After the dust settled from the action of the third week, commonly referred to as a "dress rehearsal" for all NFL teams, it's time to take a look at some of the most noteworthy observations throughout the NFL.
But, this rundown filters through eyes which have experienced firsthand how valuable preseason action can be for the careers of both future stars and NFL hopefuls.
And for the diehard fans, fantasy lovers and gamblers alike, you may want to pay attention to this.
Reliability Trumps the Fireworks For Kuechly
Kuechly is nothing flashy, but he does make tackles and finds himself around the ball. This is exactly what he has done throughout his entire college career. So far, after three meaningless games of NFL action, Kuechly is second in the league in combined tackles.
Kuechly has flashed some common rookie mistakes in a blown coverage here and there early on in the preseason, but watching him in Week 3, he seemed to be finding his way and getting comfortable with his drops into pass coverage.
To make a long story short, some guys are valued for their consistency, reliability and lack of any real weaknesses despite not having any exceptional elements to his game. In terms of his athleticism, he tested fantastically, putting up elite-level numbers at the linebacker position, second only to Mychal Kendricks in my opinion.
But, when you watch him on tape, those elements are not what stand out. In fact, the only things that really stood out are his ability to wrap up ball-carriers and his lack of any glaring weaknesses.
Jimmy Smith is Better than People Think!
It seems Jimmy Smith has been in a heated position battle with Cary Williams all during camp and throughout the preseason. I would be shocked if Williams retains his title as the No. 2 corner by Week 1. Smith has looked very impressive all summer long and has contested every pass with smart, physical football.
The Ravens’ second-year cornerback, who was a first-round pick out of Colorado, is on his way to becoming a Pro Bowler sooner than most may think. Smith has made major strides following his disappointing rookie season riddled with bad luck, injuries and growing pains.
The most promising aspect to his game, aside from his impressive 6’2” frame, is that even when receivers manage to catch a ball on him, he is always there in good position trying to get a hand in there to prevent the completion of the catch. It seems like every week he's improving this specific skill.
People may want to point out his game against Calvin Johnson in Week 2, but in all fairness, Johnson is in a league of his own, and I thought Smith was highly competitive in that contest and should come away from that experience as a better player.
Youth Movement Emerges from the Black Hole
Terrelle Pryor’s potential as a scrambler and playmaker is obviously dangerous, but his ability to read defenses and throw with accuracy are still major questions. However, if one thing became clear after Week 3 in regards to Pryor, it’s that he's worth the time to develop at QB, as long as he’s working hard and good teammate. The upside here is something Raider fans can really get excited about.
Rod Streeter and Juron Criner both deserve a roster spot. Each of these dynamic rookie receivers has made a name for themselves in very different ways. Streeter has been a model of consistency by showing head coach Dennis Allen he can be a go-to option and possession-type guy. One of his best attributes has been his ability to find the holes in the secondary and his reliable hands.
Criner has been a factory of big plays throughout OTAs and minicamps, and while Streeter has been the star of the Raiders’ preseason, thus far, Criner showed those abilities off in Week 3 against the Lions.
The fifth-rounder out Arizona made two extremely impressive catches from Terrelle Pryor for big gains. Before this week, I was a bit worried Criner may have gained too much weight. But after his performance the other night, those concerns have been put to rest.
The Little Engine that Could
After watching the Eagles vs. Browns in each team’s third game, I was left wondering how that little No. 13 for the Eagles was able to slide under my radar all this time. So, I pulled this from the Eagles team page player bio on NFL.com:
The Eagles signed Damaris Johnson as a rookie free agent following the 2012 NFL Draft. A wide receiver and return man at Tulsa, Johnson finished his career as the NCAA's all-time leader in all-purpose yardage (7,796) and kickoff return yardage (3,417), while registering 150 plays of 20-plus yards.
And digging a little further into the guy, I discovered this about his physical ability from Scout.com
The 5-foot-7, 175-pounder ran the 40-yard dash in 4.42 to 4.52 seconds, posting a 30-inch vertical leap, a 9-5 board jump, a 4.20 in the 20-yard shuttle and a 6.80 in the three-cone drill at his campus Pro Day workout. He bench pressed 225 pounds 13 times.
Johnson was suspended for the entire season last year due to him being charged with embezzlement after paying only $14 for $2,600 worth of merchandise at a store where his girlfriend worked.
In that game against the Browns, Johnson was impressive anytime he had the ball in his hand whether that was returning kicks or making a miraculous catch on the sideline by jumping over the defender. Not bad for a guy who is barely 5’8” if that.
Johnson’s impressive elusiveness helps him slide through the smallest of openings. He’s also one of those rare players who can escape a situation after he’s surrounded by defenders. Just a simple stutter step here, and a step back there, followed by a quick spin and it's off to the races, leaving a pile of defenders on the ground trying to put their shoes back on.
Old Man with Young Problems
Not to say Brandon Weeden can’t or won’t be a solid starter in the NFL, but he was outplayed by the 88th pick in the draft, Nick Foles, who was drafted 66 picks after Weeden.
Foles made a poor decision in his opening drive by launching the ball downfield into double coverage which ended up being picked off, aside from that, he was polished, accurate and made some nice plays and great throws, even in the face of pressure at times.
Weeden displayed poise and total control of the offense early on. But as the first quarter continued, Weeden began to look uncomfortable in the pocket, especially after some poor pocket awareness led to two sack fumbles.
Not to say it was totally his fault, but he needs to feel that pressure better and cover the ball. He almost had three sack fumbles, but the defender's hand barely missed the ball on the swipe, tuning into a beautifully thrown ball by Weeden.
Which WR is going to have the better season this year?
Both quarterbacks flashed promise and looked like they belong in the league, but from what I’ve seen, thus far, Weeden had not shown me enough to change my perception that he isn’t worthy of a first-round pick considering similar talents like Foles and Russell Wilson were available for much cheaper. More importantly, the Browns could have used that pick to add more talent at other positions.
Notes and Tidbits:
- Mark Barron looks impressive with his aggressive style of tackling.
- Billy Winn has starting potential. Every time I put on tape of a Browns game, I see big No. 79 making plays in the opponent’s backfield.
- Ronde Barber looks slow, lazy and uninspired. I'm not sure if this is a preseason thing or not, but it doesn’t look good on tape either way. For Buccaneers fans, we can only hope this is not a sign of things to come in his new role as a safety.
- Yea fellas, Peyton Manning is ready.
- The 49ers defense looked very mortal against the Broncos but fear not 49er fans.
- Anyone who thinks Tebow is better than Sanchez at this stage in both their careers is insane. Tebow is still learning how to play quarterback.
- People might want to check out some running back in Arizona named William Powell. He is "kicking some butt and taking names."
My Apology (for now)
Chandler Jones and Quinton Coples both keep making me look bad.
I am proud of Jones’ effort and impressed by his physical strength. Up to this point, he has excelled far beyond my expectations. But, I still doubt he will be a dominate force as a pass-rusher. Unfortunately for me, it almost seems as if he is reading my stuff and is hell-bent on proving me wrong.
Coples has been lining up mostly as an interior linemen and taking advantage of the slower, less-equipped guards of the league on his way to a very impressive start to his professional career.
In fairness to my analysis of him, I always believed this usage of his skill was the smartest way to go. Coples lacks foot speed, but is extremely heavy-handed. This is the position he played in college where he had his greatest success. Throw in the fact that he is playing against backup linemen and is fully motivated and you have the major contributing factors to his current level of play.
Who would you rather have on your team?
My hat goes off to these guys for taking their game and skills to a level that was strongly doubted. I wish them both continued success in their careers and hope to see more of the same. But, let’s remember that the regular season hasn’t even started yet, and things can change rapidly in the NFL when the games matter.
After all, Ryan Leaf had a great preseason outing his rookie year, and we all know how that turned out.