The NFL preseason is already a quarter of the way through after Sunday’s action, and there’s plenty of stuff to digest looking ahead.
For some, this first game provided the perfect platform from which to prove they belong in the NFL. For others, it showed just how far away they are from competing at the highest level.
So who came out smelling like roses? Who stunk up the joint?
Among the winners are some rookies on both sides of the ball who opened up eyes around the nation. On the flip side, a kicker’s decline was national news for all the wrong reasons, as was a veteran quarterback who proved he isn’t worthy of a starting role.
Winner: Rookie QBs wowed in pro debuts
DeShone Kizer, Mitch Trubisky, Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson all sparkled in their first games as NFL quarterbacks. Each one did some very impressive things that made their coaches and front office people very happy. This is especially true for the Kansas City Chiefs, Houston Texans and Chicago Bears, who gave up plenty of draft capital to trade up for their respective quarterbacks.
All told, these four quarterbacks, each taken in the first 52 picks of the 2017 NFL Draft, combined on 588 passing yards and four total touchdowns. Even better? There were no turnovers. None. Granted, this was just the first preseason game and these kids played against backups, for the most part. But they all looked incredibly composed, and the moment was in no way too big for them. That’s huge.
Loser: Brock Osweiler is who we thought he was
When the Browns started making noise about how impressive Osweiler was this summer, some wondered if it was nothing more than a smokescreen to attract trade offers. The team even went so far as to create a ridiculous hype video pumping up the mediocre quarterback. It was pretty hilarious.
Let’s just say all that work went up in flames the moment Osweiler got into the game Thursday night. His first pass as a member of the Browns was a laughable effort that bounced in front of his receiver on an out route. He didn’t exactly pick things up from there, either. Displaying the chronic inaccuracy that plagued him last year, Osweiler finished with just 42 yards on 6-of-14 passing, averaging three yards per attempt.
Yet the Browns would have you believe Osweiler is still pretty darn good (trade bait! *cough, cough* Trade bait!)
Winner: Derek Barnett dominates in two-sack game
The Philadelphia Eagles loved Barnett’s game so much they picked him No. 14 overall this past April. A guy who did nothing but dominate in the SEC with Tennessee, some still wondered if his game would translate to the NFL. Well, it’s too early to pop the cork, but Barnett was a force in his first NFL game. He registered two sacks, two hurries and two tackles for a loss, just owning the line of scrimmage (highlights here).
If this young man can continue to put forth this kind of effort all season long, then Philly’s defensive front is going to be one of the best in the NFL.
Loser: Ryan Mallett stunk up the joint
The Baltimore Ravens are saying Joe Flacco will be ready to start the season. He’s been out for a couple of weeks with a back injury and hasn’t practiced since. In the meantime, backup Ryan Mallett has been abhorrent during practices, prompting the team to at least consider bringing Colin Kaepernick in to be Flacco’s backup.
That option should still be on the table based on the way Mallett played Thursday against Washington. Completing just half his passes on 18 attempts, he managed just 58 yards (3.2 yards per attempt) for a passer rating of 57.2. That’s just nasty.
Winner: T.J. Watt, Arthur Moats destroy Giants offense
The Pittsburgh Steelers have lacked a dominant force on the edge of their front seven for years. Thanks to the emergence of rookie T.J. Watt, that might be a thing of the past. Watt busted out with two early sacks (watch here) and some other really strong moves that showed off his immense potential. He even earned some high praise from elder sibling and NFL superstar, J.J. Watt.
After Watt showed up big, veteran Arthur Moats one-upped the rookie, and then some. He finished the game with six tackles, three sacks and one interception. Moats has been a guy who’s had the ability to shine but has never been able to put it all together for a full season. Now at the age of 29, perhaps it’s his time to shine.
Loser: Mike Glennon was about as awful as an NFL quarterback can be
The Bears really stuck their foot in it this offseason by signing Glennon, then trading up for Trubisky. It was inevitable that a quarterback controversy would ensue the first time Glennon ran into trouble and Trubisky shined. And we didn’t have to wait long at all for this to happen, either. Glennon posted a passer rating of 0.0 on Thursday night, completing just 2-of-8 passes for 20 yards. As if that weren’t bad enough, he threw an inexcusable interception right off the bat, which Chris Harris Jr. happily returned 50 yards for a touchdown (watch here).
At this point, Glennon is still the starter for John Fox (deep, heavy sigh). But that won’t last much longer if he continues to struggle while Trubisky glistens like a polished gem.
Winner: Jaguars’ triple-threat offensive weapons shine
If the Jacksonville Jaguars can ever get consistent, error-minimizing quarterback play, they’ll be unstoppable. Blessed with weapons galore, this team now features blazing speed and talent in the passing game as well as a potent power/speed combo in the run game. This was all seen Thursday night when receiver Keelan Cole and running back Corey Grant showed off the lighting, while rookie running back Leonard Fournette provided the thunder.
All told, these three players combined on 259 yards and three touchdowns on just 19 touches (13.6 yards per touch).
Loser: Joshua Dobbs was awful in first pro game
Coming out of Tennessee as a fourth-round pick this year, Dobbs was seen by some as a perfect person to be groomed as Ben Roethlisberger’s eventual replacement. However, there were valid questions raised about his accuracy and decision-making. As a full-time starter the past two years for the Vols, Dobbs struggled to hit 60 percent of his passes, throwing 42 touchdowns and 17 interceptions in 26 games.
In his first action as a pro Friday night, Dobbs showed why he was seen by talent evaluators as a big step below the top quarterbacks taken in the draft. Completing just 8-of-15 passes, Dobbs threw two ugly interceptions and was sacked three times for 22 yards. He looked lost more often than not, though he did manage to throw a 28-yard touchdown pass to Cobi Hamilton. With Landry Jones as Big Ben’s primary backup, things are going to look grim indeed if the veteran starter goes down with an injury in 2017.
Winner: Dalvin Cook shows off dual-threat abilities
Though it’s not a given at this point, it’s looking more and more like Cook is going to be the starting running back for the Vikings this year. And based on what we saw in his professional debut, Cook will be heavily utilized in the passing game as well as a runner.
Because his offensive line didn’t do him (or any running back) any favors, Cook managed to tally 43 yards on nine touches. Thirty of those yards came on four receptions, as Cook hauled in each of the four passes thrown his way. Given how much offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur loves to use short passes as glorified running plays, this is good news for Cook’s fantasy value, especially in PPR formats.
Loser: Roberto Aguayo reminds us all why you don’t draft kickers high
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won’t be using a high draft pick on a kicker any time soon. Already in a tight battle with Nick Folk to stay on as the kicker this year, Aguayo — the team traded up into the second round to draft him last year — did nothing to help himself Friday evening. He missed an extra-point attempt (doinked off the right upright) and a 47-yard field goal, going 1-of-3 on the night. To nobody’s surprise, the Bucs released Aguayo on Saturday morning.
Winner: Kenny Golladay looks like the next small-school kid turned NFL star
The Detroit Lions appear to have uncovered a diamond in the rough. Golladay, a third-round pick out of Northern Illinois, was the most explosive player on the field Sunday when the Indianapolis Colts hosted the Lions. Though he only caught three passes, he went for 53 yards and caught two touchdowns, outscoring the home team all by himself. Those who have been watching this young man during training camp are not surprised, however. He’s been dominating his teammates in practice and appears to have all the physical tools to be consistently successful in this league.
Loser: San Francisco commits 17 penalties for 131 yards
The first game of the Kyle Shanahan era was ugly with a capital U. Sure, the San Francisco 49ers won. That’s always cool. And there were some positive things to take away, which we’ll get to a bit later. But the 49ers were penalized 17 times for a total of 131 yards. During his press conference Saturday, Shanahan was asked about the excessive penalties. He said the non-aggressive penalties were “frustrating because we can control that. That’s just concentrating, doing what you’ve done in practice and we obviously didn’t do a good job of that last night,” per NinersNation.com.
Needless to say, the Niners better get that figured out soon if they are going to have any real chance of winning many regular-season games.
Winner: Rico Gathers continues to look like a star in the making
We highlighted Gathers after he showed up big in the Hall of Fame Game. A former power forward at the collegiate level for Baylor, Gathers has seamlessly transitioned to the NFL as a very athletic, pass-catching tight end. The big question we had on our minds was whether he could continually make big plays or if inconsistencies would triumph. Based on what Gathers did Friday night against the Los Angeles Rams, it’s the former. Catching four passes for 47 yards and a touchdown (his second this preseason), Gathers proved he is the real deal.
Loser: Dolphins have to call timeout before first play of game
No, this wasn’t Jay Cutler’s fault. He wasn’t even playing. Matt Moore, who should have all his ducks lined up in a row as a veteran quarterback who spent all of last year in Adam Gase’s system, couldn’t get his offense lined up in time for the opening offensive play of the game for the Dolphins. Jarvis Landry had to call a timeout instead, getting the game off to a terrible start. Now we know why the Dolphins were so keen on signing Cutler out of retirement.
Winner: Chargers’ first-string offense owned Seattle’s first-string defense
Philip Rivers played in exactly one series Sunday night for the Los Angeles Chargers. It was all he needed to show he’s still one of the top quarterbacks in the league. Going up against one of the best defenses in the NFL, Rivers picked apart the Legion of Boom, going 5-of-6 passing for 56 yards and a sweet touchdown pass to old reliable, tight end Antonio Gates. Aside from one really nice hit by Earl Thomas, the Seahawks were owned by the Chargers in every way. It was a positive sign for a team that’s been decimated by injuries in recent years, including this one.
Loser: Colts offensive line still a dumpster fire
Playing without center Ryan Kelly, who the Colts hope will be healthy for the regular season, the Colts’ offensive line was awful Sunday. And what’s worse is that the Lions don’t feature a particularly strong defensive front, yet it dominated Indy’s guys like they were from the JV squad. The Colts were able to generate just 230 total yards, 2.9 yards per rushing attempt and the line gave up five sacks for a total of 26 yards. At this point, it’s no wonder the Colts are in no hurry to rush Andrew Luck back into action. The moment he steps onto the field, he’s bound to get pummeled.
Winner: Jameis Winston and Mike Evans in mid-season form
The chemistry between Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston and Evans is something sweet to behold. For football junkies, their ability to stay on the same page is like catnip. Just divine. They combined for 96 receptions, 1,361 yards and 12 touchdowns last year in their second season working with one another. And based on what we saw Friday night, that connection is only getting stronger. Playing in limited action, Winston hit Evans four times for 58 yards. This 29-yard strike on the right sideline while double covered had our jaws on the floor.
Loser: Washington’s offense stuck in reverse
It’s only one game. So let’s not bring out the paper bags just yet. But Washington was just awful on the road in Baltimore, particularly on offense. The first-team offense didn’t play that much, but Kirk Cousins led two straight drives that went three-and-out. The passing game was impotent (just 99 yards, 4.2 yards per attempt), and the running game was no better (39 yards, 2.2 yards per carry). All told, the Redskins managed just 138 yards and three points. That’s not going to get the job done.
Winner: 49ers defensive front seven showed insane potential
There was plenty of negative stuff to discuss after Kyle Shanahan’s first game as an NFL head coach. But one thing that stood out in a huge positive way was just how much legitimate talent the Niners have on the defensive side of the ball, especially up front.
As we’ve seen throughout training camp, rookie linebacker Reuben Foster was all over the place and nearly picked off Alex Smith in the first quarter. Aaron Lynch, looking slim, was unstoppable off the edge, while rookie Solomon Thomas was unblockable inside. There will be plenty of growing pains for this group in 2017, but it will soon end up as one of the NFL’s best.
Loser: Christian Hackenberg does little to impress
First, let’s look at the positives. Hackenberg did complete 18-of-25 passes. He also did not throw an interception and took just one sack.
Now here comes the bad: Hackenberg averaged just 5.1 yards per attempt, going for 127 yards. That’s game-manager material, not what you’re looking for from a franchise quarterback. Hackenberg also didn’t generate a single scoring drive and coughed up two fumbles, one of which was recovered by the Tennessee Titans.
On top of the faux pas he’s committed at practice this summer (like this), Hackenberg appears destined to ride the pine once again in 2017.