The NFL preseason is a time of trial and error. Most teams are testing their new draftees and seeing who can do what. Returning veterans are still put to the test during training camp, but they aren’t typically played much during the exhibition games. This allows the younger rookies to prove themselves worthy of that sought-after roster spot.
College football continues to adapt, between NIL deals and sports betting. With this, comes bright-eyed and bushy-tailed NFL rookies.
In the 2023 NFL Draft, there were 259 picks across seven rounds—that’s quite a few players to keep tabs on. From the No. 1 overall draft pick Bryce Young to a diamond in the rough like Luke Schoonmaker, more than just raw talent goes into an entertaining rookie.
As a Buckeye fan, the first player I will be keeping an eye on is CJ Stroud. His preseason debut may not have gone as well as expected, but improvement showed with more reps. Getting picked off in your first drive in your first preseason game may not sound like a stellar quarterback—he was then pulled from the game after just two completed passes of four attempts. Luckily, things began looking up this past week as the Texans faced the Dolphins. As Stroud played the entire first half, he made an impression with 7 completed passes for 60 yards. His throwing downfield was able to carry Houston on a drive of 11 plays, which led them to their only points scored. Stroud tends to start a little unstable (of no fault of his own—unreliable blockers, clumsy receivers) with time, he eventually relaxes. A two-time Heisman finalist is not someone you want to miss.
Courtesy of Michael Wyke
Bijan Robinson Courtesy of Megan Briggs/Getty Images
Yet another player that might have you wondering, as his place in the depth chart isn’t very reassuring. Although the Falcons didn't play him in Week 1, his debut on the 18th of August against the Bengals was noteworthy. Before the first exhibition games, head coach Arthur Smith expressed that the team wouldn’t “go crazy” when Robinson saw the field for the first time. Smith explained that it isn’t so much about all the extravagant plays, but more so just getting the reps in. Robinson gave the performance fans expected him to, with 20 rushing yards for four carries as well as a single catch for six yards. His first 12-yard carry showcased his skill of hitting all the right holes and breaking multiple tackles. Robinson seems to fall in that running back sweet spot, in all his 5-foot-11, 215 lb glory and is regarded as the best prospect in the running back position since Saquon Barkley.
Former Alabama Quarterback, Bryce Young, didn’t have an ideal debut either. Coming in at only 5-foot-10, his smaller frame requires a stronger Panthers o-line than he has. Despite being under pressure every play, his singular quarter of playing time gave him four successful pass attempts out of six—not bad given the circumstances. Young saw some improvement in the second week of the preseason playing just two drives. The second drive was much more riveting of the two, consisting of 15 plays and resulting in a field goal. Being the No. 1 overall draft pick, it’s a no-brainer that he will be someone to keep up with. The Panthers finished 2nd in the NFC South last season and didn’t qualify for the playoffs. Young’s impressive football IQ could carry him to be a longtime NFL quarterback… if he has the right lineman to help him.
Courtesy of Jared C.Tilton/Getty Images
Zay Flowers, wide receiver for the Baltimore Ravens, is a player on the list who didn’t exactly have a remarkable NFL debut. In fact, he drew a false start flag on the very first snap of the game. Despite denying his excitement as the reason for the penalty, a beaming smile during post-game interviews says otherwise. Flowers went on to blame the referee, his center for “snapping too fast”, as well as his teammate who he claims moved at the same time as him. Regardless, he made up for it in the next possession, showcasing his agility and explosiveness with a catch in the backfield. His stats don’t accurately portray his performance, though, as his most impressive quality is how difficult he is to cover. In week 2 of preseason, Flowers received a pair of catches for 37 yards total, including his first NFL touchdown. He couldn’t be stopped as he zig-zagged through the Commander’s defense for a 26-yard TD. Flowers will be a huge asset for an already talented Ravens team.
Courtesy of Ulysses Muñoz
Luke Schoonmaker Photo Courtesy of Cowboy Maven
Michigan alum Luke Schoonmaker comes in last on my list of rookies to watch. Schoonmaker hadn’t been able to get much practice since the draft in April, as he was placed on the non-football injury list (NFI) due to a partial plantar fascia tear. He was, however, healthy enough to appear in the first preseason game for the
Cowboys. He caught his only pass thrown to him for a whopping eight yards—but these small numbers are very normal for a new draftee, and he kept his playing steady during Week 2 as well. Despite losing to the Seahawks, Schoonmaker took his opportunities and turned them into progress. The tight end earned 22 yards between a pair of passes and even earned approval from coaching staff and players alike. Third-string quarterback Will Grier “likes what he’s doing” and coach Mike McCarthy regarded him as a progressing player.
With the preseason dwindling down, we’re starting to get more acquainted with which players will be seen on our TVs in just a couple of weeks. We can certainly expect to see a few underdogs standing out, and even some top prospects underperforming.