Preseason NFL Week 2 Takeaways: Rookies Shine During Sunday's Action
Sunday's preseason action left so much to the imagination since so few starters actually played during the three contests. But the decisions not to play those atop depth charts provided an opportunity to get a better look at multiple rookies across the league. A few shined under the bright spotlight.
Targets appear to be emerging for multiple teams in need of help.
David Bell may be exactly what the Cleveland Browns need as a complementary piece to Amari Cooper. Devon Allen provides far more juice to the Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver corps. Isaiah Likely may quickly become one of Lamar Jackson's favorite targets, even though he doesn't play wide receiver.
Meanwhile, on the defensive side of the ball, the New York Giants' Kayvon Thibodeaux appears to have avoided a major injury scare. Along the back line, the Cincinnati Bengals' Daxton Hill looks like the type of player the team needed to eventually replace Jessie Bates III.
Sunday's action lacked some sizzle, but a group of rookies made a bunch of second-stringers exciting to watch.
Rookie WR David Bell Quickly Finds Groove in Cleveland Browns Offense
The Cleveland Browns need help at wide receiver. Beyond Amari Cooper, the offense lacks much substance among its targets. Rookie David Bell has been positioned as a significant contributor, though the process has been slowed by injuries.
Bell, whom the organization drafted with this year's 99th overall pick, missed the first two weeks of training camp after being diagnosed with a stress fracture in his foot when the team's rookies reported to camp.
The reigning Richter-Howard (Big Ten Conference) Receiver of the Year has now been practicing for two weeks and played in his first preseason contest Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles.
"Being able to finally be out there and be in the offense and being able to run the routes so I can be more familiar with it. Being out was tough," Bell told reporters upon his return to practice. "Coming in as a rookie, that's something that you definitely don't want to happen is an injury right off the bat. Working with the training staff and coaches, they all worked with me to get me back to the best of my abilities."
In the rookie's first action, he led the Browns with 46 receiving yards on three catches. More importantly, Bell displayed a good feel for his routes and finding soft spots in zone coverage. These traits should translate when he's working against starting-caliber defenders, not just second- and third-string defensive backs.
Cleveland desperately requires another consistent option.
Donovan Peoples-Jones primarily serves as Cooper's bookend after he led the squad with 597 receiving yards during last year's lost season. However, Peoples-Jones is still a long way from being a polished receiver. Anthony Schwartz presents dynamic speed, but his hands are spotty.
Even Bell dropped one pass from Joshua Dobbs Sunday, which can't happen when the rookie has a chance to fill the role vacated by Jarvis Landry.
"It definitely boosted my confidence back up," Bell said when Dobbs went back to him after the drop.
Like Landry, Bell isn't a particularly fast or twitchy target. He's going to run good routes, make tough catches and contribute in the underappreciated areas, such as blocking. He's capable of doing all of these things in Kevin Stefanski's offense, which is why a promising initial showing means so much to the Browns.
Devon Allen's Speed Can Be Game-Changer for Eagles
Olympic-class speed is different than NFL speed. Devon Allen showed exactly what that difference is when he blew past two Cleveland Browns defenders for a 55-yard score in the Philadelphia Eagles' 21-20 victory Sunday.
"That was a sweet play," Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni said.
Sweet isn't the right descriptor. Salivating might be a better term.
The NFL lays claim to some of the best athletes walking the planet. Even second- and third-string defenders possess elite physical traits. In Allen's case, he's literally top three in the world when it comes to running 110-meter hurdles. He represented the United States in the event during the last two Olympics.
Granted, the Browns allowed a free release on his route, and it was the rookie's only catch. But the threat of Allen's downfield speed creates a completely different element. During the play, the corner had outside leverage, while the backside defensive back had no chance to stay over the top with his coverage.
His ability to take the top off a defense makes him a fascinating project since he stopped playing football five years ago before signing as a 27-year-old undrafted free agent this offseason.
Allen told NBC Philadelphia's John Clark that he's "really starting to grasp the offense now."
The Eagles are set with their top four wide receivers in A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, Zach Pascal and Quez Watkins. Jalen Reagor likely sticks as well.
Will the team carry six receivers? Whoever earns that spot must present a specific skill set and contribute on special teams. Allen presents both possibilities.
Giants' Kayvon Thibodeaux Injures Knee, Avoids Worst-Case Scenario
Preseason injuries are the worst. While certain individuals need to be on the field to gain valuable reps, experience and time to compete for spots, a top-five draft pick isn't necessarily counted among them.
The New York Giants chose Kayvon Thibodeaux with this year's fifth overall draft pick. Some, including Bleacher Report's Scouting Department, had the edge defender graded as the class' No. 1 overall prospect. He has the skill set to reshape the Giants' rush, but he can't if his knees are taken out.
Thibodeaux left Sunday's contest after being cut by Bengals tight end Thaddeus Moss during a wham block. The rookie didn't get low enough to take on the block, and his right leg bent sideways.
Initially, the defensive lineman stayed down, and medical personnel rushed the cart onto the field. Thibodeaux waived off the cart and left the field under his own power before visiting the medical tent.
According to NFL Network's Tom Pelissero, the Giants believe their prized draft pick avoided serious injury. Thibodeaux was seen afterward walking around on the sideline and joking with his teammates.
New York did play some of their starters Sunday to see what it has in certain areas, especially at quarterback and the offensive line. Thibodeaux is young and learning, but the injury scare should be more than enough to end any thought of him playing in the third preseason game.
He's a big part of the team's long-term plans and needs to be available for the regular season. An unforeseen injury in an exhibition game doesn't signal great roster management.
Daxton Hill Makes Jessie Bates III Expendable in Bengals Defensive Backfield
The future is now for the Cincinnati Bengals secondary. The organization prepared for life without defensive leader Jessie Bates III when it chose Daxton Hill with this year's 31st overall pick.
Hill appears to be expediting the process.
"Really has come in and really focused on what we do and how we play," director of player personnel Duke Tobin said of Hill before Sunday's game. "And then, on game day, he's shown up."
The versatile defensive back showed out against the New York Giants with two huge defensive stops in their first two offensive series.
Initially, Hill tracked down a simple check-down pass on 3rd-and-5, showed electric closing speed and tackled the target one yard short of the first-down marker. The rookie essentially lined up as a nickel linebacker, worked inside-out of his coverage responsibility and finished the play.
On the following series, Hill happened to be playing deep third in coverage and snagged a tipped pass for an interception. The rookie also had the wherewithal to get up after the turnover and get into plus territory.
This year's first-round pick is versatile and opportunistic, with a nose for the football. He's also made Bates somewhat expendable.
To be fair, Cincinnati chose Hill this year with plans of playing both to create significant flexibility within their secondary. But Bates is still holding out after the two sides couldn't come to a long-term agreement before the franchise tag deadline passed.
Hill's performance doesn't downplay Bates' value. The latter is one of the game's best free safeties. However, the rookie's quick acclimation makes Bates' drawn-out absence from the squad far more palatable.
Rookie TE Isaiah Likely Emerges as Ravens' Newest Offensive Weapon
There's something about the second tight end drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in a single class.
Four years ago, the Ravens chose Mark Andrews 61 picks after selecting Hayden Hurst. Andrews is now one of the game's premier receiving tight ends, the Ravens' single-season leader in receptions (107) and receiving yards (1,361) and a two-time Pro Bowl selection.
This April, Baltimore called Charlie Kolar's name before doubling down at tight end with Isaiah Likely just 11 selections later in the fourth round. Kolar could ultimately have a better career in Baltimore than Hurst ever did, but Likely is already balling out for the Ravens.
Through six quarters played, Likely has caught 12 passes on 12 targets for 144 yards, a touchdown and an average of 5.7 yards after contact per reception, according to Sharp Football's Warren Sharp.
The issue—if it can even be called that—is where Likely fits into an offense. He's never been a true Y-tight end. He's going to struggle if asked to play inline. His skill set as a receiver fits perfectly as a detached F-tight end. This knock is another way of saying that Likely has a very specific skill set.
The tight end can play in space and run routes and create after the catch. Likely is an offensive weapon, even if he's not a well-rounded option. None of it matters if he continues to get open and make plays.
Baltimore looked like it had a severe deficiency in its passing game after trading Marquise Brown to the Arizona Cardinals during the NFL draft. The team didn't address wide receiver beyond that point.
Instead, general manager Eric DeCosta invested in Kolar and Likely. If the latter continues to play as well as he has so far, the team found itself exactly what it needed in the passing game.