NFL

Rookie QBs performances, Antonio Brown, NFL power rankings and more

We saw the rookie quarterbacks in their first preseason games last week. Here’s what each needs to improve upon heading into their second contest.

It’s the preseason. Let’s start there.

Anybody making declarative statements doesn’t understand how the NFL operates in August. Schemes are vanilla. Blitzes are rare. Coaches are purposefully putting their teams through specific situations.

In short, judging any player based on a preseason affair is insane.

Still, there are certain conclusions to be made. Watching the rookie quarterbacks, it’s fairly obvious where each player needs to improve, and where the strengths lie. Throw out the box score. Turn on the tape.

Onto the notes on each notable rookie quarterback from the week that was:

Kyler Murray – Arizona Cardinals

Murray looked comfortable dealing with pressure against the Los Angeles Chargers. This is good, considering he’ll face plenty behind the Cardinals’ offensive line. Murray showed good arm strength on passes to the sidelines, and nice touch on screens. All told, Cardinals fans should be happy with his debut.

As for the concerns, Murray didn’t throw any passes either downfield or into a tight window. How does he play when those attempts come into play? Does he still maintain accuracy or does he turn the ball over? Not so much a criticism, just an unanswered question.

Daniel Jones – New York Giants

Jones completed every pass in his debut, igniting Giants fans into a state of ecstasy. Jones hit on all five throws for 67 yards and a touchdown. The showing was impressive, with Jones throwing capping the performance with a perfect ball on a corner route to Bennie Fowler.

The smarts and accuracy were on display against the New York Jets, but there’s plenty to prove. Jones doesn’t have a great arm, so can he continue to throw the ball into tight spots as he did on Fowler’s touchdown? Also, does he get a chance at some juncture to start a series against a first-team defense? For evaluation, we should hope so.

Dwayne Haskins – Washington Redskins

Haskins had the worst performance by the numbers. He threw two interceptions against the Cleveland Browns, and they were ugly. One was a gross overthrow snagged by fellow rookie Greedy Williams. The other was a pick-six by linebacker Mack Wilson, a throw right into his chest.

However, Haskins showed why Washington took him in the first round. Despite tremendous pressure — Trent Williams had to be laughing — Haskins kept his eyes upfield. He scrambled out of the pocket and showed mobility many believed he didn’t have. Haskins also made some fantastic throws along the boundaries, showcasing a laser arm.

The interceptions were bad, but the traits were obvious.

Drew Lock – Denver Broncos

This was actually Lock’s second affair, having played in the Hall of Fame Game. Against the Seattle Seahawks, the second-round pick mostly threw short and underneath. When he did attempt to go deep, he was inaccurate. Oddly enough, Lock’s ball seemed to lack zip in Seattle. Of course, it’s hard to showcase velocity when most throws aren’t traveling more than 10 yards in the air.

Currently, Lock appears to need the most development of the four. This shouldn’t come as a shock, considering he was drafted 25 spots after Haskins was plucked as the third quarterback in the draft. If Lock can show more accuracy — a problem of his at Missouri — and demonstrate the ability to move off the first read, he should improve greatly.

Power rankings

Top 10 candidates to make playoffs after missing in 2018

1. Atlanta Falcons
2. Cleveland Browns
3. Green Bay Packers
4. Pittsburgh Steelers
5. Minnesota Vikings
6. New York Jets
7. San Francisco 49ers
8. Carolina Panthers
9. Tennessee Titans
10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Quotable

“There’s really not a lot to be said about the quarterback position. We’re very comfortable with the two we have. They are going to get a lot of work now these next several weeks obviously in practice. It’s like any other position on our football team. If we see the need to add depth and value, we will, but at this time we’re confident with the guys we have and moving forward.”

– Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson on the team’s backup quarterbacks

The Eagles lost Nate Sudfeld to a broken left wrist in their Thursday night, creating questions about who backs up the oft-injured Carson Wentz. With Pederson saying he’s confident in Cody Kessler and Clayton Thorson, the Eagles appear willing to wait for Sudfeld’s return instead of making a move.

Philadelphia isn’t the only team to lose its backup signal-caller this week. The Detroit Lions watched Tom Savage leave their preseason opener with a head injury. Detroit moved quickly, signing Josh Johnson. The Lions are Johnson’s 12th team.

Podcast

Random stat

The Chicago Bears made the playoffs each year between 1984-88. They started four different quarterbacks come the postseason, ranging from Steve Fuller and Jim McMahon to Doug Flutie and Mike Tomczak.

In 1985, Chicago won its only Super Bowl behind McMahon, defeating the New England Patriots.

Info learned this week

1. Brown has brought the circus to Oakland

Antonio Brown is a great player. He’s also a one-man circus.

By now, you’ve undoubtedly read or heard all about his maladies, from the frostbite to his bizarre helmet quandary. The question moving forward isn’t whether Brown will follow through on his threat to retire — he won’t — but how much more of this nonsense before his presence becomes a net negative?

GOING DEEP: Steelers are big winner in Brown saga

It’s easy to point out Brown’s on-field performance. It’s Hall-of-Fame worthy, totaling 837 catches, 11,207 yards and 74 touchdowns in eight seasons with the Steelers. However, Pittsburgh happily shipped him to Oakland for the paltry price of a third-round selection. The Steelers are one of the league’s best-run franchises, and they gave up. Food for thought.

Browns the capability to make all this noise a distant memory come September. He can author another All-Pro season and continue his march to Canton. Or, he can be a brooding malcontent on the sidelines and elsewhere, making Raiders general manager Mike Mayock wonder if there’s a return policy on the trade.

2. Injuries are taking toll on Jags

The Jacksonville Jaguars are having a rough time with the injury bug.

Jacksonville is already without star linebacker Telvin Smith for the season as he takes personal time. In training camp, rookie replacement Quincy Williams was shining before tearing his meniscus, putting him in jeopardy for Week 1 action. Additionally, the odds are growing longer on receiver Marqise Lee and left tackle Cam Robinson to be ready for the regular-season opener against the Chiefs.

For the Jaguars, the list of names is both long and notable. Smith is one of the league’s elite at his position, and Williams was one of the most promising rookies in the game. Lee is easily the best receiver on the roster, while Robinson is a quality protector on the blindside. Factor in a huge test in Kansas City to start things off, and the Jaguars are facing a bevy of adversity from the start.

3. AFC West has a trio of young safeties worth monitoring

Enjoy watching safety play? The AFC West has you — and most receivers — covered.

The Los Angele Chargers, Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs all spent either first-round or second-round choices on the position in April’s draft. The results thus far are encouraging.

The early returns of Johnathan Abram show a potential star in Oakland. The Mississippi State product was described to FanSided as “very physical and instinctive” by one member of the organization, jiving with what we’ve seen on clips out of Napa. Combined with free-agent signing Lamarcus Joyner, the Raiders should be significantly improved in the secondary.

In Kansas City, sources continue to rave about the play of Juan Thornhill. Thornhill has been a force playing center field for the Chiefs, allowing Tyrann Mathieu to roam in a role akin to Eric Berry’s former job description. While veteran Daniel Sorensen continues to earn snaps as well, one source in Kansas City believes Thornhill will be an immediate contributor.

Finally, the Chargers are hoping Nasir Adderley can be a compliment to Derwin James. Like Thornhill, many believe Adderley should have been a first-round selection. If he can provide a back-end presence for Los Angeles, the Chargers will be all the stronger going into a season with Super Bowl aspirations.

4. Luck continues to miss time with ailing calf

The Indianapolis Colts are still awaiting Andrew Luck’s return. It’s increasingly becoming a massive issue.

Luck has yet to fully participate in training camp and isn’t scheduled to through the early part of this week. The 30-year-old superstar has been dealing with a strain calf for the past three months without much progress. While the team continues saying he’ll return soon, at what juncture does that become hope instead of diagnosis?

It’s easy to point to Luck missing all of 2017 after we were told repeatedly by the organization he’d be back shortly. However, Luck was coming off major shoulder surgery. The circumstances were different. There was no surgery here, but the optics remains troubling.

The Colts open the season on Sept. 8 against the Chargers. If Luck can’t practice soon, the questions become twofold: Will Luck be able to play in the opener, and are we looking at a potential PUP designation? It’s too early to tell on either front, but the lack of progress, coupled with his complete absence from the field, suggests there’s a significant problem at hand.

5. Williams continues to turn heads in Miami

Preston Williams. Learn the name.

At the Senior Bowl, I sat next to a longtime scout during practices. Unprompted, he mentioned the Colorado State wide receiver, saying if not for off-field issues, he’d be at worst second-round pick. Ultimately, Williams went undrafted before signing with the Miami Dolphins.

It has proved a wise move.

In his senior season at Colorado State, the 6-foot-4, 210-pounder notched 96 receptions for 1,345 yards and 14 touchdowns. This summer, Williams has shined in camp and through the Dolphins’ first preseason games, making one highlight-reel catch after the next. Against the Falcons on Thursday night, Williams caught four passes for 97 yards, including a 36-yarder with one hand.

The Dolphins might have a gem in their midst.

History lesson

The New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams have some amazing history together.

New Orleans’ first game ever came against Los Angeles in 1967. The opening kickoff was returned for a touchdown by John Gilliam. In 2000, the Saints won their first-ever playoff game, beating the Rams in the Superdome. Finally, last year, Los Angeles returned to the Big Easy last year in the NC Championship Game, winning one of the most controversial contests of all time. The result? Pass interference becoming a challengeable call.

Parting shot

The Houston Texans need a general manager. Only one general manager.

Houston landed running back Duke Johnson in a trade with the Browns, but the Texans gave up far too much value by sending a 2020 conditional pick. The conditions? It’s a fourth-round choice unless Johnson is active for 10 games, then it becomes a third. Again, way too much for a player who will be valuable, but also a backup to Lamar Miller.

The release of running back D’Onta Freeman alluded to the same issue of leadership in the front office. When Adam Schefter of ESPN relayed the personnel move, he cited the Texans belief of Foreman needing to “grow up.” That’s coachspeak. You don’t embarrass the player, and his representation, on the way out the door.

Houston also could use a GM to pull off a trade with the Redskins. During joint practices and then their preseason game with the Packers, the Texans continued to get bullied up front. This is the same team that allowed a league-worst 62 sacks last year and despite drafting offensive lineman in the first two rounds, still needs more help. It’s an absurd situation considering Houston has a star quarterback in the backfield. Paying for Johnson is asinine when Williams is potentially on the block.

The Texans are a good team, but their structure is a costly mess.

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