2023 NFL Offensive Player Rankings, Week 14: Three offenses with exceedingly bright futures

The Kansas City Chiefs have earned a reputation as an offensive juggernaut, going back to when Patrick Mahomes took over the quarterbacking reins full time in 2018. They set a gold standard via three key elements: elite quarterback play, a talented supporting cast and savvy play-calling.

That said, Kansas City has not been a well-oiled machine in 2023 because two of those factors — the supporting cast and play-calling — have been lacking. Consequently, the Chiefs currently sit at 11th in scoring and eighth in yards per game, two rankings that will represent low points of the Mahomes era if K.C. doesn’t seriously pick it up in the next five weeks.

Let’s not dwell on the Chiefs, though, as they could turn this thing around at the drop of a dime. Meanwhile, plenty of other offenses are trending in the opposite direction right now, with promising youngsters really coming into their own. Here are three units (listed in alphabetical order) with exceedingly brightest futures, based on what I’ve seen so far this season.

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I love what I’m seeing right now from Jordan Love, who got out to a fast start in his first campaign as Green Bay’s starting quarterback before hitting a few midseason bumps in the road. But he’s broken out of that slump in a MAJOR way.

During the Packers’ current three-game win streak, which includes big-time victories over the Lions on Thanksgiving and Chiefs in prime time, Love has played exceptionally well, completing 68.5 percent of his pass attempts for 285.7 yards per game and eight touchdowns (against zero picks). But it’s not just the numbers that have caught my eye. With good command at the line of scrimmage, Love is doing a lot of subtle audibles pre-snap after surveying the defensive coverage to put the offense in the right concept off play-action. He then isn’t afraid to push the ball downfield to a host of weapons, including Christian Watson, Romeo Doubs and Jayden Reed. All three of those wide receivers have at least five TD receptions, something no other team can match thus far in 2023. I also love the role rookie tight ends Luke Musgrave and Tucker Kraft have played. Musgrave is the Packers’ version of George Kittle, serving as a mismatch weapon against linebackers and safeties on heavy run sets. The run game is the biggest question for this unit, with 29-year-old Aaron Jones missing time due to injury and AJ Dillon set to hit the open market in the coming offseason.

This offense is young — really young — but Matt LaFleur has all of the necessary pieces to be a threat for years to come, especially as Love gains confidence and experience. 

The Texans already have as many wins this season as they did in 2021 and ’22 combined — thanks in large part to an offense that sits at 10th in scoring and sixth in yards, two rankings that currently stand as Houston’s best in over a decade. Obviously, it all starts with rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud, who is breaking records left and right. He’s the straw that stirs this drink. The No. 2 overall pick currently leads the NFL with 3,540 pass yards and has thrown 20 touchdowns to just five interceptions. Reminiscent of Joe Burrow in his first two seasons, Stroud understands how to buy time with his legs yet keep his eyes downfield, and the 22-year-old rarely panics. He’s also as good as anybody when throwing intermediate passes (10-19 air yards), as he leads the NFL with 1,136 passing yards on such throws, per Next Gen Stats. 

First-year offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik deserves credit for helping Stroud reach his potential with the use of zone runs, bootlegs and play-action. And the offensive line has done an admirable job of keeping the rookie protected. On the receiving end of Stroud’s passes: a pair of talented, young receivers in third-year pro Nico Collins and rookie Tank Dell, the latter of whom had 709 receiving yards and seven TDs prior to his season-ending injury suffered in Week 13. Collins has been the young passer’s favorite target, boasting team highs in catches (59) and receiving yards (991). Prior to Stroud being drafted, Collins’ career high in receiving yards in a game was 82; he’s had four games with at least 100 receiving yards this season. Bringing in more skill-position talent this offseason — especially with RB Devin Singletary, WR Noah Brown and TE Dalton Schultz all set to hit free agency — should help the Texans continue to improve with Stroud under center. 

We saw the progression Jalen Hurts made under Shane Steichen in Philadelphia, and the first-year Colts head coach has done similarly inspiring work with his new offense.

It was easy to see Steichen’s vision with dual-threat rookie QB Anthony Richardson in the opening stretch of the 2023 campaign. Heavily involving the No. 4 overall pick in the run game created ideal one-on-one matchups for receivers on the perimeter. But of course, the young signal-caller was lost for the season in October with a shoulder injury. Richardson needs to learn how to better protect himself, but with his healthy return in 2024, I like where this unit is headed.

And even without Richardson in the mix, Steichen has done a great job coaching up this offense, which ranks eighth in the league in scoring. He has also turned Gardner Minshew, a fine backup quarterback, into a 300-yard passer who is winning games as a starter. Now, the dynamic backfield duo of Zack Moss and Jonathan Taylor — that latter of whom has been in and out of the lineup in 2023 — has helped immensely, but this young receiving corps also deserves a lot of credit. Michael Pittman Jr. has quietly produced at a very high level, with 127 targets (tied for second in the NFL) and 87 receptions (fourth), while Alec Pierce and Josh Downs have also stepped up in big spots of late. This is an underrated supporting cast that should continue to grow together for years to come.

Top 15 offensive player rankings

Each week in the 2023 campaign, former No. 1 overall pick and NFL Network analyst David Carr will take a look at all offensive players and rank his top 15. Rankings are based solely on this season’s efforts. The Week 14 pecking order is below.

NOTE: Arrows reflect changes from Week 13’s rankings.

Greg Olsen said on Sunday’s FOX broadcast that Kyle Shanahan described McCaffrey as having a walk-on mindset in an All-Pro body. That couldn’t be more accurate. McCaffrey’s work ethic and desire to be the best are evident in the product he puts on the field every Sunday. This time around, the stud running back notched his ninth game with 100-plus scrimmage yards this season, piling up 93 rush yards and another 40 yards in the passing game. With a 2-yard TD run in Sunday’s rollicking win over the Eagles, McCaffrey now has 17 scrimmage touchdowns — the most ever by a 49ers running back and second-most by any player in franchise history. (Jerry Rice holds the record, having scored 23 times in 1987.)

It’s wild that Hill recording 150 yards and two touchdowns in a game is no longer impressive. It’s expected. That’s what he did in Sunday’s romp over Washington — and on just five receptions! A majority of his game-high 157 receiving yards came on touchdowns of 78 yards and 60 yards. He now has 20 scores of at least 60 yards, tied for fourth all time with Bobby Mitchell — behind DeSean Jackson (26), Jerry Rice (23) and Devin Hester (21). Hill’s push for MVP keeps growing by the week, especially as he nears 2,000 yards.

In another win over another sub-.500 squad, Tagovailoa and the Dolphins put on a scoring clinic. They scored touchdowns on four of their six offensive possessions, and Tua connected with Tyreek Hill on two of them for a combined 138 yards. Sunday also marked the first game since Week 3 in which Tua did not throw an interception or fumble. This offense is tough to contain when the line is protecting Tagovailoa, who was not sacked in the game, and when the QB’s protecting the ball.

Prescott looked like an MVP candidate in Week 13’s come-from-behind win over Seattle. Keeping his composure in a back-and-forth affair, he connected with eight pass catchers for nearly 300 yards and three touchdowns. Prescott has now thrown at least two TDs in six straight games, the longest streak of his career. Dallas fans have to feel good about how Dak and the offense are playing ahead of a huge matchup with the division-leading Eagles.

The bye week saw Jackson’s Ravens lose the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoff picture, but getting time off this late in the season should ultimately prove to be a good thing for a team positioned to potentially go deep in the playoffs. Jackson has an MVP-caliber campaign going, but faces a tough final stretch with home games against the Rams, Dolphins and Steelers sandwiched around road contests at Jacksonville and San Francisco. If Lamar wins his second MVP award, he’ll surely have earned it. 

Purdy returned to the place where his rookie campaign ended — with a painful elbow injury and an NFC title game loss — only to have one of his best games of the season, despite a slow start. He completed 19 of his 27 pass attempts for 314 yards and four touchdowns, giving him a 148.8 passer rating — his fourth game this season with a 140-plus passer rating — in a 42-19 win over the Eagles. You’d be hard-pressed to find a team that could beat this past Sunday’s version of the 49ers. 

The Chiefs are having their worst offensive output in a season with Mahomes as the starter. To be honest, though, the star quarterback is playing fine. He’s doing all the normal Mahomesian things. The one thing that’s killing him and the Chiefs: drops. According to Next Gen Stats, Mahomes’ targeted receivers have dropped 21 passes this season, three more than any other QB’s targeted WRs. 

Lamb was on the receiving end of Dak Prescott’s impressive outing, catching 12 of his 17 targets for 116 yards, including a 15-yard score in the first quarter. Lamb, who even dazzled in the run game, is proving to be one of the league’s best wideouts, and his double-digit-catch performance in the 41-35 victory over Seattle made him the fourth player in NFL history with 350-plus receptions in his first four seasons. With 350 career catches on the dot — and he has five games remaining this season to add to that total — Lamb sits behind Justin Jefferson (360), Jarvis Landry (400) and Michael Thomas (470).

After Houston punted on its first possession against the Broncos, Stroud led the Texans to three straight scoring drives to give them their biggest lead in a game they’d end up eking out with a big defensive stand. The rookie quarterback outdueled a red-hot Russell Wilson to finish his turnover-free day with 274 pass yards, including a 3-yard touchdown pass to Nico Collins, his favorite target. Stroud now leads the NFL with 3,540 passing yards. Fun fact: No rookie QB has led the NFL in passing yards in a season during the Super Bowl era.

Despite the Eagles getting blown out by the 49ers at home, Brown had his best game since Week 8. He made eight catches for 114 yards — his seventh game with 100 yards this season — after having 111 receiving yards combined in his previous three games. Many things went wrong in Philly last Sunday, but Jalen Hurts’ connection with A.J. Brown certainly wasn’t one of them. 

The Eagles got out to a decent start with field goals on their first two possessions, but Hurts and the offense struggled to keep pace with the 49ers after that. Despite throwing for nearly 300 yards and a TD, Hurts suffered his first loss by more than 12 points at home as the Eagles starter. The offense failed to score a TD in the first half for the first time this season and finished with just 46 rushing yards (the fewest in a game during the Nick Sirianni/Hurts era). 

Goff got out to a blazing hot start in last week’s win over New Orleans, orchestrating three scoring drives in the first seven minutes of the contest (though one of them was set up by an interception that gave the offense the ball deep in Saints territory). He finished the game with 213 yards, two passing TDs and zero turnovers — his first game without a giveaway since Week 10. When Goff protects the ball, the Lions are a tough outfit to beat. He’ll need to continue doing so if Detroit intends to stay atop the NFC North and make a run deep in January.

At 6-6, Buffalo sits in the No. 11 slot in the AFC playoff race. Thus, the Bills will need to rally in order to make the playoffs. That has to be in the back of Allen’s mind as he prepares to face the Chiefs on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium. Allen has been mostly efficient this season — posting his best completion percentage (68.1) since 2020 — but his interceptions have been untimely in Buffalo’s six losses, all of which came by one score or less. Allen must clean it up or the Bills could be sitting at home in January for the first time since 2018.

Lawrence’s fourth-quarter ankle injury really put a dent in the Jags’ hopes of beating Cincinnati and claiming the AFC’s No. 1 seed. Prior to leaving that contest, Lawrence was on fire, completing 22 of his 29 pass attempts for 258 yards and two touchdowns, while adding another TD on the ground with a leaping 1-yard score late in the third quarter. The Jags and Lawrence dodged a bullet with the star QB simply sustaining a high ankle sprain. All eyes will be on him and this injury down the stretch.

Since returning from injury, Samuel has scored a rushing TD in three of the last four contests. His best game of the season occurred in perhaps the biggest game to date. Samuel had a season-high 138 scrimmage yards with three touchdowns — a 12-yard TD run and a pair of TD receptions of over 40 yards — in the 49ers’ statement victory over the Eagles. He’s heating up at the right time, fueling Kyle Shanahan’s dynamic offense. 

JUST MISSED: D.J. Moore, WR, Chicago Bears (previously No. 13); T.J. Hockenson, TE, Minnesota Vikings (No. 15).

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