6 NFL players who will improve in 2023: Teven Jenkins, Tutu Atwell, Anthony Walker and more

2MAWCAX Chicago Bears offensive tackle Teven Jenkins, left, fights for the position with Kansas City Chiefs defensive end George Karlaftis, right, during the first half of a preseason NFL football game, Saturday, Aug. 13, 2022, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski)

  • Chicago set at guard: Chicago Bears guard Teven Jenkins could help the team form one of the top guard tandems in the NFL if he can stay healthy.
  • Carolina needs improved play from blindside protector: Carolina Panthers No. 1 overall pick Bryce Young could have his blindside protector for the next decade in Ikem Ekwonu.
  • Walker's athleticism should lead to improved play: Green Bay Packers linebacker Quay Walker has rare athletic traits at the position and could have a breakout second season after an offseason of reflection.
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

If there’s one lesson that we as fans need to better understand about the game of football, it’s that growth is not linear. Learning curves from college to the NFL are also drastically different depending on the position, as evidenced by detailed analysis from PFF’s own Timo Riske

Heading into 2023, there’s optimism abound for many recent draft picks that started to put their game together down the stretch in 2022. Adjusting to the NFL game, schedule and lifestyle is no easy feat, and every player hits their stride at different times. Opportunities are also different for each player depending on their landing spot, the scheme they find themselves in, or relationships with a coaching staff or front office. 

With all of that said, we identified three players on offense and three on defense that we think could take the next step in 2023. 

G Teven Jenkins, Chicago Bears

Jenkins missed the majority of his rookie season due to a back injury that inhibited his ability to adjust to the NFL game and a position switch from right tackle in college over to left tackle. Entering 2022, the new regime viewed him as a better fit on the interior, lining him up at pretty much every spot along the line throughout the offseason before landing at right guard. 

After an early adjustment period, Jenkins settled in very nicely, as his 86.9 grade from Week 6 through the end of the season was the second-best mark among guards. Jenkins’ 19.7% positively graded run block rate ranked third at the position, and he joined Cleveland Browns perennial Pro Bowler Joel Bitonio and Minnesota Vikings guard Ezra Cleveland as the only three guards to record a positive run block rate above 15% with a negative run block rate below 12% — top-20 marks in both categories. 

While Jenkins can take another step as a pass protector in 2023, he did not record a single-game pass blocking grade below 60.0 over the span either, and he will now have a full offseason working at guard in his second season in offensive coordinator Luke Getsy’s offense. If he can stay healthy, Jenkins could develop into one of the top young guards in the league.

T Ikem Ekwonu, Carolina Panthers

After a “Welcome to the NFL” Week 1 matchup with Myles Garrett, Ekwonu showed consistent flashes of becoming one of the top young blindside protectors in the league with a 73.0 pass-blocking grade through the rest of the season. Ekwonu’s 4.7% pressure rate allowed over the span was a top-25 mark among all tackles and 10th among full-time starters at left tackle in 2022. 

Ekwonu will be just 22 years old for the first half of the 2023 season and can develop a better feel with a consistent rapport playing in front of franchise quarterback Bryce Young as opposed to the three different starters from 2022. Young’s pocket presence is arguably one of his greatest strengths, with his poise and elusiveness on display every Saturday in Tuscaloosa, and this tandem could be making magic for years to come.

WR Tutu Atwell, Los Angeles Rams

Atwell played just 10 snaps in his rookie 2021 season after being selected in the second round, and even in a limited role last year, he displayed the big-play ability that had him drafted so early in the first place despite his 5-foot-9, 165-pound stature. 

Atwell only recorded 18 total receptions on the year, but five of them went for 20 or more yards, and his 17.3 yards per reception ranked eighth among wide receivers on the season. Now that the Rams traded away Allen Robinson II to the Pittsburgh Steelers and didn’t bring in much talent at the wide receiver position this offseason besides drafting BYU wide receiver Puka Nacua in the fifth round, Atwell could have an expanded role. 

Last but certainly not least, a full season with a healthy Matthew Stafford could go a long way for Atwell’s deep-threat ability. From 2017-21, Stafford’s 264 completions on passes thrown 15-plus yards downfield ranked the fourth-most among all quarterbacks.

LB Quay Walker, Green Bay Packers

A few rookie moments where Walker’s emotions flared at the wrong time overshadowed an otherwise impressive first season, as his 91st-percentile 40-yard dash and 88th-percentile three-cone times were on display between the white lines. 

Among 61 rookie off-ball linebackers that logged at least 150 snaps in coverage since 2017, Walker’s 70.8 coverage grade ranked sixth, and his 15.2% forced incompletion rate finished second. Walker can stand to improve against the run, where his 90 tackles ranked 20th among off-ball linebackers in 2022, but his 4.98-yard average depth of tackle was seventh-furthest from the line of scrimmage at the position and his 17.9% negatively graded run defense snap rate was also seventh-worst. However, this is a common weak point for young off-ball linebackers, and with another offseason under his belt, Walker could develop into a top player at the position.

Edge Dayo Odeyingbo, Indianapolis Colts 

Odeyingbo tore his Achilles during the pre-draft process in January, but the Colts were impressed enough with his resume to still select him in the second round in 2021, and their patience started to look smart down the stretch in 2022. 

Odeyingbo started playing meaningful snaps in Week 10, and from that point on, he recorded multiple quarterback pressures in every game but one. At 6-foot-6 and 276 pounds, Odeyingbo also sets a strong edge, earning a 69.9 run-defense grade over the stretch that ranked 19th among edge defenders. 

Now finally getting healthy reps under his belt and a full offseason to focus on improving his game and not rehabbing an injury, Odeyingbo could take another step and provide consistent production on a talented Colts defensive line loaded with potential.

LB Jamin Davis, Washington Commanders

Davis improved every aspect of his game in his second NFL season, making a ton of key tackles for the Commanders defense in a more full-time role. Davis’ 47 defensive stops ranked 24th among off-ball linebackers, and his 7.3% missed tackle rate was a bottom-five mark among 36 linebackers with at least 40 stops. 

Davis also took advantage of the rare pass rush rep, logging 13 quarterback pressures on just 65 snaps, a top-20 mark at the position. With a healthy Chase Young and 2022 third-round interior defender Phidarian Mathis back in the fold, Davis could be playing behind one of, if not, the best defensive lines in the NFL. After Davis skyrocketed up draft boards out of Kentucky in 2021, his stock is continuing to point upward heading into 2023. 


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