The 2023 NFL Draft was one of the most prolific quarterback drafts in NFL history. Fourteen rookie passers were selected, with arecord 12 flying off the boards in the first five rounds in Kansas City. Just about all of them have dipped their toes in NFL waters thanks to their preseason action. While preseason production isn't the end-all, be-all in determining who will have a lasting professional football career, here's a look at how some of the newbie signal-callers fared in with a game of preseason action already under their belt.
- Notes: Lions third-round pick Hendon Hooker is not included. He remains on the Non-Football Injury List while recovering from a college ACL tear and isn't expected to play this preseason.
- Titans second-round pick Will Levis is also not included since Malik Willis played the entirety of Tennessee's 24-16 win against the Minnesota Vikings. Same for Colts fourth-overall pick Anthony Richardson, who did not play in Indianapolis' 24-17 win against the Chicago Bears, and Chargers seventh-rounder Max Duggan, who sat out L.A.'s loss to the Saints.
Stetson Bennett was one of the few rookies who regressed in their second dose of NFL action. However, the degree of difficulty was cranked up for him given he was the Rams' Week 2 preseason starter. A week ago, Bennett threw for 191 yards and a touchdown on 17-of-29 passing off the bench against the Chargers. This week, there were no touchdowns and a pick-six. However, Bennett did run for a four-yard score. There were some solid passes, and there were certainly a few he would appreciate a do-over on, of course. How much he can develop in Sean McVay's offense will be a storyline to monitor given Matthew Stafford's injury woes (neck and concussion) last season.
9. Clayton Tune, Arizona Cardinals
Clayton Tune had the privilege of coming off the bench in the second quarter for arguably the franchise with the most talent-poor roster in the NFL while facing the defending Super Bowl champions, angry after a last-second preseason loss at the Saints in Week 1. That's a losing situation. On the bright side, he did help lead Arizona's only touchdown drive of the day, a 75-yard possession in length that concluded with a five-yard touchdown run from running back Keaontay Ingram with six seconds left in the first half. Tune is making the most of being put in a tough spot.
8. Bryce Young, Carolina Panthers
2023 NFL Draft: first overall (first round)
Week 2 performance: 3-6, 35 passing yards, 68.1 passer rating in 21-19 loss at New York Giants
Another week of the preseason means another week of Bryce Young running for his life. Young was under pressure on a whopping 50% of his dropbacks in Week 2 against the G-Men, meaning he didn't have much of chance to find any kind of rhythm once again against a team based in New Jersey after getting thrown around like a rag doll against the Jets last week. Head coach Frank Reich and offensive coordinator Thomas Brown are going to need to scheme up more plays designed to get Young on the move because when he's in the pocket right now, it's a high-stress ordeal.
7. Jaren Hall, Minnesota Vikings
2023 NFL Draft: 164th overall, (fifth round)
Week 2 performance: 4-7, 49 passing yards, 78.9 passer rating in 24-16 loss versus Tennessee Titans
Jaren Hall looked much more relaxed in Week 2 of the preseason than Week 1 (37 passing yards on 6-of-14 passing). It's unfortunate that his best throw of the day ended up being dropped by his intended target. Hall saw pressure through the A-Gap up the middle, deftly scooted to the left of a crumbling pocket, and dropped the football in a bucket 30 yards in the air in-between a corner and a safety. That was a legit, NFL quarterback throw. If Hall could get some run with the twos instead of the threes, his numbers could jump exponentially.
6. C.J. Stroud, Houston Texans
2023 NFL Draft: 2nd overall (first round)
Week 2 performance: 7-12, 60 passing yards, 71.5 passer rating in 28-3 loss versus Miami Dolphins
Stroud put significant improvement on display in Week 2 in comparison to his Week 1 performance (13 passing yards and an interception on two-of-four passing). He got much more run against the Miami Dolphins, playing the entire first half, which likely helped. His start was rocky as the Texans left his first drive without any points following a turnover on downs from the Dolphins 7. A delay-of-game penalty was followed by consecutive incompletions, but Stroud locked in later on.
The very next drive, Stroud completed some precision throws downfield, including this rollout throw below. He led the Texans on a 61-yard drive that concluded with the game's only points via a 35-yard field goal.
5. Dorian Thompson-Robinson, Cleveland Browns
2023 NFL Draft: 140th overall (fifth round)
Week 2 performance: 13-25, 164 passing yards, 72.8 passer rating; four carries for 18 rushing yards in 18-18 tie versus Cleveland Browns
Fifth-round pick Dorian Thompson-Robinson looks like he has a bright future in the NFL after starting against the Philadelphia Eagles. He displayed nice poise against a ferocious pass rush in the pocket, completing 13 of his 25 passes for 164, which resulted in a 72.8 passer rating. Thompson-Robinson also dropped a few dimes like the throw below to a fellow rookie Cedric Tillman. In five quarters of action across three preseason games, the UCLA alum is up to 348 passing yards, 65 rushing yards, and two touchdown passes. Thompson-Robinson is the clear-cut backup quarterback to Deshaun Watson, and he's put enough on tape to consider regular season playtime if Watson struggles mightily again in 2023.
4. Jake Haener, New Orleans Saints
2023 NFL Draft: 127th overall (fourth round)
Week 2 performance: 11-17, 118 passing yards, 84.9 passer rating in 22-17 win at Los Angeles Chargers
Saints rookie fourth-round backup Jake Haener had an efficient second half on Sunday in Los Angeles. His first completion of the night was a 55-yarder to receiver Jontre Kirklin that he hit while rolling right out of a collapsing pocket. Haener was knocked for his size (6-1, 200 pounds) coming out in the draft, but he showed the strength on the move to make a nice throw. His stat line could have looked a lot prettier if he didn't have two touchdown passes called back for offensive pass interference when his receivers were called for pick plays multiple times on the same drive.
2023 NFL Draft: 188th overall (sixth round)
Week 2 performance: 13-19, 137 passing yards, 89.1 passer rating
Sean Clifford did a much better job taking care of the football against the New England Patriots after entering the game in the second quarter than he did in Cincinnati against the Bengals in his preseason debut. He mixed a five-yard touchdown pass in with two interceptions, including a pick-six, in Week 1. In Week 2 against New England, Clifford was much more decisive and dialed into going through his progressions, which allowed him to play much cleaner football. The night ended early following Patriots cornerback Isaiah Bolden being carted off after a harrowing collision. Clifford can have the highest of highs and the lowest of lows when in the game, providing a Brett Favre-like quality for Packers fans.
2. Tanner McKee, Philadelphia Eagles
2023 NFL Draft: 188th overall (sixth round)
Week 2 performance: 10-18, 147 passing yards, one passing touchdown, 100.9 passer rating in 18-18 tie versus Cleveland Browns
Sixth-round rookie Tanner McKee played well enough (147 yards and a touchdown on 10-of-18 passing) to push Marcus Mariota for the right to be Jalen Hurts' backup. The second overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft started the contest with 2022 NFL MVP runner-up Jalen Hurts and the rest of the starting offense having the game off, and Mariota just couldn't get into a rhythm. He threw for 86 yards and an ugly interception on 9-of-17 passing. The Eagles offense also surrendered a safety in the first half. Philadelphia made Mariota one of the higher-paid backup quarterbacks in the league after signing him to a one-year, $5 million deal to be Hurts' stylistic replacement should anything happen to their QB1. However, the rookie Stanford Cardinal alum is noticeably out-performing the legendary Oregon Duck in one of the last few forms of a dying Pac-12 rivalry.
1. Aidan O'Connell, Las Vegas Raiders
2023 NFL Draft: 135th overall (fourth round)
Week 2 performance: 11-18, 163 passing yards, two passing touchdowns, 127.8 passer rating in 34-17 win at Los Angeles Rams
Aidan O'Connell has been the best rookie quarterback of the entire preseason. His first game against the San Francisco 49ers, he balled out with 154 passing yards and a touchdown on 15-of-18 passing. This week, the rookie of out Purdue was even better. O'Connell completed 11 of his 18 throws for 163 passing yards and two touchdowns for a 127.8 passer rating, the highest among first-year passers in Week 2 ( ).
O'Connell isn't exclusively dinking-and-dunking the football out in the flat and taking what the defense is giving him. He has successfully created opportunities: completions over the top of the defense by squeezing the ball past the cornerbacks and safeties downfield, hitting deep posts over the middle in tight coverage plus dropping dimes to the corner of the end zone for touchdowns.
All of that was on display this week against the Los Angeles Rams on the road, and if he can play like this regularly, the Raiders will be in good shape if Jimmy Garoppolo suffers another injury.