Five weeks of the 2023 regular season are in the books and, as you may expect, there have been some surprises in the early goings of the year. And it's important to highlight that the word "surprise" as it does swing in two different directions. While some players can surprise us by jumping off the page with their stellar performance, there's also the scenario where some have yet to meet expectations that were set heading into the season.
Below, we're going to look at each side of that coin as we highlight a handful of players who have over-performed throughout the early goings of the year while also taking a look at some other players who have yet to play at the level we expect them to through the first month-plus.
Who saw Puka Nacua coming?! The fantasy football darling has not only been a godsend to managers, but he kept the Rams offense afloat while Cooper Kupp was on injured reserve. The rookie fifth-round pick out of BYU leads the NFL with 46 receptions, breaking the single-game receptions record for a rookie with 15 in Week 2, and his 572 receiving yards rank second in the league. Those receiving yard totals are the most by any player in their first five career games in league history, besting Anquan Boldin's 497 receiving yards. Even with Kupp returning last week, Nacu proved he can still produce, catching seven of his 11 targets for 71 yards and a touchdown against Philadelphia. The wideout should firmly be in the Offensive Rookie of the Year conversation when the season is wrapped up.
When the Colts were unsuccessful in finding a trade partner for Jonathan Taylor and ultimately placed him on injured reserve to start the season, the overwhelming majority of people felt like Indy's running game was going to take a massive hit. However, Zack Moss saw to it that the ground attack wouldn't skip a beat upon returning from his injury in Week 2. The 25-year-old took the Indy backfield by storm and enters Week 6 third in the NFL in rushing.
Even in Jonathan Taylor's return, Moss carried the bulk of the work and rushed for a career-high 165 yards and two touchdowns in the win over Tennessee. He also caught two passes for 30 yards giving him over 190 yards from scrimmage. Moss also has the third most rushing yards through the first four games of a season in Colts history. While things have smoothed over between Taylor and the Colts and the back has been activated off of IR, Moss' play has earned him a solid timeshare in this backfield going forward.
Jalen Carter was talked about as the potential No. 1 overall pick, so it shouldn't be too surprising that he is enjoying a fantastic rookie season. That said, while you may have been right to expect a good year for a rookie, Carter has been arguably one of the best defensive linemen in the NFL. Period. His 23 pressures are the most through five career games since Nick Bosa in 2019 and is tied with Aaron Donald for the most among defensive tackles this season. He's also just the fourth player since 2000 to have at least two forced fumbles, three sacks, and four tackles for a loss through five career games, joining the likes of Von Miller, Chandler Jones, and Shaquille Leonard. It's as dominating of a start to a career that you could hope for.
The Cardinals were not expected to be a good football team in 2023. They were widely put atop every preseason mock draft for 2024 with the assumption that they'd be the worst team in the league. As the season has plugged along, however, they've been surprisingly competitive and that has largely been thanks to Joshua Dobbs. The veteran quarterback has been filling in under center for the injured Kyler Murray and has kept Arizona competitive through the first five weeks. While the club is 1-4, Dobbs has completed 65.8% of his throws and has a 90.8 passer rating. Of course, Dobbs is not going to have the Cardinals brass thinking about a quarterback competition whenever Murray is healthy, but his inspired play has made Arizona a much tougher out than many were anticipating.
Filling the shoes of Tom Brady is an impossible ask, but Baker Mayfield currently has the Buccaneers atop the NFC South with a 3-1 record coming out of their Week 5 bye. Mayfield has been extremely efficient with the football, completing a career-high 69.9% of his passes which ranks seventh in the league. And if he keeps his passer rating at the 101.5 mark it currently stands at, that'd also be a career-high. That's a pretty dramatic improvement from the quarterback that was shipped out of Cleveland and then Carolina throughout last year. Specifically, Mayfield has been money on third down. On the critical down, the former No. 1 overall pick is completing 79.5% of his passes, has a quarterback rating of 140.7, and has five passing touchdowns. All of those lead the NFL. Did you expect that after he was released by Carolina last December?
It wouldn't be surprising if Tannehill was in his final season as Tennessee's starter. He's thrown for more interceptions (five) than touchdowns (two) this season and has yet to put together a game where he's thrown for 300 yards. His completion percentage, passing yards per game average and passing touchdowns all rank in the bottom third of the league while he's tied for the sixth-most interceptions thus far. His 75.8 passer rating is also the lowest of his career.
You could take your pick with just about any Patriot on the offensive side of the ball for this list, but we'll center our focus on JuJu Smith-Schuster. He was brought in this offseason to not just be a replacement for Jakobi Meyers -- who inked a very similar deal with the Raiders -- but as a possible upgrade to a New England offense that desperately needed a wide receiver to emerge in this offense. Through five games, the Smith-Schuster experience has been a dire mistake for Bill Belichick, especially considering Meyers' success in Las Vegas. The veteran does not appear healthy and has yet to truly establish himself in the pass-catching rotation. His most productive game was a 33-yard performance in the opener.
Not every rookie is going to burst onto the scene and become the player they are projected to be when they were drafted on Day 1. For Bryce Young, Carolina's No. 1 overall pick is still feeling his way through the NFL. His 5.2 yards per attempt is the lowest of any quarterback in the NFL. Young has particularly struggled to throw the football down the field as he is just 2-of-10 passing for 50 yards on throws with 20 or more air yards. Young's time will come, but it has been a bit of an underwhelming start for the Alabama product.
Josh Jacobs led the NFL in rushing and total yards from scrimmage last season, but that projection has seen a noticeable drop this year. After averaging 97.2 rushing yards per game on 4.9 yards per carry in 2022, Jacobs comes into Week 6 averaging just 47 yards on the ground per game. His 2.9 yards per carry average is not only a career-low but it is tied for the second lowest of any back in the NFL (min. 50 rushing attempts). Jacobs has cushioned his lack of efficiency on the ground by being a solid outlet in the receiving game, adding 23 catches for 193 yards to his totals but it is an alarming drop-off as a pure runner.
The Giants drafted Evan Neal with the No. 7 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. This season, the team has yet to get the production of a player with that type of draft pedigree. New York's offensive line has been abysmal in front of Daniel Jones and Neal has been a key face to those struggles. The 23-year-old tackle has allowed 20 pressures this season, which is tied for the third most by any player in the league. Neal's 24 hurries are the most given up by a lineman in the league with at least 100 offensive snaps and five hits allowed are tied for fifth among linemen. That also doesn't even that sparked an uproar across the fanbase.