NFL News & Analysis

10 Day 3 rookies to watch this preseason: Dawand Jones, Deuce Vaughn and more

2RETH29 Dallas Cowboys running back Deuce Vaughn runs the ball during the NFL football team's training camp Saturday, July 29, 2023, in Oxnard, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

• Dawand Jones already putting on a show: The Ohio State product allowed no pressure on 40 pass-blocking snaps in the Hall of Fame Game.

• Stetson Bennett turning heads in camp: Bennett is no stranger to exceeding expectations, and he is reportedly impressing in training camp as QB2.

• Deuce Vaughn has a chance to put size concerns to rest: A two-game suspension for Ronald Jones provides Vaughn a clear path to carries — and a chance to show what he is capable of — this preseason.

Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes

We finally have real football to talk about! It’s about time.

With the Hall of Fame Game in the books and the 2023 NFL preseason officially underway, we wanted to take a look at 10 Day 3 rookies you should keep your eye on over the next month.

Random Image


Jones, an early fourth-round pick out of Ohio State, played 64 snaps during the Browns’ Hall of Fame Game preseason contest against the Jets. And, in doing so, he earned an 81.1 pass-blocking grade, allowing zero pressures and zero sacks on 40 pass-blocking snaps.

The massive 6-foot-8, 375-pound Jones was polarizing; some loved his size above all, but some thought he was too big to function the way he needed to against NFL athletes. One preseason game in, and it seems his movement skills are up to the task.


Zavala was recently activated off the PUP list (hamstring injury), and we should see a good amount of him moving forward. As a fourth-round pick out of North Carolina State, Zavala was noted as a potential draft steal who boasts the size, speed and strength combo to be a good NFL interior offensive lineman. However, the back surgery he underwent in 2021 clouded his long-term health outlook in the NFL. With him activated for practice, he’ll be in a competition to fill Austin Corbett’s starting spot while he recovers from his ACL tear.

QB Stetson Bennett, LOS ANGELES RAMS

Tell me if you’ve heard this before: The overlooked Stetson Bennett is impressing and might push for regular-season playing time.

Bennett went from walk-on to two-time national champion at Georgia, and though we’re not calling him an eventual Super Bowl champion quite yet, early practice reports indicate he isn't far from earning playing time in the pros. Bennett has reportedly been taking the first-team reps when Matthew Stafford gets a day off this summer. Bennett is QB2 on the depth chart, so we should get a good look at him throughout the preseason. He took a leap from a 78.4 passing grade in 2021 to an 88.9 passing grade in 2022.

QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson, CLEVELAND BROWNS

Going into the preseason, Kellen Mond occupied the QB2 spot in Cleveland before the obvious incumbent starting quarterback Deshaun Watson. While the Browns' starting quarterback is set in stone, the backup spot is up for grabs. And after the Hall of Fame Game, Mond’s grip on that spot is loosening.

Thompson-Robinson, the long-time UCLA starter who was a fifth-round pick this past April, dropped back 15 times in his first preseason action, threw one touchdown, made no turnover-worthy plays and earned a 79.8 passing grade.

Meanwhile, Mond dropped back 20 times and threw one touchdown and one interception, made no big-time throws and two turnover-worthy plays and earned a 33.8 passing grade.


Tampa Bay was likely drawn to Dennis as a prospect after what he did at Pittsburgh as an attacking linebacker. He earned a 92.2 run-defense grade in 2022 while adding 30 total pressures with a 10.1% pass-rush win rate as a blitzer. And now he's flashing coverage ability just a few weeks into training camp. According to Pewter Report, Dennis has four interceptions already in training camp practices, which is the most of any player on the team.

With Lavonte David and Devin White on the roster for 2023, Dennis likely won’t be starting this season. But his training camp play is indicating he'll get plenty of work as a rotational linebacker throughout the season. White is in a contract conflict and David is getting up there in age, so what Dennis does this year could spell a starting role soon.


Jonathan Taylor is clearly not thrilled about his contract situation in Indianapolis, and Zack Moss suffered a broken arm that will sideline him for about six weeks. Enter the fifth-round rookie back from Northwestern, Evan Hull, who could be in line for a lot of preseason work. Hull earned a 73.5 rushing grade in 2022 with 914 rushing yards — 602 of which came after contact. His playing style is one that coaches love to reward.


Kansas State’s back-to-back 1,000-yard rusher was a sixth-round selection of the Dallas Cowboys this past April. Many loved Vaughn’s game, but his 5-foot-5, 180-pound frame dropped him to the late hours of Day 3 of the draft.

Now with the helmet and pads back on, Vaughn is once again reminding people why he’s a good football player, even at his size. A positive of Vaughn’s smaller size is that any daylight on the line of scrimmage is a potential rushing lane for him, and he’s showing that in practice. Tony Pollard is RB1 in Dallas, but with Ronald Jones now suspended for the first two games of the regular season, Vaughn could earn a decent amount of carries this preseason.


With the departures of J.J. Watt and Zach Allen from a defensive line that already needed extra help, there are plenty of snaps up for grabs in Arizona. Stills was a versatile defensive lineman at West Virginia who played both edge and interior defensive line. Training camp reports indicate he’s been used more as an interior defensive lineman for the Cardinals. Stills earned an 85.0-plus run-defense grade — including two in the 90s — in three of his five years of play at West Virginia.


Rarely does a rookie prove to be a serviceable starter along the offensive line. Last year, the Seahawks had two: Charles Cross and Abe Lucas. And they could have another in 2023 with Olu Oluwatimi.

Early reports from Seahawks camp say Oluwatimi has been splitting first-team reps already. His smaller measurables indicated center would likely be his only position in the NFL, but as a starter for Michigan last year he showed he’s pretty good at that one spot. He earned an 80.4 overall grade with an 83.5 run-blocking grade thanks to a high football IQ.

RB Israel Abanikanda, NEW YORK JETS

Abanikanda handled nine carries in the Hall of Fame Game, tied for the most on the team. He finished with just 27 rushing yards, although 20 came after contact, and also scored a touchdown on his way to a 59.3 rushing grade.

The reason Abanikanda is worth paying attention to is a looming Dalvin Cook signing. The Jets clearly don’t want to rush Breece Hall back from injury, so if they see enough from the rookie Abanikanda, that could influence how likely it is they bring in Cook.

Safety worth way more than 2 points. Help protect your family with fast, free will.

NFL Featured Tools


Unlock the 2023 Fantasy Draft Kit, with League Sync, Live Draft Assistant, PFF Grades & Data Platform that powers all 32 Pro Teams

$31 Draft Kit Fee + $8.99/mo
$89.88/yr + FREE Draft Kit