Each new NFL season brings hope and promise. At the moment, everyone is tied for No. 1 in their own version of the Power Rankings, which is a great thing. But this version is going to look a bit different.
First off, I'm honored to follow in the very large footsteps of my colleague, Dan Hanzus, who has handed over the NFL.com Power Rankings baton after a long run as its caretaker. Also, it will look a bit different, I suspect, from other power rankings -- at least the preseason version. I know how much annual shakeup there is in this league, so there will be no fear here in placing some teams higher or lower than you might see them elsewhere. And when the games start up for real, we'll cross off our list, one by one, and start over. Every single week.
It's a beautiful thing. We're close to the real deal. So have a look at where I have your team ranked heading into the 2023 preseason, and be ready to fire back your best haymaker when I don't get it right. No holds barred, folks. Just as the pads have come on in NFL training camps, I'm ready for a few hits here, too.
One of the fun parts of the preseason is trying to figure out what will translate from the practice field to the game field, and this year, there might be no better test case for this than Chiefs WR Justyn Ross. He was an intriguing addition a year ago as a supremely talented but injury-prone undrafted free-agent signee. He ultimately landed on injured reserve and spent the season there while the Chiefs solved their WR issues without him. Now, Ross is having a standout camp and making a push for a roster spot -- and possibly a role in the offense. Sunday’s preseason debut against the Saints will mark Ross’ first game action since Clemson took on UConn late in the 2021 college football season.
The Eagles offense that ranked third in scoring last season -- and arguably looked even better in the playoffs -- returns predominantly intact. However, one position leads the way with change: running back. Gone is Miles Sanders, in comes D’Andre Swift. This is probably not a true one-for-one swap as far as roles go. Rashaad Penny (another offseason addition) and Kenneth Gainwell are expected to earn a notable chunk of the snaps, as Gainwell started to take them away from Sanders late last season. But Swift’s strong showing early in camp has been a welcome development. Sanders caught 50 passes in 2019, but Eagles running backs haven’t been a big part of the passing game over the past three seasons. If Swift’s early-camp work is an indication -- and if he can remain healthy -- that could change this year.
Preseason games will draw many eyes to Trey Lance as his career hits an early flashpoint, with Brock Purdy working his way back from elbow surgery and Sam Darnold and Brandon Allen in the mix. The 49ers figure to be extra cautious with Purdy until the regular season starts. A year ago, Mr. Irrelevant was on the outside looking in, out-snapping Lance and Nate Sudfeld in pursuit of a roster spot. Now the tables have turned. Lance figures to get ample preseason run, and stacking some strong performances could help regain trust if he’s called on when games count.
Lost amid Joe Burrow’s calf injury are the encouraging signals from the Bengals’ young secondary. Cincinnati entered camp with questions on the back end of its defense following the free-agent departures of safeties Jessie Bates III and Vonn Bell, as well as cornerbacks Tre Flowers and Eli Apple. But 2022 second-rounder Cam Taylor-Britt and 2023 second-rounder DJ Turner II have been camp standouts, with Taylor-Britt’s daily matchups against WR Ja’Marr Chase earning rave reviews from onlookers. But are the young DBs shining because Burrow is out? That theory could be put to the test this preseason, starting Friday against the Packers. I don’t know if Green Bay will trot out Jordan Love much or at all, but facing a new foe will be another good test for the young CBs.
Buffalo’s defense has August to iron out spots on defense that remain question marks. One is at middle linebacker, following Tremaine Edmunds' free-agent departure. It has been a three-way race between Terrel Bernard, Tyrel Dodson and Baylon Spector, but might be winnowing down to Bernard vs. Dodson. There’s also a battle at the CB spot opposite Tre’Davious White, with 2022 rookies Kaiir Elam and Christian Benford battling along with Dane Jackson. Plus, there’s the matter of Von Miller’s recovery from injury and who can step up if he misses time to start the regular season. Greg Rousseau is one expected source of pressure, but keep an eye on A.J. Epenesa, who can make a statement in Miller’s place.
Is it possible Micah Parsons has another level to reach as a defender? With seemingly each passing day, there’s mention of Parsons doing something ridiculous in Cowboys camp, and it begs the question of whether the first-team All-Pro linebacker can add more layers to his game. Head coach Mike McCarthy even scolded Parsons for violating the camp moratorium on hitting quarterbacks, and not just camp arms -- we’re talking Dak Prescott, too. Parsons has reached the 13-sack threshold in both of his NFL seasons, so the bar is high. But it just feels like we’re about to witness an Aaron Donald-like impact from Parsons in 2023, even if he hasn’t been too far off from that already.
New offensive coordinator Todd Monken offered a fairly sobering update on his offense last week, saying: “It’s a work in progress. We’re not nearly where we need to be, and we shouldn’t be. It’s early in camp -- we have a lot of work to do.” Later, for good measure, Monken added the offense has “a long ways to go.” That’s worrisome, especially following the afterglow of Lamar Jackson’s contract extension, personnel upgrades on offense and the hope of Monken’s scheme elevating this group. However, context is required: RB J.K. Dobbins hasn’t been practicing, WR Zay Flowers already appears to be a star in the making and the offensive line issues should work themselves out. I’m not worried right now, but this process could require some patience.
In recent years the Jets have leaned pretty heavily on their rookies, and for good reason. In the case of the 2022 draft class, GM Joe Douglas knocked it out of the park with his picks, which was huge because the Jets had several positional vacancies for the newbies to fill. This year, it appears vastly different. The 2023 rookie crop might not make a major Year 1 impact. Second-round center Joe Tippmann figured to have the best shot to start, but so far Connor McGovern appears to be winning the battle to start at the position. Injuries or a surprise cut obviously could change things, but the team’s depth and a more veteran-centric approach to the offseason plan of building around Aaron Rodgers have most of the key roles buttoned up early.
Jalen Ramsey's injury still stings, but the good news is that other corners appear to have stepped up in his absence. Surprise 2022 rookie standout Kader Kohou has continued his impressive work. Rookie Cam Smith has looked the part so far. And even Noah Igbinoghene, the former first-round pick who has endured his share of struggles in the NFL, has made plays. Along with a good safety group, a terrific defensive front, a linebacker unit that appears upgraded and the addition of Vic Fangio as coordinator, the Ramsey injury might not be fatal to the Dolphins’ high hopes -- and he could be a fascinating late-season addition for the stretch run.
The early excitement in camp has come from one of the best daily one-on-one matchups: WR Calvin Ridley vs. CB Tyson Campbell. It’s a fascinating test of two superior talents going up against one another at critical stages of their respective careers. Everyone knows Ridley’s route back to the NFL following a gambling suspension. He’s shown enough in camp to justify the hype he’s generating now that a toe injury has apparently been alleviated. Campbell, meanwhile, is one of the best young corners in the league. His play last season was excellent, and these head-to-head battles figure to raise both players’ games heading into this season.
For the first time in what feels like ages, it looks like Detroit has some actual, real depth on defense. Peering beyond the clear-cut standouts, such as second-year edge Aidan Hutchinson, the Lions appear to have some tough decisions to make on who starts and who plays what role. The additions of CB Cam Sutton and especially versatile DBs C.J. Gardner-Johnson and rookie Brian Branch give DC Aaron Glenn some real flexibility on the back end. The first-round selection of Jack Campbell appears to have pushed 2022 rookie standout Malcolm Rodriguez into a leaner role. Up front, guys like Charles Harris and Josh Paschal could be pleasant surprises after tough 2022 seasons. It's another reason to be excited about Detroit this season.
I really wonder how much the Chargers are actually counting on CB J.C. Jackson this season. Early in camp, he was on the field daily but never in a full capacity. Then he left a recent practice with knee soreness. That shouldn't be shocking. Jackson's patellar tendon rupture was no joke. He's still clearly working his way back. If the other Bolts DBs stay healthy, Michael Davis and Asante Samuel Jr. are a capable duo outside, and Ja'Sir Taylor and Deane Leonard are pushing for playing time. There's no doubt the Chargers would love a healthy Jackson making plays and returning some value on his massive contract. But you can't blame them even a little if they choose to bring Jackson along very gradually.
The preseason will be big for Deshaun Watson. He barely played last preseason (nine snaps, 1-of-5 passing, 7 yards), served his 11-game suspension and had a tough six-game Browns debut to close out last season. Early camp reports suggest the passing game and Watson's progression have been a mixed bag. There's ample time to get cooking, although Watson will need far more work this preseason, even if key offensive starters sit out certain games. But if the 27-year-old QB struggles -- even if August results don't truly matter -- there could be an air of uneasiness heading into the massive Week 1 home opener against the Bengals. This Cleveland team has the roster to win a lot of games this season, but Watson must be a big part of that.
I shamelessly fawned over Jaxon Smith-Njigba leading up to the 2023 NFL Draft, and when he ended up in Seattle, I thought it was an incredible fit. Hearing that Smith-Njigba is tearing up training camp isn't shocking to me, but I wonder if it's time to start reimagining this Seattle offense, particularly given some recent RB injuries. Geno Smith might have the passing game humming even better than it did in 2022. First, opponents must stop DK Metcalf, likely with safety help. Then foes need to worry about Tyler Lockett on crossers, overs and corner routes. After that, Smith-Njigba should have some really terrific opportunities to carve teams up underneath -- and he might be a dark-horse Rookie of the Year candidate.
Alvin Kamara is suspended for the first three games, when the Saints face the Titans, Panthers and Packers. This opening stretch will provide a fascinating look at just how potent New Orelans' offense can be without Kamara. Derek Carr has worked with worse units before. Chris Olave is becoming a star, Rashid Shaheed is making more noise and -- knock on wood -- there's actually some real optimism about Michael Thomas' health. Jamaal Williams and Kendre Miller should be able to hold down the RB fort while Kamara is out. If the Saints can go 2-1 or 3-0 without the star back, their chances in NFC South will look remarkably better.
The Vikings are in a fascinating spot, coming off a 13-win season but also shedding a lot of skin from the roster this offseason. They moved on from big chunks of their defense, although the expectation is that new coordinator Brian Flores will run a far more complex, aggressive scheme that won't get bullied as much as the unit that allowed the second-most yards in the league last season. But can the offense sustain or exceed its 2022 performance with Dalvin Cook and Adam Thielen gone? Kirk Cousins is entering a pivotal season with his contract up in the spring -- and Justin Jefferson likely looking for a new one. Minnesota was 11-0 in regular-season games decided by eight points or fewer last year. Can the Vikes win all the tight ones again without a lot of familiar names?
There's something interesting brewing in Atlanta, where there's pressure on third-year coach Arthur Smith after a pair of 7-10 seasons. The run game will be the bread and butter on offense, and No. 8 overall pick Bijan Robinson's performance in training camp has been piping hot. But I've also seen plenty of praise for the Falcons' defense, even with Jeff Okudah's injury. The rebuilt secondary has been taking passes away, and the pass rush looks better with free-agent signee Bud Dupree and third-round pick Zach Harrison. Finally, Grady Jarrett and A.J. Terrell aren't on an island. This looks like a team modeling itself a bit like recent Ravens squads: run the ball relentlessly, be solid-to-very good on special teams and take the ball away defensively. That formula could challenge for the NFC South crown if the defense truly is improved.
It was obvious the Giants needed offensive playmakers this offseason. The Darren Waller trade was the first big domino. When free agency slowed, though, and Rounds 1 and 2 of the draft passed without Big Blue adding a true deep-speed threat, I went into slow-eyebrow-raise mode. But then along came the third-round selection of Jalin Hyatt. Admittedly, the 2022 Biletnikoff Award winner wasn't my favorite 2023 prospect, but his superpower is field-tilting speed -- and at that stage of the draft, it felt like a bargain. After a bit of a slow start, Hyatt reportedly has been stacking big play after big play in camp. A healthy Waller feels like a lock to play a significant role, but if Hyatt can translate August fireworks to the regular season and carve out a much-needed role, the Giants' offense will feature another big dimension.
Some say the Steelers can only go as far as QB Kenny Pickett and a revamped defense will take them. But the supporting staff for Pickett on offense also appears better, starting with the offensive line but also applying to his skill-position talent. For one, WR George Pickens is having a standout camp and appears in line for a big role -- welcome news for Pittsburgh fans who griped he was underused a year ago. But two other interesting additions also could make their presence felt. Trade acquisition Allen Robinson is starting to come on after a few seasons where it looked like the veteran wideout had lost his way. And third-round TE Darnell Washington seemed to make his presence felt the minute the Steelers put on pads in camp. His mass, athleticism and blocking/receiving skills make him a fascinating specimen.
There's a road map for improvement in one glaring area: red zone. The 32nd-ranked red-zone offense (42.2% TDs) has nowhere to go but up. That's a big ask with reliable WR Jakobi Meyers gone, but there's hope new/old offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien can exploit JuJu Smith-Schuster, DeVante Parker, Mike Gesicki and Rhamondre Stevenson in condensed areas. (O-line improvement would be massive, but that's TBD.) Even on defense, where the Pats ranked top 10 in many categories, they were 21st in red-zone efficiency. Maybe that explains their first three draft picks, all twitchy and athletic: CB Christian Gonzalez, DE Keion White and LB/S Marte Mapu. With so many offseason additions at least theoretically geared toward improving red-zone efficiency, New England might be able to steal more close ones after going 4-4 in one-score games last year.
It hasn't been the cleanest first training camp with the Broncos for Sean Payton, with injuries piling up, one player being suspended and Payton himself drawing the Jets' ire with his blistering comments about former Denver coach Nathaniel Hackett. Payton has also bemoaned Denver's turnovers and pre-snap penalties in practice, giving camp a bit of an edge. But I like that. Just for fun, I dug around on newspapers.com to look at Payton's first camp with the Saints in 2006, and I found the same theme: Payton being upset about anything and everything, including penalties and turnovers. The accomplished head man doesn't worry about ruffling feathers; he worries about changing his team's intensity. Sort of an offensive-minded version of his former boss, Bill Parcells. This is what the Broncos need most. They'll be better.
The Packers might be one of the trickier teams to forecast this season. On the one hand, they're clearly in rebuild mode with the switch from Aaron Rodgers to Jordan Love, likely going headlong into the season with one of the NFL's least-experienced QB rooms. But on the other hand, there's a good amount of young talent competing in a division that's far from settled. Green Bay's defense was good enough situationally last season, and the unit features enough depth that I believe a decent improvement is in line. On offense, the run game and big pass plays should be the formula. Is that enough to compete for the NFC North? It won't be shocking if it is, even if the Packers aren't favorites.
Is it time to be worried about the offensive line? The Titans kept veteran cornerstones Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry, have some promising young pass-catching talent in Treylon Burks and Chigoziem Okonkwo and brought in five-time Pro Bowl WR DeAndre Hopkins, so you know they think they can compete this season. When they used quite a few offseason resources to buff up the offensive line, the picture looked decent -- but now it's changed. In addition to breaking in at least three new starters, the Titans have had to deal with Nicholas Petit-Frere being suspended for six games, Dillon Radunz remaining on the PUP list and Jamarco Jones -- the presumed favorite to start at right tackle in Petit-Frere's absence -- being cut for excessive practice fighting. Mike Vrabel-coached teams are seldom bad, but mounting OL issues give me some pause.
Certain themes have emerged from Commanders camp, including the big one that the offense appears to be ahead of the defense at this point. That shouldn't at all be a shock. First of all, the Commanders fielded a very respectable and underrated D a year ago -- and that was with Chase Young barely playing. They've also added exciting, young talent in the secondary this offseason, including first-round CB Emmanuel Forbes, who was making early waves before a recent groin tweak. But there's also a quarterback competition happening, and with Sam Howell (and his one career start) appearing to have the edge now over seasoned vet Jacoby Brissett, it's reasonable to expect Eric Bieniemy's offense to take some time to jell, even with all the team's WR talent.
What if Chase Claypool ends up making us eat our words? The Claypool trade felt curious when it went down last season -- although I can't imagine GM Ryan Poles envisioned giving away what would become the 32nd pick in the draft. It looked worse when the Bears lost every game Claypool played, with the wideout catching more than two passes just once in seven games. But training camp has turned over a new leaf for Claypool, who has made highlight grabs, even with a few drops. D.J. Moore is likely to be Justin Fields' top gun, but Claypool can play an important role -- and he has a lot to play for in a contract season.
Carolina's defense might be better than most realize. The pass rush received a likely boost with the Justin Houston signing, which should help free up Brian Burns some, and Deion Jones adds to the LB room. But more exciting is the core of emerging talent on that side of the ball: Burns, Derrick Brown, Jaycee Horn, Jeremy Chinn, Donte Jackson, Frankie Luvu and others. This not only figures to sharpen up rookie QB Bryce Young and an offense that is going through a lot of changes, but it also can help prevent Young from trying to do too much right away. Carolina had an average-to-below-average defense last season, but the talent and new direction under coordinator Ejiro Evero could have things pretty steady on that side of the ball.
The Jonathan Taylor standoff hangs over everything the Colts are doing, and there still are health concerns on top of that, but it's hard not to get excited about Anthony Richardson's very early returns. Gardner Minshew is receiving enough first-team reps to consider him a starting possibility for Week 1, but it won't be shocking if Richardson is out there first on Sept. 10 against the Jaguars. Richardson would be more effective with Taylor beside him in the backfield, but the No. 4 overall pick appears to be settling in and pushing for early starting duty without him. Do the Colts have enough weapons if Taylor's dispute drags into the regular season? That's a fair question, and new coach Shane Steichen's scheme creativity might be tested until he has a more complete roster at his disposal.
Assuming Sean McVay sticks with his standard 11 personnel (3 WRs, 1 TE, 1 RB) this season, the Rams might need wide receivers to step up. Cooper Kupp is dealing with a hamstring injury, and Los Angeles doesn't have a clear-cut No. 1 option until he's back. There are holdovers Van Jefferson, Ben Skowronek and Tutu Atwell, new veterans Demarcus Robinson and Tyler Johnson, and one intriguing rookie in Puka Nacua. If the season started today, Nacua -- a fifth-rounder out of BYU -- might be thrust into the spotlight. Jefferson and Robinson likely will see their share of snaps, and Atwell made some noise down the stretch last season, but Nacua's daily camp highlights could push him into a surprisingly big role early.
If you're a Raiders fan, it might be hard not to get twitchy reading news about Josh Jacobs' holdout, Jimmy Garoppolo's camp interceptions and first-rounder Tyree Wilson having yet to practice. But RB Zamir White has reportedly looked pretty good in Jacobs' place, and a defense that was a bottom-10 unit a year ago has put its best foot forward in camp. One area where the D must improve: takeaways. The Raiders ranked last with only 13 a year ago; seven NFL teams had more than twice as many. Getting Wilson up to speed would help, but safeties Tre'von Moehrig and Marcus Epps are stepping up. Marcus Peters has fit right in at cornerback. It's hard to imagine the defense not being better, but by how much?
The Bucs have a fascinating choice to make at quarterback. They can go with the flash-and-sizzle option in Baker Mayfield, who has been making more big plays in training camp -- and also more turnover-worthy ones. Or they can opt for 2021 second-rounder Kyle Trask, who has been the steadier of the two QBs, largely avoiding turnovers, although he’s not able to push the ball downfield as readily. It appears the Mayfield-Trask race remains too close to call. But consider that head coach Todd Bowles, with a reputation for playing things conservatively on offense, ultimately will be making this call.
The light seems to be coming on for rookie QB C.J. Stroud, and it feels like all signs are pointing to him being the Week 1 starter. New head coach DeMeco Ryans and offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik are giving Stroud every chance to win the job and run away with it, and we'll see him out there first in Thursday's preseason opener against the Patriots. Meanwhile, the Texans continue to churn through offensive line possibilities and might not be finished bringing people in following injuries to Tytus Howard and Scott Quessenberry. The last thing Ryans and Slowik want is Stroud getting pummeled early in his rookie season.
There's a lot to figure out right now in Jonathan Gannon's first season. The Cardinals have competitions for starting jobs on all three levels of the defense, a punting battle and -- oh, yeah -- a starting quarterback who is out indefinitely. Whether Kyler Murray can return at some point and lift his team is a debate topic for down the road -- and it's a big one, no doubt. But for now, Gannon has to take stock of what he can count on in the short term, likely with Colt McCoy or Clayton Tune at quarterback, and figure out how best to win games. The offensive concerns only make the beginning of the regular season more daunting, with some good opposing defenses headlining the Cardinals' early schedule.