into the OL mix, starting seven games, but he was overwhelmed as a pass blocker at times. It's difficult right now to view him as a major piece Carolina can depend on next season, as even Jensen appeared more game-ready down the stretch. Robinson and Cook each earned two starts in the secondary when injuries hit.


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