10 things we learned in 2023 NFL preseason: Packers' Jordan Love is ready, Steelers offense primed for more
After three and a half weeks of preseason action, the 2023 exhibition schedule is finally in the books. Now it's time for the NFL's real games to begin. But first, what are we taking away from our first live look at all 32 teams going into the new year?
Here are 10 of our top takeaways -- crucial things we learned -- during the 2023 preseason:
The reigning conference champion Eagles still have a vaunted roster. The Cowboys do as well, now with Trey Lance as a surprise emergency plan behind Dak Prescott. And both Daniel Jones and Sam Howell looked confident with improved surroundings for the Giants and Commanders, respectively. The key will be whether Darren Waller stays healthy as Jones' new No. 1, and whether Eric Bieniemy can trust Howell to operate his offense over the long haul. At the very least, the entertainment value is here!
The first red flag was Jalen Ramsey, their star defensive acquisition, going down with a serious knee injury in camp. Since then, almost everyone but injury-riddled quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has battled ailments of some kind -- left tackle Terron Armstead, running back De'Von Achane, wide receiver Jaylen Waddle, and struggling new backup QB Mike White among them. This team has lots of speed and a smart new defensive mind, but they remain a risky bet on the medical front.
In 2022, the concern was losing All-Pro Tyreek Hill. In 2023, the concern was adequately supporting Travis Kelce with, well, someone other than JuJu Smith-Schuster. Besides the fact Kelce and Patrick Mahomes would keep Kansas City afloat anyway, almost all of their young up-and-comers, including Skyy Moore, Rashee Rice and even Ihmir Smith-Marsette, have flashed big-play ability this summer. And only one of them might get real looks this year! Andy Reid's offense could just be WR-proof.
There's a ton to like about the Panthers' No. 1 pick, both personally and stylistically. The rookie QB appears wise beyond his years. But by the looks of Carolina's offense this preseason, he may be years away from having competent protection and weaponry, a la Justin Fields in Chicago. Frank Reich is a nice match at head coach, but not even Ikem Ekwonu, a solid left tackle as a rookie, has elevated a shaky line, and aging possession target Adam Thielen appears to be the only sure thing out wide ... in the year 2023.
Even Pittsburgh fans couldn't celebrate Mike Tomlin's latest elusion of a losing record because of how sluggish the Steelers looked for much of 2022. But second-year QB Kenny Pickett had no issue moving the ball this summer, aided by George Pickens' sideline acrobatics and Jaylen Warren's burst as Najee Harris relief. With an upgraded line and an underrated safety valve in tight end Pat Freiermuth, pretty much all the pieces are there for this club to make more noise in the AFC North.
This is neither an acquittal nor an indictment of the Colts' rookie QB, to be clear. Ever since his rise up the draft boards, the talk has been the same: he's an athletic freak who needs a lot of polish. And that was crystal clear in the preseason, where the Florida product showcased both a wildly erratic and superpowered arm while doing most of his work on the ground. One thing's for certain: good, bad or somewhere in between, Indianapolis is in for an entertaining year under center.
We're being premature, obviously, but most of the criticism surrounding Las Vegas' lucrative rental of Jimmy Garoppolo had to do with the Josh McDaniels regime punting on an actual solution at QB. Don't tell that to Aidan O'Connell! The fourth-round rookie out of Purdue led a half-dozen scoring drives in significant preseason action, completing 70% of his throws without a single pick. He may be a statue in the pocket, but he never looked in above his head and should be the team's No. 2 QB out of the gate.
Out of necessity, really. The Titans added DeAndre Hopkins to Ryan Tannehill's otherwise porous WR corps, but their connection depends not only on their shared health but on the revamped O-line standing strong. Young backup QBs Malik Willis and Will Levis took turns trading athletic moments with head-scratching ones throughout the summer. At the end of the day, even after a general manager change, this feels like another old-school Mike Vrabel operation that'll lean hard on Henry's superhuman size.
After an ugly, injury-marred Super Bowl "encore," Sean McVay's squad is returning Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp, but the latter is already coming off a new injury, and the team's top Stafford insurance plan is rookie Stetson Bennett, who saw his accuracy slip every time he saw the field in the preseason. Los Angeles spent the early part of the offseason cutting costs and shifting focus toward the long term. Losing 41-0 in the exhibition finale could end up being a fitting transition to the real games.
If Aaron Rodgers' move to the Jets is the biggest story coming out of the 2023 offseason, it's a credit to Love that we haven't expressed an abundance of worry about the future Hall of Famer's successor. The regular season will be the ultimate test, but the former first-rounder was efficient, productive and, perhaps best of all, composed in all three exhibition starts. We knew coming out of college he had a live arm, but the touch he's shown on several red-zone targets has been just as impressive.