News & Analysis

PFF Preseason Week 1 Preview: Players to watch in all 16 games

The Hall of Fame Game is in the books. The quarterbacks left a lot to be desired, backup offensive lines looked like backup offensive lines and no-name running backs ran wild — all signs pointing to the start of another glorious NFL preseason.

To preview the first full week of preseason games, we at PFF have highlighted players to watch for all 32 teams in all 16 games. Enjoy!

[Editor's Note: All of PFF's ELITE subscribers have access to advanced stats and grades for every player that takes a snap in the preseason. Don't rely on the box score to find out if your favorite team's backups are performing above expectation. Subscribe to ELITE today!]

Thursday, August 8

New York Jets @ New York Giants – 7PM ET

Jets 

Chuma Edoga, a former five-star recruit and standout at USC, is a long-armed, athletic offensive line prospect with sky-high potential in the NFL. He needs to refine his technique to last in the NFL, but he has all the tools to make waves if polished. He earned an 83.3 pass-blocking grade that ranked 17th in the draft class in 2018. Former Wake Forest Greg Dortch makes up for what he lacks in size with great speed and quicks. He earned the fourth-best receiving grade (87.7) of any draft-eligible receiver and averaged a whopping 2.67 yards per route run with the Demon Deacons a year ago. Jachai Polite may have tumbled down boards because of poor workouts prior to the draft, but his play at Florida was among the class’ best. He finished the 2018 season ranked tied for fourth in pass-rush grade (90.8) and finished in the top-20 in pass-rush win percentage (18%). Minnesota product Blake Cashman earned 80.0-plus overall, coverage, run-defense and pass-rush grades in his final year with the Golden Gophers and should have plenty of opportunities to show off his versatility on Thursday and through the rest of the preseason.

Giants 

New York’s linebacking corps is nothing to write home about, putting rookie Ryan Connelly in position to earn reps during the regular season with a stellar start to the preseason on Thursday. The former Wisconsin walk-on earned high grades in run defense and rushing the passer, showing great instincts and play recognition all throughout his career. Former Old Dominion edge defender Oshane Ximines earned 90.0-plus pass-rush grades in each of his final two collegiate seasons despite being a bit undersized. Julian Love has been taking reps at slot cornerback and free safety in camp, per Greg Joyce of the New York Post. The standout Notre Dame outside cornerback will face his first NFL test at the new positions on Thursday. Love earned a 90.6 overall grade in 2018, ranking third in the draft class.

Indianapolis Colts @ Buffalo Bills – 7PM ET

Colts

Parris Campbell was a monster after the catch working from the slot at Ohio State a year ago, earning an impressive 87.5 receiving grade and averaging 8.9 yards after the catch per reception in the process. He figures to assume primary slot duties for Indy this season, especially if he can lead off his rookie campaign with a bang on Thursday. Second-year Rutgers product Kemoko Turay flashed elite potential in bursts this past season and finished the year as one of the NFL’s best rookie edge defenders in pass-rush win percentage (16.7%). Former TCU edge defender Ben Banogu trained with former Colts legend Robert Mathis this offseason to improve as a pass-rusher before the start of his rookie campaign. The freakishly athletic, 6-foot-3, 250-pounder has all of the tools in the world to succeed at edge defender in the NFL; he just needs to develop his technique and add more pass-rush moves to his arsenal.

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Bills

New Bills offensive lineman Cody Ford finished his final two collegiate seasons at Oklahoma with 85.0 pass-blocking grades. He enters 2019 with an opportunity to claim a starting spot at guard or tackle with a strong preseason. An undrafted wideout out of ‘Bama, Robert Foster earned an impressive 73.3 receiving grade across 451 offensive snaps with Buffalo this past season. He’ll look to kick off his second year in the NFL with a strong enough preseason to steal some targets away from other pass-catchers in the offense. Rookie Devin Singletary nearly broke PFF’s elusive rating metric in his stint at FAU, forcing missed tackles and gaining yards after contact at an absurd rate. He earned 90.0-plus rushing grades in each of his last two seasons at FAU.

Atlanta Falcons @ Miami Dolphins – 7:30PM ET

Falcons

Chris Lindstrom played just 12 offensive snaps in the Hall of Fame Game last Thursday, but he will likely build on that figure against Miami this week. The former Boston College guard ranked tied for 11th in overall grade (75.7) and second in pass-blocking grade (91.6) among draft-eligible guards in 2018. Running behind Lindstrom & Co., Falcons’ third-year back Brian Hill is fighting for a roster spot in what has become a loaded backfield in Atlanta. He turned 11 carries into 57 yards (18 after contact) in the Hall of Fame Game. Second-year defensive interior Deadrin Senat, Atlanta’s third-round pick in 2018, turned in an 86.8 overall grade across 33 snaps last week, recording two defensive stops and one pressure in the process.

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Dolphins

Rookie running back Myles Gaskin faces an uphill battle in terms of securing a spot on the 53-man roster behind Kenyan Drake, Kalen Ballage and Mark Walton, meaning Thursday and the rest of the preseason will be his best opportunities to earn his keep. Among the 94 FBS running backs with 200 offensive snaps played in 2018, Gaskin ranked 37th in overall grade (76.8). Preston Williams, a former five-star recruit and Colorado State product, has drawn rave reviews in camp and will be expected to back such praise up on Thursday and beyond. Williams earned an 84.6 receiving grade across his 336 routes run in 2018, ranking 12th among qualifying draft-eligible wideouts.

New England Patriots @ Detroit Lions – 7:30PM ET

Patriots

Former NC State wide receiver Jakobi Meyers has drawn the attention of some Pats beat writers in training camp and could very well carve himself out a role this season considering New England’s lack of depth at wide receiver. Meyers earned an impressive 86.7 receiving grade a year ago, ranking ninth among qualifiers. Second-year defensive back Duke Dawson starred at slot corner for Florida before missing all of his rookie season with a hamstring injury. He needs a strong preseason to stay in the mix in what is a loaded secondary in New England.

Lions

Second-year Oregon product Tyrell Crosby earned an elite 93.1 pass-blocking grade with the Ducks in 2017 but struggled in the two NFL games he played more than 30 snaps in this past season. A second-year step forward is needed for Crosby to keep his NFL dreams alive, and the road to said leap starts Thursday. Amani Oruwariye fell all the way to the fifth round of the 2019 NFL Draft despite starring at outside cornerback with Penn State. He earned 70.0-plus coverage grades in each of his last three collegiate seasons.  

Jacksonville Jaguars @ Baltimore Ravens – 7:30PM ET

Jaguars

Veteran off-ball linebacker Jake Ryan earned career-high marks across the board with Green Bay in 2017 but lost all momentum when he was sidelined for all of 2018 with a torn ACL. The road to recovery and a bounce-back season starts Thursday. Rookie safety Andrew Wingard finished the 2018 season ranked ninth in overall grade (84.7) among qualifying draft-eligible safeties. He will have his sights set on earning a role on special teams as an undrafted free agent.

Ravens

Former Notre Dame standout Miles Boykin is a freaky athlete with great size and the means to reach his sky-high potential in the NFL. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound receiver earned a 77.1 receiving grade with the Fighting Irish a year ago. Fellow rookie Justice Hill, a 5-foot-10, 200-pound speedster coming out of Oklahoma State, has change-of-pace back written all over him. In such a run-heavy offense, Hill has a very good chance of earning reps in Baltimore’s deep running back rotation with a strong preseason. Gerald Willis III, an undrafted defensive interior and former Miami (Fla.) standout, earned strong run-defense grades with the Hurricanes and could do much of the same in the NFL.

Washington Redskins @ Cleveland Browns – 7:30PM ET

Redskins

NC State product Kelvin Harmon finished the 2018 season ranked tied for 14th among qualifying draft-eligible wide receivers in receiving grade (84.4). The 6-foot-2, 221-pounder may have been drafted in just the sixth round, but his chances of earning a significant role aren’t as low as other Day 3 picks considering the Redskins’ current group of receiving talent. Second-year defensive interior Tim Settle earned impressive run-defense grades at the collegiate level and should have plenty of opportunities to show similar dominance this preseason.

Browns

Sione Takitaki, a BYU product drafted in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft, turned in elite play at edge defender and off-ball linebacker at the collegiate level. Getting our first look at Takitaki and his usage on Thursday will be a treat. Second-year edge defender Genard Avery turned in an 85.5 pass-rush grade in his debut NFL game in 2018 but struggled to recreate the magic for the rest of his rookie season. Expected to sit behind Myles Garrett and Olivier Vernon, Avery needs a strong preseason to solidify his status as a rotational pass-rusher in the Browns’ defense.

Tennessee Titans @ Philadelphia Eagles – 7:30 PM ET

Titans 

Rookie guard Nate Davis finished the pre-draft process as PFF’s fifth-best interior offensive lineman. He allowed all of four pressures across his 234 pass-blocking snaps this past season. Running behind David & Co., rookie running back Alex Barnes will look to prove he’s so much more than a workout warrior with every preseason snap he gets in Tennessee. The former Kansas State standout blew up the combine and earned impressive yards after contact per attempt and forced missed tackle per attempt averages in 2018.

Eagles

Philadelphia’s roster is loaded with PFF favorites that should see significant playing time on Thursday and throughout the preseason. First-round rookie offensive tackle Andre Dillard finished the 2018 season as one of the best pass-blocking offensive linemen in college football, and former Stanford wideout JJ Arcega-Whiteside received a first-round grade from PFF’s draft analysts after lighting the Pac-12 on fire with his contested-catch ability and red-zone work. Rookie running back Miles Sanders, a former five-star recruit stashed behind Saquon Barkley at Penn State, could steal the starting nod away from Jordan Howard with a strong preseason. Sanders earned an 83.1 rushing grade a year ago, ranking 15th among draft-eligible backs.

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Houston Texans @ Green Bay Packers – 8PM ET

Texans

Rookie offensive linemen Tytus Howard and Max Scharping, two top-60 picks in the 2019 NFL Draft, have a lot to prove. Both Howard and Scharping have very little experience against Power 5 competition and will face their first NFL tests against Green Bay this week. Rookie running back Karan Higdon, a Michigan product and favorite of PFF’s Sam Monson, can earn himself a role in Houston’s offense now that Dont’a Foreman has been pushed off the roster. Higdon earned a 76.3 overall grade with the Wolverines in 2018. Former Texas defensive lineman Charles Omenihu led all Big 12 edge defenders in tackles for no gain or a loss this past season. The 6-foot-5, 280-pounder is a long, athletic defensive prospect with great positional versatility.

Packers 

Rookie Notre Dame running back Dexter Williams earned a 79.8 rushing grade with the Fighting Irish a year ago. With veteran Jamaal Williams missing practices due to injury, Williams should have plenty of opportunities on Thursday to carve out a role as a primary backup in the NFL. Kingsley Keke, like Omenihu, is a long, athletic defensive lineman that can play multiple positions in the NFL. Keke earned 80.0-plus run-defense grade in each of his last three seasons at Texas A&M.

Carolina Panthers @ Chicago Bears – 8PM ET

Will Grier may not be competing for the starting job in Carolina, but his road to becoming the team’s primary backup and potential quarterback of the future starts Thursday. At West Virginia, Grier earned 91.0-plus passing grades in 2017 and 2018. Former Florida running back Jordan Scarlett watched his draft stock plummet due to off-field concerns, but his play on the field was among college football’s best. In 2018, Scarlett earned an impressive 86.8 rushing grade that ranked fourth among all draft-eligible backs. Working behind first-rounder Brian Burns and veteran Bruce Irvin, rookie Christian Miller should see a ton of snaps Thursday and through the rest of the preseason. He wasn’t given a ton of opportunities at ‘Bama, but his play was strong across a limited sample size.

Bears

It’s still baffling that former Missouri standout Emanuel Hall went undrafted. The 6-foot-3, 195-pound speedster still needs to improve as a route-runner, but his deep speed and vertical receiving ability should have had him drafted. He’ll have his first chance to prove his doubters wrong on Thursday. We at PFF, among many others, were high on former Florida product Jonathan Bullard in the 2016 NFL Draft. His breakout season needs to come sooner rather than later if Chicago is going to still keep the 2016 third-rounder around.

Los Angeles Chargers @ Arizona Cardinals – 10PM ET

Chargers

Chargers running backs Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson enter the preseason with a lot to gain as Melvin Gordon’s contract situation keeps him away from the team. Both Ekeler and Jackson have proved efficient in limited action across their young careers. A strong preseason from either of them likely won’t force a decision from Gordon or the Bolts’ brass, but it surely won’t hurt their stock. Rookie Notre Dame prospect Drue Tranquill also has an opportunity to play himself into a reserve role with a good preseason considering the Chargers’ current talent (or lack thereof) at linebacker. Tranquill earned 90.1 and 83.3 coverage grades with the Fighting Irish in 2017 and 2018, respectively.

Cardinals

With the expectation that new head coach Kliff Kingsbury runs a lot of 10 and 11 personnel in 2018, rookie receivers Hakeem Butler and KeeSean Johnson should both have plenty of opportunities to show off their skillset and earn backup roles in Arizona’s offense Butler led the FBS in deep receiving yards a year ago, and Johnson earned an 84.8 receiving grade with Fresno State in 2018. Rookie sixth-round guard Lamont Gaillard, a favorite of PFF’s Mike Renner, could very well play himself into a starting role with a strong preseason. He earned a 79.2 overall grade, a 79.7 pass-blocking grade and an 80.9 run-blocking grade with Georgia in 2018.

Denver Broncos @ Seattle Seahawks – 10PM ET

Broncos

Both Khalfani Muhammad and Dre’Mont Jones shined in Denver’s preseason debut last Thursday. Muhammad put his elite speed and quicks on full display en route to a 72.4 overall grade in the Hall of Fame Game, and rookie Jones earned a team-high 90.8 overall grade and totaled five pressures in the contest. Both players have a chance to build on such performances against Seattle and potentially turn strong preseason performances into playing time in 2019.

Seahawks

Rookie off-ball linebackers Cody Barton and Ben Burr-Kirven were both drafted coming off great collegiate seasons in coverage. Barton earned an 82.3 coverage grade with Utah, and Burr-Kirven earned a 91.2 coverage grade with Washington. Both Barton and Burr-Kirven are examples of how the NFL is changing. Off-ball linebackers no longer need to weigh in over 250 pounds to be successful; Barton and Burr-Kirven are undersized for the NFL 20 years ago but are now in prime position to star as coverage linebacker’s in today’s pass-happy league.

Friday, August 9

Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Pittsburgh Steelers – 7:30PM ET

Buccaneers

With Adam Humphries off the roster, rookie Bowling Green product Scotty Miller has a chance to earn snaps at slot receiver in Year 1 of his NFL career if he can turn in a strong camp and play well in the preseason. At 5-foot-11, 174 pounds, Miller earned an 83.9 receiving grade with Bowling Green in 2018. Defensively, rookies in the Bucs’ secondary has a lot to prove in the preseason. Jamel Dean, Sean Murphy-Bunting and Mike Edwards could all see significant playing time as rookies considering Tampa Bay’s current lack of talent in the secondary. Dean and Murphy-Bunting will compete for reps at outside and slot corner, while Edwards will look to make his presence felt at safety. All three defensive backs earned 75.0-plus coverage grades at the collegiate level a year ago.

Steelers

Antonio Brown and his mangled feet play in Oakland now, leaving a spot opposite of JuJu Smith-Schuster for the taking in Pittsburgh. And rookie Toledo product Diontae Johnson could very well claim that spot with a strong preseason. Johnson is a crafty route-runner with great quicks and elusiveness for the position. Fellow rookies Benny Snell Jr. and Justin Layne will also have opportunities to contribute in 2019. Snell earned 73.0-plus rushing grades all three years of his collegiate career at Kentucky, and Layne earned an impressive 90.1 coverage grade in his final year at Michigan State.

Minnesota Vikings @ New Orleans Saints – 8PM ET

Vikings

The Vikings are loaded with receiving talent at the top of the depth chart with veterans Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen stealing the show, but competition remains at depth behind the two in Minnesota. Rookie Oregon product Dillon Mitchell is in the mix for a spot on the 53-man roster and a complementary role in the offense. Mitchell earned a career-high 82.5 receiving grade with the Ducks in 2018. Fellow rookie Alexander Mattison won’t compete for a starting spot with the Vikings for as long as veteran Dalvin Cook is healthy. But No. 2 spot behind Cook is his to lose. Mattison earned an impressive 83.8 rushing grade with Boise State in 2018.

Saints

Devine Ozigbo was highly regarded among many draft analysts ahead of the 2019 NFL Draft. The Nebraska product is a high-cut back who thrived picking up yards after contact this past season. Former Florida defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson is a very versatile prospect who earned an 89.5 coverage grade a year ago. He’ll likely start his career on special teams, but CGJ could have a positive impact playing safety or slot corner as early as this year.

Saturday, August 10

Los Angeles Rams @ Oakland Raiders – 8PM ET

Rams

The uncertainty surrounding Todd Gurley (specifically his knees) is mounting, putting rookie running back Darrell Henderson in line to steal the hearts of Rams’ faithful and to have fantasy football owners begging to overreact to a big preseason run. Henderson proved at Memphis that he’s a big play waiting to happen, as he led all FBS backs in runs of 15-plus yards with 41 in 2018. Fellow rookie Boogie Roberts, an undrafted San Jose State product, should also turn some heads Saturday night. He dominated the Mountain West in the passing game, finishing the 2018 season as one of the FBS’ top interior defensive linemen in pass-rush grade and pass-rush win rate.

Raiders

Oakland’s pass-rush in 2018 will go down as one of the worst we at PFF have ever seen, placing significant pressure on the team’s youngsters in the trenches to deliver this upcoming season. Second-year Michigan product Maurice Hurst flashed elite potential in bursts as a rookie but needs to take a massive step forward in Year 2 to become a household name in the NFL. Rookie Maxx Crosby is expected to play a rotational role in 2019 but could have a significant impact if he can carry over his collegiate pass-rushing prowess to the NFL. Crosby earned 88.2 and 90.5 overall grades at Eastern Washington in 2018 and 2017, respectively.

Cincinnati Bengals @ Kansas City Chiefs – 8PM ET

Bengals

Bengals veteran guard Christian Westerman can’t catch a break. The former Arizona State product has earned 75.0-plus pass-blocking grades in three consecutive preseasons and earned an 80.8 pass-blocking grade across 60 regular season pass-blocking snaps in 2018. Yet, he still is considered a backup in Cincinnati. This will be his fourth preseason to prove he’s worth a starting nod. Rookie off-ball linebacker Germaine Pratt turned in strong performances against the run at NC State, but if he’s going to stick around in the NFL, he needs to win in coverage. Pratt earned a 90.3 run-defense grade and a 79.0 coverage grade with the Wolfpack in 2018.

Chiefs

Even though Tyreek Hill is expected to play all of 2019 without a suspension, rookie Georgia product Mecole Hardman should still have plenty of opportunities this preseason to prove his worth and carve out a role as a versatile gadget player in Andy Reid’s offense. Similarly, rookie running back Darwin Thompson is a freakish athlete that lit the Mountain West on fire with his contact balance and forced missed tackle ability a year ago. He finished the 2018 season ranked inside the top-10 in yards after contact per attempt and forced missed tackles per attempt among qualifying draft-eligible backs. Second-year off-ball linebacker Ben Neimann earned a 90.0 coverage grade across 47 preseason coverage snaps a year ago. His next chance to shine will be Saturday.

Dallas Cowboys @ San Francisco 49ers – 9PM ET

Cowboys

Cowboys rookie running backs Tony Pollard and Mike Weber are competing for backup duties behind starter Ezekiel Elliott. And if Elliott’s holdout carries into the season, the duo very well could be competing for the starting nod. Pollard played a majority of his offensive snaps in the slot with Darrell Henderson owning the backfield at Memphis, but the 5-foot-10, 211-pounder could have success in a more traditional running back role behind Dallas’ offensive line. Weber was overshadowed by JK Dobbins at Ohio State, but he still managed 75.0-plus rushing grades all three years of his collegiate career. Second-year wide receiver Cedrick Wilson earned 88.0-plus receiving grades in each of his final two years at Boise State but spent all of 2018 on the Injured Reserve. His return to the field could lead to a move up the depth chart if he can turn in a strong preseason.

49ers

High expectations follow 49ers rookies Jalen Hurd and Deebo Samuel to the NFL. The two young wideouts both thrived in the slot at the collegiate level and could be used in a myriad of ways in the NFL. Hurd earned a 76.9 receiving grade in his first year with Baylor (2018), and Samuel earned an 82.3 receiving grade with South Carolina this past season.

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