Preseason Week 2 Report Cards for Notable Rookies
We’re halfway through the NFL preseason now that Week 2 has concluded. For most projected starters, Weeks 2 and 3 are the most important since those games usually feature a higher workload. Rookies are looking to take incremental steps every game as they adjust to the playing field.
A lot of kinks can appear for rookies while they acclimate to a new environment and higher quality of competition. It can take a year or more for young players to really hit their stride, if it ever happens. The instant-impact rookies generally begin to show their special talent right now, though.
We’ll continue to recap how well the 2015 rookie class is doing every week. Based on their performances in Week 2 of the preseason, we’ve assigned a grade for how well each notable rookie played. Some players will rotate in and out of the list as others emerge with a great performance or fall off with a disappointing game.
After checking out how we graded 10 notable rookies who were selected within the first 20 picks during the 2015 draft, leave your grades for each in the comments. Be sure to come back to see how they’re progressing every week, too.
Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
After a debut that was littered with borderline recklessness, Jameis Winston bounced back with an excellent showing in Week 2. His 8-of-13 performance for 90 yards and a rushing touchdown was a much better outing than in Week 1. Most notable was how Winston produced those numbers.
One of his biggest strengths as a player is his ability to anticipate where his receivers will be and when. He had three such throws that really emphasize his immense upside. The rest of his passing attempts were still more accurate than what we saw in Week 1.
Winston seemed more confident and comfortable inside the pocket. His offensive line did him no favors, which led to a rolled ankle. But this was a performance that the Buccaneers should be happy with.
Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans
The second overall pick in 2015, Marcus Mariota bounced back from a rocky performance in his debut to play closer to the level the Tennessee Titans need. He coughed up two turnovers in Week 1 but cut that number down to zero this week. He did throw two ducks that were nearly intercepted, though.
That said, the positives outweighed the negatives in Week 2. He again showed poise in the pocket and delivered several sharp throws. His roll-out pass to tight end Craig Stevens for 35 yards illustrated exactly why Mariota was a top-two pick in the draft.
There’s a lot to build on for Mariota from this game. He must be mindful of his throwing mechanics, as his arm wasn’t good enough to overcome sloppy footwork on a few throws. But his talent is starting to shine through.
Amari Cooper, Oakland Raiders
The Oakland Raiders haven’t given their first-team offense a ton of snaps thus far, averaging 18 in the first two weeks, per Pro Football Focus. Even in that little time, we’ve seen some major positives from rookie receiver Amari Cooper. He had a 40-yard reception in Week 2, which highlighted his speed and natural receiving prowess.
It’s not as if Cooper was playing against a slouch, either. Vikings starting cornerback Terence Newman had no chance as Cooper sped by him to the sideline to make the catch. The rookie not only burned the cornerback but made an over-the-shoulder catch and managed to get both feet in bounds just in time.
Cooper’s impact this season should be significant. He’s a threat on all levels of the field, which will force secondaries to account for his presence on every play. Now it’s up to Derek Carr to deliver the ball for Cooper to make plays on.
Brandon Scherff, Washington Redskins
The preseason is the perfect place to work out technique issues and see what weaknesses must be addressed before the games really mean something. Going through a position change only adds to the amount of responsibility shouldered. Washington Redskins guard Brandon Scherff is learning this the hard way.
His play against the Detroit Lions was worrisome. The move to guard was supposed to accentuate Scherff’s skill set, but it actually has exploited his poor lower-body technique in passing plays. He allowed a sack in Week 2, and Lions defensive tackle Tyrunn Walker threw him around too easily.
The most concerning part of Scherff’s play is his difficulty with the run game. Athletically, he should be a perfect fit for right guard, but he just hasn’t shown the technique to succeed. He must turn things around quickly, or the Redskins may be in for a long season.
Leonard Williams, New York Jets
Defensive end Leonard Williams was arguably the most talented player in the 2015 draft. The New York Jets didn’t exactly need him with the sixth pick, but he represented too much value to pass up. The suspension of Sheldon Richardson for four games and questions about Muhammad Wilkerson's future with New York make Williams a critical piece to the team's long-term plans.
His second preseason game was filled with flashes of greatness. In just 16 snaps, he established himself as the most talented player in the defensive front seven. We’ll see if it continues into the next game, but Week 2 was wonderful for Williams.
According to Pro Football Focus, he had four stops in the run game in addition to his two sacks. He also hit the quarterback on another snap. That’s seven snaps in which he directly impacted the game to a great extent. That’s a masterful performance from any player, much less a rookie.
Vic Beasley, Atlanta Falcons
The Atlanta Falcons must have been ecstatic when former Clemson pass-rusher Vic Beasley fell into their laps with the eighth overall pick. He is an elite athlete and has the production throughout his collegiate career to deserve to be picked so high. So far through the preseason, Beasley is showing he may have been a steal.
Not only did the Falcons need to significantly upgrade their pass-rush situation, but they needed an instant-impact player. Beasley was electric in Week 2 of the preseason, showing that he will be ready to start in the regular season. He was as disruptive as anyone could have hoped against a good New York Jets offensive line.
According to Pro Football Focus, Beasley filled the stat sheet as well. He had one quarterback hit, logged an additional quarterback hurry and batted down a pass. He’ll quickly rise to a primary pass-rusher if he can continue being that much of a force at the line of scrimmage.
Ereck Flowers, New York Giants
When the New York Giants announced left tackle William Beatty would miss significant time with a pectoral injury, rookie Ereck Flowers had his welcome-to-the-NFL moment. He is tasked with protecting quarterback Eli Manning in a contract year for the two-time Super Bowl champion.
No pressure, rookie.
Flowers’ second preseason game featured some good moments in both pass protection and run blocking. His run blocking wasn’t really the question when he was drafted, as he routinely showed great strength in college. His athleticism is a big plus as well.
Pass protection was the question, though. Pro Football Focus had Flowers giving up one quarterback hurry in 40 snaps, which is a great ratio. His film backed this up, as Manning routinely had time to stand tall in the pocket.
Flowers’ ability to be a reliable left tackle will valuable for the Giants in the short and long term.
Trae Waynes, Minnesota Vikings
After a brutal showing in the Hall of Fame Game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Vikings cornerback Trae Waynes has started to look more comfortable. Due to the extra preseason game, Waynes now has three games of film to look at. There’s no doubt he has already improved.
That doesn’t mean that Waynes is fault-free. He allowed a reception of 39 yards against the Oakland Raiders on a quick throw and missed a tackle. Those are the big plays he must eliminate.
The rest of his performance was good, though. He logged a pass breakup and allowed only one other catch for eight yards. Slowly but surely, Waynes is showing why the Minnesota Vikings selected him with their first-round pick.
Marcus Peters, Kansas City Chiefs
If you were just looking at what happened on the field in college, Marcus Peters was an elite NFL prospect. However, his resume at Washington was littered with various off-field issues, which led to his dismissal. So far, he has seemed to learn from his mistakes and is showing that same talent in the NFL.
Peters’ second preseason game featured a tackle and a pass breakup that highlighted his natural ball skills. He dove at the last second to bat down a pass from quarterback Russell Wilson, which forced the Seahawks to punt. Those types of plays can be game-changing.
According to Pro Football Focus, Peters allowed just one catch on four targets. Even then, the reception he allowed came in off-man coverage, so there wasn’t much he could do. The ceiling is sky-high for Peters.
Nelson Agholor, Philadelphia Eagles
The Philadelphia Eagles’ first-round pick continues to dazzle in limited playing time. Wide receiver Nelson Agholor followed up his excellent debut in Week 1 with another promising performance in Week 2. Working with the first team and quarterback Sam Bradford, Agholor accumulated four receptions for 49 yards, with a long of 20.
Although Agholor didn’t notch another receiving touchdown like he had in the first week, he also didn’t have a dropped pass. Establishing more consistency by eliminating negative plays will only help him earn more playing time as a rookie. His positive plays are seemingly more inevitable than the bad.
Slot receiver Jordan Matthews may lead the Eagles in receptions this year, but Agholor should see a lot of targets. He gets open with such ease that Bradford will love to look his way. Watch for Agholor to continue to build momentum as a standout rookie.
All stats used are from Sports-Reference.com.
Ian Wharton is an NFL Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.