Stock up, stock down after the 2023 NFL preseason: Kenny Pickett, Dawand Jones and more

2RH3JE8 Cleveland Browns offensive lineman Dawand Jones (74) lines up for a play during an NFL pre-season football game against the Washington Commanders, Friday, Aug. 11, 2023, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Kirk Irwin)

• Kenny Pickett showed out: It was only preseason, and he featured in less of it than most players, but Kenny Pickett was almost flawless. His 94.7 PFF grade was the best of any quarterback.

• The Browns seem to have something in Dawand Jones: Jones racked up 223 snaps — the most of any tackle this preseason by 33 snaps. And across 148 snaps of pass protection, the fourth-round rookie let up just three pressures.

• Jonathan Mingo has work to do: There is a clear pathway to being Carolina's No. 1 receiver for Mingo, but across 50 snaps in three preseason games, he appeared to make several small mistakes.

Estimated Reading Time: 7 minutes

Before we settle in for the 2023 NFL regular season, there’s enough time to adjust any expectations and take stock of the preseason.

Already there has been movement off the back of certain preseason performances. Players have been traded and moved up or down depth charts, and here we will run through some of those who improved or hurt their stock over the past few weeks.

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QB Aidan O’Connell, Las Vegas Raiders

No one improved their stock as much as rookie quarterback Aidan O’Connell, who put together one of the best preseasons in the NFL. He finished with an 89.5 PFF grade and had 64 dropbacks across three games in which he saw significant time. He didn’t make a single turnover-worthy play across those three games, something that blighted his college tape. The Raiders probably weren’t expecting much out of the fourth-rounder, but they are going to have to sit up and pay attention to him now as he enters the season as the third quarterback on the roster.

QB Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh Steelers

It was only preseason, and he featured in less of it than most players, but Kenny Pickett was almost flawless. His 94.7 PFF grade was the best of any quarterback, thanks to his completing 13 of 15 attempts for 199 yards and two touchdowns. Pickett has looked phenomenal at the helm of the first-team Steelers offense and that only adds to the glowing reports from training camp. His entire draft class was much maligned at the quarterback position, but Pickett is heading into his second season with a lot of momentum.

QB Baker Mayfield, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

It wasn’t clear who Tampa Bay's starting quarterback would be at the start of preseason, but Baker Mayfield did all he could do to win the job at the same time as Kyle Trask failed to make it a difficult decision. Mayfield had two big-time throws on 15 attempts and no turnover-worthy plays. Trask posted three such negatives on his snaps.

OT Bernhard Raimann, Indianapolis Colts

Bernhard Raimann played well after a rocky start as a rookie last season. His subpar showing in 2022 was largely overlooked because of how bad the offense and line were alongside him for the Colts, though. This preseason, Raimann earned the best PFF pass-blocking grade (90.1) of any tackle in the NFL and allowed no pressure across 38 pass-blocking snaps. He could be a very good left tackle this season. 

OT Dawand Jones, Cleveland Browns

With snaps in the Hall of Fame game and three regular outings, Dawand Jones racked up 223 snaps — the most of any tackle this preseason by 33 snaps. He played close to four full games worth of plays and did not allow a sack for the Browns. Across 148 snaps of pass protection, the fourth-round rookie let up just three pressures and looked like he was well capable of playing at this level at right tackle for the Browns.

RB Jaylen Warren, Pittsburgh Steelers

Ever since the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Najee Harris to fix their running game, he has been slowly falling out of favor. And now Jaylen Warren has been flashing the kind of breakaway speed that Harris lacks. Warren carried the ball only six times this preseason, but those carries went for 89 yards and two touchdowns, the highlight of which was a 62-yard scamper. Warren could eat into Harris’ workload with the Steelers' offense this season.

CB Tre Tomlinson, Los Angeles Rams

At 5-foot-8 and 180 pounds, Tre Tomlinson was projected by many to be a slot cornerback in the NFL despite the fact that he barely lined up there in college. The sixth-round pick stood out all preseason for the Rams, allowing just two catches for 16 yards across three games and seven targets. He recorded two pass breakups and went toe to toe with vastly bigger receivers — and won. He could start sooner rather than later for the Rams.


QB Trey Lance, San Francisco 49ers

Trey Lance was never likely to be able to win back the starting job that was wrested from his grip last season by Brock Purdy while Lance was injured. With a good preseason showing, however, he could have at least made the decision difficult for the 49ers. Instead, his performance was weak enough to drop him behind Sam Darnold on the depth chart and see him traded away for pennies on the dollar to Dallas as a reclamation project. Lance had three turnover-worthy plays on just 39 dropbacks and a long list of plays where he passed up open receivers.

QB Will Levis, Tennessee Titans

Will Levis sliding to the top of the second round landed him in a perfect spot in Tennessee, but from both training camp and preseason performances, he has looked far from ready to take the field during the regular season. Levis was outperformed by Malik Willis, himself far from assured under center, and posted a 46.4 PFF grade overall, with two turnover-worthy plays on just 19 dropbacks.

WR Jonathan Mingo, Carolina Panthers

There is a clear pathway to being Carolina's No. 1 receiver if Jonathan Mingo can hit the ground running in the NFL. Preseason was never going to give a definitive answer on that, but across 50 snaps in three games, Mingo appeared to make several small mistakes that prevented him from being on the same page as Bryce Young. Those are issues that will cap his production if he can’t get them squared away quickly.

WR Alec Pierce, Indianapolis Colts

Not all young receivers hit the ground running in the NFL, but those who don’t can still take significant leaps after a year in the same offense. That was the hope for second-year man Alec Pierce in Indianapolis, albeit with a new offensive scheme installed this offseason. In camp and preseason, however, Pierce has looked much the same as a season ago. He was thrown at four times in two preseason games, catching none of the four, and has consistently struggled to create separation.

OG Andrus Peat, New Orleans Saints

Andrus Peat has struggled to achieve quality play for some time, at least according to PFF grades and pressure numbers. He hasn’t earned an overall grade above 52.1 since the 2017 season, and last year he earned a 40.3 PFF pass-blocking grade, coughing up three sacks over the season. He played just 22 snaps this preseason, surrendering two pressures, and it now emerges he is likely to lose his starting job to James Hurst, last year’s left tackle.

LB Isaiah Simmons, New York Giants

The quest to work out exactly what Isaiah Simmons actually is at the NFL level has now moved on to the New York Giants, who traded for him during the preseason. Arizona had drafted a player who was effectively a defensive back in college and asked him to play linebacker at the NFL level, before admitting defeat and using him more as a slot matchup player last year and then a safety this preseason. The Giants immediately moved him back to linebacker, but across 47 preseason snaps, Simmons earned just a 28.0 PFF grade. Simmons is an immense athlete but remains a player without a position.

DI Mazi Smith, Dallas Cowboys

Mazi Smith was drafted to plug the gap up the middle in the Dallas Cowboys run-defense unit. His added size and power inside were meant to prevent the team from being run on and further enhance the threat of their potent pass rush. So, it is a little concerning that across 83 snaps this preseason, Smith earned a 28.4 PFF run-defense grade and was consistently moved on the kind of combination and double-team blocks he was renowned for dominating in college. The NFL is a different proposition to the Big Ten, and Smith needs to make that adjustment.


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