After making a 53-man roster in the NFL, a significant football accomplishment, the next huge goal for professional football players is to reach that second contract, whether it's via an extension from their original team or from a new one when out on the open market. Getting to that contract means lasting at least four or five seasons in most cases, which is a career longer than most who enter the NFL. In the experience of longtime Vikings GM and current CBS Sports HQ NFL analyst Rick Spielman, it's possible to evaluate whether or not a player is going to be a major contributor in their third season. His evaluation lines up with NFL Players' Association data, which says the average career in the league lasts about 3.5 years -- 3.3 to be exact.
"When you're sitting in the general manager's seat, you're waiting in Year 3, which is usually the tell-all for whether or not someone is going to be a player," Spielman said recently during an episode of the "With the First Pick" podcast. "Now some of these guys are coming off major injuries or have had durability issues, but a lot of these guys, which you saw from the 2020 Draft, did not get their fifth-year options exercised. That tells you what a team feel about you. We saw it last year with Daniel Jones and then he ended up turning that into a pretty good contract [four years, $160 million]. Not having that exercised doesn't mean you're a total bust, but those guys who didn't get their fifth-year options exercised have a lot to prove this year."
Twelve of the 32 players picked in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft saw their fifth-year options picked up, meaning plenty members of that class have a lot of quality football they need to put on tape in the upcoming 2023 season. Here's a look at the five players Spielman mentioned that need to break out in order to maintain or secure key roles on their respective teams or different ones in free agency. They are ranked in order of how critical their 2023 performance is for the direction of their careers, from the least amount of pressure to the most. Players below are not limited to being first-round picks from the 2020 class.
Draft status: 91st overall pick (third round) in 2022
Contract status: Three years remaining on rookie deal
Rick Spielman's perspective: "For Tampa to have success on the offensive side of the ball, he's [White] going to need to have a big year. He split time with Fournette last year, and I thought in the second half of last year, he was better than Fournette. The 50 catches, the dink-and-dunk offense that they were last year, showed he can catch out of the backfield. His breakout game was when they played in Munich against the Seattle Seahawks where he showed he can be the workhorse back [22 carries for 105 rushing yards]. Without Tom Brady and a new offensive coordinator [Dave Canales] coming in with Baker Mayfield at quarterback, you don't want Baker Mayfield throwing 45 times a game. They don't have a lot of depth behind him, so he's going to have to step up and show he can be the bell cow of that offense. If he can show that, he'll have a breakout year."
Final thoughts: To Spielman's point, White did explode in the second half of the season starting with his big day in Germany back in Week 10. If White's numbers from the second half of the 2022 season, when he started every game, were extrapolated across 17 games, he would have totaled 1,104 yards from scrimmage (774 rushing and 330 receiving) instead of the 771 (481 rushing and 290 receiving) he actually totaled his rookie year. That 1,104-yards-from-scrimmage figure he would've had if he had possessed a starter's workload all season would've had White tied for the 21st-most scrimmage yards in the league along with fellow rookie rusher Dameon Pierce of the Houston Texans.
Rachaad White's 2022 season
|Weeks 1-9||Weeks 10-18*|
* Ran for career-high 105 rush yards on career-high 22 carries in first career start in 21-16 Week 10 win vs. Seahawks
The good news for White is his competition for running back snaps in 2023 is journeyman Chase Edmonds, Ke'Shawn Vaughn -- who was securely behind both White and Super Bowl LV champion Leonard Fournette on the depth chart last season -- and undrafted rookie out of Syracuse Sean Tucker.
Another factor in his favor is the background of the Buccaneers first-year offensive coordinator Dave Canales. The 42-year-old has spent his entire NFL coaching career on Pete Carroll's Seattle Seahawks staff, serving as the team's wide receivers coach (2010-2017, 2022), quarterbacks coach (2018-2019), and passing game coordinator (2020-2021). Seattle's offenses under Carroll have always been about using the run as the foundation of their offense to maintain a favorable time of possession and to set up the passing game, particularly when it comes to play-action. That style led to nine Pro Bowl seasons for Russell Wilson, consecutive Super Bowl appearances, and one Super Bowl title. Canales will likely look to bring a similar offensive philosophy to Tampa Bay in 2023 with the downtrodden Mayfield projected to start at quarterback. White will have all the opportunity in the world to establish himself as a real, lead running back in 2023 in only his second NFL season.
If he doesn't break out in 2023, White will likely get another chance given his age and the low expectations the team has at its quarterback position this season. That's why he has the least amount of pressure on him of the players in this group.
4. Kadarius Toney, Chiefs
Draft status: 20th overall pick (first round) in 2021
Contract status: Two years remaining on rookie deal, not including fifth-year option call that will have to be made next offseason
Rick Spielman's perspective: "Going back to when he came out of Florida, he was one of the most explosive athletes I had seen with the ball in his hand. I thought he was getting better as a receiver. I thought he would develop into more than just a gadget guy on the offensive side of the ball. He was a little bit of a one-year wonder coming out of Florida. ... He had a lot of durability issues with the Giants and didn't pan out. When a player goes to a different team during the season, it's very difficult to learn the playbook because they'll probably give you only a certain amount of play, so you can learn those plays faster. He should have a full load of understanding that offense and a better relationship with Patrick Mahomes as far as Patrick understanding his cuts, when he makes his cut, all the timing that comes along with that. Is he Tyreek Hill? No. Is he more explosive than [Mecole] Hardman? Yes, I think he's a better receiver than Hardman is. He's going to have to be their No. 1 [receiver] option in my opinion. They have [Marquez] Valdes-Scantling, who is a deep threat but more of a one-trick pony. Skyy Moore has to step up in the slot. They drafted Rashee Rice, who I think is more of possession guy than a deep threat, so he [Toney] is going to get the opportunity to show that he is a No. 1 receiver. I understand that they have Travis Kelce at tight end, but as the No. 1 wide receiver, he's going to have every opportunity to prove that."
Final thoughts: Toney had a tumultuous time with the G-Men, not scoring any touchdowns in the 12 regular-season games he played with the Giants in 2021 and 2022, but he recorded three (two receiving, one rushing) in seven games with the Chiefs in the 2022 regular season. He also had one of the best performances in the Kansas City Chiefs' 38-35 Super Bowl LVII victory against the Philadelphia Eagles. Toney caught a 5-yard touchdown from Mahomes. The drive after his touchdown began following Toney (65 yards) in Super Bowl history.
Now, Toney's task is to display consistency as a receiver in head coach Andy Reid's offense, something that shouldn't be too difficult given he enters 2023 as one of the team's starting outside receivers along with Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Mahomes' connection with receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster last season that made him the No. 2 pass-catcher on the team led to Smith-Schuster signing a three-year, $33 million deal with the New England Patriots in free agency this offseason. Toney possesses the talent and ability to seize his role in 2023. However, if he doesn't establish himself quickly, second-round draft pick as well as starting slot receiver Skyy Moore are waiting in the wings, leaving room for the possibility of Toney being lost on the depth chart if he doesn't perform this upcoming season.
3. Alexander Mattison, Vikings
Draft status: 102nd overall pick (third round) in 2019
Contract status: Entering first season of two-year, $7 million contract signed this offseason
Rick Spielman's perspective: "He's going to get the chance to be the bell cow for them. He's the most talented running back on the roster, and he's always played second-fiddle to Dalvin Cook. This is going to be a big year for him. They give him a two-year extension [for $7 million], which really doesn't count to me. That's a prove-it type deal for him to show he can be the lead back. He's big, physical, powerful. He's not nearly as explosive as Dalvin Cook, but phenomenal kid and great work ethic."
Final thoughts: Mattison has long been viewed as one of the league's best backup running backs. The 2023 season is a chance to prove he can be a starter. In six career starts, he has recorded 477 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns on 117 carries as well as 216 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns on 23 catches. Mattson will look to bounce back from a career-worst 4.2 yards per touch while building upon his explosive capability, earning 5 or more yards per carry (something he did on 43.2% of rushes in 2022) in the upcoming season. Even though he's on a two-year deal, 2023 will likely be his best shot at proving he can be a true starting running back in the NFL as the Vikings are staring down the barrel of potential rebuild following the season with Kirk Cousins' future with the team undetermined.
Age: 23 (turns 24 on Aug. 11)
Draft status: 18th overall pick (first round) in 2020
Contract status: Entering final season of rookie deal (had fifth-year option declined)
Rick Spielman's perspective: "If you recall when he was coming out of USC, he was a left tackle, and he has the athletic skills to play left tackle He was pretty raw coming out. ... He started at left tackle his rookie year, but he struggled at left tackle and then moved inside to guard. I thought he was worse as a guard because he had never played there and things happen a lot quicker inside. Last year, they move him back outside to right tackle, but he dealt with ankle issues that landed him on injured reserve after playing only two games."
Final thoughts: An ankle injury derailed Jackson's opportunity to show the Dolphins he could hold down the right tackle spot, a huge responsibility because the job entails protecting left-handed quarterback Tua Tagovailoa's blind side. He suffered the injury in Week 1 against the Patriots and he then aggravated the same ankle in Week 12 against the Houston Texans after sitting out nine games. After resolving the issue with a reconstructive surgical procedure this offseason, Jackson will compete with veterans Geron Christian and Cedric Ogbuehi for the starting spot after both veterans were signed in the offseason after playing for the Chiefs and Jets, respectively.
If Jackson can remain on the field and keep Tagovailoa relatively clean, he'll have a chance to remain a key cog in Mike McDaniel's high-flying offense for years to come. If not, Jackson will likely be resigned to the fate of being a swing tackle and/or depth piece for the remainder of his career. There's a significant compensation gap between those two roles, making 2023 a massive year for the fourth-year offensive lineman.
Draft status: 2nd overall pick (first round) in 2020
Contract status: Entering final season of rookie deal (had fifth-year option declined)
Rick Spielman's perspective: "When I looked back at my college scouting report on Chase, I had him as a generational-type talent as a pass rusher. Freak athlete, freak size. I said [at the time] that he was more physically [gifted] than the Bosa brothers were coming out [of Ohio State]. The difference [in his play that I saw after coming back from the ACL tear] in the three games at the end of last year against the 49ers, Browns, and Cowboys, they [Washington] slowly built up his reps [30 snaps in Week 16, 38 snaps in Week 17, and 47 snaps in Week 18]. You still see the strength, power, and explosiveness off the snap. Everything you saw in college. What you didn't see [in those games] that you hope to see this year is the change in direction. Guys who come off an ACL, the first thing to come back is movement straight forward, but for them to break down and change direction or to bend, that's something that I didn't last year that I did see from his college career and his first year when he won  Defensive Rookie of the Year. I think that will get better going into this season. If he can get that, then I think he's going to make a lot of money. He's either going to get franchised or go out on the open market. I don't know with the Commanders ownership situation what the commitment is going to be to players. He did play extremely hard at the end of last season. The question is 'can he get back to bending like he did in college?' If he can do that, I think he's going to have a breakout year. ... If he can show he's healthy, get double-digit sacks, and play without that big, black knee brace, I think he's going to make a lot of money."
Final thoughts: Young's 2023 performance has the ability to potentially earn him $20 million or more per year on his next deal, a rich, long-term contract, or he could be resigned to sign for relative scraps next offseason in the hopes of rediscovering his form in 2024. What's promising about Young's limited action in his return from tearing his ACL in 2022 is the 11.7% quarterback pressure percentage, the highest of his career, albeit in a limited sample size. It's a rate that was a tad higher than Super Bowl-winning edge rusher and new Buffalo Bill Leonard Floyd's (11.6%) last season.
Chase Young career's by the numbers
QB Pressure Pct
* Won NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year
** Tore his ACL in Week 10
Many players show vast improvement and return to their former abilities pre-ACL tear in their second season back in action. Look no further than Young's NFC East rival and New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley, a player who tallied a career-high 1,312 rushing yards in 2022, the fourth-most in the NFL, in his second season removed from a 2020 ACL injury. San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa, one of Young's Ohio State teammates that Spielman and other NFL talent evaluators had him ranked above in terms of pro potential when entering the league in the draft, earned 2022 Defensive Player of the Year honors after leading the entire NFL in sacks (18.5) and co-leading the league in quarterback pressures (90). Young, also a No. 2 overall draft pick like Bosa, has that level as a potential ceiling. All he has to do is prove it.