2023 NFL Preseason: Are these players worth the hype?

2KP7T5Y Philadelphia, United States. 28th Nov, 2022. Green Bay Packers Jordan Love throws a pass in the 4th quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles in week 12 of the NFL season at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia on Sunday, November 27, 2022. The Eagles defeated the Packers 40-33. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI Credit: UPI/Alamy Live News

• Love looks the part: Jordan Love looks the part after sitting behind Aaron Rodgers for three seasons — he's earned an 87.1 overall grade and 82.4 passing grade through two preseason games, with one big-time throw and zero turnover-worthy plays.

• O'Connell turning heads: Aidan O'Connell has recorded two big-time throws and no turnover-worthy plays while sporting an impressive 11.3-yard average depth of target (aDOT).

• Dominate your fantasy league in 2023: For up-to-date fantasy draft rankings and projections, check out PFF’s fantasy rankings tool!

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

The 2023 NFL preseason is almost over, and there are a number of players who are generating a lot of hype. Some of these players are rookies who have been highly touted coming out of college, while others are looking to find success in more prominent roles. But are all of these players worth the hype?

Here is a closer look at some of the players who are generating the most buzz as we head into the preseason finale.

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QB Jordan Love, Green Bay Packers

Small sample size alert!

Love looks the part after sitting behind Aaron Rodgers for three seasons — he's earned an 87.1 overall grade and 82.4 passing grade through two preseason games, with one big-time throw and zero turnover-worthy plays.

The reports out of training camp indicate that Love has complete control of the offense, good connections with his young receivers and improves every practice.

When he translates that to the field like we saw against New England, it’s as if Rodgers never left. In the one extended action Love got in 2022, he casually completed 6-of-9 passes for 113 yards and a touchdown, with one big-time throw.

Verdict: Buying. Love is showing that he can be a quality NFL quarterback. Like Rodgers before him, the Utah State product was able to learn from one of the all-time greats before taking the reins.

I’m not expecting the transition to be as seamless as it was from Brett Farve to Rodgers, nor do I expect Love to play anywhere near Hall of Fame level. But if Love can orchestrate an NFL offense and keep the Packers on schedule, the transition won’t be as difficult as it once appeared.

QB Aidan O'Connell, Las Vegas Raiders

O’Connell has put up a 91.8 passing grade across his two preseason games, first at the position, with the next-closest rookie being Green Bay's Sean Clifford at 78.0. 

The former Purdue star has recorded two big-time throws and no turnover-worthy plays while sporting an impressive 11.3-yard average depth of target (aDOT). He’s not dinking and dunking his way down the field to protect the ball — he is slinging the rock. Through two games, 80.6% of his yards have come via the air, and he’s throwing the ball with good timing, averaging 2.58 seconds per dropback.

O’Connell’s 14.7% inaccurate throw rate is second-best among all rookie quarterbacks, while he boasts the second-best accurate-plus (perfect accuracy) rate among all quarterbacks this preseason.

The knock on O’Connell coming out of Purdue was his willingness to throw into contested situations. That is sometimes needed in the NFL, but the way to consistently win in the pros is to find the open receiver and give him room to run with the ball after the catch.

O’Connell generally looks like the same player we saw in college: quick decision-making, ability to throw with anticipation, know-how to work the middle of the field and a willingness to drive the ball downfield. But he has so far cut out his mistakes.

Verdict: Buying, to an extent. It’s only preseason, but he’s showing he can lead and operate an NFL offense while avoiding negative plays. O’Connell hasn’t seen anything difficult to test him, but we’ve seen rookie QBs excel in the preseason and carry that into a good NFL career, whether as a starter or a backup. And in his case, I see the potential for a long-term backup in the NFL.

Edge Nick Herbig, Pittsburgh Steelers

It’s only 63 preseason snaps, but Herbig has put up a 92.9 overall grade, an 83.8 run-defense grade and a 90.8 pass-rushing grade.

In the run game, he has three defensive stops and a tackle for loss to go along with zero downgrades in our system, and he's recorded a 27.3% win rate as a pass-rusher, the best mark at his position so far this preseason. He’s already racked up four sacks to go along with three hurries and seven other wins that didn’t result in pressure.

His explosiveness is difficult to defend. He ran an impressive 1.59-second 10-yard split at the NFL combine, and so far, offensive tackles have not been able to match that speed. Granted, he’s been wreaking havoc against backup offensive linemen thus far and won’t likely get matchups as easy as he’s been getting.

Verdict: Buying. Herbig’s knock coming out of college was his size, and nothing has changed there. We projected him to contribute as a linebacker in the NFL, but he’s showing his size hasn’t been an issue yet. 

The rigor of an NFL season might take its toll on the undersized former Wisconsin Badger, but because he was drafted by the Steelers, a team that puts its edge defenders in ideal situations and has already developed an undersized player in Alex Highsmith, the outlook for Herbig looks great.

Is Brian Branch the Detroit Lions’ best defender

When you look at plays like this, you can’t help but echo the above statement. The closing speed and power Branch exhibits are what coaches dream of. He has elite traits for the position and hails from the best-coached team in college football.

You have his teammates giving high praise about what he’s doing in camp, and all reports from the media indicate that he’s been exceptional and potentially already the Detroit Lions‘ best defender.

He’s played just 16 snaps this preseason and sports a 76.7 overall grade. The Lions have asked him to play in man coverage on nine of his 12 coverage snaps, and he’s allowed just two catches for 5 yards.

Verdict: Buying, with the caveat that Aidan Hutchinson still exists. Branch was a top-20 prospect in the NFL draft, and all the noise he’s made this summer has only strengthened that conviction. Hutchinson was a top-three prospect in 2022, so time will tell who becomes the better player, but the early signs show the Lions have knocked it out of the park in recent drafts.


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