1 Player Each NFL Team Should Be Excited to See in 2020 Preseason
Let's be honest: NFL preseason wins and losses don't mean anything. What's important is how teams come together, players prove themselves and future stars emerge during the exhibition window.
Seeing a rookie first-rounder, prized free-agent addition or player who's returning from injury hit the preseason field for the first time can bring a jolt of energy.
Just think back to Daniel Jones' first touchdown pass in Week 1 of the New York Giants' 2019 preseason and what it seemed to symbolize for the franchise's future. These sorts of enthralling moments occur each and every preseason. Even if the 2020 preseason doesn't follow a traditional schedule—the Hall of Fame Game has already been canceled—there will still be plenty of players and moments worth getting excited about.
Here, we'll look at one player from each NFL team whom decision-makers and fans alike should be thrilled to see take the field this preseason.
Arizona Cardinals: WR DeAndre Hopkins
The Arizona Cardinals pulled off the trade of the offseason when they acquired wideout DeAndre Hopkins in March, and they should be ecstatic to see him on the field. Not only will the four-time Pro Bowler provide second-year quarterback Kyler Murray with an elite No. 1 option, but he'll also improve the entire offense.
"I think that it will open up things for all of us," fellow wideout Christian Kirk told reporters. "I believe it will be a little bit of pick your poison."
A passing attack that involves Murray, Hopkins, Kirk and Larry Fitzgerald should indeed be dangerous and fun to watch.
Atlanta Falcons: TE Hayden Hurst
The Atlanta Falcons lost Pro Bowl tight end Austin Hooper in free agency this offseason, and his role in the offense won't be easy fill. Last season, Hooper posted 75 catches, 787 yards and six touchdowns.
To replace him, the Falcons traded for 2018 first-round pick Hayden Hurst. While Hurst was a relative disappointment with the Baltimore Ravens—he put up just 512 yards and three scores in two seasons—he's also been sitting behind Pro Bowler Mark Andrews.
Atlanta will provide Hurst with a fresh start, and the preseason will give an early idea of what he can do with the opportunity.
Baltimore Ravens: RB J.K. Dobbins
Ravens running back Mark Ingram II rushed for 10 touchdowns and made the Pro Bowl in 2019. However, he's no longer the future at running back for Baltimore. The selection of Ohio State runner J.K. Dobbins in Round 2 means Lamar Jackson will have a new backfield mate for the foreseeable future.
Ingram is under contract through 2021, but at some point, he'll pass the torch to Dobbins, who rushed for 2,003 yards last season.
Baltimore and its fans will likely get an early look at the future during the preseason, as the rookie should see more exhibition work than the 30-year-old Ingram.
Buffalo Bills: WR Stefon Diggs
The Buffalo Bills gave up quite a bit to pry wideout Stefon Diggs from the Minnesota Vikings—most notably, a 2020 first-round pick—but the move should pay immediate dividends. Diggs, who had 1,130 receiving yards last season, is the sort of downfield receiver who can capitalize on Josh Allen's tremendous arm strength.
By adding Diggs, the Bills have provided their young quarterback with the No. 1 receiving option he has lacked.
Allen, the Bills and their fans should be pumped to see how Diggs impacts the Buffalo passing attack. With him, John Brown, Cole Beasley and Dawson Knox on the roster, Buffalo no longer has an underwhelming receiving corps.
Carolina Panthers: QB Teddy Bridgewater
Thanks to his experience with Panthers offensive coordinator and former New Orleans Saints assistant Joe Brady, Bridgewater has already impacted his new team.
"Everybody that's met Teddy Bridgewater, he makes everybody better," Brady told reporters.
Bridgewater went 5-0 as a starter with the Saints last season, though he hasn't been a full-time starter since 2015 because of a career-altering leg injury in August 2016. The Panthers should be eager to see if Bridgewater can parlay a promising offseason into a strong 2020 campaign.
Chicago Bears: QB Nick Foles
The Chicago Bears traded for quarterback Nick Foles this offseason to either push or replace 2017 first-round pick Mitchell Trubisky. While Trubisky has shown flashes of greatness in his three seasons, he has yet to become a franchise quarterback.
Foles has also failed to do that and has struggled away from the Philadelphia Eagles. However, he was a Pro Bowler and Super Bowl MVP in Philadelphia, and the possibility that he can recapture that magic remains—which is why the Jacksonville Jaguars signed him last offseason.
Of course, there's no telling which version of Foles the Bears are getting or whether he can be a better option than Trubisky. Chicago hopes to gain a little clarity during the preseason.
Cincinnati Bengals: QB Joe Burrow
The Cincinnati Bengals cut veteran quarterback Andy Dalton just after April's draft, meaning that for better or worse, this will be Joe Burrow's team right out of the gate in 2020.
The No. 1 overall pick out of LSU has plenty of potential. He won the Heisman Trophy, led the Tigers to an undefeated championship season and tossed 60 touchdowns. Of course, the college game and the NFL are vastly different, and there's no guarantee Burrow will have an easy transition—especially with a team that went 2-14 last season.
While it may not impact his starting status for Week 1, Cincinnati will get a good early look at just how pro-ready Burrow can be during the preseason.
Cleveland Browns: OT Jedrick Wills Jr.
While the Cleveland Browns should be hyped to see free-agent additions like Hooper and Jack Conklin, rookie first-round pick Jedrick Wills Jr. will be the real preseason star. Left tackle is the most important spot on the offensive line, and Wills could be a tremendous one.
"He has basketball-caliber foot quickness and the quick hands of a boxer, and all of it is wrapped in a stout, powerful package of bad intentions," NFL Media's Lance Zierlein wrote of Wills. "His game is tailor-made for the NFL, and his range of success is good starter to All-Pro."
This is a critical third year for Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, and he'll have an easier time making progress if Wills emerges as an elite blindside anchor.
Dallas Cowboys: WR CeeDee Lamb
The Dallas Cowboys already have two 1,000-yard receivers in Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. They also finally got quarterback Dak Prescott to sign his franchise tender Monday, meaning the passing attack should be at full strength in 2020. The addition of rookie CeeDee Lamb could make that passing attack even better.
The Oklahoma product is an explosive pass-catcher who racked up 1,327 yards and 14 touchdowns last season. While he was a bit of a luxury pick at No. 17, his big-play ability could make Dallas' passing attack nearly indefensible. Theoretically, the Cowboys could have three 1,000-yard receivers in 2020.
The team will get its first real look at Cooper, Gallup and Lamb together in the preseason—and the Cowboys should be extremely excited to do so.
Denver Broncos: WR Jerry Jeudy
The Denver Broncos added their own talented rookie wideout in Round 1, using the 15th pick on Alabama's Jerry Jeudy. The former Crimson Tide star should immediately become one of Drew Lock's most reliable targets.
"In 20 years of doing this, he's the best college route-runner I've ever seen," ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said.
By adding Jeudy and second-round pick KJ Hamler to a receiving corps that already featured Courtland Sutton and tight end Noah Fant, the Broncos have potentially given Lock one of the AFC's most talented receiving corps. Denver and its fans will get a first look at it during the preseason.
Detroit Lions: CB Jeff Okudah
Early in the offseason, the Detroit Lions traded Pro Bowl cornerback Darius Slay. This left them without their top pass defender, which is problematic for a team that ranked 31st in passing yards allowed last season.
Enter former Ohio State cornerback and third overall pick Jeff Okudah, who is expected to replace Slay and arguably become the secondary's centerpiece.
While the Buckeyes standout possesses the skill set needed to be an elite shutdown corner, he has yet to prove himself against a pro passing attack. Detroit should get an idea in the preseason of whether replacing Slay with the rookie was the right move.
Green Bay Packers: WR Devin Funchess
The Green Bay Packers should be plenty excited to see rookies like running back AJ Dillon and presumed quarterback of the future Jordan Love in the preseason. However, they should be even more eager to get a look at free-agent addition Devin Funchess.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has an elite target in Davante Adams, but he lacked a reliable No. 2 option last season. The Packers added Funchess to be the possession guy, but he is coming off an injury-hampered campaign.
In his one year with the Indianapolis Colts, Funchess appeared in only one game and had just three receptions before he broke his collarbone. However, in his best year with the Panthers (2017), he caught 63 passes for 840 yards and eight touchdowns.
If Funchess is healthy and can be that 60-catch possession receiver, it should dramatically improve the Packers' passing attack. Green Bay should know where things stand with Funchess by the end of the preseason.
Houston Texans: RB David Johnson
Largely overlooked in the Hopkins trade was the fact that the Houston Texans added running back David Johnson. The 28-year-old has been an elite back when healthy, as evidenced by his 2,118 combined rushing and receiving yards in 2016.
But Johnson hasn't been the same since a wrist injury caused him to miss most of the 2017 season, and his production has suffered dramatically. Last season, he rushed for just 345 yards and 3.7 yards per carry—though he did add 370 receiving yards.
If Johnson can return to Pro Bowl form, he can take some pressure off quarterback Deshaun Watson and be a difference-maker. It will be important for the Texans to see just how healthy and productive Johnson can be during the preseason.
Indianapolis Colts: QB Philip Rivers
The Indianapolis Colts brought in 38-year-old quarterback Philip Rivers to run their offense in 2020. While the eight-time Pro Bowler should provide a spark to a passing game that sputtered under Jacoby Brissett in 2019, it's worth noting Rivers had an up-and-down 2019 season.
He passed for 4,615 yards, but he also had 20 interceptions and just 23 touchdown passes. This offseason, he is motivated to prove he is still a high-level starter.
"At times what may have aggravated me a little bit last year was [critics saying] that I couldn't play anymore," Rivers said, per ESPN's Mike Wells.
Indianapolis should get an idea of just how much Rivers has left this preseason.
Jacksonville Jaguars: EDGE K'Lavon Chaisson
The Jacksonville Jaguars have turned over their offense to quarterback Gardner Minshew II, at least for 2020. With Foles gone, Minshew will get a full year to audition for the permanent starting role.
If he is going to have a fair opportunity, he cannot be asked to carry the entire team. This means Jacksonville needs to see improvement from a defense that ranked 24th in yards allowed last season.
This is where rookie first-round pick and former LSU star K'Lavon Chaisson enters the equation. The pass-rusher was responsible for 6.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for a loss last season and could forge an incredible pass-rushing duo with second-year man Josh Allen.
The Jaguars should be pumped to see what sort of impact that duo can have during the preseason.
Kansas City Chiefs: RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire
The Kansas City Chiefs' selection of former LSU running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire with the 32nd pick was surprising. Kansas City already had one of the NFL's most prolific offenses and arguably the game's best quarterback in Patrick Mahomes.
Presumably, Edwards-Helaire will bring some balance to the offense, which ranked fifth in passing and just 23rd in rushing last season. However, Kansas City shouldn't make a concentrated effort to take the ball out of Mahomes' hands.
The Chiefs should get a better idea of how they can use Edwards-Helaire during the preseason. He is a capable runner and receiver—he had 1,414 rushing yards and 453 receiving yards last season.
Las Vegas Raiders: WR Henry Ruggs III
Las Vegas Raiders rookie wideout Henry Ruggs III possesses 4.27 speed and could revamp how the Raiders can attack through the air. He's more than just a speedster, though; he's a complete receiver who racked up 746 yards and seven touchdowns on just 40 receptions last season.
Ruggs will provide Derek Carr with a burner on the outside while also opening things up for running back Josh Jacobs and complementary receivers Tyrell Williams and Hunter Renfrow.
Las Vegas should be thrilled to see just how Ruggs changes the complexion of the offense during the preseason.
Los Angeles Chargers: QB Justin Herbert
Los Angeles Chargers rookie quarterback Justin Herbert isn't viewed as a pro-ready prospect. Ideally, journeyman Tyrod Taylor will play well enough to keep the sixth overall pick on the sideline early in 2020.
However, Herbert does have outstanding physical upside that the Chargers should be eager to preview.
"Big, talented full-field scanner able to find the right read and sling it around the yard from the pocket or on the move," Zierlein wrote of the 6'6", 236-pound Herbert.
Exhibition competition should give Los Angeles an idea of just what it has in Herbert and how far away he might be from taking over as a full-time starter.
Los Angeles Rams: RB Cam Akers
The Los Angeles Rams parted with longtime starting running back Todd Gurley this offseason, which left a major hole in the offense. While the Rams do have Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown at the position, they should be excited about what rookie second-round pick Cam Akers can bring.
Akers rushed for 1,144 yards and 14 touchdowns last season for the Florida State Seminoles. He also caught 30 passes for 225 yards and four more scores.
While Akers won't make Los Angeles forget about Gurley, he does have the skill set of a future workhorse running back. The Rams should be pumped to see if he can claim that role in the preseason.
Miami Dolphins: QB Tua Tagovailoa
The Miami Dolphins used the fifth pick in April's draft on former Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Whereas Herbert carries questions about his pro-readiness, Tagovailoa carries questions about his health.
Last season, the Crimson Tide standout suffered a dislocated and fractured hip. The good news is his recovery appears to be going well.
"He's doing miraculously well," physical therapist Kevin Wilk said, per Safid Deen of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
While the Dolphins should have zero desire to rush Tagovailoa into a starting role, they should be excited to see just how healthy and confident he is during the preseason.
Minnesota Vikings: WR Justin Jefferson
The Minnesota Vikings' trade of Diggs helped free cap space and netted the team a second first-round draft pick in 2020. However, it also left them with a question at receiver—one amplified by the fact that Adam Thielen was limited to 10 games and 418 yards last season.
Minnesota used one of its first-round picks on former LSU wide receiver Justin Jefferson. While asking Jefferson to outright replace Diggs isn't fair, the Tigers star has the potential to do just that.
In 2019, Jefferson amassed 1,540 yards and a whopping 18 touchdowns on 111 receptions. He can be a high-volume target and, theoretically, can be even more of a go-to option for Kirk Cousins than Diggs was.
New England Patriots: QB Jarrett Stidham
With Tom Brady a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the New England Patriots are left searching for a new starting quarterback for the first time since Brady tore his ACL in 2008. Presumably, that starter will either be journeyman Brian Hoyer or second-year man Jarrett Stidham in 2020.
Ideally, Stidham will win out because he's the only long-term option of the two.
Stidham had a fantastic preseason as a rookie, finishing with 731 passing yards, four touchdowns and just one interception. The Patriots should be excited to see if he can replicate that success while working primarily with the starting offense.
If he can, New England's quarterback position might just be in good hands.
New Orleans Saints: WR Emmanuel Sanders
The New Orleans Saints have arguably the NFL's best receiver in Michael Thomas. However, Drew Brees has lacked a reliable No. 2 wideout for some time and has instead relied on players like tight end Jared Cook and running back Alvin Kamara to supplement the passing game.
The addition of free-agent receiver Emmanuel Sanders, however, could change that dynamic. Sanders is a fantastic complementary option and has proved to be a quick study. Despite arriving with the San Francisco 49ers shortly before the trade deadline, he finished 2019 with 36 catches, 502 yards and three touchdowns in 10 games with the franchise.
Sanders should give Brees the reliable No. 2 receiver he's been missing, and the Saints should be thrilled to see how this impacts the offense in the preseason.
New York Giants: OT Andrew Thomas
The New York Giants used the fourth pick in April's draft on former Georgia offensive tackle Andrew Thomas. The Giants should be eager to get him onto the field and into a starting role because his predecessor has been a liability.
2019 starter Nate Solder was responsible for five penalties and 11 sacks last season, according to Pro Football Focus.
This season should be all about developing and protecting second-year quarterback Daniel Jones. Thomas can play a key role in that if he's ready to be a Week 1 starter. New York will have to evaluate that during exhibition play.
New York Jets: WR Denzel Mims
Should the New York Jets be delighted to see rookie offensive tackle Mekhi Becton on the field this preseason? Absolutely. However, they should be even more excited to get a glimpse of rookie wideout Denzel Mims.
It could take some time for the relatively raw Becton to become a high-end pass-blocker. However, we've seen rookie receivers explode onto the scene in recent years. Mims, who caught 66 passes for 1,020 yards and a whopping 12 touchdowns for Baylor last season, could be the latest example.
If so, this would be huge for third-year quarterback Sam Darnold. The USC product has not had a legitimate No. 1 receiver since he entered the NFL. New York should get an idea in the preseason whether Mims can be that top target.
Philadelphia Eagles: WR Jalen Reagor
The Philadelphia Eagles struggled to field healthy wide receivers near the end of 2019, which—along with Carson Wentz's postseason concussion—impacted their chance at an extended playoff run.
Two players could improve the situation this season: DeSean Jackson and rookie first-round pick Jalen Reagor. Jackson missed most of 2019 because of core muscle surgery, and the Eagles should be excited to see just how healthy he is. The rookie out of TCU is even more intriguing, however, because of his long-term potential.
Reagor only had 611 yards this past season but racked up 1,061 yards and nine touchdowns in 2018. The preseason should provide an idea of whether he can be a 1,000-yard receiver as a rookie.
Pittsburgh Steelers: QB Ben Roethlisberger
The Pittsburgh Steelers are banking on Ben Roethlisberger's ability to lift an offense that ranked 30th in yards and 27th in points last season. While a healthy Big Ben should improve those numbers, we are talking about a 38-year-old quarterback coming off elbow surgery.
So far, things appear positive for Roethlisberger and the Steelers.
"He's comfortable and pleased with where he is. Some of the people that have had an opportunity to work out with him have been impressed and are pleased with where he is," head coach Mike Tomlin told reporters.
While Roethlisberger may look good in private offseason workouts, Pittsburgh can't know how he'll fare against live competition until the preseason.
San Francisco 49ers: WR Brandon Aiyuk
Sanders, who was acquired just before the trade deadline, was major piece of the San Francisco 49ers offense in 2019. However, the wideout left for New Orleans in free agency.
San Francisco potentially filled the vacancy by making former Arizona State receiver Brandon Aiyuk the second of the team's two first-round selections in April. He may prove to be the more impactful of the two, as Javon Kinlaw joins a stacked defensive front.
Aiyuk, who caught 65 passes for 1,192 yards and eight touchdowns last season, could step in as the No. 2 wideout opposite Deebo Samuel. Fans and coaches alike will want to see how that affects Jimmy Garoppolo and the passing game in the preseason.
Seattle Seahawks: EDGE Darrell Taylor
The Seattle Seahawks produced just 28 sacks in 2019. Seattle has yet to re-sign either Jadeveon Clowney or Ezekiel Ansah, so offseason pass-rushing additions like Bruce Irvin and rookie second-round pick Darrell Taylor will be highlights of the preseason.
Seattle should be particularly excited about Taylor and his long-term potential. The Tennessee product is relatively raw but possesses tremendous upside.
"The toolbox has plenty in it, but additional development as a pass-rusher might be the difference between functional backup or dangerous starter," Zierlein wrote.
The Seahawks should get an idea of where Taylor is in his development during the preseason.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: QB Tom Brady
This might be the most obvious choice on this list. The Buccaneers signed six-time champion Tom Brady to a two-year, $50 million deal this offseason, which has possibly opened a two-year Super Bowl window.
Tampa fans should be thrilled to see Brady take the field in a Buccaneers uniform for the first time, but this choice is about more than optics. How well Brady operates in his first new offense in recent memory will be the focus.
Presumably, the Buccaneers will cater their offense to Brady to some degree. However, elements of Bruce Arians' system will likely remain in place. This means there could be a learning curve for Brady, and the Bucs will want to see just how quickly he can master it.
If Brady appears comfortable in the preseason? That first deep pass to Mike Evans or Chris Godwin will be extra sweet.
Tennessee Titans: OT Isaiah Wilson
The Tennessee Titans leaned heavily on their running game in 2019, as evidenced by Derrick Henry's league-leading 1,540 rushing yards. While Henry deserves credit for racking up those yards, it would be unfair to ignore the talented line that opened holes for him all season.
A big piece of that line was right tackle Jack Conklin, who departed for the Browns in free agency. Replacing Conklin won't be easy, but Tennessee drafted Georgia's Isaiah Wilson in the first round to do exactly that.
The Titans and their fans should be excited to see how well Wilson can replace Conklin. While this is a tall order, it's worth noting Conklin was an All-Pro as a rookie. Ideally for Tennessee, Wilson will showcase similar potential in the preseason.
Washington Redskins: EDGE Chase Young
The Washington Redskins made Ohio State pass-rusher Chase Young the first defensive player off the board this past April, and the expectations for him are already high. Head coach Ron Rivera recently compared him to 6'7", 295-pound pass-rushing legend Julius Peppers.
"He's not quite as big as Julius was," Rivera said of the 6'5", 264-pound Young during Washington's Offseason Update Live (h/t the team's official website). "He's built like him; he's a mini version of him. He's got a little bit more of that initial explosion."
Young could have an impact similar to that of 2019 Defensive Rookie of the Year Nick Bosa, and Washington should be eager to see how he stacks up against pro competition during the preseason.
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