31 first-round picks, 31 first impressions: Early observations of the 2023 class

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A few big-name NFL veterans somewhat stole the spotlight at mandatory minicamps by showing up, or not showing up, or delaying showing up. And it kept the news cycle humming.

But we also asked our NFL Nation reporters to keep a close eye on their team’s first-round draft picks the entire offseason. Who looks ready to deliver on his potential? Who might be better than advertised? Who is struggling so far to get up to speed?

Naturally, there was a great deal of chatter about the three first-round quarterbacks, all of whom were taken in the first four picks. Bryce Young, the No. 1 overall pick, already has ascended to the No. 1 spot in Carolina. When will Houston’s C.J. Stroud and Indianapolis’ Anthony Richardson do the same?

What about the defensive linemen? How about the four wide receivers taken in a row? They’re all here. The answers are listed in the order of how Round 1 played out:

How he has fared so far: Young has been as advertised, living up to all the expectations the Panthers had when they selected him No. 1. From his ability to process information, to making all the throws, to earning the respect of his teammates, he’s on a clear path to be the Week 1 starter. He already has been elevated to QB1 over Andy Dalton, a clear sign the staff and teammates have confidence in him.

“Everybody is here for him,” wide receiver DJ Chark said. “And we believe he can take us to some really high places.” — David Newton


How he has fared so far: Stroud’s ball placement has stood out throughout the spring, as his passes have rarely been off target. Veteran quarterback Case Keenum has been impressed with Stroud’s presence and said, “I would have thought he had been here a year, been in the league, been a four-, five-year vet.”

Stroud has yet to run exclusively with the first-team offense, as he has split reps with Davis Mills, but it’s only a matter of time until he’s full-time. — D.J. Bien-Aime


How he has fared so far: Anderson has run with the first-team defense, but only so much evaluation can be done on a player at his position without pads. He has displayed explosiveness throughout practices with his ability to rush upfield and contain the edge. We’ll learn more during camp, but he’s on track so far. — D.J. Bien-Aime

Read more: Seifert: Inside Texans’ costly plan to draft C.J. Stroud, Will Anderson Jr.


How he has fared so far: Consistency was always the biggest concern for Richardson coming into the NFL draft. And that has proven to be a fair assessment throughout spring practices as he works to perfect his mechanics. But what also has proven true are the physical gifts Richardson brings. “It’s crazy,” linebacker Zaire Franklin said. “Even just in the walkthrough against him, it’s like, ‘OK, when [No.] 5’s in there, you’ve just got to be aware.’ It’s just like a whole other element to an offense that you don’t necessarily have to think about with more of a traditional quarterback.”

Look for the Colts to lean into Richardson’s running ability from Day 1 — whether he’s the starter or not. — Stephen Holder


How he has fared so far: Non-padded and no-contact practices haven’t provided Witherspoon the setting to show off his physicality and ball skills, two of the traits that made him the Seahawks’ highest draft pick of the Pete Carroll/John Schneider era. But he’s proving to be a quick study. After being limited early by a hamstring injury, Witherspoon progressed to full-speed reps with the No. 1 defense. The Seahawks have also taken a look at Witherspoon sliding inside in nickel situations, where he has impressed Carroll.

“When we gave him the chance, he jumped right on it,” Carroll said. “He’s a really good football learner. He gets it, man. It makes sense to him, and he does things naturally really well, and that expedites the process.” — Brady Henderson


How he has fared so far: Johnson got a significant number of reps this offseason at both left and right tackle, with incumbent LT D.J. Humphries out rehabbing his back and incumbent RT Kelvin Beachum not around for the voluntary practices. Johnson impressed coaches and teammates with his skills, size and intelligence.

“I like him a lot, man. He’s a student. He got a lot of student to him,” Humphries said. “He’s not a young hunk that’s kind of like, ‘I got this figured out. You old guys get out the way and hold my water.’ He doesn’t have any of that to him. He’s very like, ‘I want to know, am I doing this right? How can I do this better? How do you do this? What are you thinking about when you’re doing this?'” — Josh Weinfuss


How he has fared so far: Wilson, still recovering from surgery to his right foot in November and a follow-up procedure in March, did not take the field during OTAs or minicamp, so there’s no way to say how the edge rusher has looked thus far. Wilson, though, has impressed his new teammates with his classroom work and his 6-foot-6, 271-pound profile.

“I’ve seen a bunch of highlights, but just from his physical gifts alone he can be a great player,” defensive end Maxx Crosby said. “You can have tools, you can have every bit of talent — that’s the NFL, everybody’s talented — but it’s what you do when you get in the building. He’s had a great attitude so far. He seems like a great kid.” — Paul Gutierrez


How he has fared so far: Robinson has been exactly as Atlanta anticipated. The Falcons have shown they’ll use him as a running back and a receiver, all over the formation. Was there question from pundits about how the Falcons used this pick? Yes. When Arthur Smith was asked if the traits they saw in Robinson have translated to the NFL, he made his answer very clear: “We do not have buyer’s remorse if that’s what you’re asking.”

An example? Last Tuesday, Robinson was the last player off the field, signing autographs and then getting extra work on the JUGS machine. — Michael Rothstein


How he has fared so far: There were no overt signs during the OTA sessions open to the media that Carter, who couldn’t finish position drills at his pro day in March, was struggling with his conditioning. One of the most gifted players in the 2023 draft class, Carter has a fluidity to his motion that is rare for a defensive tackle.

“I think you just see their athletic ability and the drill work,” coach Nick Sirianni said of Carter and fellow former Georgia first-round pick Nolan Smith. “You’re seeing the things that we saw, obviously, on tape of what they do well and the power, their athletic ability, their personalities.” — Tim McManus


How he has fared so far: The game of musical chairs along the offensive line has taken the Bears well into training camp in past offseasons. That’s no longer the case, as Chicago exits minicamp knowing its projected five starters, including at right tackle, where Wright has been running with the first-team offense since his arrival. Bears coaches are impressed with how well Wright has adapted to the speed of the game and his eagerness to learn the playbook. His physical traits have been a talking point among teammates.

“He fell down [during an OTA practice] and did this somersault,” tight end Cole Kmet said. “And it was the most graceful somersault I’ve ever seen a 330-pound player do. It was pretty impressive. I was like, ‘Damn, that’s pretty good.'” — Courtney Cronin

Read more: Cronin: How the Bears knew Darnell Wright was the right fit


How he has fared so far: Even though they’re not in pads, Skoronski is getting valuable reps going against Pro Bowl defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons. Skoronski has already stepped into the starting lineup at left guard, which is a position he hasn’t played since he was in the sixth grade. The Titans have also given him snaps at left tackle. But Skoronski’s likely spot this year will be as an interior lineman.

“He’s a guy that we think can play any position up front,” Titans offensive line coach Jason Houghtaling said. “He’s continuing to hone in. It doesn’t really matter what the position is. It’s just getting the skill set and trying to perfect his craft.” — Turron Davenport


How he has fared so far: Without pads, Lions coach Dan Campbell often refers to this offseason period as a “pajama party,” but Gibbs’ speed and pass-catching ability have already been on display. The Lions’ coaching staff is lining him up at wide receiver in addition to his responsibilities in the backfield to really capitalize on his versatility. So far, so good for the No. 12 overall pick.

“He can catch it; he can run it,” Lions quarterback Jared Goff said on the first day of mandatory minicamp. “We’re excited about him. He’s done a hell of a job as well as a rookie, learning, picking things up, asking the right questions and can do some special things with the ball in his hands, so we’re excited about that.” — Eric Woodyard


How he has fared so far: Van Ness has shown both power and speed as a pass-rusher, but it’s nearly impossible to know if that will translate from non-padded and supposedly non-contact practices into the real thing. But with Rashan Gary still rehabbing last season’s knee injury, Van Ness has gotten plenty of reps with the No. 1 and No. 2 defensive fronts. — Rob Demovsky


How he has fared so far: Evaluating a rookie offensive lineman while he’s still in shorts is a fool’s errand, but we’ll give it a shot. Though Jones isn’t getting first-team reps, he’s earning solid reviews from his coaches and teammates. Offensive line coach Pat Meyer spoke highly of Jones during minicamp, while also acknowledging a steep learning curve for rookie linemen.

“He’s talented, he’s young, he’s athletic, he’s got all the tools,” Meyer said. “The thing is he wants to be great, so he stays with that, and he wants to be great, and he has that attitude to do that. And when the time’s ready for him, he’s going to be in there.” — Brooke Pryor


How he has fared so far: McDonald’s biggest challenge will occur in training camp when the pads go on. At 240 pounds, he needs to show he’s big and strong enough to be a quality edge rusher. In non-contact practices, he showed the speed and agility that prompted the Jets to pick him this high. Defensive end Solomon Thomas said McDonald has “the super rare ability to bend on a dime.” He projects as a pass-rushing specialist as a rookie, part of a deep defensive-end rotation. — Rich Cimini


How he has fared so far: Forbes was always around the ball and got his hands on numerous passes throughout spring practices — intercepting a few. He impressed teammates and coaches with how he handled workouts, giving them hope that he’ll create big plays for the defense. Forbes worked mostly on the outside with the starters, though the Commanders did use him inside on occasion — in part to help him read routes even better (giving him more clues when he plays outside) and just in case they get in a pinch because of injuries. Forbes’ size was noteworthy; he’s a skinny 166 pounds. He showed he can adapt, however, by using quickness and length to prevent receivers and tight ends from bullying him.

“He’s got a great anticipation of routes,” defensive backs coach Brent Vieselmeyer said. “The other thing is you watch him get in and out of breaks. He does a great job. His transition of his feet is so quick.” — John Keim


How he has fared so far: The 6-foot-2, 201-pound Gonzalez was lining up as a first-unit left cornerback and caught the eye of teammates. “He’s very athletic. It’s pretty effortless the way he does everything — the way he moves in and out of breaks. He runs easy. It looks very light and fluid,” safety Kyle Dugger noted.

Questionable physicality is one reason Gonzalez might have slid to No. 17, so the team will wait for a more complete evaluation once players are in full pads in training camp. — Mike Reiss


How he has fared so far: As expected, Campbell is still adjusting to the nuances of the NFL game. Lions linebackers coach Kelvin Sheppard is challenging him regularly. Lions head coach Dan Campbell said the rookie has been hard on himself, which can be a “blessing and a curse,” because they want him to move past his early mistakes. Detroit is throwing a lot at Campbell as an inside linebacker, and it is asking him to play with vision, but he’s growing daily.

“I think like with any young player, he’s smart enough to understand what’s going on, but he’s not processing it fast enough because he’s young,” coach Dan Campbell said. “It gets on him fast. The speed of the game’s different, and that’ll come.” — Eric Woodyard


How he has fared so far: There’s only so much you can take from watching a defensive tackle without pads and actual hitting, but Kancey’s quickness off the ball has been apparent in drills and should serve as a nice complement to big-bodied Vita Vea. And Kancey has not only the desire but the ability to understand what goes on around him in the defense and not just his respective role.

“He’s smart. He’s a lot smarter,” coach Todd Bowles said. “He’s not just a lineman trying to line up and do things, he’s trying to understand everything on the defensive line and the offensive line, so he knows how to play. I’m very impressed with that.” — Jenna Laine


How he has fared so far: After being limited early by the hamstring injury that sidelined him for most of last season, Smith-Njigba has looked exactly as advertised — a skilled route-runner who excels at getting open from the slot. Despite not being known as a burner, he showed he has plenty of speed when he got behind fellow first-rounder Devon Witherspoon on a wheel route to haul in a long touchdown, perhaps his top highlight of the spring.

“He’s so impressive,” quarterback Geno Smith said. “Very smooth route-runner. Natural hands. Also, the game is not too big for him. You can see he’s got that self-confidence that you look for.” — Brady Henderson


How he has fared so far: Star safety Derwin James Jr. minced no words when describing Johnston. “He’s that guy,” James said. “Him being able to get open, him being able to have the confidence to be able to go through his drills and be able to — every catch, he’s finishing his runs.” Throughout the offseason program, Johnston demonstrated an ability to make plays across the middle of the field and stretch a defense down the sideline.

“His range is really, really tremendous,” said first-year coordinator Kellen Moore, whose scheme is intended to create more explosive opportunities. “The other thing that we’ve highlighted is his ability to make plays after the catch. You can certainly see that, his suddenness to get in and out of breaks once he catches the ball, the transition to a runner, that will be really big for him.” — Lindsey Thiry

Read more: Thiry: Chargers rookie makes good on draft-night promise: His mom’s officially retiring


How he has fared so far: Flowers has been impressive with his ability to consistently get open. The Ravens have drafted six wide receivers in the first round in their history, but none has shown this type of route-running as a rookie. Teammates and coaches have raved about his sharp change of direction, which has caused plenty of separation this offseason. “Zay is shifty,” quarterback Lamar Jackson said. “Zay is very fast, explosive. He can stop on the dime.”

Flowers has had the occasional drop, which was a problem in college. But Ravens officials have shown no concern over his hands. Flowers is projected to be among Baltimore’s top three wide receivers with Odell Beckham Jr. and Rashod Bateman. — Jamison Hensley


How he has fared so far: Addison participated in rookie minicamp two weeks after the draft, displaying the versatility the Vikings hope he can bring to their offense as a playmaker at both outside positions as well as in the slot. But Addison was sidelined for the remainder of the offseason program because of what coach Kevin O’Connell called a minor injury. He is expected to be fully recovered by the start of training camp.

In the interim, O’Connell said that Addison “has been phenomenal in meetings and out here asking great questions when they come up.” — Kevin Seifert


How he has fared so far: Banks was working with the second-team defense at the first OTA open to the media this offseason. That quickly changed, as his talent is evident. The Giants were impressed with the way he worked and moved, and promoted him to starting defense for the rest of spring. Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale used a “Ted Lasso” line to describe Banks: “He lives life like a goldfish. He’s got a short memory when things don’t go right,” Martindale said.

That’s useful because, like most rookie cornerbacks, Banks had his ups and downs on the field this spring. — Jordan Raanan


How he has fared so far: Von Miller said, unprompted, during mandatory minicamp that “this Dalton Kincaid kid is insane.” Quarterback Josh Allen has referred to him as a “very bright kid.” So, so far, so good. Kincaid has put in solid work during the offseason, and there have been moments when Allen has taken a moment to discuss a route with the tight end. Kincaid seems to be off to a strong start, with the Bills hoping he has a big role.

Training camp will show more, with offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey saying they won’t get “a great feel” of how he can best be used until then. — Alaina Getzenberg


How he has fared so far: The Cowboys did not do any 11-on-11 work during the organized team activities or minicamp, so making any judgment on Smith is difficult because so much of what he will do is about his size (6-3, 325) and strength. But what the offseason work allowed Smith to do was learn what the coaches will want from him technically, and they have said he has picked everything up fast. He has a willing mentor in veteran Johnathan Hankins.

“You can tell on tape for a big man, [Smith] bends extremely well and obviously very strong. Everyone knows that,” All-Pro guard Zack Martin said. “He’s going to be a great addition to our team. We should have some good battles in training camp.” — Todd Archer


How he has fared so far: The Jaguars have put Harrison at right tackle, and the expectation is he’ll be the opening-day starter if left tackle Cam Robinson is suspended for violating the PED policy and Walker Little moves from right tackle to left. Harrison got some solid reps against outside linebacker Josh Allen in minicamp and more than held his own, but the bigger test will come when the pads come on in camp.

“He just stands out,” Allen said. “Quick, good feet. That’s one thing you want to look into is how good his feet are, and he’s real good at his feet. So I think once he gets comfortable in the scheme and gets comfortable working with all four of the other guys up front, I think he’s going to be a heck of a player.” — Michael DiRocco


How he has fared so far: The combination of size and speed that Murphy displayed at his Clemson pro day has been evident during offseason workouts. He has looked as explosive as advertised in the team’s position drills. Murphy’s reps have predominantly been with the backups, but the Bengals had a handful of 7-on-7 reps during mandatory minicamp. Cincinnati wants Murphy to be on the field for key pass-rushing situations as the Bengals try to increase their pressure rate. Murphy already has an approval stamp from receiver Tee Higgins, a fellow former Clemson player.

“Lot of my friends that played with him say he’s a good guy,” Higgins said. “Hopefully he can come in and make an impact early.” — Ben Baby


How he has fared so far: Bresee has gotten snaps with the first-team defensive tackles at times, and he’ll likely continue to be swapped into the rotation throughout the summer. While it’s no sure thing he’ll be a Day 1 starter yet, he’ll certainly get his share of first-team reps in training camp and into the season if he stays healthy. He’s already settling into New Orleans and has been taking advice from veteran defensive end Cameron Jordan.

“He’s probably a little more sudden, a little more quick than maybe I anticipated,” Saints coach Dennis Allen said at the conclusion of minicamp. “The things I’ve been most pleased with is really his intelligence level and his work ethic. He’s worked extremely hard throughout this offseason, and I’m looking for him to be a key contributor for us.” — Katherine Terrell

Read more: Terrell: ‘Ella Strong’: How Saints rallied around death of Bresee’s sister during draft


How he has fared so far: Smith is a high-energy player, something that is obvious even during 7-on-7 drills. With some of the top edge rushers missing from practice, Smith got plenty of run with the first unit. His quickness stood out and so did his motor. It’s clear he’ll be in full pursuit of the ball carrier until the whistle is blown. — Tim McManus


How he has fared so far: Anudike-Uzomah practiced little for much of the offseason after having thumb surgery and fighting a sore hamstring. He returned to practice about the time the Chiefs were finishing up, leaving his coaches with little time to evaluate him. “He’s worked through [the injuries], and he’s back in the swing and looks like he’s feeling better every day, which is a good thing,” coach Andy Reid said.

The Chiefs have George Karlaftis, who had six sacks as a rookie last season, and free agent addition Charles Omenihu at defensive end, so they don’t expect Anudike-Uzomah to become an immediate starter. They do expect him to play and be a contributor, however. — Adam Teicher

Read more: Teicher: How Anudike-Uzomah went from lifelong Chiefs fan to their first-round pick

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