It’s proving time for rookies during NFL Preseason Week 1. Time to show your teams and your new fans that the hype is more than just hot air.
For us here, it’s time to take a spin around the league and identify the rookie from each preseason game we’re most excited to see play this coming week.
Carolina Panthers vs. Buffalo Bills: Josh Allen, quarterback
Will Allen shine? If he does not, then all his detractors will find reason to nod their heads and say, “we told you so.” This is going to be an ongoing discussion throughout the preseason. Based on the reports coming out of camp, Allen has provided plenty of “wow” moments while also continuing to show he’s still highly erratic.
Now he’ll have a chance to face another team, and we’ll be interested to see how the Panthers attack him. Based on college tape, Allen really struggles against the blitz. It’s going to be very interesting to see what he looks like during his first NFL game.
Chicago Bears vs. Cincinnati Bengals: Anthony Miller, receiver
Everyone wants to see what kind of impact Matt Nagy will have on Mitch Trubisky. One person who appears to be a big part of whatever the Bears do on offense this year is rookie receiver Anthony Miller, who was selected in the second round of April’s draft out of Memphis.
Miller has been wowing on a daily basis during camp. He’s been catching everything, and if he can continue to shine throughout preseason we have every expectation that he’ll continue to be a key weapon for the Bears during the regular season as well.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Miami Dolphins: Ronald Jones II, running back
Based on the way Jones has progressed early in camp, the rookie out of USC appears to be in line to earn the starting job over Peyton Barber. Both players have been working with the first team of late, so at the very least it looks like RoJo is going to have a significant role, regardless of whether he starts or comes off the bench.
During his playing days at USC, the second-rounder was one of the most explosive backs in college football. He averaged 6.3 yards every time he touched the ball. We can’t wait to see what his game looks like going up against NFL defenses. He’ll get his first chance to shine on Thursday night on the road in Miami.
Cleveland Browns vs. New York Giants: Baker Mayfield, quarterback
It would have been easy to go with Saquon Barkley here. He’s incredibly fun to watch. But it’s likely the Giants will somewhat keep him under wraps, and honestly, we know what he can do. What we don’t know is how Mayfield will perform at the NFL level.
It’s likely the Browns will play Tyrod Taylor for most of the first quarter, but then he’ll give way to Mayfield, who should play a significant amount of time. Browns coaches have been gushing over his play during training camp practices, but it’s going to be a whole new ballgame going up against another team. Based on his accuracy and poise, it will be surprising if the rookie has a really bad game.
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Philadelphia Eagles: James Washington, receiver
The Steelers could be even more lethal on offense this year than they were last season due to the inclusion of rookie receiver James Washington out of Oklahoma State. He’s reportedly been shredding defensive backs on a regular basis during camp, and video recently emerged of him pulling in a one-handed touchdown during 11-on-11 drills.
During his college career, Washington was one of the most dangerous receivers in the nation. He finished his career at Oklahoma State having averaged an absurd 19.8 yards per reception. If he is able to make an immediate impact this year, then the rookie receiver will make it darn-near impossible for opposing defenses to bottle up the Steelers’ passing game.
New Orleans Saints vs. Jacksonville Jaguars: Tre’Quan Smith, receiver
Selected at the tail end of Round 3 this past April, Smith has the look of a draft-day steal. So far during Saints camp, all he’s done is impress his teammates, including veteran quarterback Drew Brees. Team senior writer John DeShazier recently wrote Smith “has been hype you can believe in, noting he “has made the spectacular seem routine.”
As a junior at UCF last year, Smith posted career highs by a long shot, catching 59 passes for 1,171 yards and 13 touchdowns. If he can stay healthy and continues to impress, it looks like he’ll become a key role player on New Orleans’ offense this season.
Washington Redskins vs. New England Patriots: Derrius Guice, running back
Based on pure football abilities, Guice was a first-round talent heading into the 2018 NFL Draft. Some questionable rumors about his off-field character seemingly tanked his stock, and Washington was all too happy to land a steal near the end of Round 2.
So far, Guice has impressed the heck out of his new coaches for his professional approach. He’s blessed with exceptional athleticism, strength and speed, so the main thing that will hold him back besides injury would be want-to. That does not appear to be any issue whatsoever. We look forward to seeing what kind of impact he has on Washington’s offense.
Los Angeles Rams vs. Baltimore Ravens: Lamar Jackson, quarterback
Let’s be honest. Lamar Jackson’s NFL debut in the Hall of Fame Game was not one for the highlight reel. He showed a few nice things, but mostly he was under duress as the Chicago Bears blitzed and his offensive line failed to block those blitzers.
Jackson might just go from the frying pan into the fire this week, however, as Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips could throw some heat his direction. How he responds in his second career NFL game will tell us a lot about any potential impact he could have for the Ravens in Year 1.
Tennessee Titans vs. Green Bay Packers: Jaire Alexander, cornerback
You know you’re good when you can pick off the great Aaron Rodgers more than once. In addition to all the mundane stuff Alexander has done that will add up to greatness in the future, he’s come up with two picks against Rodgers, who recently noted the rookie has “had a great camp so far,” per Packers Wire.
If the Packers can get solid play from their cornerbacks this year, then the sky is the limit. The key weakness for this team in recent years has been its inability to keep opposing teams from marching down the field through the air. Alexander was a star at Louisville and appears to be a star in the making for Green Bay. We’ll be watching his development closely, as will opposing quarterbacks.
Dallas Cowboys vs. San Francisco 49ers: Dante Pettis, receiver
Pretty much every bit of news coming out of 49ers camp about Pettis is overwhelmingly positive. He’s been routinely roasting his defensive teammates and appears to be quickly becoming a favorite target of Jimmy Garoppolo, with whom he’s been working with more and more recently.
Now it’s time to see if Pettis can make some magic during a game against players from another team. He was an incredible touchdown maker during his final two seasons at Washington (24 receiving scores), and appears to have what it takes to gain critical separation in tight spaces at the NFL level, too.
Indianapolis Colts vs. Seattle Seahawks: Rashaad Penny, running back
Based on the early reports coming out of Seahawks camp, Penny is currently fighting an uphill battle to start, with Chris Carson having the edge right now.
It’s worth pointing out that, before his injury last year, Carson was very good for Seattle. That being said, given the fact that the Seahawks used a first-round pick to land Penny in the draft, many will be critical of that move if Penny doesn’t win this battle. A strong showing Thursday night against Indianapolis would be a big step in the right direction.
Atlanta Falcons vs. New York Jets: Sam Darnold, quarterback
It’s unclear just how much playing time Darnold will get after he held out of camp for a few days while his contract was being haggled over by the Jets and his representatives. However, given the fact that Josh McCown likely won’t need much work, and that Teddy Bridgewater is his only other real competition, we still expect to see plenty of the former USC star Friday night at MetLife Stadium.
It’s not a secret by any means that Darnold could win the starting job. The Jets have made that clear since before camp, and though he was listed as the third-stringer on the team’s first depth chart that means absolutely nothing right now. We cannot wait to see what Darnold does in his first NFL action. If he has a big game, then the quarterback controversy will kick into high gear as the Jets try to figure out what to do.
Detroit Lions vs. Oakland Raiders: Arden Key, defensive end
Some would say the Raiders took a bit of a gamble selecting Key in the third round this past April. There were reports that, due to questions about motivation and questionable character, he might slip into the latter half of the draft. In the end, Key was the 87th man selected in the draft.
So far, he looks to be making the Raiders look smart. He’s been winning many of his one-on-one battles (like this) and is proving to be a tireless worker. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther recently said “we’re excited” about what Key has done since the pads were included in practices. If he continues to impress this preseason, then we should expect to see plenty of this young man rushing the passer as a rookie.
Minnesota Vikings vs. Denver Broncos: Bradley Chubb, outside linebacker
I’ll tell you what, if I were a decision-maker in Minnesota’s front office I’d be terrified of letting Kirk Cousins play a single snap in this game. In addition to Von Miller, the Broncos have rookie pass rusher Bradley Chubb lining up on the other side of the field. That’s nightmare fuel.
Chubb has done nothing but impress so far, too. He’s been like a sponge, sucking every bit of knowledge he can from the mind of Miller, who has apparently taken on the role of mentor in a big way. Throw in his absurd physical talent and it’s bad news for opposing offensives.
Los Angeles Chargers vs. Arizona Cardinals: Josh Rosen, quarterback
Unless Sam Bradford gets injured, it’s likely he’ll open the season as the starting quarterback for the Cardinals. That being said, Rosen is certainly pushing him for every snap and is going to be ready to play whenever he gets a chance.
We expect Bradford to play quite a bit on Saturday night in Arizona. He has been wowing his teammates and coaches in camp and has a chance to really put pressure on his coaches with a few stellar performances. It’s going to be fascinating to see how he performs.