Top takeaways from Week 2 of the NFL preseason

By Vincent Frank

Week 2 of the NFL preseason offered us a whole lot more to look at than the initial slate of action. Rookie quarterbacks got more time to shine with two of them showing themselves big time. Both AFC East quarterbacks in that category will now likely start in Week 1.

On the other side of the ball, the Los Angeles Chargers’ ability to shred Seattle’s pass defense could be indicative of struggles for the Seahawks in an NFC West that boasts stud young arms in that of Jared Goff, Josh Rosen and Jimmy Garoppolo.

These are among the top takeaways from Week 2 of the 2018 NFL preseason.

James White could be a force this season

Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Vernon Hargreaves and New England Patriots running back James Whilte

Now that rookie first-round pick Sony Michel is sidelined with an injury, this veteran is getting his opportunity in the preseason. He’s also taking advantage of it big time. White touched the ball 10 times for 92 yards with a score in Thursday’s blowout win over the Philadelphia Eagles. That included six catches on as many targets from Tom Brady.

Already known as one of the better receiving backs in the game, White will almost certainly be given an opportunity to accumulate more rush attempts this season. His success on the ground thus far this preseason will play right into that narrative.

Jaguars need to trade for Teddy Bridgewater 

The only thing holding Jacksonville back from unseating New England in the AFC is Blake Bortles. This has been a year-long storyline in Jacksonville, and it’s not going away any time soon. That was magnified in a big way during the Jaguars’ 14-10 win over Minnesota this week. Bortles completed a solid 12-of-20 passes for 159 yards. But it didn’t come without a mistake that has defined the quarterback’s career. It’s a mistake a team with Super Bowl aspirations can’t afford from its signal caller.

The question now becomes what Jacksonville might do about this. Our resolution? Offer up a second-round pick to the New York Jets for Teddy Bridgewater. In his first substantive action since suffering a disastrous knee injury back in 2016, Bridgewater has been elite for the Jets this preseason. All told, he’s completed 17-of-23 passes for 212 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. Teddy would make for a rather obvious upgrade from Bortles. In the process, Jacksonville might ultimately find itself Super Bowl bound.

A.J. McCarron injury clears things up

It’s now almost a foregone conclusion that rookie Josh Allen will be under center Week 1 against the Baltimore Ravens. That was brought to a whole new level Friday night when his primary competition, A.J. McCarron, suffered a broken collarbone that should cost the veteran between 8-10 weeks.

For his part, Allen showed out in a big way against Cleveland on Friday. Playing within the confines of what the Browns were willing to give him, the rookie completed 9-of-13 passes for 60 yards with this touchdown. Short of Nathan Peterman completely outplaying Allen in the final two preseason games, the rookie will be Buffalo’s Week 1 starter. Whether that’s a good thing remains to be seen.

Christian Kirk is the real deal

This rookie second-round pick from Texas A&M continues to make sweet music with fellow first-year player, Josh Rosen. Friday evening against the New Orleans Saints, that included a beautiful 13-yard connection between the two for a touchdown. All said, Kirk tallied four receptions for 49 yards and a touchdown on six targets.

Having already shown up well during camp, there’s now a good chance Kirk will make an immediate impact once Week 1 comes calling. There’s a whole lot of opportunities behind Larry Fitzgerald on the Cards’ depth chart. And it’s readily apparent this former Aggie is taking advantage of said opportunities.

Chris Warren is good

Despite some major issues on both sides of the ball, the Oakland Raiders seem to be in a great position at running back. Starter Marshawn Lynch has looked like the 25-year-old version of himself thus far this summer. Former Pro Bowler Doug Martin has also turned heads in Oakland. Meanwhile, Jalen Richard continues to shine as a change-of-pace back.

One might think that this type of depth wouldn’t be good for undrafted rookie free agent, Chris Warren. If it is truly a numbers game, Warren won’t make the 53-man roster. If it’s about production, he should be a lock. With both Lynch and Martin inactive this week against the Rams, Warren got his chance. He shined big time, putting up 110 yards and a touchdown on 18 attempts. It’s certainly a good problem for the Raiders to have and will lead to some major decisions over the next two weeks.

Nate Sudfeld continues to show Skins made a mistake

Drafted in the sixth round of the 2016 NFL Draft by Washington, Sudfeld wasn’t really given much of an opportunity in the nation’s capital. He was an inactive and a member of the team’s practice squad as a rookie that season before being waived outright last September. It was somewhat of a surprising move given Washington’s depth behind then-starter Kirk Cousins.

Fast forward a year, and Sudfeld is making waves for the division-rival Eagles. Given the majority of time under center against New England on Thursday, Sudfeld showed out big time. He completed 22-of-39 passes for 312 yards with three touchdowns. It was a brilliant overall performance from a quarterback that displayed the arm and accuracy to be successful in the NFL. Meanwhile, the Skins are paying Colt McCoy how much to be Alex Smith’s backup? Ouch.

The new, improved Dak Prescott

Dallas Cowboys training camp was filled with questions about Prescott and the team’s passing game. It makes sense. Losing both Dez Bryant and Jason Witten this spring, there was always going to be a transition period for the young quarterback. But since the preseason itself started, Dak and the Boys have been great.

It started with a touchdown-scoring drive to open the preseason against San Francisco last week. Then, against an elite-level Bengals defense this weekend, Prescott continued to shine. He completed 10-of-15 passes for 86 yards and a touchdown, leading Dallas to 10 points on three drives. The Cowboys’ first-team offense — sans Ezekiel Elliott — has now put up 17 points on four possessions this preseason.

The James brothers are legit in Pittsburgh

Second-year running back James Conner is going to be an absolute stud starter at some point. How long that takes to happen depends heavily on Le’Veon Bell’s future with the Steelers. But for now, Conner is doing everything right in Bell’s stead. He put up 57 yards on five attempts against Green Bay this week. It included a brilliant 26-yard touchdown run. On the preseason, Conner has accumulated 82 yards on nine attempts.

Not to be outdone, rookie wide receiver James Washington absolutely dominated lesser competition against the Packers on Thursday evening. The second-round pick scored two touchdowns, including this highlight-reel score over a Packers defender. Washington’s emergence has to be scary for opposing AFC North defenses, especially given that JuJu Smith-Schuster is already an elite No. 2 option behind Antonio Brown.

Jimmy Garoppolo, second coming of Brett Favre?

Garoppolo’s preseason debut against Dallas might have left a lot to be desired. This is why San Francisco decided to play him a bit more Saturday night in Houston. And like clockwork, the young quarterback continued to show why he’s among the game’s most-talented signal callers. He completed 10-of-12 passes for 136 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Said pick came off the hands of rookie wide receiver Dante Pettis on a ball that should have been caught.

Simply put, Garoppolo’s arm talent and willingness to take shots reminds us a lot of the great Brett Favre. His ability to hit on passes from odd angles magnifies that even further. It will lead to a relatively high number of interceptions. But with that will come 35-plus touchdowns and well over 4,500 passing yards. Take the good with the bad and have fun watching this kid sling it.

Don’t sleep on DeShone Kizer

Kizer might have struggled some during training camp and in his Packers debut. Given that he has a whole new offense to learn, that’s expected. In no way did this mean that the talented former Cleveland Browns second-round pick doesn’t have a future in Green Bay. He’s the most-talented backup quarterback the Packers have boasted since Aaron Rodgers was riding the pine in favor of Brett Favre years back.

That came out in droves Thursday against the Steelers. Kizer completed 7-of-12 passes for 149 yards and two scores, including this rocket of a pass to the impressive Jake Kumerow. That single play showed just how much arm talent the former Golden Domer has. It’s a nice situation for the Packers to be in given how much Brett Hundley struggled in replacing an injured Aaron Rodgers last season.

James Winston is a changed player

Jameis Winston apology

Maybe criticism of his maturity has lit a fire under Winston. But ever since the most recent off-field issues started to plague him personally, the former No. 1 pick has been on absolute fire on the football field. At the very least, Tampa Bay can take Winston’s on-field performance as evidence that he improved leaps and bounds from last season.

Taking on Tennessee in Week 2 of the preseason, Winston completed 13-of-18 passes for 226 yards with two touchdowns and zero picks. He led Tampa Bay to 20 first half points and over 300 yards of offense. That’s elite-level stuff right there and could tell us a story of a vastly improved young signal caller in Tampa this season.

Browns get running game going

The three-headed running back monster that is Carlos Hyde, Nick Chubb and Duke Johnson really got going against Buffalo this week. The three combined for 144 yards and two touchdowns on 24 attempts, including this violent run by Hyde. Buffalo’s run defense might be horrible, but this is something we certainly can’t ignore.

With the three all bringing something different to the table, Cleveland’s rushing attack promises to be a major strength during the regular season. That’s going to help Pro Bowl quarterback Tyrod Taylor and the team’s passing game big time. It’s also going to cause some major issues for defenses going up against the likes of wide receivers Jarvis Landry and Josh Gordon.

Sam Darnold is now QB1

Darnold did nothing to prove he’s not the starting quarterback for this Jets team in his first game in that role this week. The Jets might have only put up three points during Darnold’s time under center, but that’s not the major takeaway here. With the exception of a fluke interception late in his appearance, the rookie quarterback flashed big time. In the end, he completed 8-of-11 passes for 62 yards in the loss.

It’s not the numbers that tell us the story. Rather, it’s Darnold’s expert-level understanding of New York’s offense and his precision-strike capability that tell us the entire story. Previous reports suggested that it would be an upset of Darnold wasn’t QB1 to open the season. He didn’t do a thing to counter that against Washington. And in reality, it could lead to Teddy Bridgewater being moved here soon.

Mahomes to Hill connection clicks

As we’ve noted multiple times, Mahomes’ first training camp as the Chiefs’ starter was filled with mistake after mistake. It’s expected. The second-year quarterback has a cannon for an arm and isn’t afraid to use it down the field. That will lead to a relatively high interception total throughout his career.

It’s the complete antithesis of what Kansas City saw from Alex Smith over the past five seasons. And it’s going to lead to some huge plays for a dynamic young receiver in Tyreek Hill. That came out in droves against Atlanta this week, with Hill catching all four of his targets for 87 yards. That included this 69-yard connection from Mahomes. And while Mahomes still had that one bad mistake, he looked much better than in the preseason opener.

Legion of doom?

Having lost Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor during the offseason, Seattle’s secondary was already a huge question mark heading into the preseason. With Earl Thomas holding out, that’s been taken to a whole new level, this week’s game against the Los Angeles Chargers being the latest example.

Phillip Rivers carved Seattle’s first-team defense up to the tune of 6-of-7 passing for 62 yards. Backup Geno Smith (yes, that Geno Smith) then took Seattle’s backups to task, completing 6-of-8 passes for 81 yards. That included a 25-yard touchdown pass to Mike Williams. It’s now pretty evident that Seattle’s secondary is a weakness. It’s in this that a year of transition in the Pacific Northwest could be defined more by a year of futility on the field. That’s the sad reality of the situation.

The Christian McCaffrey we’ve been waiting for

This isn’t to say McCaffrey wasn’t good as a rookie last season. He put up nearly 1,100 total yards and seven touchdowns while catching 71 percent of the passes thrown in his direction. Those are good numbers. The problem was that McCaffrey didn’t put up the dynamic plays we saw at Stanford. Those game-breaking moments that made him a top-10 pick in the first place.

That might very well change with the running back entering his sophomore season. McCaffrey tallied 120 total yards on nine touches against Miami, including this brilliant 71-yard touchdown run. Those are the type of plays the youngster will have to make to be seen as the flashy back Carolina drafted him to be.