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Bryce Young rarely lost at Alabama or at Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei as a five-star recruit in the 2020 class, but his NFL career got off to a rough start as the Carolina Panthers fell 24-10 to the Atlanta Falcons Sunday. The No. 1 overall pick in this year’s NFL Draft, Young entered the game with significant expectations and threw for just 146 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Young was far from the only rookie to struggle as former college stars made their professional debuts this weekend. Nonetheless, Young was hard on himself when asked to evaluate his own play.
“Not good,” Young said. “Not good enough to win, obviously. I made crucial turnovers, which I can’t do — especially where they happened. We didn’t score enough to win, and that falls on me. That falls on my shoulders. I need to improve.”
Both of Young’s interceptions took place on Carolina’s side of the field and set up the Falcons with prime field position. Atlanta converted those picks into 10 points. Young explained how he needs to do a better job of reading the field.
“The safety, I have to do a better job of seeing the depth of him,” Young said. “I’ve gotta see in front of in-breaking routes. Obviously, again, where the turnovers happened — they’re on me. It’s on me to make sure I locate the safety, and obviously I’ve gotta clean that up and be better moving forward.”
Here’s a look at how other high-profile rookies beyond Young fared this past weekend.
Bijan Robinson, Atlanta Falcons
On the other side of things, Robinson enjoyed a strong debut by beating Young and racking up stats along the way. In fact, Young’s first pick led to Robinson’s first NFL touchdown — an 11-yard reception — three plays later.
The former Texas star took 10 carries for 56 yards while adding six catches for 27 yards and one score. Although Robinson actually received fewer carries than Tyler Allgeier, the former five-star recruit in 2020 out of Tucson (Ariz.) Salpointe Catholic continued to look like a premium prospect.
C.J. Stroud, Houston Texans
Stroud’s stats look a bit better than Young’s, but the Ohio State product didn’t have a much easier debut as Houston lost 25-9 to the Baltimore Ravens in a non-competitive game. The No. 2 overall pick completed 28 of 44 passes for 242 yards and added another 20 yards on the ground.
Houston didn’t get into the end zone, however, and mustered just 268 yards of total offense. On the bright side for the Texans, No. 3 overall pick and former Alabama star Will Anderson made his first career sack.
Anthony Richardson, Indianapolis Colts
Interestingly, Richardson posted the best performance of the three top-five draft picks at quarterback even though he entered his rookie season considered the rawest. The former Florida star at times singlehandedly kept Indianapolis in the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars before leaving late with a knee injury that the Colts say isn’t serious.
Jacksonville pulled away late to win 31-21, but Richardson completed 24 of 37 passes for 223 yards and one touchdown against one pick while also rushing for 40 yards and one score. Richardson accounted for 263 of the Colts’ 280 yards with star running back Jonathan Taylor still not back with the team amid a contract dispute.
Jalen Carter, Philadelphia Eagles
On a stacked defense full of fellow Georgia products, Carter made his presence felt during Philadelphia’s 25-20 win over the New England Patriots. Carter, a five-star recruit in the 2020 class, did not start the game. However, he contributed one sack and one tackle for loss while grading out as the Eagles’ top defender over 40 snaps, according to Pro Football Focus.
Many would argue that Carter slipped to No. 9 in the draft based on off-field concerns following his tangential involvement in a fatal car crash at Georgia rather than based on talent. He looks like an immediate contributor for a Super Bowl contender.
Jordan Addison, Minnesota Vikings
One of the biggest names to ever enter the NCAA transfer portal at the time, Addison left Pittsburgh after the 2021 season and starred at USC last year before becoming a first-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings. Addison made an impact right away as the Vikings suffered a 20-17 upset loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at home.
Addison provided a complementary weapon opposite Justin Jefferson, making four receptions for 61 yards and one touchdown. Kirk Cousins only targeted Addison six times, so he made the most of his opportunities.
Christian Gonzalez, New England Patriots
Perhaps somewhat of an under-the-radar name since he plays defense, Gonzalez could be a steal for the Patriots after he went No. 17 overall in the draft. In a 25-20 loss to the Eagles, Gonzalez posted seven tackles (one for loss), one sack and one pass breakup.
Gonzalez helped limit Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts to a modest day through the air, as Hurts threw for just 170 yards and one touchdown. The former Oregon star played well considering the level of opponent.
Kayshon Boutte, New England Patriots
On the less positive side in New England, Boutte had a tough debut despite playing 55 snaps. The former LSU star didn’t make a single catch on four targets, and he came down barely out of bounds on what would have been a 12-yard gain on fourth-and-11 deep in Philadelphia territory at the end of the game.
Having said that, Boutte was a sixth-round pick after LSU dismissed him from the team last season — thus, the former five-star recruit in 2020 is doing well for himself to already have earned so many snaps in his first NFL game.
Tank Bigsby, Jacksonville Jaguars
Bigsby’s seven rushes for 13 yards and one touchdown might not stand out for its efficiency, but the Auburn alumnus appears to have carved out a legitimate role for himself as Jacksonville’s goal-line back behind Travis Etienne. At 6-foot, 213 pounds, he’s called “Tank” for a reason.
Etienne will be the featured back, and he got 18 carries to Bigsby’s seven. But Bigsby could continue to vulture touchdowns on the goal line, not to mention the possibility of a role expansion if Etienne can’t play all 17 games.
Puka Nacua, Los Angeles Rams
With Cooper Kupp starting the season on injured reserve due to a hamstring issue, Nacua stepped up. The former Washington and BYU playmaker caught a game-high 10 passes on 15 targets for 119 yards (11.9 average) and a long of 21 in the Rams’ 30-13 win at the Seattle Seahawks. Los Angeles selected Nacua with a fifth-round pick, No. 177 overall, in the 2023 NFL Draft after the Orem (Utah) High product broke out as a two-year member of the Cougars. As BYU’s leading receiver for the 2021 and ’22 seasons, Nacua totaled 91 receptions for 1,430 yards and 11 touchdowns. Nacua transferred from the Huskies, where he made 16 catches for 319 yards and three touchdowns from 2019-20. A four-star recruit, Nacua was the No. 48 overall prospect, No. 8 wide receiver and No. 1 player in Utah for the 2019 class.
Peter Skoronski, Tennessee Titans
The 2023 NFL Draft’s No. 11 overall pick logged 63 plays, including 43 pass-blocking snaps, and finished with a Pro Football Focus grade of 74.2 in such situations as the Titans fell 16-15 to the New Orleans Saints. Against the run, over 20 plays, Skoronski was an 80.1 on PFF. The 6-foot-4, 313-pounder was a three-year starter at Northwestern from 2020-22. After a 2020 season in which he earned his spot as a 247Sports True Freshman All-American, Skoronski developed into one of the nation’s best offensive linemen. A five-star recruit, Skoronski was the No. 27 overall prospect, No. 1 center and No. 1 player in Illinois for the 2020 class.
Bryan Bresee, New Orleans Saints
The former five-star recruit from Damascus (Md.) High, who was the No. 1 defensive tackle in the 2020 class, totaled one tackle and half a sack in the Saints’ one-point win over the Titans. A deeper dive into the play of the 2023 NFL Draft’s No. 29 overall pick includes three pressures, including one quarterback hit, across 21 pass-rush snaps. The 247Sports Composite’s No. 1 overall prospect in the 2020 class was a star at Clemson from 2020-22, bursting on the scene as a freshman during the 2020 season with 33 tackles (6 1/2 for loss, four sacks, two pass breakups and a safety in 432 snaps over 12 games (10 starts). Could the Saints expect a similar instant impact?