Now’s the time when many teams start to throw their starters into the fire a bit more, and there are some key players to watch in NFL preseason Week 2.
Among them, a big-money quarterback will finally take the field for the first time in nearly a year following season-ending surgery in Week 3 last year. Also, a rookie defender wowed in Week 1, but can he replicate that success in Week 2?
Here are the 10 players we’re keying in on as NFL preseason Week 2 takes us ever closer to games that actually matter.
Josh Rosen, quarterback, Miami Dolphins
Rosen’s debut with Miami wasn’t exactly pretty. While the former Arizona Cardinals gunslinger did complete 13-of-20 passes, he also threw an interception, nearly threw another and was sacked twice. While it’s true he wasn’t getting much help from his offensive line, Rosen’s penchant for making risky throws continues to be an issue. If the second-year quarterback is going to legitimately challenge Ryan Fitzpatrick for the starting job in the next few weeks, he must be able to avoid those mistakes.
Miles Sanders, running back, Philadelphia Eagles
There has been plenty of buzz emanating from Eagles training camp about the play of this rookie running back. During his first NFL action in the first preseason game, however, Sanders didn’t do much — rushing for just three yards on three carries. Granted, the starters weren’t playing, and Philly’s backup offensive linemen were rather ineffective against Tennessee’s defensive front. Sanders should get some chances behind Philly’s starters in Week 2, and Jacksonville provides a stout test.
D.K. Metcalf, wide receiver, Seattle Seahawks
Though Metcalf took a precipitous dive down the draft board in April, he’s garnered nothing but praise from Seattle since being selected at the end of Round 2. The rookie receiver caught just one pass on four targets in his first NFL action, yet it’s clear he has some special talent.
With Russell Wilson set to play in Week 2, we’re anticipating some more on-target passes to come Metcalf’s way.
Dwayne Haskins, quarterback, Washington Redskins
Washington entered the preseason with Haskins penciled in as the No. 3 quarterback behind Colt McCoy and Case Keenum. In his first NFL action, the rookie out of Ohio State showed us why. Both interceptions he threw were throws he never should have made, and one led to a touchdown for the Cleveland Browns. Needless to say, Haskins has to show some progression in Week 2 if he is going to push McCoy or Keenum for the starting job.
Dexter Willams, running back, Green Bay Packers
Leading up to training camp, we highlighted Williams as a late-round player who could shine as a rookie. The Notre Dame product did not disappoint in Week 1, rushing for 62 yards on 14 carries while adding a 18-yard reception against a deep Houston Texans defense. Williams seems to be a perfect fit in Matt LaFleur’s offense. It’s going to be fascinating to see how much work the rookie running back gets with the starters in the coming weeks, especially since Jamaal Williams continues to be laid up with a hamstring injury.
J.J. Nelson, wide receiver, Oakland Raiders
Lately, Raiders head coach Jon Gruden has been talking up Nelson, who has excelled in training camp. During Saturday night’s action against the Los Angeles Rams, Nelson came through with a gem of a 38-yard reception and caught both of the passes that came his way.
Given the uncertainty surrounding Antonio Brown, Oakland may need to rely on Brown much more than anyone expected.
Eli Manning, quarterback, New York Giants
Giants rookie Daniel Jones has been opening up a lot of eyes with his recent play during training camp practices. Then, he absolutely lit up the New York Jets on Thursday night with a flawless debut that was capped off by a beautifully anticipated touchdown throw to Bennie Fowler. Head coach Pat Shurmur insists “nothing has changed” in regard to Manning being the undisputed starter. Yet if the grizzled veteran continues to underwhelm while the rookie shines, a controversy will bubble to the surface in a big way.
Brian Burns, EDGE, Carolina Panthers
A favored player by many in the draftnik community, this former Florida State star appears to be headed toward a big role in Carolina’s defense as a rookie. Burns utilizes exceptional quickness to overcome a lack of bulk. That trait helped him notch two sacks in his first NFL action against Chicago.
The Panthers are deep and talented up front. Yet it seems clear this first-round pick is destined to make it impossible to keep him off the field.
Austin Ekeler, running back, Los Angeles Chargers
The big, obvious storyline hanging over the Chargers remains the holdout of star running back Melvin Gordon. He’s been one of the biggest scoring threats in the NFL the past three seasons. So it was a significant development when Ekeler fumbled near the goal line trying to score in Week 1. He continues to show explosive burst and went for 69 yards on eight touches against Arizona Thursday night. Yet if Ekeler continues to show ball-security problems, it gives Gordon a bit of leverage in his contract impasse with Los Angeles.
Jimmy Garappolo, quarterback, San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers will go as far as Garappolo’s right arm will take them. On Monday night, he’ll step onto the field for the first time since suffering a season-ending ACL injury in Week 3 of last season. The buzz coming out of Santa Clara has been that Garappolo has begun to heat up in recent practices. He needs to come on strong right out of the gate this season and prove he is worth the big-money contract the 49ers signed him to last year. Though Garappolo likely won’t play a ton in Week 2, it’s imperative that he establish a positive vibe.