• Back-to-back elite grades for Raiders QB Aidan O'Connell: The Raiders signal-caller completed 11 of his 16 pass attempts for 163 yards against the Rams. He also threw two touchdown passes and produced one big-time throw and no turnover-worthy plays.
• Bears QB Tyson Bagent turns heads: Bagent completed nine of his 10 pass attempts for 76 yards against the Colts and was on target on all three attempts that traveled at least 10 yards in the air. He also scored the first Bears' touchdown on a scramble late in the second quarter.
• Eagles LB Nolan Smith bounces back: Philadelphia’s first-round pick earned a 33.4 run-defense grade in Week 1 against the Ravens, but he made up for it against the Browns, finishing the day with a run-defense grade of 90.0.
Estimated reading time:
NFL longshots and backups relish any offseason game reps to prove they are worthy of roster spots or more playing time. And a handful more than took advantage in Week 2 of the 2023 preseason.
After every preseason week, we will look at the backups and depth pieces who made the most of their opportunities and highlight their standout performances.
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LB JOSH WOODS — 88.2 PFF grade
While Woods has played nearly 1,000 snaps on special teams throughout his NFL career, he has not seen the field much on defense. He made the most of his 32 snaps against the Chiefs this past week, though, as he allowed just two receptions for 22 yards on 26 coverage snaps. He also picked up a positive grade on half of his run defense snaps.
S DEMARCCO HELLAMS — 92.1 PFF grade
Atlanta’s seventh-round pick has already topped 100 snaps this preseason, and he keeps impressing. He did not earn a single negative grade in run defense this past week against the Bengals, and he came down with an interception for the second consecutive week. The former Alabama safety also broke up a pass, capping another solid display.
G JOHN SIMPSON — 89.5 PFF grade
Simpson, a former starter for the Las Vegas Raiders, had an all-around solid performance for the Ravens against the Commanders. He did not allow a single pressure for the second straight game, and he received four positive grades on 13 run plays without a single downgrade — despite needing to play both left and right guard.
Edge KINGSLEY JONATHAN — 89.5 PFF grade
While Buffalo’s second-year edge defender played just 17 snaps — the same amount as last week against the Colts — that was still enough for him to make a mark. He picked up a sack on just five pass-rushing snaps against the Steelers and was even more impressive against the run, as he recorded two stops on his 12 run-defense snaps.
RB RAHEEM BLACKSHEAR — 82.6 PFF grade
Blackshear broke four tackles on 23 carries during his rookie season with the Panthers, and he almost matched that this weekend against the Giants on fewer carries. The former Virginia Tech running back ran the ball nine times, but that was still enough for him to break three tackles. He picked up 46 yards on his nine rushes, with 29 of those coming after contact.
QB TYSON BAGENT — 86.3 PFF grade
Chicago’s rookie quarterback has had a really strong preseason so far and has crucially thrown only two incompletions after two weeks. Bagent completed nine of his 10 pass attempts for 76 yards against the Colts and was on target on all three attempts that traveled at least 10 yards in the air. He also scored the first Bears' touchdown on a scramble late in the second quarter.
WR SHEDRICK JACKSON — 87.8 PFF grade
Cincinnati’s rookie wide receiver was targeted on nearly one-third of his snaps and caught five passes for 68 receiving yards. The highlight of his game came on a deep contested catch down the right sideline.
WR AUSTIN WATKINS — 84.0 PFF grade
Watkins had a very productive outing against the Eagles in the opening game of preseason Week 2, as his 14 targets, 139 receiving yards and six first downs all led the NFL this weekend. Cleveland’s third-year receiver keeps getting opportunities from the Browns. He has earned a 74.0-plus PFF grade in all three of his games this preseason.
DI CHAUNCEY GOLSTON — 88.4 PFF grade
Although Golston was on the field for only 18 snaps — nine passing and nine running plays — that was still enough for him to stand out. The Iowa alum recorded two hurries on his nine pass-rushing snaps to add to the three he picked up last week. He was even better in run defense against the Seahawks in Week 2, as he earned a positive grade on four of his nine run-defense snaps without a single negative grade.
T ISAIAH PRINCE — 78.1 PFF grade
Prince bounced back against the 49ers after a rough outing against the Cardinals in Week 1 of the preseason. While he was beaten four times on 22 snaps — and was charged with a sack — against Arizona, he gave up only one hurry on 19 pass-blocking snaps against San Francisco. He also received a positive grade on three of his eight run-blocking snaps.
LB MALCOLM RODRIGUEZ — 90.7 PFF grade
The star of last season’s Hard Knocks series is expected to lose his starting position to Jack Campbell this year, but Rodriguez is not giving up his spot without a fight. The former Oklahoma State Cowboy was all over the field against the Jaguars, as he recorded two wins on six pass-rush snaps, did not allow a single reception in coverage and earned an 85.4 run-defense grade.
QB SEAN CLIFFORD — 81.8 PFF grade
While Clifford threw his third interception in this preseason — which was called back because of a penalty — that turnover was actually one of his best throws, as he hit his receiver in the hands down the left sideline. That was one of Clifford’s two big-time throws against the Patriots, as the rookie signal caller earned a PFF passing grade of 83.0.
CB SHAQUILL GRIFFIN — 72.3 PFF grade
The Texans lost 28-3 against the Dolphins and did not have a lot of impressive performances in that game. Houston’s veteran cornerback came the closest to standing out, continuing his impressive preseason in his first offseason with his new team. Griffin was targeted just twice on his 16 coverage snaps and allowed just one reception for 0 yards.
WR JOSH DOWNS — 83.8 PFF grade
Playing mostly from the slot, Downs was targeted on more than one-third of his snaps. The third-round pick doubled his targets from last week and saw four passes thrown his way. He caught three of those passes — including two that went for a first down — and picked up 31 receiving yards against the Bears.
DI JEREMIAH LEDBETTER — 95.2 PFF grade
Ledbetter's 95.2 PFF grade ranked first among all defensive players this week. He picked up five pressures, including a sack, on just 12 pass-rush snaps, but he was even better against the ground game. He earned a positive grade on four of his seven snaps against the run, picking up three defensive stops and forcing a fumble.
WR IHMIR SMITH-MARSETTE — 95.6 PFF grade
Smith-Marsette was on the field for just 11 pass plays, but he was targeted on five of those and caught all five passes for 137 receiving yards and a touchdown. His 95.6 PFF grade led all offensive players with at least 15 snaps this weekend.
QB AIDAN O'CONNELL — 90.1 PFF grade
The rookie quarterback has now earned elite PFF grades in back-to-back games. The Raiders signal-caller completed 11 of his 16 aimed pass attempts for 163 yards against the Rams. He also threw two touchdown passes and produced one big-time throw and no turnover-worthy plays.
CB DEANE LEONARD — 81.7 PFF grade
Leonard was mainly on the field for special teams during his rookie season, as he played only four snaps on defense, all four coming in the last two minutes of games. However, his 35 snaps against the Saints suggest he might have a role on defense this year. While he was on the field for 24 pass plays, he was targeted just once. And although that was a completion, it only went for 6 yards and did not result in a first down.
LB DEANDRE SQUARE — 90.5 PFF grade
Square, an undrafted free agent out of Kentucky, played just 14 snaps in the first week of the preseason but had a much bigger role against the Raiders in Week 2. The rookie was targeted just once on 28 coverage snaps, and he broke up the pass. He also did not receive a single downgrade on his 10 run-defense snaps.
CB PARRY NICKERSON — 88.9 PFF grade
The former Tulane cornerback is already on his sixth team and has played just 55 snaps on defense since his rookie season in 2018. However, with Jalen Ramsey’s injury, there might be a good opportunity for him in Miami, especially if he plays like he did against the Texans. Nickerson played inside and outside against Houston and did not allow a single catch on 18 snaps and four targets, as he broke up two passes.
DI SHELDON DAY — 90.5 PFF grade
At one point, Day played 40 snaps for the 49ers defense in the Super Bowl, but he did not play a single snap last season. At this stage of his career, he is fighting for a roster spot in Minnesota. He might be on the right track with performances like the one against the Titans this past week: Day recorded a pass-rush win on six of his 18 pass-rushing snaps, and he picked up five pressures, including one sack.
WR KAYSHON BOUTTE — 80.6 PFF grade
The highlight of Boutte’s Saturday night performance against the Packers came late in the second quarter when he scored a 42-yard touchdown in the last minute of the half. The former LSU Tiger caught a 10-yard pass and added 32 yards with the ball in his hands to help the Patriots tie the game. Although Boutte had just one more catch on the night, that resulted in a first down, too.
WR SHAQUAN DAVIS — 85.2 PFF grade
Davis was on the field for twice as many pass plays against the Chargers as he was against the Chiefs in Week 1. He also doubled his targets from three to six and his receptions from two to four. Two of the undrafted free agent’s four receptions were contested catches, and he finished the day with 65 receiving yards.
S DANE BELTON — 85.8 PFF grade
Belton was thrust into action as a rookie in 2022 due to injuries in the Giants secondary, but he managed just a 32.8 PFF grade over the year. However, he has been showing promising signs in his second offseason, as he has now earned 75.0-plus PFF grades in both of his preseason games. He made two stops in the passing game against the Panthers, while passes thrown into his coverage resulted in a loss of 3 yards on the day.
T MEKHI BECTON — 85.0 PFF grade
The former first-round pick would most likely be starting had he been able to stay healthy, but given that he has not played a regular-season game since Week 1 of the 2021 season, Becton will have to work his way up the depth chart. However, his talent was once again evident this weekend, as he put together a solid performance against Tampa Bay. He earned a run-blocking grade of 90.2 while allowing no pressures on 19 pass-rushing snaps.
Edge NOLAN SMITH — 85.9 PFF grade
Philadelphia’s first-round pick earned a 33.4 run-defense grade in Week 1 against the Ravens, but he made up for it against the Browns, finishing the day with a run-defense grade of 90.0. Smith was on the field for eight run-defense snaps and did not receive a single downgrade, while he also made a tackle five yards in the backfield.
LB TANNER MUSE — 90.4 PFF grade
The former Clemson Tiger has played mostly on special teams in the NFL, and that is where he is expected to play in Pittsburgh. But his defensive play against the Bills was encouraging. While he did not receive a downgrade in run defense, he was at his best in coverage. He allowed just one reception on 18 coverage snaps, which went for only 7 yards and did not result in a first down.
CB SAMUEL WOMACK III — 84.1 PFF grade
The second-year player was on the field for 21 pass plays and did not allow a single reception, as he broke up both passes going his way and was close to intercepting one of those attempts.
Edge LEVI BELL — 89.5 PFF grade
After picking up five pressures — including a sack — in Week 1, Bell stood out as a pass-rusher again, picking up three pressures on just 16 pass-rushing snaps. He also demonstrated his versatility by playing a snap on offense as a fullback.
WR RAKIM JARRETT — 83.2 PFF grade
Jarrett did not play in Tampa Bay’s first preseason game against the Steelers, but he did his best in Week 2 to make up for the lost opportunity. He caught all three of his targets for 84 yards, with all three catches going for at least 15 yards. His 25.3-yard average depth of target ranked third among receivers with at least three targets this past week.
DI MICHAEL DWUMFOUR — 91.0 PFF grade
Dwumfour is already on his second team during the preseason, and while he struggled in the Hall of Fame game for the Jets, he had an excellent game just days after the Titans signed him. The third-year player excelled in the pass rush, as his 30% pass-rush win rate ranked fifth in the league among all defenders with at least 10 pass-rushing snaps. Dwumfour was on the field for exactly 10 pass plays, and he picked up two hurries and one quarterback hit.
QB JAKE FROMM — 83.4 PFF grade
Fromm was on the field in the second half of the fourth quarter for the Commanders and played a key role in Washington’s comeback win. The former Georgia Bulldog was especially lethal on short and intermediate passes, as he completed all 11 of his attempts — including a touchdown — that were thrown less than 15 yards downfield.