Hard Knocks, the HBO docuseries that chronicles NFL training camp life for one team, had already chosen its 2022 club — the Detroit Lions — by March of last year. Detroit requested to be on last year’s show, but the NFL is having difficulty finding a candidate for Hard Knocks 2023. In fact, the league asked the Lions if they’d be interested in making a second consecutive appearance this season — they declined, per the Detroit News.
This year, four teams could be required to appear on Hard Knocks: the Chicago Bears, New Orleans Saints, New York Jets, and Washington Commanders. Which club would offer the most entertainment value?
Ranking the 2023 Hard Knocks Candidates
The NFL can force a team to participate on Hard Knocks if they haven’t met any of the following criteria:
- They have a first-year head coach in place.
- They’ve had a playoff berth in the past two seasons.
- They’ve appeared on Hard Knocks in the past 10 years.
The Bears, Saints, Jets, and Commanders are the only clubs that could be required to appear on the show this year. Let’s rank these four teams based on how appealing their behind-the-scenes training camp activities would be.
4) New Orleans Saints
Derek Carr’s first training camp with the Saints would likely dominate Hard Knocks if New Orleans were chosen to appear on the show in 2023. Carr is reuniting with head coach Dennis Allen — who coached Carr with the Raiders in 2014 — after inking a four-year, $150 million contract over the offseason.
However, Hard Knocks might also have to touch on Alvin Kamara’s potential suspension after he allegedly assaulted a man in Las Vegas after the 2022 Pro Bowl. Kamara pleaded not guilty in March 2023 but still seems likely to face a ban — and that’s a topic the NFL might want to avoid on national TV.
New Orleans has other storylines: How will Michael Thomas fare after appearing in just 10 games over the past three seasons? How is tight end Foster Moreau handling his Hodgkin’s Lymphoma diagnosis?
But overall, the Saints are a relatively stable, veteran team that might not bring the fireworks the NFL wants to see on Hard Knocks.
3) Washington Commanders
The Commanders have three things going for them as Hard Knocks candidates: an ownership change, a quarterback battle, and a head coach in a make-or-break season.
While Dan Snyder’s sale of the Washington franchise wasn’t finalized at the spring meetings, negotiations and approval of new owner Josh Harris are expected to be completed by August (when Hard Knocks is filmed and aired). As such, the series could capture players and staffers talking candidly about the Snyder regime and highlight the organizational changes that will surely occur under Harris.
Meanwhile, Sam Howell and Jacoby Brissett will conduct one of the NFL’s few true quarterback competitions in 2023. The Commanders have talked up Howell, their fifth-round pick in 2022, all offseason, but Brissett is fresh off the best season of his career. Hard Knocks hasn’t featured a training camp QB contest since the Chargers’ Tyrod Taylor beat out Justin Herbert in 2020.
Finally, Ron Rivera is officially on the hot seat after failing to win more than eight games in any of his three seasons in Washington. Harris may want to start fresh in 2024, so Rivera likely needs to make the playoffs in order to retain his job.
2) Chicago Bears
The Bears finished with the NFL’s worst record in 2022, but Justin Fields alone would be worth tuning in for. One of the most dynamic players in the league, Fields is facing a critical campaign as he enters his third pro season.
Chicago is attempting to set Fields up for success. General manager Ryan Poles traded the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft for a draft pick haul and wide receiver DJ Moore, then fortified the Bears’ offensive line by signing guard Nate Davis and drafting first-round tackle Darnell Wright.
Chicago spent the eighth-most on free agents in 2023 (nearly $170 million), adding contributors like linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards and running back D’Onta Foreman in addition to Davis. How these new pieces mesh could determine whether Chicago takes a leap forward next season.
1) New York Jets
The Jets are the only team on this list to have previously appeared on Hard Knocks. New York participated in the series in 2010, and Rex Ryan’s club eventually made its way to the AFC Championship Game for the second consecutive season.
Ryan drew plenty of eyeballs, but the 2023 Jets could attract even more viewers. Aaron Rodgers’ move from Green Bay to New York was arguably the NFL’s most significant offseason transaction and turned the Jets into overnight contenders. Watching Rodgers interact with his new teammates and adjust to a new team and city would be fascinating.
But it’s not just Rodgers that should attract Hard Knocks to New York. Nathaniel Hackett is in town after flaming out as the Broncos’ head coach. The reigning Offensive and Defensive Rookies of the Year — Garrett Wilson and Sauce Gardner — both reside on the Jets’ roster. And Gang Green’s elite defense will attempt to stay at the top of the NFL rankings.
Head coach Robert Saleh has made it clear he doesn’t want the Jets to be featured on Hard Knocks, but this looks like an easy choice for the NFL: Rodgers and Co. should be the obvious favorites to serve as 2023’s Hard Knocks team.
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