Preseason Week 1 Takeaways: Grading NFL's Top Rookies from Thursday's Games
The 2019 NFL preseason technically got underway last Thursday in Canton, but the majority of the league's teams launched their exhibition schedules this Thursday.
And while there was a lot to watch in the 11 games that took place throughout the country Thursday evening, most eyes were focused on about a dozen notable rookies who were making their NFL debuts.
Here are our key rookie-related takeaways from the night that was, along with grades for those who stood out in their maiden NFL voyages.
Daniel Jones Is Perfect Thus Far
You might still think the New York Giants made a bad decision by using a No. 6 overall pick on quarterback Daniel Jones, but it's hard to find find a problem with Jones' preseason debut.
The Duke product was a perfect 5-of-5 for 67 yards in his lone drive Thursday against the New York Jets, capping said possession with a 12-yard touchdown throw to Bennie Fowler. The pass to Fowler was a work of art, and that was set up by a picturesque 31-yard play-action strike to Cody Latimer.
It's a small sample, but Jones couldn't have asked for a better start against a solid defense with veteran receivers in his arsenal.
Now we'll see if he can keep building on that in practice in the lead up to Big Blue's second preseason game next Friday against the Chicago Bears. If he can, the pressure will rise for the Giants to ditch Eli Manning in favor of Jones from the get-go in 2019.
Kyler Murray Looked the Part
Unlike Daniel Jones, Arizona Cardinals rookie quarterback Kyler Murray threw an incomplete pass Thursday night.
One of them, at least.
Murray was 6-of-7 for 44 yards on his only drive of the night against the Los Angeles Chargers, taking the Cards from the shadow of their own end zone to regain strong field position. That alone might not be glorious, but Murray looked and felt like the special quarterback he was in college on most of his dropbacks.
That's the key. His passes were loaded with zip, he displayed his trademark speed and mobility in the pocket, and his only truly "negative play" was a five-yard sack in which he smartly avoided a potential big hit.
Murray is basically certain to start Week 1 for the Cardinals, and he's the betting favorite to win Offensive Rookie of the Year for a reason. He didn't make any splashy plays Thursday, but he definitely came out of this game in better shape than he entered it.
Dwayne Haskins Has Work to Do
It wasn't all bad for Washington Redskins quarterback Dwayne Haskins in his preseason debut, but the first-round pick out of Ohio State did not look prepared to be an NFL starter.
He did complete a couple of nice deep throws—including his first of the night on an impressive roll-out—but the Redskins offense generated just three points on his six possessions under center.
He appears to have the physical tools, and his receivers weren't providing a lot of help Thursday. There's room for improvement, but this wasn't the type of debut that'll move the 22-year-old to the top of the quarterback depth chart in D.C.
He'll need a stronger performance next week against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Baby Steps for Drew Lock
One week after averaging just 3.1 yards per pass attempt in his first NFL preseason game, Denver Broncos second-round rookie Drew Lock showed signs of progress with a 17-of-28, 180-yard, one-touchdown, one-pick performance against the Seattle Seahawks.
He isn't exactly applying pressure to veteran starter Joe Flacco, but he needed a better performance and delivered. Lock led a 60-yard drive that resulted in a field goal on his first possession of the game, completing five of seven passes for 55 yards in the process. And he flashed his athleticism with a tremendous fake-out on an eight-yard fourth-down run to keep that drive going.
Twenty-four of Lock's yards came on a short screen to Nick Williams that Williams turned up the field for big yards after the catch, but the Missouri product had to make a quick decision under immediate pressure there. He came through, and earlier on that drive, he made a perfect throw to tight end Troy Fumagalli to convert a third down.
Later, he led a long scoring drive that culminated in a touchdown pass to Devontae Jackson and was followed by a nice throw for a two-point conversion.
He wasn't perfect. He was way too slow to detect and react to pressure before taking a sack for a safety, and he didn't dominate as much as he could have against reserve Seahawks defenders. But it wasn't an utter disaster, which is actually a small step in the right direction.
Ed Oliver Was Very Active for the Bills
Those watching the Indianapolis Colts-Buffalo Bills tilt heard Ed Oliver's name several times in the first half, which is generally a positive sign for a somewhat raw rookie making his debut.
The No. 9 overall pick out of Houston had his hands full with Colts star guard Quenton Nelson, but he routinely hung in with the reigning All-Pro, flashing big-man strength on several occasions. At other times, Nelson got the best of Oliver, who was held off the stat sheet.
Nonetheless, it's good that he was active and sometimes pretty effective against stiff competition.
Remember, just last month, Bills general manager Brandon Beane remarked that the 21-year-old has "a long way to go."
Devin Singletary Flashes His Skills as a Runner and a Receiver
On the other side of the ball in Buffalo, it became apparent early on that rookie third-round pick Devin Singletary will be a key part of the Bills offense. The Florida Atlantic product carried the ball four times and caught three passes on a second-quarter scoring drive.
To be clear, a heavy dose of Singletary in the first half of the team's first preseason game doesn't mean he'll be the focal point of the Buffalo offense. But it's a great sign that he had an impressive 10-yard catch in the red zone, and he ran the ball damn hard, as well.
LeSean McCoy and Frank Gore are the top threats in the Buffalo backfield, but those dudes are also ancient in running back terms. Singletary is extremely intriguing after rushing for over 4,200 yards and scoring 67 total touchdowns in three collegiate seasons.
He'll get his chances, and he helped himself with 48 yards on 12 touches in the preseason opener.
An Up-and-Down Debut for Greedy Williams
As is often the case for rookies at tough positions in their first NFL games, top Cleveland Browns draft pick Greedy Williams produced a mixed bag in Thursday's opener against the Washington Redskins.
The former LSU cornerback appeared to blow his assignment on a comically easy Case Keenum touchdown pass to Robert Davis in the first quarter, but he at least battled back and intercepted Dwayne Haskins just outside the red zone late in the first half.
Frankly, it was an easy pick. But Williams still had to overcome any potential yips from that first-quarter mistake and make the play. He came through, and that should at least help his confidence.
Williams didn't stand out one way or the other outside of that play, but the bad probably still outweighed the good on an active night for the second-round pick.
N'Keal Harry Makes an Early Impression for the Patriots
N'Keal Harry is the first wide receiver ever drafted by Bill Belichick in the first round. And with Rob Gronkowski and Chris Hogan gone and Julian Edelman, Cameron Meredith and Demaryius Thomas all hurt, he's under a ton of pressure entering his rookie campaign with the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.
So far, so good.
The Arizona State product wasn't working with Tom Brady Thursday night against the Detroit Lions, but he caught both passes thrown his way early.
One was a critical third-down grab inside the Detroit red zone on a drive that led to a touchdown, while the other was a 25-yard deep completion that set up another touchdown drive.
If he can keep it up, that's the stuff Brady will appreciate.
It wasn't a huge night for Harry, but it was still a promising one based on those two professional plays.
Andre Dillard Might Be Ready Now
It's not easy to evaluate an offensive lineman live in a preseason game, but the Thursday night reviews for Philadelphia Eagles rookie offensive tackle Andre Dillard are impossible to ignore.
The Washington State product was drafted 22nd overall as a potential long-term replacement for 37-year-old superstar left tackle Jason Peters. But if he continues to perform the way he did against the Tennessee Titans in Philly's preseason opener, it'll be hard to keep him off the field.
Dillard was roundly lauded on Twitter for his performance—particularly his pass protection. The tape backed it up. He looked confident, strong and flat-out unbeatable.
Again, closer examination of said tape could reveal some areas that need improvement, but Dillard's play was close to flawless on an initial review.
We'll see if he can keep it rolling next week against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Brian Burns Might Be the Answer in Carolina
Just months after legendary Carolina Panthers pass-rusher Julius Peppers retired, the Carolina Panthers used a first-round draft pick on a pure edge-rusher for the first time since they took Peppers second overall in 2002.
And in the extremely early stages of Burns' Carolina career, it looks as though the polished defensive end out of Florida State is ready to take the reins for a defense in desperate need of an elite pass-rushing threat.
He probably shouldn't have slid beyond the top 15 picks in the draft, and the established 21-year-old is already proving several teams made a mistake by passing on him.
Again, it's early, and Burns wasn't consistently dominant outside of those two plays. But those weren't coverage sacks in which he was in the right place at the right time. He's already making plays, and that's a good omen.
David Montgomery Looks Special in Chicago
With Jordan Howard gone, the Chicago Bears will look for rookie third-round pick David Montgomery to play a huge role at running back in 2019. And while the Iowa State product rushed for just 16 yards against the Panthers on Thursday night, he did so on three carries while adding 30 yards on three catches in what was one of the strongest performances of the night.
Montgomery showed off his hands, he flashed his cut-back ability, he broke several tackles, he picked up a first down on a splendid catch-and-run that started behind the line of scrimmage, and his vision was impeccable on several of those plays.
Montgomery is a smart, instinctive, well-balanced runner with a bright future. He also looks pro-ready after compiling over 2,800 scrimmage yards while scoring 24 touchdowns the last two years in the Big 12.
And on Thursday, he revealed that to the NFL world in his preseason debut.
Christian Wilkins Could Provide Silver Lining in Miami
The box score indicates Miami Dolphins rookie defensive tackle Christian Wilkins recorded a mere two solo tackles with no sacks or forced fumbles in his preseason debut Thursday against the Atlanta Falcons, but a review of the tape from the first half shows he consistently wreaked havoc in the trenches.
Travis Wingfield of the Locked on Dolphins podcast highlighted an example, but there were several second-quarter plays in which Wilkins was a clear-cut winner. He had no trouble gaining leverage, and he was relentless once that happened.
This might not be a pretty year for the Dolphins, but at first glance, it looks as though they've got something special brewing within the interior of the defensive line.
It's just a matter of time before the former Clemson star begins turning those quality snaps into splash plays.