In most instances, it is advisable to disregard preseason performances. However, at times, they can provide a glimpse into what may transpire during the regular season.
For inexperienced quarterbacks like Sam Howell and Desmond Ridder, their preseason success doesn’t necessarily provide definitive answers since they have limited experience in regular-season play.
Yet, there is reason to be intrigued by Kenny Pickett’s impressive preseason performance. Having achieved a 7–5 record as a rookie starting quarterback for the Steelers last season, he appears poised for a breakout in 2023.
Additionally, the preseason has shed light on contract situations and potential trades.
Before we embark on the regular season, let’s take a closer look at some winners and losers from the preseason.
NFL Preseason Winners
Steelers’ Skill Players
Kenny Pickett‘s outstanding preseason has raised expectations for wide receiver George Pickens, who could rival Garrett Wilson, the Jets’ reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year. Pickens, at 6’3″ and 200 pounds, excels at catching contested passes, and with Pickett’s aggressive play in the regular season, he could see more opportunities downfield.
Pickett, a 2022 first-round pick, had a perfect preseason with five touchdown drives in five attempts. Pickett’s improvements should also benefit wide receiver Diontae Johnson, tight end Pat Freiermuth, and running back Najee Harris.
The reigning rushing champion secured a pay raise of approximately $2 million, a rare victory for running backs. Jacobs didn’t lose money despite missing the Raiders’ training camp and offseason program because he wasn’t under contract until recently when he signed his one-year franchise-tag tender, increasing his base pay from $10.1 million to $11.8 million with additional incentives.
This move positions Jacobs for a potential $14 million in 2024 if the Raiders choose to franchise tag him again or a lucrative long-term contract extension if they don’t.
The Patriots’ third-year quarterback stands as one of the offseason’s biggest winners. With Bill O’Brien as his offensive coordinator, an improved defense, and the addition of Ezekiel Elliott, Jones can focus on leading the team without competition from quarterback Bailey Zappe, whom the Patriots waived.
New England’s commitment to providing Jones with a solid defense, productive running game, and a reliable play-caller places the onus on him to enhance the passing game and prove himself as the long-term solution at quarterback.
Houston’s early results from this year’s first-round picks, C.J. Stroud and Will Anderson Jr., indicate promise. Stroud earned the starting quarterback role after an initial shaky preseason debut, displaying command of the offense and making crucial throws.
If Stroud continues to progress during the regular season, the Texans may not regret their decision to select a quarterback in the first round, especially with the potential of a loaded 2024 draft class.
Trading their 2024 first-rounder for the No. 3 pick, which they used on Anderson, means they’ve put pressure on him to become a dominant defender, and he’s off to a strong start after a productive preseason.
NFL Preseason Losers
The Colts, lacking Jonathan Taylor, possess one of the weakest groups of skill players in the league. Rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson faces increased pressure with Taylor missing the first four games of the season, and the possibility of Taylor not returning to the Colts looms.
The Colts have an opportunity to salvage the situation by reaching a compromise with their star running back, as other teams have done with their key players.
Panthers’ Offensive Line
Despite retaining their entire starting offensive line from the previous season, the Panthers’ offensive line struggled to protect quarterback Bryce Young during the preseason, resulting in an unexpected number of hits on the undersized quarterback.
While preseason performances should not be overemphasized, better protection in the preseason finale against the Lions provided a glimmer of hope.
The 49ers’ decision to trade Lance to the Cowboys might not yield immediate playing time, with Dak Prescott firmly established as the starter.
Lance’s opportunity to play could come next year, but the complexity of Prescott’s contract and his standing as a respected leader within the Cowboys organization presents challenges.
The 49ers opted for the best trade offer rather than ensuring Lance’s chances of seeing the field.
The Broncos faced offensive struggles under Russell Wilson during the preseason, exacerbated by injuries to their wide receivers, including Tim Patrick being sidelined for the season.
Additionally, top wide receiver Jerry Jeudy has been dealing with a hamstring injury, and there are concerns on the offensive line, particularly with tackle Mike McGlinchey’s knee injury.
Despite Payton’s efforts to upgrade the offensive line in the offseason, these challenges present a tough road ahead for the Broncos.
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