While fans everywhere are excited to have NFL football on their TVs again, there is more to the preseason than signaling the start of the football year. Players are fighting for rosters spots, and each preseason game is an audition to make the eventual 53-man roster used in the regular season. For the first week, many veterans will not be active, giving rookies and depth players a chance to strut their stuff.
Starters to watch
With one fewer week to the preseason, many starters won’t see much action, but there are still some positional battles to watch that will affect the regular season. For the Carolina Panthers, their starting quarterback spot is up for grabs. They traded for Baker Mayfield and still have Sam Darnold due to his contract. Whichever quarterback can get the upper hand in the preseason will likely head into the season as the starter.
The Baltimore Ravens need someone to step up as their overall No. 1 wide receiver. They traded Marquise Brown during the 2021 NFL Draft, leaving Rashod Bateman, James Proche II, Devin Duvernay and Tylan Wallace as the top options for quarterback Lamar Jackson. One of them will need to step up and become the clear leader of the bunch, which begins in the preseason.
Rookies to watch
The first week of the preseason is typically when we get our first look at rookies making their debut in an NFL game. The 2022 NFL Draft class was an interesting one as up to five quarterbacks were once projected to be selected in the first round, and only one ended up being chosen in the first two rounds. Malik Willis of the Tennessee Titans and Desmond Ridder of the Atlanta Falcons were touted prospects that fell to the third round. Week 1 of the preseason should see them take the field and have their first attempt to show that scouts were wrong.
There are a few running backs that I will keep my eye on in Week 1 of the NFL preseason. Ken Walker III, formerly Kenneth, was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks. He joined a crowded backfield until starting running back Chris Carson retired due to injuries. Now, Walker has the chance to make a statement and challenge Rashaad Penny for the starting spot. The Washington Commanders drafted Brian Robinson in the third round. With Antonio Gibson and JD McKissic already on the roster, it was surprising to see them use the draft capital on him. If he can impress in the preseason, he may factor into the offense more than expected. While training camp reports are taken with a grain of salt, fourth-round pick Dameon Pierce of the Houston Texans and seventh-rounder Isaih Pacheco for the Kansas City Chiefs are said to be really impressive in training camp. They could use solid performances in their games to back that up.
As Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers goes for his third straight MVP award, he is going to be doing so without star wide receiver Davante Adams. The Packers traded him in the offseason leaving Rodgers without his best weapon. Green Bay drafted North Dakota State wide receiver Christian Walker in the first round and Romeo Doubs from Nevada in the fourth. Doubs has been a training camp standout so far and gets a chance to shine in game action this week.
Nobody can replace Rob Gronkowski, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are trying to use multiple players to do so. Cameron Brate is the incumbent tight end, but the team signed veteran Kyle Rudolph to also help. The Bucs drafted rookie Cade Otton from Washington to kick off the fourth round. Otton has made some impressive plays in training camp so far that even Tom Brady noticed. If Otton can build that rapport with Brady early, he will see a lot of playing time this season.
Who needs to shine?
Look for Aidan Hutchinson of the Detroit Lions to get early snaps and look to show some explosiveness. On the offensive side of the ball, Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Drake London, New Orleans Saints receiver Chris Olave, and Treylon Burks for the Tennessee Titans need to show promise early.
Brock Purdy of the San Francisco 49ers will need to impress. He was drafted in the seventh round, and the Niners currently carry four quarterbacks. Purdy could earn a spot if San Francisco trades Jimmy Garoppolo, but until that happens, he could be a camp casualty. Some veteran players who need to earn their roster spots include Willie Snead IV on the 49ers and Andy Isabella on the Arizona Cardinals.