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Which Rookies Have Absolutely Dazzled so Far This Preseason?

Alessandro MiglioFeatured Columnist IVMay 24, 2016

Which Rookies Have Absolutely Dazzled so Far This Preseason?

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    The preseason is meaningless in the grand scheme of things. It is a time of false hope and attrition, but it is also one that informs decisions and introduces players to the masses.

    A parade of rookies have looked rather good thus far in the preseason. Whether it is merely a product of the preseason itself or genuine talent, these guys have gotten off to good starts this year.

Ryan Tannehill

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    Indeed, it is still early in the preseason, and Ryan Tannehill was playing against second- and third-team defenses, but he looked darn good in the pocket for Miami.

    The No. 8 overall pick in the 2012 draft got off to an unimpressive start in a three-and-out culminating with a poor pass on third down, but he shined the rest of the way.

    The Buccaneers blitzed him on his next two throws—a nice play action bootleg to Charles Clay and a good back-shoulder throw to Julius Pruitt for 41 total yards—before playing zone for much of the rest of the game. Tannehill did a fine job picking that zone apart, ultimately completing 14 of 21 passes for 167 yards, one touchdown and a 106.0 passer rating.

    He did enough to merit a start in Miami's second preseason game against the Carolina Panthers. His stat line was not nearly as nice, but Tannehill performed admirably in the face of constant pressure. He might have secured a permanent starting gig thanks to Matt Moore's ineffectiveness to boot.

Chandler Jones

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    Chandler Jones fielded a punt from Zoltan Mesko at practice, and his endearment to his teammates was complete. Of course, that is the least Jones can do.

    Mike Mayock predicted the rookie out of Syracuse would be the best defensive player to come out of the 2012 draft, and he seems bent to prove him correct right out of the gate. He has been a stud in practice, and that has translated on the field.

    Jones abused Jerome Bushrod and Zach Strief against the Saints in New England's first preseason game. He only tallied two tackles and did not register a sack, but Jones was in the backfield a whole lot and was generally disruptive when he was on the field.

Doug Martin

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    He may not have gotten the start in Tampa Bay's first game, and LeGarrette Blount may have done a good job in that role, but Doug Martin was not too shabby himself against the Dolphins and Titans.

    The rookie out of Boise State was the presumptive starter when the Bucs traded back up into the first round to nab him, but he has been thrust into a competition with the incumbent starter.

    Blount left the game against Titans with a groin injury, which could give Martin a leg up on the starting job. He has a good shot if he can continue performing the way he has.

Robert Griffin III

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    The anticipation was palpable as Robert Griffin III took the field for the first time in a Washington Redskins uniform. Perhaps it was because the preseason began in earnest at that point, but the buzz surrounding Griffin in Washington is undeniable.

    He may not have had a spectacular game, but the Heisman Trophy winner had an excellent start to his career against Mario Williams and the Buffalo Bills. He was 4-of-6 passing for 70 yards and a touchdown. The score was on a screen pass to Pierre Garcon, but Griffin looked comfortable in the pocket and threw downfield with confidence.

    The Bears were able to contain him in his second preseason game—sacking him three times and causing a fumble in the process—but great things are in store for the rookie out of Baylor.

Quinton Coples

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    Concerns about work ethic and motor have dogged Quinton Coples since his days at North Carolina, and his training-camp performance did little to allay those fears.

    Then he stepped onto the field against the Bengals.

    Coples tallied five tackles, a sack and a forced fumble against Cincinnati, turning into a dominant player rather unexpectedly. The Jets needed help along the defensive line and Coples flashed why New York took him with their first-round pick.

    Rex Ryan had a lofty comparison for Coples (via Jenny Vrentas of The Star-Ledger):

    Rex Ryan has praised first-round pick Quinton Coples since his preseason debut Friday night. Today, the Jets coach upped the ante, saying he hopes the Jets' first-round pick turns out as well as the Giants' Jason Pierre-Paul has.

    "They are two unusual talents. ... They're unusual guys," Ryan said. "Hopefully Quinton can be the same kind of player Pierre-Paul ended up being. This guy really gets it."

    They may be playing different positions, but the Jets' defensive front is going to be difficult to handle if Coples can be that disruptive on a regular basis.

Andrew Luck

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    Is it luck or skill when your first NFL pass is a screen that goes for a 63-yard touchdown? Either way, it is a good omen for Colts fans, who saw Peyton Manning do the same thing in his first action for the team 14 years ago.

    Even aside from Donald Brown's catch-and-rumble, Luck looked every bit like the franchise quarterback the Colts hoped for when they drafted him. He wound up throwing for 188 yards and two touchdowns with an eye-popping 142.7 rating. 

    Indeed, the Colts appear to have gotten lucky once again.

Luke Kuechly

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    The linebacker out of Boston College had a marvelous start to his career this preseason.

    Kuechly had four tackles and a forced fumble in his inaugural game and followed that up with a solid outing against the Dolphins. He has been as good as advertised.

    On one play, the rookie can be found in the backfield, disrupting a running play. On the next, you will find him defending a pass. He has been all over the field. Once paired with Jon Beason full time, Kuechly will give the Panthers a dynamic pair of linebackers playing behind a good defensive line.

Audie Cole

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    The linebacker out of North Carolina State was taken in the seventh round of the 2012 draft, not even registering on the NFL Richter scale.

    His back-to-back rumbles to the end zone against the Bills sure did. The Clay Matthews lookalike did his best Ed Reed impersonation late in the game against Buffalo, picking off two passes in a row from Tyler Thigpen and Brad Smith and taking each to the house.

    It does not get much more dazzling than that for a late-round rookie, preseason garbage time or not.

Russell Wilson

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    Of all the rookie quarterbacks who have performed well thus far in the preseason, Russell Wilson may have had the most dazzling appearance.

    The diminutive quarterback is only that in size—he can play with the big boys.

    His dynamic athleticism was in full display against the Tennessee Titans, particularly on his 32-yard scamper for a touchdown. He was also 12-of-16 for 124 yards and a 39-yard touchdown to Braylon Edwards.

    He followed that up with a 10-of-17 performance for 155 yards and two touchdowns against the Broncos.

    Wilson is putting the full-court press with the race seemingly between him and free-agent acquisition Matt Flynn. If he can build on those scintillating performances, can the Seahawks keep him off the field come Week 1?

Melvin Ingram

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    Perhaps Ingram is fueled by being passed over for Bruce Irvin, or perhaps he is simply that good.

    The buzz is growing around the rookie as he continues to impress in practice, and that spilled over to the field in San Diego's second game of the preseason. Ingram had three tackles and a sack against the Cowboys, and he looks to challenge Chandler Jones as this draft class' best pass-rusher.

    Ingram could be this year's version of Von Miller. He certainly looks the part.

Justin Blackmon

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    Blackmon's NFL career got off to a rocky start after an arrest for aggravated DUI led to a contract standoff. The dispute spilled into training camp and caused him to miss Jacksonville's first preseason game.

    His spectacular off-the-field failure will be quickly forgotten if he continues to play spectacularly on the field.

    Blackmon's debut included four catches for 48 yards and a 16-yard touchdown grab. He is already making Blaine Gabbert look good, though the second-year quarterback has certainly done some improvement of his own.

    Gene Smith made it a point to upgrade the receiver position, including a trade up in the first round to ensure he would get Blackmon as the top receiver in the class. The stud out of Oklahoma State sure looked the part against New Orleans.

     

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