Deuce Vaughn celebrates a touchdown.
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The 10 Biggest Winners of the NFL Preseason

The NFL regular season is quickly approaching, but 10 players balled out in the preseason and proved their worth.

The preseason is over, and the NFL regular season opener between Patrick Mahomes' reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs and the loaded Detroit Lions will kick off Week 1 before we know it.

Before looking too far ahead at what's to come, here's a look at the 10 biggest winners from across the league during the NFL preseason:

1. Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers

Kenny Pickett #8 of the Pittsburgh Steelers throws a pass during the first half in the game against the New Orleans Saints

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Simply put, Kenny Pickett was picture-perfect through the preseason. And not just his perfect stat line.

Sure, Pickett finished the exhibition slate a perfect 15-for-15 passing for 199 yards with a pair of touchdowns — and as Pro Football Focus' highest-graded quarterback across the entire league. But maybe more importantly for Pittsburgh, Pickett showed that adding 13 pounds of muscle over the offseason and a renewed focus on improvement translated to (almost) live action. After flashing an improved chemistry with second-year standout receiver George Pickens, and a significant boost in confidence, Pickett looks poised for a significant second-year breakout.

2. Tank Dell, WR, Houston Texans

Tank Dell runs off the field.

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This has been the summer of Tank Dell, and not just because of the fire sale that the Arizona Cardinals are holding.

If the NFL handed out an MVP for the preseason, Dell would be the runaway recipient. And he just might have vaulted to the top of quarterback C.J. Stroud's target hierarchy following his string of stellar performances.

Despite his slightish 5-foot-8 and 165-pound frame, Dell flashed elite route running and high-end speed this summer while pulling down five of eight targets for 65 yards and a touchdown. Beyond his production as a receiver, Dell is proving himself to be electrifying in the return game for the Texans.

3. Tanner McKee, QB, Philadelphia Eagles

Tanner McKee drops back to pass.

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Tanner McKee arrived at Eagles training camp as a bit of an afterthought; after all, Philadelphia signed Marcus Mariota this offseason to serve as Jalen Hurts' backup. But the rookie finished the preseason pushing the veteran and former first-round pick all the way to the bubble.

The Eagles' sixth-round pick out of Stanford showed an ability to consistently move the offense — albeit primarily against second-string defenses — but completed 54 percent of his passes for 453 yards with one touchdown. Meanwhile, Mariota failed to find the end zone this preseason, and the offense lacked rhythm when he was in the game. It wouldn't be the least bit surprising to see the Eagles, with their reputation for developing and ultimately trading quarterbacks, keep McKee over Mariota.

4. Kayvon Thibodeaux, Edge Rusher, New York Giants

Kayvon Thibodeaux laughs on the sideline.

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As a rookie, Kayvon Thibodeaux had plenty of flashes that showed he has a bright future, logging 4.0 sacks with 40 total pressures. But during the preseason this summer, the Giants have seen their prized former first-round pick shift into an even higher gear.

Thanks to an explosive first step and seemingly expanded repertoire of pass rush moves, Thibodeaux has already logged one sack during the exhibition slate. During the Giants' victory over the Panthers, Thibodeaux's average get-off was an elite .67 seconds, according to NextGen Stats. If Thibodeaux's explosiveness leads to the kind of breakout the Giants expect, defensive coordinator Wink Martindale will have a potential All-Pro at his disposal.

5. Deuce Vaughn, RB, Dallas Cowboys

Deuce Vaughn looks up to catch a pass.

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The Dallas Cowboys applied the franchise tag to running back Tony Pollard, but rookie Deuce Vaughn has offered an impressive look at what life might be like without the veteran in 2024.

Vaughn is an explosive straight-line runner, with plenty of versatility as a pass catcher out of the backfield, and he was one of the Cowboys' most dynamic offensive weapons throughout the preseason.

During the preseason, Vaughn acquitted himself impressively by rushing for 64 yards on 13 carries with two rushing touchdowns. Pollard and Vaughn will likely be part of a backfield timeshare this season. But if this summer is any indication, the Kansas State product has a bright future as potentially the next great Cowboys running back.

6. Sean Clifford, QB, Green Bay Packers

Sean Clifford smiles at the line of scrimmage.

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Sean Clifford arrived in Green Bay after being chosen in the fifth round of April's NFL Draft — and on the heels of a wildly inconsistent six-year collegiate career that saw him post a pair of New Year's Six Bowl victories during his time at Penn State.

It seemed as if Clifford might face an uphill climb just to make the Packers' roster; but after continuing to build on a strong spring of organized team activities and minicamp practices, the 25-year-old turned in an impressive preseason performance. Clifford completed 71.9 percent of his passes for 391 yards with one touchdown to two interceptions, while adding 38 rushing yards. For his efforts, Clifford climbed the Packers' depth chart and will open the season as Green Bay's No. 2 quarterback behind Jordan Love.

7. Nakobe Dean, LB, Philadelphia Eagles

Nakobe Dean smiles during a preseason game.

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The Eagles have high expectations for Nakobe Dean, who is a candidate to be a second-year defensive breakout star after seeing limited playing time as a rookie.

Dean is expected to be one of the Eagles' two starting linebackers. This preseason, he showed an excellent nose for the football by punching the ball out of the hands of Browns running back John Kelly to force a fumble near the goal line and prevent a touchdown. Philadelphia is expecting plenty more big plays from Dean, who capped the preseason with three total tackles and a forced fumble in his lone exhibition appearance.

8. Nick Herbig, Edge Rusher, Pittsburgh Steelers

Nick Herbig looks over the defensive line.

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Nick Herbig embodies the prototypical Steelers edge rusher and is an ideal complement to Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt on the opposite side of Pittsburgh's disruptive defensive line.

This preseason, Herbig's explosiveness off the line of scrimmage helped him consistently wreak havoc in opposing backfields. After producing 3.5 sacks, six pressures and an elite 30 percent pass-rush win-rate, Herbig looks like the type of player capable of being an every-down pass rusher — as a rookie. Somehow, Herbig fell to the fourth round in the NFL Draft, and the Steelers were able to come away with arguably one of the biggest steals of the draft and an instant impact contributor.

9. Brenton Strange, TE, Jacksonville Jaguars

Brenton Strange runs with the ball.

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There might not have been a better landing spot for former Penn State tight end Brenton Strange than Jacksonville, where he'll get to catch passes from quarterback Trevor Lawrence in head coach Doug Pederson's tight end-friendly system.

Strange has proven that he belongs, after being chosen in the third round of April's draft and emerging as Pro Football Focus' highest-graded rookie tight end, with a 78.5 mark. Pulling down five catches for 31 yards, Strange's 6-foot-4 and 253-pound frame gives him the potential to be viable red zone target while taking advantage of some of the space created over the top by Calvin Ridley and Christian Kirk in two tight end sets opposite Evan Engram.

10. Jalin Hyatt, WR, New York Giants

Jalin Hyatt looks on at practice.

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Giants general manager Joe Schoen went into the offseason searching for a field-stretcher to open up head coach Brian Daboll's playbook — someone who could set quarterback Daniel Jones up to make major strides in his second season. Rookie receiver Jalin Hyatt appears more than up to those tasks.

The former Tennessee speedster caught five passes for 31 yards and a touchdown during the preseason. Hyatt's game-breaking speed is bound to not only be an asset for Jones but also create opportunities for the likes of tight end Darren Waller and running back Saquon Barkley to operate underneath, especially if the Hyatt's strong preseason translates to the regular season action.

MORE: NFL Preseason QB Power Rankings: All 32, From Best to Worst