It’s important not overreact to one play, series, or game in the preseason, but the action still sheds some light on rosters/situations around the league—with a first look at rookies highlighting my thoughts from the past few days.
Texans 20, Patriots 9
The biggest takeaway of the entire week might be for New England, as undrafted rookie Malik Cunningham was excellent, including five carries for 34 yards and a touchdown during his time under center. Almost no one gave Cunningham a chance to be a quarterback at the next level, but the comfort he showed on Thursday night was a great first step. As for C.J. Stroud, he was shaky in his first outing but has two more chances to build confidence ahead of the regular season.
Seahawks 24, Vikings 13
Undrafted rookie wideout Jake Bobo was already looking to be in strong position for a roster spot based on his standing on the initial depth chart as a second-stringer, and he shined in his preseason debut with three receptions for 55 yards and a touchdown. Speed was the question for Bobo, but anyone that watched him at UCLA saw a guy that simply knows how to play the position.
Lions 21, Giants 16
The Lions were criticized quite a bit for how the 2023 NFL Draft played out, which obviously meant nothing coming from “experts” on television and social media. All three of Jahmyr Gibbs, Jack Campbell, and Brian Branch flashed in their debuts—and general manager Brad Holmes appears to have a few more hits on his hands.
Steelers 27, Buccaneers 17
A highlight touchdown grab from George Pickens drew most of the attention, but rookie tight end Darnell Washington immediately showed himself as a devastating blocker for Pittsburgh’s offense. Even if he sees limited involvement as a pass-catcher, Washington can provide a huge impact in Year 1.
Packers 36, Bengals 19
Fantasy football owners waiting to draft should be unhappy with how Week 1 of the preseason played out considering a bunch of Fantasy Consigliere favorites shined at wide receiver, and that included Romeo Doubs with a leaping touchdown catch from Jordan Love. Green Bay has an extremely promising core of skill-position talent with Doubs, Christian Watson, and rookies Jayden Reed, Luke Musgrave, and Tucker Kraft as first- and second-year options.
Falcons 19, Dolphins 3
Dolphins rookie cornerback Cam Smith will unfortunately miss a couple of weeks with a shoulder injury, but his debut was terrific with three tackles (one being a highlight TFL) and a lunging pass deflection. The local broadcast said Miami is “low-key” thrilled with Smith, and he’ll be an important piece in 2023 with Jalen Ramsey (knee) out until at least December.
Commanders 17, Browns 15
Offensive line play is what stood out to me for Commanders-Browns, as Washington really struggled to protect Sam Howell (including struggles from top free agent Andrew Wylie at right tackle), while fourth-round pick Dawand Jones continued to be a wall on the right side for Cleveland. If the season doesn’t live up to expectations for the Commanders, their half-measured retooling of the offensive line might be a big reason why.
Cardinals 18, Broncos 17
I’ve had the feeling in recent weeks that Arizona could be a bit better than expected in 2023, and starting off with a win—even if just in the preseason—can help build momentum for Jonathan Gannon and his guys. Defensively, both Isaiah Simmons playing safety and Zaven Collins playing the edge looked comfortable in new spots.
Bears 23, Titans 17
Chicago’s offense started off with two long touchdowns to create even more hype around a leap for Justin Fields, but don’t sleep on the defense of the Bears—particularly in terms of their pass rushers. Aside from veteran Yannick Ngakoue and a projected Year 2 jump for Dominique Robinson, former Alabama standout Terrell Lewis recorded 2.0 sacks and can be a monster after dealing with injury issues with the Rams.
Bills 23, Colts 19
Anthony Richardson threw an interception on Saturday as he tried to do too much with an off-platform throw, but it’s impossible to not be encouraged with his quick release and general confidence getting the ball out of his hands. The turnover was simply a reminder that it will take some polishing for the talented quarterback to reach his ceiling.
Jets 27, Panthers 0
The offensive line was a projected strength for Carolina this season, so for them to be dominated by New York’s backups—though a highly talented group with Bryce Huff, Jermaine Johnson II, and rookie Will McDonald IV—was not a good start. Based on how the offensive line fell apart for Frank Reich in Indy, there might be some shaken confidence from Panthers fans.
Jaguars 28, Cowboys 23
Many claimed Deuce Vaughn wouldn’t be able to play at the next level because of his size at five-foot-five, but his quickness was on full display versus Jacksonville—with the rookie turning 11 touches into 56 yards and a score. Another couple of impressive performances could lead to Vaughn rising to the No. 2 role behind Tony Pollard.
Ravens 20, Eagles 19
A fumble on a punt return by James Proche II might have doomed his chances at cracking the 53-man roster in Baltimore, but the 26-year-old would be an intriguing addition for any team looking for a slot receiver when rosters are cut down. For the Eagles, a pick-six by undrafted rookie cornerback Eli Ricks wasn’t enough to snap the Ravens’ historic preseason winning streak (now 24 games).
Chargers 34, Rams 17
We loved the Rams’ selection of Stetson Bennett IV in the fourth round of the 2023 NFL Draft, and he completed 17-of-29 passes for 191 yards and one touchdown—a strike at the goal line—while playing most of the game on Saturday night. There is no reason Bennett can’t be a starting quarterback in the league.
Saints 26, Chiefs 24
Derek Carr and the New Orleans starters were extremely efficient yesterday, as the veteran passer orchestrated a touchdown drive to open the game, and Alvin Kamara handled five touches while looking very explosive. On the Kansas City offense, the young trio of Justyn Ross, Cornell Powell, and rookie Rashee Rice on the field together with Shane Buechele was exciting, and there will be some difficult decisions to make at wide receiver for Andy Reid’s squad.
Raiders 34, 49ers 7
Neither side played their starters, but it was jarring to see the domination in the trenches by Las Vegas versus a physical San Francisco team. And making the showing even more impressive for the Raiders was them apparently doing the same in joint practices when the starters were also on the field.