• Will Anderson Jr. earns an elite overall grade: The Texans' No. 3 overall pick posted a 93.9 overall grade on just 12 total snaps.
• Nick Herbig already looks like a steal: With three sacks and five defensive stops in two preseason games, Herbig may end up a key contributor for the Steelers in Year 1.
• Mazi Smith has some work to do: The Cowboys' first-rounder was at the mercy of the Seahawks' offensive line throughout his Week 2 performance and finished with a 25.9 run-defense grade.
Estimated Reading Time: 7 minutes
We now have two weeks of NFL preseason action in the books, with some teams that rested starters in Week 1 giving them some run in Week 2, and vice versa.
While we’re still working with very small sample sizes and a hodgepodge of reps against starters or depth players, we have some players on the rise and others trending downward heading into the final week of preseason football.
Editor's Note: This article was written before Monday Night Football between the Washington Commanders and Baltimore Ravens.
Bell vs. the Denver Broncos in Week 2
Bell also forced five missed tackles on receptions. No other wide receiver has had more than three missed tackles forced in a preseason game this season. Finally, Bell’s 8.4 yards after the catch per reception leads the NFL through the second week of the preseason. Racking up yards after the catch and making defenders miss in space in a Kyle Shanahan offense? That’ll work.
Undrafted rookie quarterback Tyson Bagent went 9-of-10 on the most impressive drive of the game for either the Bears or Colts in Week 2, which lasted more than nine minutes in the second quarter and culminated in a diving score for Bagent on the ground. He finished with an 86.3 grade on the day, including an 81.4 passing grade.
The Bears signed former Carolina Panthers quarterback P.J. Walker to be their backup to Justin Fields, and he very well may keep that job throughout the season, but Bagent has at least made the QB2 conversation interesting.
After a tough rookie season, Tolbert is starting to look like the playmaker out of South Alabama who skyrocketed up draft boards last year. He recorded four receptions for 66 yards, including a nice back-shoulder catch down the right sideline where he displayed good body control to haul it in through contact. Tolbert was charged with a drop but nonetheless earned an 81.0 receiving grade and is stacking solid performances.
Question marks remain across the Jets' offensive line amid a bevy of injuries, and the tackle spots need to be sorted before Week 1. Becton made his debut at right tackle this week. He played 28 snaps against the Buccaneers and finished with an 85.0 overall grade, allowing zero quarterback pressures on 19 pass-blocking snaps and earning three positive grades over just nine run-blocking reps.
Becton may not be a Week 1 starter and still has to stay healthy over extended periods of play, but if he can serve as a potential high-end swing tackle for the Jets this season, that alone could be tremendously valuable.
Anderson flashed the brute force that made him the No. 3 overall pick in this year’s draft when he just bowled over Miami Dolphins running back Salvon Ahmed and forced quarterback Skylar Thompson to cough up the football. Anderson tacked on two defensive stops despite logging just 12 total snaps.
WILL ANDERSON JR. IS A MONSTER ???? pic.twitter.com/1xYgNX3VtJ
— PFF (@PFF) August 19, 2023
Herbig had perhaps the highlight of the weekend with a perfectly executed cross-chop move followed by an impressive display of bend to get around the corner and force Bills backup quarterback Matt Barkley to fumble the ball. On Herbig’s first snap of the night, he beat Bills starting left tackle Dion Dawkins around the outside and forced an incompletion from Josh Allen, coming fairly close to causing a fumble, as well.
The third-round rookie out of Wisconsin now has three sacks and five defensive stops in two preseason games over just 40 total snaps. He’s clearly earning a role as a depth edge defender in Pittsburgh.
Enagbare delivered a truly dominant 14-snap performance in Week 2, with two sacks on eight pass-rush reps and two defensive stops on four run-defense reps. The second-year edge defender out of South Carolina earned an elite 96.4 overall grade for his efforts. If he can carry this productivity into the beginning of the regular season, it could go a long way as Rashan Gary continues to recover from a torn ACL.
Miller received a larger workload in Week 2 as he was perhaps ramping up after missing some time with an injury earlier this offseason. Miller displayed the versatility and high-end athleticism that made him an early third-round pick, hauling in a beautiful diving catch on a wheel route down the left sideline. He later ran it in for a score but overall wasn’t all that efficient on the ground. But the talent is undeniable in a crowded backfield.
The Cowboys' first-round selection had a really rough outing against the Seattle Seahawks, routinely getting washed out of plays and taken for a ride by opposing offensive linemen. Smith earned a 25.9 run-defense grade on the night on a decent sample size of 19 run-defense snaps, which is a bit concerning since he was brought in to help stabilize a porous unit up the middle from last season.
EDGE Frank Clark, Denver Broncos
The biggest concern for Clark may simply be the fact that he was still on the field in the fourth quarter of a preseason game. Clark earned a 38.7 grade on 27 total snaps, with a 29.7 run-defense grade and a 52.7 pass-rush grade with zero quarterback pressures on 10 reps. Clark plays his best football in January, not August, but it wasn’t a great outing nonetheless.
The Bills' offensive line continues to be a bit of a concern. Brown was beaten by his defender twice, allowing one quarterback hurry over 19 pass-blocking snaps while also getting sent airborne by Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Elandon Roberts on a pull block in the run game.
Head coach Doug Pederson certainly wasn’t impressed with Robinson’s outing, telling Demetrius Harvey of the Florida Times-Union that Robinson was “on the ground too much for a player of his caliber.”
Robinson was beaten by a defender three times and allowed two quarterback pressures and a hit over 25 pass-blocking snaps, earning a 35.1 grade for the game. With Robinson set to miss the first four games of the 2023 season due to a suspension, a strong tune-up effort could have been good to see before he’s away from game action for a stretch.
Ekwonu has been drawing praise all offseason and finished 2022 on a high note, so this was likely nothing more than a blip on the radar. The top-10 pick from a year ago allowed two quarterback pressures, which resulted in a sack and a quarterback hit, over just 11 pass-blocking snaps.
The Panthers' offensive line has to do a better job of protecting No. 1 overall pick quarterback Bryce Young once the real games kick off, especially with a receiving corps that isn’t going to be getting open at will.
The fourth-round selection from 2022 has now missed a field goal in all three of the Browns' preseason games, all falling between 40-49 yards. This past week, however, may have been the most troubling. With less than two minutes remaining in an 18-18 tie ballgame against the Philadelphia Eagles, York pushed an attempt wide right … but there was a flag on the play. York got another shot at a potential game-winner and this time pulled it wide left.
The preseason is the preseason for everyone, including kickers, but this is a troubling trend emerging, regardless.