NFL: 5 second-year players ready to make a big leap in 2023
One of the exciting parts about a new season is seeing guys become comfortable in the NFL following their rookie year. The 2022 NFL Draft saw a host of talented players enter the league, with a lot of guys ready to head into their sophomore seasons with either things to prove or a solid base to grow.
The development of the 2022 class will impact a handful of teams, but here are five that can really take a big step as far as their NFL stature is concerned with a strong 2023 season.
Kyle Hamilton, S, Baltimore Ravens
Hamilton, like most rookies, had a rough start to his career. There were coverage busts, missed plays and lapses that probably should have been expected from a young player taking his first leap into the NFL. However, when he (and the rest of the Ravens' defense) became accustomed to playing for Mike Macdonald’s new scheme, Hamilton showed off the premier talent that made him a first-round draft selection. By the end of his rookie year, he was playing like one of the best safeties in football and finished his first season with 62 tackles, four tackles for loss and two sacks.
If Hamilton can continue to improve from his late-season form, the Ravens might have the new top safety duo in the league with Marcus Williams and Hamilton making life difficult for offenses. Hamilton has a chance to establish himself as one of the great safeties in the NFL rather quickly as long as he can continue to build off of his great rookie season.
Jordan Davis, DT, Philadelphia Eagles
Davis had a quiet rookie year, but his overall talent and athleticism should still have people bullish on his future. He’s playing in a great situation on a defensive line that features Fletcher Cox and the newly drafted Jalen Carter. Davis is still that same guy who broke athleticism metrics following his workout at the scouting combine last year; now he needs to stay healthy and start turning his potential into production.
Desmond Ridder, QB, Atlanta Falcons
Ridder might have been the biggest winner of the 2023 NFL Draft. He avoided getting replaced by a first-round quarterback, will now be paired with a talented running back in Bijan Robinson, and received some upfront protection from second-round pick Matthew Bergeron. If he can stay the course and capitalize on the answers that head coach Arthur Smith and the rest of the Falcons’ offense can provide, this isn’t such a bad spot for a young quarterback who flashed talent at the end of last season.
Robinson, Bergeron, Kyle Pitts, Drake London, Tyler Allgeier, Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary is a damn good young core to play with. The situations are going to be advantageous for Ridder, but he’s still going to have to capitalize on them. If he does, he can stake a strong claim toward being the Falcons’ long-term quarterback.
Alontae Taylor, CB, New Orleans Saints
Those who watched the Saints last year know exactly how important Taylor was to their defense. The former second-round draft pick didn’t log an interception during his rookie year, but he played an integral role on a defense that, once again, was fairly good under the tutelage of head coach Dennis Allen. In 2023, Taylor has a chance to emerge as one of the better NFL cornerbacks.
Taylor has the man coverage skills and athleticism to play as an outside cornerback and the ball skills to force turnovers. Even though he had no interceptions, he still defended 11 passes and was a worthy running mate for Marshon Lattimore by the end of the season. Taylor has CB1 upside, but gets to play in an advantageous situation where Lattimore can still be the CB1 for the Saints. NFC South teams need to watch out for this cornerback duo next season.
Rachaad White, RB, Buccaneers
White is being thrust into a premier running back role, which should open him up to a big workload on a team that might need to run the ball in order to protect its quarterback, whether it be Baker Mayfield or Kyle Trask. White's current competition is Chase Edmonds, Ke’Shawn Vaughn and undrafted rookie Sean Tucker. That’s a situation where White should be able to come out as the top dog.
White was leaned on fairly heavily in the passing game as a rookie, catching 50 passes for 290 yards and two touchdowns. He also had 129 rushing attempts. Both of those numbers should increase this year as White becomes a focal point for the Buccaneers’ offense. They’ll need him to come through in a big way and the opportunities will be there for a talented player.