The Jacksonville Jaguars and Chicago Bears kicked off Week 2 of the 2014 NFL preseason Thursday night with some impressive rookie performances from each side. With 15 more games on the slate, we can expect more of the same in the coming days.
We already know the 2014 draft class was extremely deep on both sides of the ball, but let's go ahead and focus on offense here. Many promising rookie wide receivers and running backs will be in action this week, and we'll begin to see how well they're adapting to life in the NFL.
Several of these rookies are poised to play big roles for their respective teams this season, so it's crucial to pay close attention to them in the coming weeks. Let's break down a few of these players to keep a keen eye on in the near future.
Jordan Matthews, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles selected Matthews in the second round of the 2014 draft to thicken their wide receiver corps after the departure of DeSean Jackson. During the early stages of training camp, the Vanderbilt product impressed and appeared to be living up to his second-round billing.
That didn't quite translate to his performance in the team's preseason Week 1 contest against Chicago.
While Matthews did catch four passes for 14 yards, he accompanied them with three drops. That performance is a bit concerning given Philadelphia's lack of depth at the wide receiver position and the ongoing cause for concern regarding Jeremy Maclin's health.
Geoff Mosher of CSNPhilly.com relayed head coach Chip Kelly's thoughts on Matthews' showing:
This week, Matthews will face off against a revamped New England Patriots secondary. If the receiver intends to continue moving up the ranks to crack the starting lineup, he'll need to show a far superior level of consistency than he did in Week 1.
Sammy Watkins, WR, Buffalo Bills
The first wide receiver selected in a very deep draft class, Watkins was blanked during the Hall of Fame Game but came back with three receptions for 21 yards in Week 1 against the Carolina Panthers.
We've seen plenty of highlights from Bills camp showcasing Watkins' ability to make ridiculous cuts and one-handed grabs. Take a look at the following from NFL Network's Ian Rapoport:
We haven't seen that during in-game action just yet, though.
Watkins is expected to play a gigantic role for Buffalo this season—the team has already listed him atop the wide receivers on its depth chart. He'll face a difficult test Saturday against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In Week 1 of the preseason, the Steelers made life difficult for Eli Manning and Co., holding the New York Giants to just 141 yards passing. Pittsburgh's defense hasn't been overwhelmingly difficult for Watkins so far during the teams' joint practices, though. Take a look at this insane double move:
That's the Watkins we're hoping shows up this week.
Carlos Hyde, RB, San Francisco 49ers
What a debut for Hyde during the 49ers' preseason opener against the Baltimore Ravens. Hyde showed why he was a second-round pick out of Ohio State, torching the Ravens for 39 yards on just five carries—an average of 7.8 yards per carry.
That performance generated plenty of hype around the first-year rusher; however, now the pressure is on. All eyes will be locked on Hyde this week when 49ers offense takes on an upgraded Denver Broncos defense.
Should Hyde continue to display his rushing prowess against the Broncos, it will certainly lead to more speculation about San Francisco's running back situation. Frank Gore has been tremendous—running for over 1,000 yards in seven of the past eight seasons—but at the age of 31, he can't be expected to keep that production up for much longer.
Peter Schrager of Fox Sports tweeted his thoughts on the team's backfield:
Could we see Hyde cut into Gore's touches this season? If so, how many carries will he be given? The answers to these questions will continue to be slowly revealed when he takes the field Sunday.