2023 Week 1 Preseason Winners & Losers

Finally some NFL action with Week 1 of the 2023 Preseason in the books. While it’s mainly an opportunity for rookies and fringe players to make an impression, it can really impact some starters and how they are likely to play this season. With that, we dig into some winners and losers from the opening week of action.

2023 Week 1 Preseason Winners

Justin Fields, Khalil Herbert & DJ Moore (QB, RB & WR, CHI)

Let’s start with the obvious one. 3 passes, 3 receptions, 126 Yards & 2 TDs. Yes ok, Justin Fields hardly worked up a sweat in his short stint against the Titans but the signs of an improved offense were all to see. The Bears ranked dead last in pass attempts per game in 2022 with just 22.2 and just as uninspiring was their rank of 32 when it came to yards after the catch (1,147). DJ Moore is here to help fix these issues and they kicked off their new connection with a nice screen pass that Moore took to the house.

Khalil Herbert the other apparent big winner from Chicago as he saw all the first-team snaps at running back with D’onta Foreman not entering the game until the backups arrived in drive number three. His 56-yard score was just as impressive as DJ Moore’s and rubber-stamped his current RB1 status.

James Cook (RB, BUF)

If there was any doubt that James Cook could be an every-down back for the Bills, this may have been quickly erased by the time he played on every down and then exited with the starters after drive two. With Damien Harris still injured, it only really leaves 33-year-old grizzled veteran Latavius Murray who continues his impressive level of play and will provide ample depth to the ring-chasing Bills. Cook ran in a TD on a nice misdirection play from the 10-yard line which is sure to see his hype continue to skyrocket.

Zach Charbonnet (RB, SEA)

It was a surprise to some to see Charbonnet healthy enough to take the field for game 1, it was more an absolute shock to me to see him absolutely trucking the Vikings’ safety out of the way, not once but twice in a row! Only a couple of weeks ago, Charbonnet was supposedly ‘out indefinitely’ with a shoulder injury with fellow lead back Kenneth Walker also out with a groin issue. The shoulder appears to be absolutely fine and any additional time missed for Walker will be to the benefit of the rookie second-rounder.

Ty Chandler (RB, MIN)

Starting running back Alexander Mattison was officially rested for the preseason opener but it doesn’t stop the question marks around whether he can handle a full workload for the duration of a season. Of the players vying for the backup job, Ty Chandler helped himself immensely with an impressive showing that saw him catch 4 passes, handled pass protection well, and looked every bit a trustable option for Kevin O’Connell. His 3.0 yards per contact were impressive considering 91% of his runs were when facing loaded boxes and 55% of his runs he was contacted before the line of scrimmage (per Warren Sharp @SharpFootball).

Jake Ferguson (TE, DAL)

Another guy that took 100% of the starter snaps in game 1 was Jake Ferguson. With second-round Luke Schoonmaker still on the shelf dealing with a foot injury, Ferguson is capitalizing in a big way and continuing his hold on the TE1 spot, seeing 3 targets from 9 routes run. Currently being drafted well outside the top 24, could Ferguson prove a diamond in the rough in the baron Tight End wasteland?

Sam Howell (QB, WAS)

The Commanders second year QB continues to stamp his name on the starting QB job with an impressive performance against the Browns in week 1. Howell played mistake-free football and lead the team down for a TD finding Jahan Dotson In the end zone. Whereas Jacoby Brissett saw a pick when trying to push the ball deep downfield although brought it back well a running score of his own. If Howel limits mistakes between now and the season, he’s sure to start the campaign under center.

Special Shoutouts

Rookie WRs making the most of their opportunities

AT Perry (WR, NO) may have been the most impressive wide receiver in Week 1 with a terrific showing of 6 catches for 70 yards and a TD catch. Often going undrafted in rookie drafts, he’s for sure a waiver wire stash, especially given the Saints’ lack of wide receiver depth.

Puka Nacua (WR, LAR) is a name being said louder with each given week. Whether it’s flashy play in training camp or scoring a TD on his NFL debut against the Chargers, Nacua continues to be involved and can push himself towards the WR3 role if he continues this trajectory.

Tank Dell (WR, HOU) may be a complete outlier given his tiny frame but it didn’t stop him from balling out in preseason week 1 against the Patriots collecting 5 receptions for 65 yards and a score. He continually gained separation from the defenders and made yards after contact with his explosive ability. One to watch for the coming weeks.

Deeper Rookie QBs trying to make a name for themselves

Dorian Thompson-Robinson (CLE), Aiden O’Connell (LV) & Stetson Bennet (LAR), all rookie QBs trying to either upstage a veteran backup or attempting to nail down the backup QB job, helped themselves immensely in week 1 with more than impressive performances. All 3 should be rostered and stashed on a taxi squad if available.

2023 Week 1 Preseason Losers

Trey Lance (QB, SF)

All eyes were eager to see if Lance had taken a step forward in his progression to hopefully becoming a starting QB one day. It didn’t go to plan and Lance looked more unsure than ever. Yes, the O-line really didn’t help him out but he took 4 costly sacks and although the stat sheet will say 1 TD – 0 INTs, it was one of the flukiest TD passes in history. Lance is closer to the QB3 spot than he is to Brock Purdy the No.1.

Mac Jones (QB, NE)

Another QB reportedly now on a shorter leash is Mac Jones and that’s despite not playing a snap in week 1. Bailey Zappe who has already gone in for a benched Mac Jones before in 2022 looked assured, completing 12/14 passes while the electric Malik Cunningham also got in on the action and ran in a score to excite the Patriots fans who want to see more of the converted wide receiver.

Will Levis (QB, TEN)

Hard to be too critical of a rookie QB in his first game, but a horrid INT to seal the game for the Bears spoiled the day that saw Malik Willis look the better QB of the two. He’s sure to get more reps going forward so this situation will be an inter-changing one you feel but with the new addition of star receiver DeAndre Hopkins, it looks like the Tennessee rebuild is at least another year away and Levis is nothing more than a stash at this point.

Greg Dulcich (TE, DEN)

Call me officially nervous about the Denver tight end with the luscious flowing locks. Dulcich was one of my early offseason picks for a breakout in 2023 but found himself behind Adam Trautman not only on the newly-released depth chart, but also in week 1 of the preseason. 0 targets from 7 routes ran for Dulcich compared to 3 targets from 9 routes ran for Trautman who also played 5 more snaps than the year 2 player. What was worse was Dulcich only came onto the field on third down and two-tight end sets, Trautman saw all the first down looks as the No.1.

D’Andre Swift & Rashaad Penny (RBs, PHI)

Plenty of the league’s starters got the night off in week 1, that list included Kenneth Gainwell & Boston Scott?! Reports emerging from Eagles camp the last couple of weeks have drawn up a picture of Gainwell getting plenty of the first-team reps at running back which could spell disaster for either Swift or Penny and their hopes of a breakout season filling the role of Miles Sanders having left for Carolina. It might not be completely incomprehensible that one of these two running backs gets cut from the Eagles when the final 53 is announced in the next few weeks.

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Image Credit: Jerome Miron – USA TODAY Sports