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Key players to watch in Week 2 of 2023 NFL preseason

Here’s a look at some key players and storylines to monitor in the second week of the preseason.

Ezekiel Elliott of the Dallas Cowboys carries the ball against the San Francisco 49ers during the second half in the NFC Divisional Playoff game at Levi’s Stadium on January 22, 2023 in Santa Clara, California. Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The second week of the preseason is here and features no shortage of players to watch and monitor across the slate. Here’s a look at some starters, rookies, and bubble players to take a look at over the next week.

Starters to watch

RB Dalvin Cook, Jets and RB Ezekiel Elliott, Patriots

I lumped Cook and Elliott in together because they’re both in the same category. After a month of flirtation, Cook signed a one-year deal with the Jets that can reach up to $8.6 million, while Elliott signed a one-year deal with Elliott that can reach up to $6 million. While both running backs averaged career-lows in yards per attempt last season (3.8 for Elliott and 4.4 for Cook), they’re both veterans who have put together solid careers and should make some kind of impact in 2023. They’ll also both need to knock some rust off and get acclimated with their new offense, which could lead to them playing in Week 2.

QB Russell Wilson, Broncos

Is there anyone in the NFL under more pressure than Wilson? While every snap of the preseason comes with the ‘don’t overreact to the preseason’ caveat, Wilson had an up-and-down performance against the Cardinals. He had a solid day passing (7-for-13, 93 yards, one touchdown), he took a couple of big hits, one of which was a sack he took after missing a wide-open Jerry Jeudy.

QB Sam Howell, Commanders

While Jacoby Brissett had the best throw of the game, Howell spent most of the Commanders’ game against the Browns looking like a serviceable NFL quarterback. Washington has put its money where its mouth is when it comes to Howell, and the North Carolina product made the most of his first preseason action of the season.

Rookies to watch

RB Deuce Vaughn, Cowboys

Boy, Vaughn sure is fun to watch, isn’t he? The 5-foot-5 rookie tallied 50 yards on eight carries, highlighted by a shifty 26-yard rush. The rookie from Kansas City was already gaining some buzz during training camp, and another strong performance from him could push him even more into the limelight heading into the regular season.

RB Tank Bigsby, Jaguars

The other rookie running back to break out in the game between the Cowboys and Jaguars, Bigsby totaled 52 yards on nine carries. The 21-year-old is in a Jacksonville running back room that features veterans Travis Etienne, D’Ernest Jonson, JaMychal Hasty and Snoop Conner, but he’s already begun to make a name for himself.

QB C.J. Stroud, Texans

Stroud had a tough preseason introduction, going 2-for-4 passing for 13 yards and an interception. One preseason game doesn’t make a career, but it’ll still be worthwhile to check to see how he rebounds this week against the Dolphins.

Who needs to shine?

All of the 49ers quarterbacks

While San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan told Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer that Brock Purdy would “need to melt at practice” to lose his spot as the team’s top quarterback, Purdy likely won’t play at all in the preseason while he recovers from UCL surgery. With Purdy out again, the team’s tandem of backups will once against have another golden opportunity to prove themselves to the 49ers -- or any of the 31 other teams. Former top-five pick Trey Lance got the most run in Week 1, going 10-for-15 for 112 yards and a touchdown (he was also sacked four times).

QB Malik Willis, Titans

Last year, Willis struggled immensely in his limited action, going 31-for-61 for 276 yards in eight games. He seemed calmer in Week 1 of the preseason, going 16-for-25 for 189 yards passing to go along with 22 yards rushing and a touchdown. There’s more pressure on Willis this year after the Titans drafted Will Levis, but he looked like the much better quarterback in Week 1, so it’ll be interesting to see if he can carry that over into Week 2.