2023 NFL OTA: Seven rookies stand out early for their teams, including Texans’ QB-WR duo Bryce Young

OTAs are starting around the NFL, and fans are getting their first glimpses of their new teams — even if it’s not in person yet. DJ Moore catches passes from Justin Fields, Derek Carr is getting used to being QB1 for the New Orleans Saints and Aaron Rodgers was enjoying his first action with the New York Jets before suffering from a “fitted” calf.

Another fun side of OTAs is that we see rookies taking to the field to participate in practices with veterans. There are plenty of first-year players who should have an immediate impact in 2023, but which ones seem to have an impact from the jump? Below, we’ll break down several rookies making headlines at the start of OTAs.

The Panthers previously said No. 1 overall pick Bryce Young wasn’t going to enter camp as QB1, but it sure looks like he’s close. The Alabama product took the majority of first team snaps when the Panthers opened OTAs on Monday, according to CBS Sports’ Steven Taranto.

Head coach Frank Reich said Young’s command was “10 out of 10” on day one, and fellow quarterback Andy Dalton even claimed the rookie pointed out a mislabeled play or formation during the day. ‘coaching, by WNC.

We all knew Young’s football IQ would quickly stand out, but it’s worth mentioning that he looked pretty small behind his new NFL offensive line. Bottom line, a solid start for the best quarterback in this class.

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According Dolphins Travis Wingfield Official Site, Achane had an immediate impact on OTAs. He chewed up the yardage on both explosive runs and a deep ball thrown by Tua Tagovailoa. While he was a third-round pick, this burner is someone to watch. Mike McDaniel has made a name for himself plotting for the run, and Achane is someone who could thrive in that offense. CBS Sports NFL draft expert Chris Trapasso says Achane in Miami is arguably the rookie team’s best fit this year, and that he’s exactly the kind of player Coach McDaniel would create in the Madden video game for his offense. Achane’s 4.32 40-yard dash is tied for the fifth fastest time for a running back in the officially registered combine era (dating back to 1999).

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The Broncos have what could be a top-five defense, but they lacked that elite inside linebacker. Drew Sanders might be that guy. A five-star Texas prospect, Sanders was the 13th overall prospect in his entire class, according to 247Sports. He signed up to Alabama, won a championship as a reserve player, then transferred to Arkansas, where he thrived. As a third-round pick, many called Sanders a steal, and he certainly looked like a steal early in the preseason.

Sanders did what many claim was the Broncos’ rookie minicamp game, when he picked Ben DiNucci and fired him for six years. He made big waves early.

“Drew is an unreal athlete,” fellow Broncos rookie Marvin Mims Jr. told SI.com. “He’s looked like this since senior year of high school. I mean, the dude is amazing.”

Sanders was a first-team All-American last year and recorded a career-high 9.5 sacks — which ranked second in the SEC. He’s fast, he’s athletic and he has all the traits to be a stud inside linebacker who can also find success blitzing the quarterback.

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Derrick Henry’s new running mate is a dual-threat guard who is sure to play a role in Tennessee’s premiere offense. Jim Wyatt of the Titans’ official website said Spears had been “very active” in the OTAs and had a rotational catch in a team period that could have been the play of the day. ESPN’s Turron Davenport says it’s easy to see how Spears can be a weapon in the passing game, and that he “accelerates like a Tesla.”

After Spears was drafted No. 81 overall, NFL Media reported that tests at the NFL Combine revealed that Spears had full-thickness cartilage loss, and no ACL in the knee. Additionally, Spears suffers from arthritis. However, that didn’t keep him at Tulane, nor did it keep him in rookie minicamp or OTAs.

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University of Houston wide Tank Dell didn’t want to leave town, and new Texans quarterback CJ Stroud helped make sure that didn’t happen. This connection is still in its infancy, as Dell was Stroud’s preferred option in Tuesday’s passing game with four targets, by ESPN. Even though it’s undersized, Dell’s ability to get in and out of breaks is something journalists have noticed.

No FBS player has had more receptions (199), receiving yards (2,727) and receiving touchdowns (29) than Dell in the past two seasons.

“Yeah, it’s going well,” Stroud said of his collaboration with Dell, via Yahoo Sports. “We spent time at the hotel, going over scripts, putting the games together. It was great to be not only on our own, but with a great class of rookies. Not just football players , but human beings. Tank did a great job, very vocal, wants to be better, wants to know what we like so he can walk a route a certain way, wants to be fair with coaches. He’s fair very, very in tune with what we want, and he just wants to be awesome, so it’s amazing to be with him. He’s like-minded.

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Remaining with the Texans, head coach DeMeco Ryans says No. 2 overall pick CJ Stroud has “does a great jobbut that he won’t be given the starting job. Texans safety Jalen Pitre also took notice of Stroud’s work ethic, saying he came in as a “true professional.”

“Every day he’s looking for something to improve on,” Pitre said, via Texans Wire. “Today after OTA2 he came to DB asking for different things we see and different ways to improve. He’s a real pro in CJ, and you can see why he got drafted so high because ‘he really cares about the game of football.”

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BYU’s fifth-round wide receiver has caught the eye of some Rams veterans.

“Puka did a good job. He really got reps in all three groups,” Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford said with a smile, via The Athletic. “Every time I look up, he’s running somewhere.”

Fellow receiver Van Jefferson also noticed Nacua.

“He came and took the playbook and tried to learn as best he could,” Jefferson said. “You can just see how that (translates) on the pitch. He’s had a great two days since he’s been here.”

Nacua started his college career in Washington, but transferred to BYU for his final two seasons. In 21 total games played for the Cougars, he caught 91 passes for 1,430 yards and 11 touchdowns. CBS Sports NFL Draft expert Chris Trapasso gave Nacua’s Rams selection a “C” grade, saying he had average athleticism but was creative after the catch.

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