Every year, this week in August brings a full slate of NFL preseason action. You still have some of this summer left, but, yes, as you've seen on social media, football is back.
Therefore it's time to look back on draft crushes and those who stirred up buzz at training camp to pinpoint rookies I'm most excited to see during the preseason.
Let's take a look.
Anthony Richardson, QB, Colts
I'mlast year -- , must be listed first. That was none other than Richardson, the freakiest raw specimen in the draft at the game's most vital position.
Now, I get it. With Richardson, we're unlikely to see take-over-the-NFL type play from him on a weekly basis in 2023. It'll be a work in progress. In the long-term with the Colts quarterback, we're talking possible Top 5 quarterback in the league because of his stupidly strong arm and never-before-seen combination of thickness, explosion, and natural elusiveness as a runner.
In most preseasons, coaches keep their schemes close to the vest, but I'm most looking forward to monitoring how much quarterback-friendliness new Colts head coach Shane Steichen works into Richardson's preseason. How much RPO looks will Richardson get? Designed runs? Play-action deep shots? Richardson absolutely can contend physically in a league in which the elite passers are athletic and arm-talent monsters.
Why the Dolphins second-round pick here? Because finished as my CB1 in the 2023 class, and because with Jalen Ramsey out, Miami will look to their first selection in April to man the other perimeter corner gig opposite ball-magnet Xavien Howard. Early in the Dolphins season, Smith will likely square up with the likes of Mike Williams, Courtland Sutton, Gabe Davis, and Devonta Smith.
Miami might be extra careful with Smith now that he's been thrust into a primary role on the defense, but he's a rookie. Has to get some live, NFL reps before the season, right? At South Carolina, I was enamored with Smith's suffocating play at the catch point. While he wasn't as big nor as long as some of the other marquee corner prospects in his class -- maybe that's why he slipped in the draft? -- Smith ran 4.44 with a 38-inch vertical and has nearly 32-inch arms. We'll get our first look at whether or not Smith can continue his ball-hawking ways in the NFL, starting with his preseason debut against the Falcons.
Nolan Smith, EDGE, Eagles
It's the second Eagles first-round pick I'm most intrigued by this preseason. I know Jalen Carter is going to rock. I feel very good about Smith's chances to thrive in the NFL too, however he makes this list because I'm fascinated by his acclimation process as a 6-foot-2, 238-pound edge rusher coming off a torn pectoral muscle.
Before the injury, Smith was brutally strong at the point of attack, shed blocks like a veteran middle linebacker, and wrapped the edge with a scary combination of speed and bend. My brain cannot not compute how Smith, after running 4.39 and jumping 41.5 inches at nearly 240 pounds, was not selected until the second-to-last pick in the first round. Why did the rest of the NFL allow the Eagles to draft both Carter AND Smith in Round 1?
We should get to see plenty of outside rushes from Smith in the Eagles exhibition outings. Given the insane depth along Philadelphia's defensive line, it may take some time for Smith to get considerable playing time in the regular season.
C.J. Stroud, QB, Texans
So Stroud's preseason debut could've gone better. Don't freak, Texans fans. Or any Stroud naysayers. It's incredibly early. I still cannot get another Stroud performance, against Georgia in the CFP semifinals, out of my mind. His effort against the legendary Bulldogs defense was Burrow-like. Hyper-accurate, creative when he needed to be. Loads of tremendous throws en route to 348 yards and four touchdowns without an interception.
Now, Stroud doesn't have a receiver of Marvin Harrison Jr.'s talent advantage over the corner covering him, which will be an adjustment for him. But my excitement for Stroud's preseason goes beyond him. I'll be tracking how much his new, first-time offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik deploys of his branch-from-the-Shanahan-tree offense in the preseason to test what works and what doesn't. I'll also be tracking if Stroud can elevate throws around him, even as a rookie. He feels like a quarterback who has that inherent ability.
Ivan Pace, LB, Vikings
As the founder of The Practice Squad Power Rankings, I have an affinity for underdogs, so you should have known I was going to include an undrafted free agent here. According to Good Morning Football's Peter Schrager, the compact, high-energy off-ball linebacker has been the talk of Vikings camp and has spent August practicing with the first-team defense.
Pace is built like a bulldog but accelerates like a greyhound when chasing the football. At 5-10 and 231 pounds, he registered a gargantuan 262 tackles, 34.5 tackles for loss, and 14 sacks in his final two collegiate seasons, at Miami of Ohio then Cincinnati. He stacks and sheds like he's 6-4, 240, is a reliable in-space tackler, and made plenty of plays on the football in coverage in college.
I need to see if the massive camp buzz for Pace translates to the preseason for this already super-fun underdog story. Unsurprisingly Pace led the Vikings with four tackles and two assisted tackles in the exhibition opener against the Seahawks.
Bryce Young, QB, Panthers
You thought I wasn't going to include the No. 1 overall pick? Of course I'm pumped to watch Young in the preseason. For many reasons, actually. I wasn't nearly as high on Young as the masses, but still viewed him as an elite-level prospect within the confines of the 2023 class. I'm also eager to see whether or not he can continue to the pesky, ultra-imaginative, and successful off-script creator in the bigger, faster NFL that he was during his iconic stint as Alabama's starter.
Plus, what will the new but incredibly experienced coaching staff in Carolina -- Frank Reich and Co. -- put on his plate to begin the preseason? The ball placement, anticipation, and aforementioned athletic creativity with Young are phenomenal. Will his average arm talent hold him back as a pro? While he won't get a firm, definitive answer on that during exhibition games, they could provide a hint.
Joey Porter Jr., CB, Steelers
Count me among those who were staunch Porter supporters -- I planned that rhyme -- and believed he should've been selected in Round 1. He was my CB2 in the 2023 class. Ridiculously long, springy, assertive in man coverage and decently aware at the catch point.
And doesn't it feel like Porter Jr. has a chip on his shoulder for not going in the first round? He'll use that as motivation this season on what should be a very advantageous situation covering in the Steelers defense with T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith and Cam Heyward in front of him. However, he won't get the bonus of those hurrying the decisions of opposing quarterbacks much -- if at all -- in the preseason. I want to see him in that first experience to cover, on an island, against an NFL wideout.
Dalton Kincaid, TE, Bills
At training camp, the Josh Allen every practice. And the former Utah star has passed every test thrown at him. Well maybe not blocking just yet. Getting open and catching the football? With flying colors. He's even sprinkled in some circus grabs.into what appears to be a prominent role in the offense. Quickly running with the ones. Targeted often by
With the presumed rather large feature -- for a rookie -- in Buffalo's offense, how much will Kincaid play? And will he look better than the vast majority of his preseason competition? He glides in and out of his routes and is slippery after the catch.
Sam LaPorta, TE, Lions
LaPorta finished as my TE1 in the 2023 class. Naturally, I thought the Lions got a mega steal in the second round with him. There've been rave reviews on the Iowa product from Lions camp, and there was a gaping hole at tight end on the Lions roster, so LaPorta being a fixture of the pass game after Amon-Ra St. Brown will surprise exactly no one.
Like Kincaid, LaPorta should look impressive against some second and third teamers, although he, of course, will get some miniscule run with the Lions first-unit in the tiny audition that group will get in the preseason. LaPorta tested like an elite athlete and broke tackles at a George Kittleian rate at Iowa.
Zay Flowers, WR, Ravens
Flowers rounds out this list because he is supposed to be one of the offensive skill-position pieces to help usher in a new era for Lamar Jackson and the Ravens offense. A more aerially capable offense. With Jackson, the Ravens offensive front, and stable of backs, the ground game won't disappear from the offensive philosophy, but over the past few seasons it was clear Baltimore needed more passing potency to contend with other top clubs in the AFC.
Flowers was the most complete wideout in the 2023 class in my estimation. Though little and compact, Flowers beat press well, ran sharp routes, played with strong hands in every catch situation, and was a dynamo after the catch. I want to see more of Boston College Flowers -- a big play waiting to happen -- in the preseason.