New England Patriots rookie cornerback Christian Gonzalez New England Patriots cornerback Christian Gonzalez at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

Some NFL rookies become stars instantly. Some need a little more time to develop. Here are five first-round picks from the 2023 NFL Draft who could be breakout stars as sophomores.

Note: This list includes players who did not get a first-place vote as offensive or defensive rookie of the year or place within the top-10 of the voting.

5. Will McDonald IV, DE, New York Jets

Drafted: 15th overall

Key 2023 stats: 3 sacks, 1 forced fumble in 15 games

With the New York Jets needing offensive line help, Will McDonald IV was considered a questionable first-round pick. Pass-rusher wasn’t at the top of the shopping list. However, you can never have enough bodies to pressure the quarterback. McDonald saw limited action, but when he did play, he was effective. He never had more than 18 snaps in a game but managed three sacks, which is noteworthy. McDonald had one of the highest pass-rush rates among rookies last season.

The Jets lost Bryce Huff and Carl Lawson. They traded for Haason Reddick, but he skipped mandatory minicamp due to a contract dispute. So, the door is open for McDonald to have a bigger role.

4. Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Seattle Seahawks

Drafted: 20th overall

Key 2023 stats: 63 catches for 628 yards, 4 TDs in 17 games

No one doubts Jaxon Smith-Njigba’s ability, but his rookie season was a disappointment. Not only is he still waiting for his first 100-yard game, but he also never even reached 70 yards receiving in a game. In his final two games, he totaled four catches for 26 yards. Considering he was playing alongside DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, Smith-Njigba should have been more productive.

Smith-Njigba might benefit from a new coaching staff. Rookie head coach Mike Macdonald hired Ryan Grubb as offensive coordinator. Grubb was the mastermind of the University of Washington’s high-flying system that got the Huskies to the national title game. Grubb got the most of his wideouts, so he should be able to unlock Smith-Njigba’s talents.

3. Dalton Kincaid, TE, Buffalo Bills

Drafted: 25th overall

Key 2023 stats: 73 catches for 673 yards, 2 TDs in 16 games

The Buffalo Bills traded away their best wide receiver (Stefon Diggs) and let their fastest wide receiver (Gabe Davis) walk in free agency. This is the weakest group of wideouts Josh Allen has had in a long time. Their No. 1 WR might be a rookie (Keon Coleman). Allen will have to spread the ball around for the Bills to win another AFC East title. That means Dalton Kincaid should get a lot of targets.

Kincaid played his best down the stretch for Buffalo. He had a combined 15 catches for 171 yards in the final two regular-season games, as the Bills rallied to win the division. His 73 catches set a franchise record for most by a tight end.

2. Jordan Addison, WR, Minnesota Vikings

Drafted: 23rd overall

Key 2023 stats: 70 catches for 911 yards, 10 TDs in 17 games

Believe it or not, Jordan Addison did not receive a single vote for Offensive Rookie of the Year. That seems hard to believe considering he had more touchdowns than L.A. Rams phenom Puka Nacua (6). Obviously, Nacua was incredible. Still, Addison probably exceeded expectations considering Justin Jefferson missed seven games due to injury. He displayed breakaway ability in the Vikings’ 22-17 Monday Night Football victory over the San Francisco 49ers.

Addison should benefit from Jefferson returning to full strength with a new contract. The one question mark will be at quarterback with the free agency departure of Kirk Cousins. Will Minnesota turn to veteran Sam Darnold or rookie J.J. McCarthy? That could impact Addison’s production. 

1. Christian Gonzalez, CB, New England Patriots

Drafted: 17th overall

Key 2023 stats: 1 sack, 1 interception in 4 games

In an otherwise forgettable season for the New England Patriots, there were some bright spots, especially on defense. If rookie cornerback Christian Gonzalez had not suffered a torn labrum after four games, he might have been a Defensive Rookie of the Year finalist. Gonzalez made an impact in his four games. He impressed while facing some of the league’s top receivers, including guys like A.J. Brown, Tyreek Hill, and CeeDee Lamb.

One of his most memorable plays was when he outjumped Hill for his first career interception. That’s a difficult matchup for any cornerback, not to mention a rookie. Before he got hurt, Gonzalez was one of Pro Football Focus’ highest-rated cornerbacks.

About Michael Grant

Born in Jamaica. Grew up in New York City. Lives in Louisville, Ky. Sports writer. Not related to Ulysses S. Grant.