Don't overreact to the preseason. Don't overreact to the preseason. Don't overreact to the preseason ...
But don't ignore the preseason, either!
1) Damar Hamlin was extremely active in his return to the field for the Buffalo Bills on Saturday, blitzing and knifing in on a number of running plays. Hamlin's comeback is a remarkable story, one I watched with both awe and apprehension. But he played without hesitation, showing zero signs of all that he went through last season. He's part of a deep, versatile safety room, with Micah Hyde also returning to action, logging his first game reps since last September's neck injury. This preseason tilt marked the first time Buffalo had Hyde, Jordan Poyer and Tre'Davious White all healthy together since November of 2021.
2) No team played in 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends) on fewer snaps in 2022 than Buffalo. That makes it more notable that they opened their preseason game with tight ends Dawson Knox and Dalton Kincaid on the field together for their first two plays. Kincaid, Buffalo's first-round pick in April, is shaping up to be the team's No. 3 target as a rookie.
4) Anthony Richardson's first preseason box score wasn't great (7 of 12 for 67 yards with an interception; two carries for 7 yards) against the Bills starters, but he bounced back well after the ugly early pick. Notably, regarding that INT, Indianapolis Colts WR Isaiah McKenzie apologized for making a poor read on a blitz adjustment, leaving Richardson in a bad spot. That said, the rookie still should have eaten the ball or thrown it away. Wideout Alec Pierce also dropped an absolute dime from Richardson that should have gone for 30 yards.
Richardson trucked Bills cornerback Taron Johnson on one run and showed his special movement skills on another scamper that was called back. His release was quick, though there were a few off-target throws. Richardson handed off on a lot of zone-read plays. It was basically as you'd expect: big highs and lows, nothing that would make you think the No. 4 overall pick won't be starting Week 1.
5) Kenny Moore II, a former Pro Bowler coming off a poor season, remains the Colts' starting slot cornerback. The players competing to start on the outside are, in no particular order: fifth-round rookie Darius Rush, second-rounder Julius Brents and undrafted second-year players Dallis Flowers and Darrell Baker Jr. This has to be the least experienced room in football.
6) Denver QB Russell Wilson took more massive hits in four preseason drives against the Cardinals than Peyton Manning did during entire seasons with the Broncos. Some of those hits were on the offensive line, but one of the sacks came after Wilson ignored an open Jerry Jeudy and held on to the ball way too long. After three ugly drives including a fumble, Wilson continued to play into the middle of the second quarter, leading the Broncos starters to a score against the Cardinals' second- and third-teamers on a fourth-down throw where Jeudy's defender fell down. Jarrett Stidham was even worse in relief of Wilson.
7) It gives me no great joy to tell you that Brett Maher's first two kicks since his playoff implosion with the Cowboys were a miss and a blocked field goal. He's in a battle for the Broncos' kicking job with Elliott Fry, who also missed a kick.
8) Rookie fifth-rounder Clayton Tune's bid to unseat Colt McCoy as the Arizona Cardinals' starting quarterback didn't make any progress Friday. Tune didn't look out of place versus the Broncos and hung in against pressure, mostly making quick decisions. But he was inaccurate too often on some simple throws to the outside for a player with his skill set. His interception was bad luck, coming when Rondale Moore fell on a route.
Tune played a ton, a sign the Cardinals want to see what they have in him. He'll have to show improvement the next two weeks for a shot to play in the regular season, even if it's as McCoy's in-season replacement. It's worth noting longtime Cardinals website reporter Darren Urban believes Tune still has a shot, even if he's the underdog.
9) It was wild to see the Cardinals playing Zaven Collins at edge rusher and Isaiah Simmons at deep safety in the team's preseason opener, considering both players were drafted in the top half of Round 1 by the previous regime to play off-ball linebacker. Thanks, Steve Keim!
10) Washington Commanders QB Sam Howell played like he did for most of the 2022 preseason; he looked like he belonged. The Commanders' offensive line was another matter, and it took the Browns removing their starters for Howell to really come to life, but his decision making, poise and tools were all solid. Jacoby Brissett had the throw of the night on a go ball, but this competition was over before it started. Washington coach Ron Rivera said he was "very encouraged" by Howell.
11) Trey Lance's bid to raise his trade value or beat out Sam Darnold for the 49ers' backup job took a hit with a rough first half against the Raiders' backups. Terrible pass protection didn't help, but Lance also wasn't quick to pull the trigger on a few throws. He was sacked four times. And Lance's numbers got a healthy boost when a dropped interception turned into a touchdown.
12) Cincinnati Bengals veteran Jonah Williams, who requested a trade request this offseason, has struck a different tone in camp. He said last week that he "(doesn't) have anything to complain about" and "life is good" during an encouraging, healthy return from a dislocated kneecap. He has locked up the Bengals' right tackle job, with free-agent addition Orlando Brown Jr. on the left side. Williams surely knows he will get paid plenty in free agency if he has a strong season, even if it's not in Cincinnati.
13) The Bengals are incredibly deep at some positions like wideout, but they have some real questions at tight end, backup running back and backup quarterback. Watching Trevor Siemian and Jake Browning struggle badly in the preseason opener had coach Zac Taylor sounding annoyed after the team's 36-19 loss to the Packers. Even though Joe Burrow showed good progress in a pregame workout, this is a Super Bowl-ready roster that screams for veteran additions at a few positions.
14) Yes, it seemed intentional that Burrow performed an extensive workout with cameras present. His version of R-E-L-A-X.
15) Saints QB Jameis Winston was all but perfect in a potential trade-showcase performance against the Chiefs. Then again, Winston could remain in New Orleans as Derek Carr insurance if rookie Jake Haener continues to look like a rookie in game action, as he did Sunday.
16) The Saints may have found something in sixth-round rookie A.T. Perry, a big receiver many draftniks expected to be selected earlier. He led the team with six grabs for 70 yards and a touchdown. The Saints were thin at wideout not so long ago. With Michael Thomas healthy, it's a deep position in New Orleans. Jeff Duncan of NOLA.com says that second-year pro Chris Olave has been the "MVP" of training camp.
17) The Saints targeted 17 players in Sunday's game. One of them was Jimmy Graham! (He has a real chance to make the team.)
18) Keep an eye out for the New England Patriots to finally sign a veteran running back like Ezekiel Elliott or Leonard Fournette. Second-year runners Pierre Strong and Kevin Harris just haven't stepped up behind Rhamondre Stevenson. (UPDATE: On Monday, NFL Network Insiders Tom Pelissero and Ian Rapoport reported that the Patriots are expected to sign Ezekiel Elliott to a one-year deal.)
19) Malik Cunningham has mostly lined up at receiver during Patriots training camp, but his electric drive as the team's fourth quarterback could help earn him a roster spot. Mac Jones vs. Bailey Zappe is old news. Bring on Zappe vs. Cunningham!
20) Patriots second-round pick Keion White, who was the best player on the field in the team's preseason opener, is not your normal rookie. He's 6-foot-5, 290 pounds and 24 years old. He's also part of a very deep defensive line for New England, the best Bill Belichick has had in at least five years.
21) The Patriots mostly rested their starters in their opener. It was interesting, then, to see cornerback Jack Jones play a lot of snaps. The team could be anticipating a league suspension for Jones, who is facing gun charges. The Pats might want to get Jones more reps now if he's going to be sidelined in September. It was also interesting that rookie slot receiver Demario Douglas barely played. The sixth-round pick's spot on the team already appears secure.
22) There's no need to panic over Houston QB C.J. Stroud's very brief, rough outing against New England. The No. 2 overall pick faced incredible pressure, although it's worth noting he held the ball too long and didn't make good decisions under pressure. That was his biggest issue at Ohio State, and injuries at center and right tackle have compromised an otherwise-promising Texans offensive line.
23) The Tank Dell hype train I jumped on last week in this space is only picking up speed after his 5/65/1 stat line in Houston's preseason opener. I like him and tight end Dalton Schultz to catch a lot of passes over the middle of the field from Stroud.
24) The Minnesota Vikings were hoping that someone would grab hold of the backup running back job behind Alexander Mattison, and 2022 fifth-rounder Ty Chandler responded in the preseason opener. He was better than his solid numbers (70 yards on 15 touches), making defenders miss and playing smooth in the passing game. Coach Kevin O'Connell was effusive in praising Chandler during a halftime interview and after the game, although he noted the back needs to bring this performance in practice.
25) Jalen Reagor is no lock to make the Vikings roster, with journeyman Brandon Powell potentially taking his role, but Reagor's excellent preseason opener (four catches, 55 yards) should help his case.
26) It was great to see Seattle Seahawks rookie RB Zach Charbonnet back on the field and thriving after the second-round pick struggled with a shoulder injury early in camp. Charbonnet ran over Vikings safety Lewis Cine twice and showed fluidity in the passing game. Charbonnet is the most complete back on the Seahawks' roster, and Kenneth Walker III is struggling with a groin injury. It figures to be a timeshare, but I'd pick Charbonnet to lead the team in touches, because he's steadier.
27) The Seahawks are so deep at cornerback this season that they moved last year's starting slot corner, Coby Bryant, to safety ... where they are also quite deep.
28) Tennessee rookie running back Tyjae Spears looked terrific on the Titans' opening touchdown drive against the Bears. His game speed and vision make his tested times irrelevant. He's going to be a perfect complement to Derrick Henry.
29) The most surprising update on the Titans' backup-quarterback competition is that it is truly a competition. Malik Willis looks better this season, though honestly, it's hard to evaluate him and rookie Will Levis behind Tennessee's suspect offensive line. Willis turned the ball over, but he looked like a pro with real assets. The game has slowed down for him and he clearly outplayed Levis this week, as the rookie was hesitant. Either way, it's clear that Levis vs. Ryan Tannehill is not going to be a thing anytime soon.
31) There was nothing concerning in Bryce Young's brief preseason debut other than his offensive line. Young was absolutely hammered a few times by the Jets despite only playing 11 snaps and mostly making quick decisions. Carolina's offensive line was sneaky-good last season, but the unit is now playing in a new scheme and has two guards coming off injuries. Furthermore, left tackle Ikem Ekwonu needs to show improvement in actual games, not practice reports. The 2022 No. 6 overall pick struggled against New York.
33) Former No. 11 overall pick Mekhi Becton was able to play 27 healthy snaps in the second preseason game. His teammates and coaches were excited for Becton to be making progress, although Pro Football Focus gave him a 42 pass-blocking grade for the game. Basically, all Jets tackles have struggled throughout training camp, which led to some frustration last week from an otherwise-zen Aaron Rodgers.
34) There's no need to get carried away with Justin Fields hitting two short throws that turned into long touchdowns for the Chicago Bears. But at least Fields has teammates like DJ Moore, running back Khalil Herbert and a healthy Darnell Mooney who can make long plays for him.
35) It appears telling that Herbert took all the snaps with the starters, while rookie fourth-round running back Roschon Johnson was still playing with the third-teamers deep into the second half. Johnson did a nice job breaking tackles, but he probably has to worry about passing D'Onta Foreman on the depth chart before sharing the ball with Herbert.
36) The Kansas City Chiefs' pass rush looks ugly on paper without Chris Jones, and it looked ugly on Sunday in the Superdome, where starters did suit up. It's too early to worry about a preseason game, but this is so clearly the weakest spot on K.C.'s roster.
37) The Play of the Preseason race is already over. I am keeping my eye on Jacksonville Jaguars QB Nathan Rourke for the Preseason MVP award, which will have its much-anticipated first rankings in next week's column.
38) Jags WR Calvin Ridley played in his first live action in nearly two years. He looked the part, catching two passes from Trevor Lawrence. Ridley was also involved in Lawrence's interception on a scramble drill where they didn't seem to read the field the same way.
39) According to the Birds With Friends podcast, Philadelphia linebacker Nicholas Morrow is unlikely to make the team now that the Eagles signed Myles Jack and Zach Cunningham. Nakobe Dean is a presumed starter, and Christian Elliss is also in the mix.
41) Don't overreact too much to D'Andre Swift starting and Rashaad Penny getting plenty of work in Philly's preseason opener. Coach Nick Sirianni said veteran holdovers Kenneth Gainwell and Boston Scott will get work in this Thursday's game against the Browns.
42) I was among the clowns on Twitter making a joke about Ravens coach John Harbaugh saving Pro Bowler Snoop Huntley for the second half of Saturday's game against the Eagles in a bid to keep the team's preseason winning streak going. Huntley played well before leaving the game, and Baltimore did indeed earn its 24th (!) straight preseason win.
43) Jokes aside, ever since the Ravens lowballed Huntley as a restricted free agent, the quarterback hasn't seemed guaranteed to make the team despite his consistent play over the last few years. Baltimore reportedly attempted (and failed) to sign Baker Mayfield and Jacoby Brissett in the offseason. Josh Johnson has a legitimate chance to win the team's backup job, according to Harbaugh, and Huntley appeared to tweak his hamstring in the game, even if he stayed in to engineer an impressive scoring drive before sitting. It wouldn't shock me if the Ravens picked up another veteran quarterback just before the season.
44) The Los Angeles Rams signed Joseph Noteboom to a three-year deal worth $40 million before last season as Andrew Whitworth's replacement on the blind side. Noteboom tore his ACL last October and is now getting snaps at right guard, with Alaric Jackson apparently in the lead of the team's left tackle competition. This is a sign of the Rams' improved depth -- they also have a battle at center -- but not exactly what the Rams had in mind when they paid Noteboom like a core franchise piece.
45) Kyren Williams could be earning a timeshare with Cam Akers in the Rams' backfield. Listening to the always-excellent Jourdan Rodrigue on her 11 Personnel podcast, Williams has played well enough to have a big role on passing downs. He may be seen as a steadier down-to-down option than Akers, who is more of a home-run hitter.
46) The most misleading headline I saw all weekend came on the front page of ESPN.com: "SoFi sequel: Bennett shines in battle of CFP QBs."
Rams rookie QB Stetson Bennett had one of the most bizarre touchdown drives I've ever seen, throwing two ghastly near-interceptions that the Chargers flat-out dropped and then throwing two more possible picks in a penalty-aided march. Bennett recovered to make a handful of nice plays, but it wasn't surprising to see his PFF grade was dead last among 48 quarterbacks who had at least 10 dropbacks last week. Brett Rypien played ahead of Bennett and could be the Week 1 backup to Matthew Stafford.
48) Curious who the Rams' starting edge rushers are? Michael Hoecht and rookie Byron Young got the nod on Saturday. Hoecht made some noise late last season. Young is one of roughly 74 rookies on L.A.'s roster.
49) Chargers rookie Derius Davis was probably the best punt returner in the 2023 NFL Draft, and his 81-yard return for a score against the Rams showed patience, vision and crazy burst. Like KaVontae Turpin for the Cowboys in last year's preseason, this could be a sign of things to come.
50) On a weekend where the local preseason coverage was almost uniformly positive, it was telling to hear Chargers analyst Dan Fouts note that first-round pick Quentin Johnston was having a rough training camp because of his penchant for drops. Johnston also dropped two passes early against the Rams, gaining a total of 10 yards on six targets. That's the bad news. The good news is that the Chargers may feature Johnston in the red zone, where he ran a great route for a score. The first-round pick could be the team's fourth receiver, behind Mike Williams, Keenan Allen and Joshua Palmer.
51) Chargers rookie CJ Okoye recorded a sack in his first game. Not his first game as a pro -- his first game as a football player. The Nigerian product of the league's International Player Pathway Program had literally never played an organized football game before suiting up in SoFi Stadium.
52) It's hard to know what to think about rushing games in training camp. That's why it was nice to see all the positive buzz about the Chargers' more north-south attack under Kellen Moore deliver with 214 yards on 31 carries against the Rams. I will keep saying it: This Bolts offensive line looks great on paper.
53) Overzealous draftniks and fans tend to slot recent top picks into the Week 1 starting lineups in May, but the reality often isn't that smooth. That's why the Giants must be encouraged that second-round center John Michael Schmitz looks the part and has wrapped up a starting gig, according to Dan Duggan of The Athletic. The Giants only have to look at the Jets, whose own second-round center (Joe Tippmann) appears to be taking longer to develop.
54) At times this month, the Giants have worked veteran Adoree' Jackson in at slot cornerback, with rookie first-round pick Deonte Banks and rookie sixth-rounder Tre Hawkins III manning the outside-corner spots. No matter how coordinator Wink Martindale lines his CBs up, it's safe to say opposing quarterbacks are going to test this group.
55) It's hard to sort out the Giants' wideouts, but based on practice reports and New York's depth chart, all signs point to former Colt Parris Campbell emerging as the team's starting slot receiver and a consistent target for Daniel Jones.
57) Most rookie quarterbacks looked a step slow this weekend. The Raiders' Aidan O'Connell was not most rookies. It's just one game, but his near-perfect showing against the 49ers could be enough to make Brian Hoyer superfluous on Las Vegas' roster. O'Connell completed 15 of his 18 passes for 141 yards and a touchdown, with two of the three incompletions being drops.
60) Detroit Lions rookie Brian Branch showed up in the preseason opener, like he has throughout camp. Branch's quick development in the slot has allowed the Lions to adjust their safety plans. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson is playing more at deep safety, like he did under Aaron Glenn in New Orleans. Kerby Joseph, Gardner-Johnson and Branch are a dynamic trio.
61) Another promising Lions rookie, LB Jack Campbell, was all over the field in the preseason opener. Even though Campbell played behind Derrick Barnes and Malcolm Rodriguez on Friday, it's hard to imagine the first-round pick not starting opposite Alex Anzalone in Week 1.
62) After Cris Collinsworth's words on Deshaun Watson that I wrote about last week, it was interesting to see Watson use his legs to scramble and extend plays so much in his limited work against the Commanders. That figures to be a bigger part of the Cleveland Browns' offense this season.
63) David Bell and Anthony Schwartz are two third-round receiver picks in the Andrew Berry era that aren't safe bets to make the roster this season. Bell has a better chance as a 2022 pick, but he doesn't appear to have much of a role if he makes the team.
64) Two of the Falcons' key players, tight end Kyle Pitts and defensive lineman Calais Campbell, weren't ready to do team work in joint practices against the Dolphins last week. The stated expectation is that both will be ready for Week 1, with their workloads ramping up.
65) After Jalen Ramsey was hurt, the assumption from many on the outside was that second-round pick Cam Smith would step into the Miami Dolphins' starting lineup. Smith, however, hurt his shoulder in the team's preseason opener and is out for at least a week. According to Omar Kelly at SI.com, Noah Igbinoghene has a clear path to the starting job.
That was probably true even before Smith's injury. It's telling that the rookie was playing so late in a game where starters sat out. Igbinoghene, the 30th pick of the 2020 draft, is somehow still only 23 years old. He's struggled as a pro, but coach Mike McDaniel alluded earlier in camp to Vic Fangio's scheme suiting Igbinoghene. With contributor Keion Crossen also out indefinitely, this unit has thinned out.
66) Baker Mayfield easily outplayed Kyle Trask in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' preseason opener. It was a composed effort from Mayfield and a scattershot one from Trask, who is expected to start the second preseason game. Mayfield reportedly kept his improved play going in Sunday's practice and appears to be creating separation in this competition.
68) Mark Kaboly of The Athletic has noted that No. 14 overall pick Broderick Jones may have too much ground to make up to become Pittsburgh's starting left tackle over Dan Moore Jr. The Steelers slow-play rookies more than most teams, and Jones' performance in the preseason opener was mixed, at least according to these untrained eyes. (And PFF's grading.) Jones could wind up being a swing tackle as a rookie, ready to step in for whichever starter is struggling or gets hurt.
That's two weeks of way too many notes down, with two to go. Let's do this again next Monday.
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