Defensive Rookie of the Year
Felix Anudike-Uzomah, EDGE, Kansas City Chiefs (+2000)
For the second time in as many years, the Kansas City Chiefs used their first pick in the 2023 draft on an edge-rusher. This time it was a local product in Kansas State’s Felix Anudike-Uzomah, and Chiefs general manager Brett Veach told reporters he believes the sky’s the limit for the 21-year-old.
“He had a ton of production at Kansas State,” Veach said. “He just turned 21, so a majority of this production was coming in a big-time conference at 19 and 20 years old, and I think every year he’s been there you can see the growth and development. I still think there’s a huge window for him to continue to grow and develop, and we’re excited that we get him at this stage of his career and being so young. We’ve got a lot of years to continue to grow and develop him.”
Anudike-Uzomah was certainly productive—over his last two seasons in Manhattan, Anudike-Uzomah averaged over 48 tackles, amassed 25.5 tackles for loss and piled up 19.5 sacks. But that productivity is only part of the reason that Anudike-Uzomah is listed here.
The other part is opportunity. Just as with George Karlaftis a year ago, there’s a relatively clear path to early playing time for Anudike-Uzomah. The only person standing between Anudike-Uzomah and the starting lineup is Charles Omenihu, who was a complimentary player with the 49ers in 2022.
Anudike-Uzomah could kind himself starting opposite Karlaftis in relatively short order, and given how much time the Chiefs spend playing from ahead, pinning their ears back and rushing the passer, that could open the door for a very productive first season.
5 - Denver Broncos
AFC West · 2022 record: 5-12
Sean Payton’s arrival immediately elevates Denver’s chances to compete. There is a lot to like on this roster. Justin Simmons, Patrick Surtain II, Zach Allen and Randy Gregory highlight a formidable defense under Vance Joseph. Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick bring plenty of upside at receiver — if they stay healthy. The Broncos signed Samaje Perine to pair with Javonte Williams, who could be ready at the start of training camp after last year’s season-ending knee injury. The biggest question is whether Payton’s magic will coax Russell Wilson back to his Pro Bowl ways after a disastrous 2022 campaign. But the biggest knock on Denver’s chances of going from worst to first is playing in the AFC West, where they’d have to knock off Patrick Mahomes and the back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back division-winning Chiefs.
Though the spotlight shone brightly on the former Mizzou linebacker at Chiefs OTAs, perhaps most telling were his comments on second-year safety Bryan Cook. Expected to step up in place of Juan Thornhill, Bolton told reporters that Cook is primed for a standout 2023 season.
“Ever since he was a rookie I could tell he has a confidence about him, (the) ability just to talk,” Bolton explained jokingly. “[Even] if he’s 100% wrong, he makes you believe he’s 100% right. So, that’s the confidence you need to have in the back end and we’re loving that. So, he’s growing. You can tell he’s put a lot of work in the offseason, Phase 1, Phase 2 and now leading into this Phase 3. Being able to echo calls, get guys lined up and even if we’re trying to show something, we’re doing wrong, he’ll make sure we know about it. So, we love that. Willie’s (Gay) liking that too. We love the competition he brings.”
While picking Mahomes over Peyton Manning, here’s what Broussard said on “First Things First:”
“He’s third-best right now. It is Tom Brady, Joe Montana and Patrick Mahomes, that’s it and I got him ahead of Peyton obviously, and so I did. You mentioned he’s already had a great career if he stopped right now, and Mahomes, as great as the Chiefs are, he is the show.”
Around the NFL
Bell, who last played in the NFL in 2021, opened up about the topic on the ”Steel Here” podcast, which focuses on the Pittsburgh Steelers. Bell played for Pittsburgh from 2013 to 2017, then sat out the 2018 season amid a contractual battle with the team.
“Looking back on this, that’s what I did,” Bell said. “When I was playing football, I smoked, bro. Even before the games, I’d smoke and I’d go out there and run for 150, two [touchdowns].”
Another guy I obviously grew up watching was Aaron Rodgers. Being a part of that Sunday night game against the Packers to the end of the season — and also getting a couple sacks and having a productive game — and it being at Lambeau Field, man, it felt great.
It was such a special feeling but a little bittersweet, too. We felt like we’re one of the top teams in the league, but we just weren’t consistent all season long. I thought we were rolling so well by the end of the year that we would’ve been dangerous in the playoffs. So it was a little bittersweet to not have a chance at the postseason with that win. But beating Rodgers in his last game at Lambeau and being a part of that history was special.
But while his numbers continued to be in line with the output of other top receivers in the league, Godwin said this week that, as is the case for many players returning from ACL tears, he still didn’t feel 100 percent in his first year back.
“It was a night and day difference between last year and this year,” Godwin said. “To be out here now, it’s a blessing. It was a lot of hard work. Like you said, I took some much-needed rest right after the season. But I’m feeling really good. I feel really good with where I’m at. It’s a fresh year, fresh opportunities for myself and all the guys around.”
The 27-year-old received a three-year deal worth $60 million from the Bucs heading into the 2022 season, even despite being in the midst of his ACL recovery at the time. And once he returned to the field, Godwin proved to still be a formidable pass-catcher, recording 1,023 receiving yards and 104 catches, ranked 21st and eighth in the league, respectively.
In case you missed it on Arrowhead Pride
It won’t be a repeat of last season when it comes to rookie production.
This would be a complete 180 after what the Chiefs experienced a season ago. The 2022 rookie class got significant contributions from all except Darian Kinnard and Nazeeh Johnson.
Running back Isiah Pacheco, defensive end George Karlaftis, cornerback Trent McDuffie and Skyy Moore highlighted the production.
It will be difficult to duplicate this, but that’s always the goal for general manager Brett Veach. It’s only May, but I think it’s safe to assume rookies Felix Anudike-Uzomah and Rashee Rice will have every opportunity to showcase their abilities.
I also believe there are pathways for Chamarri Conner and Keondre Coburn to be contributors immediately.