NFL fans, we have finally reached the halfway mark of the season! It’s been a long road to get here, but with plenty of storylines to talk about, one of those happens to be the amount of winners. While teams like the Bears and Giants have been putrid to say the least, rosters like the Chiefs and Jaguars have withstood the test of time and look to stay strong going into the second half of the season. With that being said, our team of writers look to answer the question of who is the biggest midseason winner of the NFL season in this week’s edition of the Daily Campus roundtable.
It may be crazy to call the Texans the biggest midseason winner thus far, especially when the squad is just 4-4 and two games behind Jacksonville for first in the AFC South. But, the fact that the team finally has some stability at the quarterback position for the first time since Deshaun Watson’s departure from Houston is a gigantic win for this franchise. C.J. Stroud has easily been the best rookie quarterback in 2023 and is continuing to set all kinds of records in his first NFL season. When you add the fact that the roster has managed to grab wins over some tough teams like the Jaguars and the Steelers, that’s big for what this team could look like as time goes on. In terms of the pure definition of winning, this team may not hit that criteria, but in terms of how this team looked before the season and how they’re performing currently, they’ve gotta be on the list of biggest midseason winners.
Every year, there is always one player whose rookie campaign goes under the radar because a first-year quarterback becomes a franchise cornerstone or a wide receiver explodes for a 1,000-yard campaign. Wide receivers Drake London and George Pickens’ first professional season went largely unnoticed behind those of Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave in 2022, but Sam LaPorta takes the cake in 2023. Through eight games, six of them starts, the second-round NFL Draft selection ranks second on the Detroit Lions with 434 receiving yards on 43 catches and has found the end zone a team-best four times. Although it is highly unlikely that he becomes the first tight end with a 1,000-yard rookie season since Kyle Pitts two years ago, LaPorta possesses significant value as a No. 2 receiving option for a balanced Detroit offense led by quarterback Jared Goff. The 2016 first overall pick crossed the 4,000-yard mark for the third time in his career last year, but the Iowa product will be the reason he throws for 5,000+ yards in 2023.
The Los Angeles Rams truly found a diamond in the rough in the fifth round of the 2023 NFL draft. They drafted Puka Nacua with the 177th overall pick and he has already broken several records in his first nine games of the season. Nacua recorded 39 receptions and 501 yards in his first four games which were both NFL records for a player in his first four games. Through nine games the 22-year-old is also on pace to break the single-season records for the most receptions and receiving yards by a rookie. Nacua’s production has taken a bit of a hit the past two games, only recording a combined six catches for 75 yards. However, this is most likely the result of the absence of Rams starting quarterback Matthew Stafford, who suffered a thumb injury in the second quarter of the Rams’ Week 8 matchup against the Dallas Cowboys. Stafford has a good chance of returning in Week 11, which would give Nacua a good opportunity to continue to add to his historic rookie season.
Drafted in the fifth round in 2022, Washington Commanders quarterback Sam Howell wasn’t expected to amount to anything more than a backup. In his rookie season, Howell was the third stringer behind Carson Wentz and Taylor Heinicke but head coach Ron Rivera decided to roll the dice with the second-year quarterback going into the 2023 campaign. Through nine starts, Howell has aired it out for 2471 yards and 14 touchdowns despite playing behind a disaster of an offensive line. The franchise was expected to be uncompetitive this year and draft a quarterback in the first round in the next NFL draft. Based on the way Howell has played in his first season, the franchise could change their plans to build around the 23-year-old from Waynesville, North Carolina. As of recent, Howell has thrown for 325+ yards with one or fewer interceptions in three of his last five games and has the Commanders just one game under .500. The former North Carolina star has turned heads so far this season and I wouldn’t surprised if this Washington team is in the wild card hunt going into the final weeks of the season.