The 2021 NFL preseason is finally here. For some fans, it’s not a big deal. While for others, it’s another way to celebrate the return of football. Without any preseason action in 2020, there are a greater number of young players battling for playing time, itching for a chance to prove themselves.
Now just playing three games instead of four, there are fewer opportunities to show their skills. Some players will earn a job, others will lose their roster spot on the path to cutting down to 53-man rosters. These games may not count in the standings, but they mean a lot when determining the final roster spots and practice squad designations.
Here are ten reasons to be excited about the return of NFL preseason play in 2021.
1. First look at first-round QBs
One of the most exciting players a fanbase can add is a new quarterback. While all 53 players on a roster are important, having a top-notch quarterback can be the difference between a cellar-dweller and a Super Bowl run. Six different NFL franchises will soon get their first glimpse of how their first-round quarterbacks adjust to pro competition.
With five quarterbacks selected in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, fans are on the edge of their seats waiting to discover whether their team made the right pick. The highly anticipated debuts of Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, Justin Fields, and Mac Jones will give football pundits plenty to talk about. We also can’t forget about Jordan Love, as he’s still waiting to take his first NFL snaps.
Can some of these rookies overtake the veteran signal-callers on their way to becoming the Week 1 starter? That’s what preseason competition will help determine. Fans of the Bears, 49ers, and Patriots have every reason to carefully track the progress of their potential future faces of the franchise.
2. Young QB battles
The biggest training camp and preseason storylines come from quarterback battles. In Denver, a legitimate QB competition is brewing between Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater. Away from Mile High, a few other passers may be competing for their jobs, whether their head coaches want to publicly acknowledge it or not.
In San Francisco, general manager and new Hall of Fame member John Lynch paid a hefty price to trade up for Trey Lance. It’s hard to envision a scenario where Lance doesn’t see the field at the first sign of Jimmy Garoppolo’s struggles.
As far as Tom Brady’s old stomping grounds, the New England Patriots have a QB with an MVP award and a Super Bowl appearance, yet his recent track record has been ugly. Still, an insistent Bill Belichick cautions against throwing Mac Jones into the fire too early. What happens if Cam Newton still struggles to throw strikes, while Jones is on point?
The Chicago Bears have been looking for their franchise quarterback for longer than I’ve been alive, so surely Andy Dalton is their guy, right? Once the Justin Fields highlights get out, it may be tough to put the toothpaste back into the tube. Matt Nagy will have a hard time keeping the dynamic new draft pick out of the starting lineup.
Lastly, Gardner Minshew insists No. 2 is not an option for him. Gotta love his moxie, but Trevor Lawrence is the QB1 in Jacksonville likely for the next 15 years if everything goes according to plan. It’s hard not to admire Minshew’s drive, and the approach Urban Meyer is taking in his first taste of the NFL, but this one isn’t a true competition.
3. Stars make their debuts in a new location
Every offseason puts new faces in new places. Jared Goff, Melvin Ingram, Patrick Peterson, A.J. Green, and Jadeveon Clowney are some of the bigger names expected to make their preseason debuts in fresh digs. Furthermore, quarterbacks such as Sam Darnold and Ryan Fitzpatrick hope to get off to hot starts building chemistry with their teammates.
For many players making a good first impression can be a harbinger of what to expect. Whereas others, preseason gives them a chance to experiment with different tricks against NFL competition. Of course, when drops, fumbles, interceptions, missed tackles, and blown coverages occur, we all like to use the excuse of, well it’s only preseason. Better to get the gameday jitters out now.
Though there aren’t many veteran stars expected to see the field during preseason play, fans will get their first glimpse of the 2021 NFL Draft class. With millions watching, players like Zach Wilson, Kyle Pitts, Ja’Marr Chase, and Micah Parsons will experience the advanced speed of the pro level for the first time. It won’t be long before spectators are touting their players for Rookie of the Year after a few big plays.
4. The return of injured stars
Last season wasn’t unlike any other as far as injuries go, with several stars ending up on the injured reserve. During the 2021 preseason, many of these previously injured stars will return. From quarterbacks such as Dak Prescott to Joe Burrow, franchises are eager to get their young signal-callers back under center.
Wreaking havoc on the Vikings’ defense, Danielle Hunter missed the entire season and could see some preseason snaps as well. It’s always a guess as to who will suit up for preseason play, but for many who are returning from injury, it will be their first true test.
5. A conclusion to the Deshaun Watson situation for now
It’s only a matter of time before we learn of the ultimate situation regarding Deshaun Watson. Does he play this season? If so, will it be with the Houston Texans or another team? The stalemate continues.
Watson hasn’t taken a single rep with the starters all year. As we approach the regular season, more hints will likely continue to be revealed about his standing. We should have an answer on his status before the Texans have to cut down to 53 players. For the sake of everyone involved, the sooner the better.
6. Is Urban Meyer fit for the NFL?
There’s no questioning Urban Meyer’s knack for coaching, but he’s never tested his mettle in the pros. As several great college coaches before him have failed at the NFL level, Meyer is giving it a go in a state he’s beloved. Saddled with a quarterbacking phenom in Trevor Lawrence, coach Meyer may find quick success.
However, Meyer’s taking over a team that’s finished in last place in the AFC South the past three seasons. Just how rapidly Meyer can turn this Jaguars squad around will be one of the more interesting storylines throughout the football season. But the preseason is where it all begins.
7. First look at Tim Tebow as a tight end
Some wondered if it was a hoax or prank, but Tim Tebow is really out here making the switch from quarterback to baseball outfielder to tight end. What an experience. If there’s a coach he can succeed with, it just might be Urban Meyer, his head coach with the Florida Gators.
If there’s one thing we should have learned by now about Tebow, it’s that his will should not be doubted. As several athletes try to get back into competing each and every year, Tebow should be celebrated for giving it another go. What does he have to lose? His initial reps at tight end may not be picture-perfect, but he does bring a unique mindset to the huddle with his experience at QB.
Tebow may not make the final roster of the Jaguars, but he could show enough to convince them to keep him around on the practice squad. No longer rocking the No. 15 he became famous in, Tebow will try to become a sensation in Florida again with 85 on his back.
8. New uniforms, jersey numbers
Tom Brady isn’t a fan of the new rule, but the preseason will show the first peek of single-digit jersey numbers for all non-linemen. It may not seem that odd in the exhibition phase, since jersey numbers are already out of whack with 90 roster spots, though seeing a skill position player, linebacker or defensive back rocking a single digit will be strange to see in the NFL.
This is a rule that should have been looked at long ago when Reggie Bush wanted to wear No. 5. Several years later, Patrick Peterson back in a purple and gold No. 7 jersey will look good.
In Cincinnati, not only will Ja’Marr Chase be the first Bengal to wear No. 1, their entire uniforms have been overhauled to help usher in a new era with Joe Burrow. Here’s to hoping the new threads can help Burrow and the Bengals avoid a last-place AFC North finish for the fourth year in a row.
9. Undiscovered gems earn a moment to shine
The NFL preseason is when overlooked and undrafted players get their chance at glory. Victor Cruz landed a roster spot thanks in part to his incredible 2010 preseason showing in primetime. We’ve all heard stories of training camp stars in 2021, this is their chance to put some of that on tape.
There are hundreds of instances of players offering a glimpse of their skills in preseason play, only for them to get poached by another team. Taysom Hill from the Packers camp in 2017 comes to mind. Once preseason games get rolling, the latter portion of the roster becomes like jello, fluctuating with each rep.
You never know which player could end up in another situation before the season gets underway.
10. Nostalgic sounds of football are back
Any channel you pick, whether it’s the iconic score from NFL Films, the sounds of FOX, CBS, or the primetime notes from NBC and ESPN, there are few sounds greater than the music heard at the beginning of a football broadcast.
From the clicking and crunching of the pads and helmets to the zip of the football through the air, the full orchestra will soon be playing. Gone is the awkward emptiness from fake crowd noise on television broadcasts, replaced by crazed fans cheering and booing from the stands.
This is the way it’s meant to be. All of these beautiful sounds are signals for millions of passionate enthusiasts signifying football is back. For that, we couldn’t be happier.