NFL Draft News & Analysis

2023 NFL Draft: 5 non-Round 1 rookies who can be immediate starters

University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions cornerback Joey Porter Jr. (9) gestures to the crowd against the Illinois Fighting Illini during the second half at Beaver Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

While first-rounders receive all the love in the NFL draft, the fact is that the vast majority of NFL starters weren’t selected on the first night. 

There are plenty of Day 2 and Day 3 picks in the 2023 class who should contribute as rookies, but here are five non-first-round picks who could start Day 1 for their respective teams. 


CB Joey Porter Jr., Pittsburgh Steelers

While Porter is technically a second-round pick, it’s almost as if he was taken in the first round since he went 32nd overall. 

He’ll be an immediate fan-favorite as the son of Joey Porter, a former All-Pro edge defender who’s a member of the Steelers’ all-time team. The younger Porter also fills a massive need for Pittsburgh at cornerback and would’ve been a worthy selection in the first round. He should start immediately opposite Patrick Peterson at outside cornerback. 


C John Michael Schmitz, New York Giants

Schmitz will be starting for the Giants out of necessity. The other option, J.C. Hassenauer, hasn’t been a full-time starter in any of his five years so far. 

JMS was the nation’s highest-graded center (92.3) this past season and was one of only three in the country with 80-plus grades as both a pass- and run-blocker. He fits a massive need for New York and was elite value at No. 57 overall. 


TE Luke Musgrave, Green Bay Packers

Not only will the Packers be starting a rookie at tight end, but the backup will likely be a rookie as well. Green Bay selected both Musgrave and Tucker Kraft in the second and third rounds, respectively. 

Musgrave is an elite athlete for the position and just needs refinement, especially as a route-runner. His tools should be enough to earn the starting job immediately for the Packers.


WR Josh Downs, Indianapolis Colts

Downs was an absolute steal for the Colts in the third round at No. 79 overall, ranking 38th on PFF’s big board. He’s an elite route runner who was one of the best underneath separators in the class. 

He’s limited to only being a slot receiver at 5-foot-9, 171 pounds but should compete with Isaiah McKenzie for that starting job in Indianapolis. Seeing as McKenzie has fewer than 1,400 career yards in six years, Downs could end up as the starter immediately. 


CB Clark Phillips III, Atlanta Falcons

Phillips was selected in the fourth round by the Falcons with the No. 117 overall pick. Despite being a Day 3 pick, Phillips still has a very good chance of starting immediately for Atlanta. 

Phillips jumps routes as well as any corner in the 2023 class, tying for the most interceptions in the Power Five with six. As a smaller corner, he projects best as a slot corner at the next level. Phillips has a very good chance to win that job from Mike Hughes, who earned a sub-60 grade this past season.

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