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2023 NFL Preseason, Week 3: One thing to watch on each of the 32 teams

Before long, the regular season will be here and a nation will rejoice.

But prior to that, there is still a lot to figure out with each of the 32 teams. Everyone has one final preseason game remaining this week, and jobs are on the line with cutdown day on Aug. 29.

Think these final games don't matter? Think again. It was one year ago this week that Brock Purdy made a final push for a roster spot with the 49ers in a strong showing against the Texans. Little did we know at the time, but three months later he'd be thrust into the starting lineup, launching an improbable run to the NFC Championship Game.

Here are 32 things we'll be keyed in on during this week's preseason finales, including a few young quarterbacks who hope to mint their own Purdy-like story one day.

*NFL+ subscribers can watch live out-of-market NFL preseason games across devices. Blackout restrictions apply.


  • WHERE: Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Atlanta)
  • WHEN: 7:30 p.m. ET (NFL Network, NFL+*)

STEELERS: Steelers offensive coordinator Matt Canada has shot down talk that No. 2 RB Jaylen Warren could perhaps supplant starter Najee Harris, saying that Harris will remain atop the depth chart. But Warren’s camp and preseason work, including ripping off a 62-yard TD against the Bills, might merit an expanded role after his pleasantly surprising rookie season. He averaged 6.6 touches per game last season but was trusted with more fourth-down carries (two) than Harris (zero) and was more effective per touch. Will Warren get any work in Thursday’s preseason finale at Atlanta? His workload could be telling. He’s almost been given starter’s treatment, with only four preseason carries so far (Harris has two). 

FALCONS: Do the Falcons feel good enough about their WR depth after Drake London? It’s a fair question considering they have only one receiver (Mack Hollins) with more than 75 career catches entering this season. Hollins likely will start opposite London, and Scott Miller feels like a natural fit in the slot. But the final WR spots could be very much up for grabs -- with the waiver wire possibly offering reinforcements, too -- with players such as KhaDarel Hodge, Zay Malone, Penny Hart and Josh Ali likely in the mix. I expect more than one of them to treat Thursday’s finale as a Super Bowl of sorts with so much to sort out.

  • WHERE: Lincoln Financial Field (Philadelphia)
  • WHEN: 8 p.m. ET (Prime Video, NFL+*)

COLTS: Jonathan Taylor being cleared to seek a trade has upped the angst over the Colts’ backfield. No Colts back has had a run longer than nine yards this preseason, and their collective rushing average is 2.8 yards. After Taylor and Zack Moss, who is still rehabbing a broken arm, Deon Jackson figures to be the next option. As things stand now, that likely leaves 2023 fifth-rounder Evan Hull, Jake Funk and Kenyan Drake jockeying for an indeterminate number of RB roster spots -- it could be one, two or three, depending on the Week 1 statuses of Moss and Taylor.

EAGLES: Early in camp, the question was whether rookie QB Tanner McKee could beat out Ian Book for a spot. To this point, however, McKee not only has outplayed Book, but some observers might argue that he might be a better option at this point than projected backup Marcus Mariota. That last part is debatable, but it’s clear that McKee has proven his worth. Could he really end up as Jalen Hurts’ backup? Last year, Gardner Minshew played a valuable role as QB2 in Philly. Tune in Thursday to watch McKee, who has thrown the ball well but could sharpen his accuracy just a bit to fully state his case.

  • WHERE: Nissan Stadium (Nashville, Tenn.)
  • WHEN: 8:15 p.m. ET (NFL Network, NFL+*)

PATRIOTS: If there’s an element of this good Patriots defense that might require more scrutiny, it’s the safety position. Devin McCourty’s absence could reveal just how big a role he played for so many years. It’s likely the Patriots will start out by rotating players such as Kyle Dugger, Adrian Phillips, Jalen Mills and perhaps Jabrill Peppers there, but keep an eye on third-rounder Marte Mapu -- who also plays linebacker -- in the preseason finale in Nashville to see what kind of role the rookie might play now that he’s been fully cleared from a pectoral injury. He fits best in the box, however, so the deep-safety question lingers.

TITANS: I’ll be curious to see what the Titans do with the quarterback reps, considering Will Levis missed the second preseason game due to injury. Malik Willis played the whole game last week, and it just feels like he has some breathing room for the QB2 job ahead of Levis at the moment. Levis’ leg was wrapped, and he warmed up last week, so it’s possible he’ll be good to go against the Patriots, the team Levis grew up a fan of. It might be the last time we see him for a minute, assuming Ryan Tannehill and Willis stay healthy and/or don’t struggle badly.

  • WHERE: Bank of America Stadium (Charlotte)
  • WHEN: 8 p.m. ET (CBS, NFL+*)

LIONS: The Levi Onwuzurike story has mostly been a feel-good one this summer, with the former second-rounder returning from a back injury that wiped out his entire 2022 season and making a push for a spot in the rotation. The first preseason game (his first game in 19 months) was a success, but Onwuzurike was less effective last week against Jacksonville. So, is his roster spot in jeopardy heading into the final preseason game? It might be hard for GM Brad Holmes to cut the second draft pick he made after joining the Lions, but the DT depth looks good, and it might take one more performance to seal up a spot.

PANTHERS: The NFL’s new roster rules for this season -- allowing for an emergency passer to dress for games without using an active spot -- change the roster calculus for many teams. Quarterbacks such as Carolina’s Matt Corral might be the perfect candidate for this spot -- the 2022 third-rounder is young, on a cheap contract and seems to have made a decent impression on the new coaching staff. Corral has looked solid in the preseason, especially last week against the Giants. If he can take advantage of the preseason finale and play well, it might wrap up a roster spot as QB3 behind Bryce Young and Andy Dalton.

  • WHERE: Levi's Stadium (Santa Clara, Calif.)
  • WHEN: 10 p.m. ET (NFL Network, NFL+*)

CHARGERS: The Chargers could have some interesting decisions at wide receiver come cutdown time. We know Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and first-rounder Quentin Johnston will be on the roster, and I assume Joshua Palmer will make it. That’s four spots. The Chargers have kept five receivers to start each of the past two seasons. Will they consider a sixth? Both John Hightower and 2023 fourth-rounder Derius Davis have opened eyes in camp and the preseason. Davis’ special-teams value and draft provenance likely make him closer to a lock. A lot of it could depend on the health status of Jalen Guyton, who remains on the PUP list following an ACL injury. If he’s out of the picture, perhaps that opens the door for Hightower to make a push for the final WR spot.

49ERS: After a trying offseason, rookie TE Cameron Latu came through with his best showing to date as a pro last week against the Broncos, catching three passes for 46 yards, including a 22-yard TD from Trey Lance. It was exactly what Latu needed after struggling with drops in training camp and losing a fumble in the preseason opener versus Las Vegas. The Niners used a third-round pick on Latu, so it’s hard to imagine them not keeping him on the 53-man roster. But there’s a numbers game at tight end -- they also have Pro Bowler George Kittle, Charlie Woerner, Brayden Willis, Ross Dwelley and Troy Fumagalli -- so perhaps Latu needs one more showing against the Chargers to convince the team he’s deserving of a spot.

  • WHERE: Lambeau Field (Green Bay, Wis.)
  • WHEN: 1 p.m. ET (NFL+*)

SEAHAWKS: The Seahawks’ pass rush might just be legit this season. The team that ranked seventh in the NFL in sack percentage in 2022 has looked even more potent this August, at least when you extrapolate what a deeper bench might be able to provide. Uchenna Nwosu and Darrell Taylor led the way last season with 9.5 sacks apiece, but the team is expecting more from its bench, which features Boye Mafe (three sacks last year), Tyreke Smith (a 2022 fifth-rounder who missed all of last season) and 2023 second-rounder Derick Hall. The latter three still should get some opportunities to chase Packers QBs, including athletic rookie Sean Clifford, on Saturday and give Seahawks fans a taste of what the rush unit could look like.

PACKERS: There is a serious logjam at wide receiver. Will they keep six on the initial roster? Possibly seven? It could come down to a choice between rookies, with undrafted Malik Heath doing everything he can to lock down a roster spot. I believe fifth-rounder Dontayvion Wicks also has done enough to crack the group, so it could end up being seventh-rounder Grant DuBose who is auditioning for a final spot in Saturday’s preseason finale. He came back last week from injury and performed well against the Patriots, stating his case for the job.

  • WHERE: U.S. Bank Stadium (Minneapolis)
  • WHEN: 1 p.m. ET (NFL+*)

CARDINALS: The running back pecking order might be in flux heading into the season. James Conner figures to be the unquestioned starter for now, and Keaontay Ingram's return from injury means he'll have the next few weeks to lock down a spot as the primary backup. But Corey Clement's job suddenly seems to be in question. After Clement started the preseason opener, he was fourth in line for carries last game. Pushing him is fascinating rookie Emari Demercado, who really stepped up late in his college career and has intriguing size-speed potential. How the reserve backs fare vs. Minnesota could give us an idea of how the RB depth chart might shake out.

VIKINGS: What can the Vikings expect from 2022 first-round pick Lewis Cine? It's extremely difficult to forecast Cine's immediate future as he works his way back from the season-ending broken leg he suffered in Week 4 last year. While facing the Titans last week, Cine whiffed on a tackle attempt against RB Tyjae Spears but also made a few eye-opening plays in the backfield. He's played extensively in the first two preseason games, but it wouldn't be shocking to see Cine out there some in the third preseason game, depending on head coach Kevin O'Connell's plan for the contest. Cine, as much as anyone projected to play this season, still needs reps.

  • WHERE: Soldier Field (Chicago)
  • WHEN: 1 p.m. ET (NFL+*)

BILLS: The Bills did not play well in the second preseason game against the Steelers, which could shift how they handle Saturday’s game in Chicago. One especially concerning spot appears to be offensive tackle, where starters Dion Dawkins and Spencer Brown struggled against Pittsburgh and the depth looks dire. Brandon Shell retired earlier this month, Tommy Doyle is out for the season and it seems David Quessenberry has not clinched the swing OT job. Ryan Van Demark, who performed well last week, could win one of the top four OT jobs, with one more preseason game to prove himself.

BEARS: Quarterback Tyson Bagent, out of Division II Shepherd, made two things clear at this year’s Reese’s Senior Bowl: 1) He can spin the ball and 2) He didn’t look out of place. Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy, the American Team head coach at the Senior Bowl, likely noticed. The undrafted Bagent signed with the Bears and caused a mini-stir Saturday with his preseason performance against the Colts, running for a TD and completing 9-of-10 passes for 76 yards. Even with PJ Walker struggling (the presumed QB2 behind Justin Fields), it’s hard to imagine Bagent winning the backup job right away, but he should have most of Saturday’s game to prove that he deserves a roster spot. 

  • WHERE: GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium (Kansas City)
  • WHEN: 1 p.m. ET (NFL Network, NFL+*)

BROWNS: It appears Kevin Stefanski will give most of his starters some time in this game, and I want to see if the Browns can protect Deshaun Watson ably -- that's a concern, depending on the availability of Jack Conklin, who is in the concussion protocol. But we also want to see how two preseason standouts, WR Austin Watkins Jr. and LB Mohamoud Diabate, fare as they mount a final push for the roster. Watkins has spent time in the CFL and USFL but, given how he's played, looks like he belongs in the NFL. The undrafted rookie Diabate does, too, having even earned some first-team reps at an unsettled position. Both could end up making this team.

CHIEFS: The final preseason game could serve as a showdown for the Chiefs' final RB spot. Early on, the undrafted Deneric Prince appeared to be this year's version of Isiah Pacheco, a camp find who infiltrates the RB rotation as a rookie, but the situation might not be that clear-cut. La'Mical Perine, who toiled last season on the Dolphins' practice squad and hasn't played since Week 14 of 2021, suddenly appeared to vault Prince on the Chiefs' depth chart, with Pacheco still nursing an injury. Andy Reid has already hinted that keeping seven receivers is possible, meaning Prince and Perine might be fighting to avoid being the odd man out.

BENGALS: When the Bengals used multiple Day 3 draft picks on wide receivers in April, it appeared they’d be brought along fairly slowly -- and that might end up being the plan for WRs Charlie Jones and Andrei Iosivas for 2023. But given how much both have factored into special teams this preseason, both could be game day actives in the regular season. Also, they both have specialty ability as receivers -- Jones as a crafty slot, Iosivas as a deep-ball threat -- that could be on display against the Commanders, perhaps as a taste of what’s to come down the road on offense. 

COMMANDERS: The Commanders’ defensive line is arguably one of the best in the league. And it’s deep, too, especially on the outside where they run five-plus deep. Local reports suggest that 2023 seventh-rounder Andre Jones Jr. has been more impactful than fifth-rounder KJ Henry. They might be battling for the sixth edge spot -- if Washington keeps that many. But there’s a longer-term significance here: The team’s five most established ends (Montez Sweat, Chase Young, James Smith-Williams, Casey Toohill and Efe Obada) are all set to be free agents in 2024. Henry and Jones could be playing against the Bengals with making this year’s roster in mind, but it’s also the kind of game with some potential long-term ramifications.

  • WHERE: MetLife Stadium (East Rutherford, N.J.)
  • WHEN: 6 p.m. ET (NFL Network, NFL+*)

JETS: All the firepower added at receiver and running back this offseason likely limits the number of roster spots the Jets will be willing to devote to those two positions when cutdown day approaches. It appeared at one point that Michael Carter might still be battling for a job, but his night off against the Bucs probably was a good thing for his chances. That might mean Zonovan Knight is the one fighting for the final RB spot, with Jason Brownlee, Xavier Gipson and Malik Taylor possibly scrapping for the sixth WR spot (if the Jets can even keep that many receivers). Special teams will be a tiebreaker in some cases, but these players all will have something to prove in the preseason finale against the Giants.

GIANTS: The Giants appear to have three-fifths of their offensive line (both tackle spots and center) figured out, leaving multiple candidates to compete for the two starting OG spots. Mark Glowinski, Ben Bredeson and Josh Ezeudu are the most likely options there, but Tyre Phillips has traditionally worked better inside than out and could be used inside if he's healthy. Phillips and Matt Peart are also the backup tackles, but it's not clear how this entire group is stacked. Perhaps that reveals itself in the final preseason game. The Giants know they can improve up front this season after mixed results from the line a year ago.

  • WHERE: TIAA Bank Field (Jacksonville, Fla.)
  • WHEN: 7 p.m. ET (NFL+*)

DOLPHINS: WR coach Wes Welker has indicated that the Dolphins’ WR3 job behind Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle remains up for grabs. Will it be an outside option such as Robbie Chosen or Cedrick Wilson Jr.? Or perhaps a slot like Braxton Berrios or River Cracraft? There’s also the big-bodied wild-card option in Erik Ezukanma, a 2022 fourth-round pick. Some consider Berrios the favorite here, but all eyes will be on the final preseason game to see how Miami divvies up the WR reps, which could be pretty revealing. 

JAGUARS: Doug Pederson doesn’t appear deterred from playing his starters in the preseason finale against Miami, despite the Jaguars suffering a rash of preseason injuries. They’ve been hit especially hard in the trenches on both sides of the ball. Watch for the play of the offensive and defensive tackles because there are some possible jobs open. Recent injuries to DT Foley Fatukasi and OT Anton Harrison don't appear to be serious, but OT Josh Wells could miss some time and leave the Jaguars thinner at tackle.

  • WHERE: Raymond James Stadium (Tampa, Fla.)
  • WHEN: 7 p.m. ET (NFL+*)

RAVENS: Saturday's game is a chance to begin a new winning streak after the Ravens saw their 24-game unbeaten stretch come to an end Monday against the Commanders. But really, it will be a chance for players to make their final arguments for a roster spot at two key positions: cornerback and wide receiver. The Ravens might not keep six receivers, but if they do, Tylan Wallace could have the edge over Sean Ryan, James Proche II and Laquon Treadwell heading into the preseason finale. On defense, Ar'Darius Washington’s versatility might help him carve out a spot, but the entire unit requires a long look after a slew of injuries (including one to CB Marlon Humphrey) has shuffled the roster significantly.

BUCCANEERS: It seems to have flown under the radar but not only is undrafted rookie RB Sean Tucker making a strong push for the Buccaneers’ 53-man roster, but he also could be earning a role in the offense this season. Tucker was considered a Day 3 talent (at least) after a productive career at Syracuse, but complicated medicals clouded his evaluation. So far this summer, Tucker has put his best foot forward. Last week, he had a 26-yard run on fourth-and-1 and gained 15 yards on a screen pass. I'm not ready to anoint him RB2 behind Rachaad White just yet, but Tucker might end up being that guy.

  • WHERE: AT&T Stadium (Arlington, Texas)
  • WHEN: 8 p.m. ET (NFL+*)

RAIDERS: The Raiders have been forced to slowly roll out their two top draft picks, edge rusher Tyree Wilson and TE Michael Mayer, as each were rehabbing injuries through much of August. Wilson is still gearing up for regular-season work, but Mayer got a head start with his preseason debut last week. In 21 snaps, Mayer was mostly used as a blocker and often paired with Austin Hooper. Mayer is the massive favorite to start this season, but has he received enough work to be ready for Week 1? The preseason finale against Dallas could serve as Mayer’s final warmup test, and I'd love to see him targeted in the passing game.

COWBOYS: If you’re looking to keep an eye on a back-of-the-roster player who could make the team this season, how about undrafted rookie Isaiah Land? After an eye-opening Senior Bowl (playing stand-up linebacker for the first time), Land flashed some fairly juicy athletic numbers at the NFL Scouting Combine and immediately got defensive coordinator Dan Quinn “excited” this spring after signing with Dallas. Land has kept it up, too, and might be favored for a roster spot heading into the final preseason game. The Cowboys have had an excellent run of identifying undrafted talent in recent years, and Land might be their latest find.

  • WHERE: Empower Field at Mile High (Denver)
  • WHEN: 9 p.m. ET (NFL Network, NFL+*)

RAMS: The Rams have definitely seen the full Stetson Bennett experience this preseason so far, and he figures to play a bunch (along with Brett Rypien) in the final game against Denver. Bennett seemed to regress overall against the Raiders, but my view is that the Rams are likely to be a two-QB team come cutdown time and that Bennett has the edge for the QB2 spot behind Matthew Stafford. Given Stafford’s injury history, going that route would be a risk, but the Rams likely are willing to give Bennett ample reps to prepare him for emergency duty during the regular season.

BRONCOS: RB Jaleel McLaughlin has emerged as a fascinating sleeper option for the initial 53-man roster. Sean Payton said he’d be smart with how he handled Javonte Williams’ snaps in his return to action, so he might sit in the preseason finale after seeing limited action against the 49ers. That opens the door for more snaps this weekend for McLaughlin, who saw early action last week, totaling 45 yards on seven carries and two TDs (one receiving). He’s more in line, style-wise, with former Payton backs, such as Reggie Bush and Alvin Kamara, and could be a surprise addition to the rotation as a change-of-pace option.

  • WHERE: Caesars Superdome (New Orleans)
  • WHEN: 8 p.m. ET (FOX, NFL+*)

TEXANS: Rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud has had a somewhat underwhelming preseason performance so far, and while the panic level should be fairly low, he could help take some pressure off himself and the Texans’ offense by putting his best foot forward in the final preseason game. He’s been a little shaky handling pressure and maintaining consistent throwing mechanics, but Stroud did improve incrementally in the second preseason game compared to his debut. Whether he receives one drive or four against the Saints, Stroud will want to show more command with a daunting Week 1 game at Baltimore looming.

SAINTS: Chris Olave and Michael Thomas are roster locks, and Rashid Shaheed and rookie A.T. Perry figure to make the Saints’ opening roster. But there’s at least one WR spot up for grabs heading into the preseason finale. Lynn Bowden is a possibility because of his kick return ability. Rookie Shaquan Davis has been on a late tear. Keith Kirkwood sat out last game; does that mean he’s made it? And then there’s Tre’Quan Smith, who doesn't appear to be a roster lock due to his inconsistency. Expect the back end of the WR depth chart to be one of the biggest focus areas prior to cutdowns. 

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