The 2023 NFL preseason begins in earnest this week. All 32 teams are in action between Thursday and Sunday, giving us our first looks at many of the league's heralded — and unheralded — rookies.
Here is one thing we’re looking forward to seeing from each team in each game Thursday.
Houston Texans at New England Patriots (7 p.m. ET)
Texans focus: Rookie starters
It’s all about looking to the future for the Texans, and that starts with rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud. The second overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, Stroud earned PFF passing grades of 89.0 or better in each of his two seasons as a starter at Ohio State. He looks set to be joined by rookie center Juice Scruggs as a starter on offense. Scruggs wasn’t dominant at Penn State but did earn a 73.6 PFF pass-blocking grade in 2022.
On the defensive side of the ball, we’ll get our first look at Will Anderson Jr. since the Texans made him the third overall pick in the draft. He earned PFF pass-rushing grades of 83.0 or better in each of his final two seasons at Alabama and racked up 207 total pressures on 1,223 pass-rushing snaps over his college career.
Patriots focus: Defensive rookies
The Patriots used their first three selections in the 2023 NFL Draft to bolster their defense. Christian Gonzalez has drawn rave reviews out of training camp, and understandably so after the 17th overall pick in the draft ended his Oregon career with an 83.9 PFF coverage grade in 2022. He looks to be the only definite rookie starter on defense, but New England's second and third picks should also feature heavily.
Keion White just feels like a prototypical Bill Belichick defensive lineman. He has the size and versatility to play across the line the way the Patriots have used Deatrich Wise Jr., so getting a long look at White in preseason would be interesting. Like White, Marte Mapu’s versatility is one of his biggest assets. If he plays Thursday, keep an eye on where he lines up.
Minnesota Vikings at Seattle Seahawks (10 p.m. ET)
Vikings focus: Linebackers
Eric Kendricks is no longer in Minnesota, and while it seemed likely Brian Asamoah II would start next to Jordan Hicks, it does seem that the Vikings have been rotating some other players in with the starters in training camp. Asamoah performed well toward the end of the 2022 season and finished the year with a 78.1 PFF coverage grade, albeit on just 63 coverage snaps.
The Athletic's Alec Lewis reported earlier this week that undrafted rookie Ivan Pace Jr. was seeing time with the first team, so perhaps the Vikings are either aiming to rotate their linebackers more in 2023 or there is more of a competition for that spot next to Hicks than many thought heading into the summer. Pace was a force for the Cincinnati Bearcats in 2022, earning a 90.7 PFF run-defense grade and racking up 55 total pressures from 180 pass-rushing snaps. If he can even be a rotational player for the Vikings in 2023, that’s a fantastic return on value for an undrafted free agent.
Seahawks focus: Jaxon Smith-Njigba
I loved Smith-Njigba as a prospect — how can you not after he outproduced Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson on a per-snap basis when they were on the field together? The reports out of training camp have been about how polished he is as a route runner. The thought of him being on the field with Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf should strike fear into every opposing defense.
Smith-Njigba is already likely to see a significant role as a rookie, which means we might not see much of him in the preseason. But, after all the hype, it would be fun to see him in a live game Thursday.