What to Make of Disappointing NFL Rookie Preseasons

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistAugust 22, 2019

What to Make of Disappointing NFL Rookie Preseasons

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Through two weeks of preseason action, how are this year's rookies handling their first encounters with live NFL games?

    Some, such as New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones, Carolina Panthers edge-rusher Brian Burns and Chicago Bears running back David Montgomery, look like bona fide superstars.

    But the welcome-to-the-NFL exhibitions haven't been kind to all high-profile rookies. Some are having problems getting on the field. Others are finding difficulties on it. Some aren't matching draft-slot expectations or adequately filling the roles envisioned by the teams that grabbed them.

    Based on the early returns, these rookies have some ground to make up.

         

Washington Redskins QB Dwayne Haskins

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    Susan Walsh/Associated Press

    How he factors in

    The Washington Redskins grabbed Dwayne Haskins at No. 15 in the draft in the hopes he'd develop into a long-term answer under center. While there is an expected rookie learning curve, it made sense to think he could beat Colt McCoy and journeyman Case Keenum for the starting gig.

          

    What's wrong?

    Haskins simply hasn't shown enough. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Keenum is "tracking" to start in Week 1. It's not hard to see why. Haskins tossed two picks in his preseason debut and then went just 7-of-14 with 114 yards and a score in the second game. Take out the 55-yard touchdown (an impressive throw under pressure), and the line gets even worse.

           

    What it means

    In the big scheme of things? Not much. Haskins is having a rough time, but he's also stood in and made some good throws, and he has shown some playmaking ability as a runner. That said, he's obviously learning on the fly after just one full season as a starter at Ohio State. The upside traits are there, but it's taking longer than expected for him to grasp some general NFL items (getting calls in, understanding tighter throwing windows).

Green Bay Packers DL Rashan Gary

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    Mike Roemer/Associated Press

    How he factors in

    In a perfect world, a top-12 player like Rashan Gary would make an immediate impact for the Green Bay Packers. Gary was viewed as a boom-or-bust prospect who leaned into his athleticism, so the team was counting on his winning at the point of attack to boost a reshaped pass rush.

          

    What's wrong?

    Gary is doing more thinking on the field than actual playing. As NFL.com's Bucky Brooks wrote:

    "Despite playing significant snaps for the Packers on Thursday, No. 52 didn't make much of an impact against the Ravens. He failed to record a tackle or generate a pressure, which is disappointing from the No. 12 overall pick. The rookie struggles to finish his pass-rush efforts -- his inability to corral the quarterback after a winning move is a bit of a concern for a player expected to make an impact early."

           

    What it means

    Gary's struggles are more concerning than most. He was a controversial pick, and predictably, pros have neutralized the athletic edge he flashed in college. His play seems to slow down as he tries to think (he got fooled on a bootleg, for example) in real time. Some of that will go away as he adapts, which is what the preseason is for, but there is plenty of room for improvement.

Seattle Seahawks WR DK Metcalf

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    Stephen Brashear/Associated Press

    How he factors in

    The Seattle Seahawks got a good-looking value with receiver DK Metcalf in the second round, which became even more important once Doug Baldwin retired. Metcalf always faced a challenging transition, but Russell Wilson was surely going to find a way to get the ball in the hands of his new, 6'4" target.

         

    What's wrong?

    Besides on-field limitations from a route-tree perspective, one of the reasons Metcalf fell in the draft was his injury history. Now two weeks into the preseason, he's undergoing knee surgery, as announced by Seahawks coach Pete Carroll. Minor surgery or not, it is a big setback for a guy who needs as many reps as possible before the games start to matter.

         

    What it means

    Should Metcalf stay healthy after this, it will look like a minor bump in the road in hindsight. He's got best-in-class potential at his position, but the reps he needed in camp and games to get acclimated to the pros now transition to Week 1, if he's even cleared to play by then.

Baltimore Ravens WR Marquise Brown

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    How he factors in

    The Baltimore Ravens made Marquise Brown the first wideout off the board this year's draft because they wanted a savvy, speedy playmaker to help along the retooled offense around Lamar Jackson. On sheer speed alone, the No. 25 overall pick was poised to stretch the field for the running game while opening things up for others like Willie Snead.

              

    What's wrong?

    This isn't so much about Brown's being hurt as what he's missing at the preseason's halfway point. He had offseason Lisfranc surgery and went on the non-football injury list before getting activated in late July.

    Ravens coach John Harbaugh explained to reporters why this is problematic: "It's all new for him—the speed of it, the thinking, the lining up, running the right route. He has a ways to go with all of that. I'm confident he'll get there, and we'll know what to do to use him, how to use him early in the season. But it's just great work for him."

    That's reminiscent of 2017 top-10 pick John Ross in Cincinnati, who had a smaller frame like Brown (5'9", 166 pounds), missed offseason time and didn't have any impact as a rookie.

             

    What it means

    Proper coaching can only do so much for Brown at this point. He hasn't had the chance to adapt to the pro game via live reps, nor has he established much rapport with his quarterback. This will change over the long term provided he can stay on the field, but it could derail the early portion of the season for the draft's top receiver.

New England Patriots WR N'Keal Harry

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    Duane Burleson/Associated Press

    How he factors in

    Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots don't often draft wideouts early. Pair that with the loss of tight end Rob Gronkowski, and it was easy to think they hoped for an immediate impact from No. 32 pick N'Keal Harry.

         

    What's wrong?

    Harry caught two passes in the preseason but then got hurt and is fighting off hamstring and toe or ankle injuries. Before that, he was outplayed by undrafted receiver Jakobi Meyers. To top it all off, Julian Edelman and Demaryius Thomas are back on the field, and Josh Gordon doesn't seem far off after reinstatement, which means Harry's head start has evaporated.

         

    What it means

    Harry is by no means derailed for the long term. He checks a ton of boxes for NFL success and gets to go through reps with Tom Brady for at least a few years. But given the slow start, a well-known problem for rookie wideouts in New England, he might be relegated to a situational role early in his debut campaign—and he has to get healthy first.

Denver Broncos QB Drew Lock

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    How he factors in

    The Denver Broncos' revolving door at quarterback continued this offseason with the addition of Joe Flacco and second-round pick Drew Lock. The latter seemed like a good value, not to mention a potential franchise passer down the road.

         

    What's wrong?

    Lock suffered a thumb sprain that NFL Network's Ian Rapoport classified as "bad," appearing to secure the backup job for Kevin Hogan. But even before the injury setback, Lock was having problems separating from Hogan in the competition to back up Flacco.

          

    What it means

    Lock's challenges in winning the second job over Hogan (a career 59.4 percent passer) might partly explain why he fell in the draft. Lock is raw and needs time to develop, and it would have been nice for him to get in-game reps over the course of the next two weeks. Struggling to win the backup job means he won't have a chance should Flacco need to exit the lineup.

Carolina Panthers QB Will Grier

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    Brian Blanco/Associated Press

    How he factors in

    Will Grier was a third-round pick by a Carolina Panthers team that seemed to have question marks around starting quarterback Cam Newton. Many viewed Grier as an immense value as a top-100 pick and a strong backup candidate.

         

    What's wrong?

    Grier has started his first NFL preseason flat. He was 9-of-16 with a score and a pick in his debut, averaging 4.8 yards per throw, and 10-of-19 with a pick in his second game (3.9 yards per attempt). Panthers head coach Ron Rivera has confirmed Grier won't even be the backup to Newton for the third preseason game.

           

    What it means

    This situation is hard to read. Some plugged-in analysts are starting to wonder if Grier could end up cut. He had a strong college career and has some plus traits, but his subpar start could mean the Panthers have a tough decision to make, which isn't what they wanted from the 100th pick.

Detroit Lions TE T.J. Hockenson

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    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    How he factors in

    The Detroit Lions invested heavily to bring T.J. Hockenson to town, grabbing him with the No. 8 pick. He's a big (6'5") threat for the offense, and massive expectations chase him into the league. Aside from his draft stock, the Lions are still looking to recover from losing Eric Ebron, and head coach Matt Patricia has past experiences with one Rob Gronkowski.

          

    What's wrong?

    The usual tight end struggles upon arrival in the NFL. Through two preseason games, Hockenson has one catch for 22 yards.

    Terez A. Paylor of Yahoo Sports wrote: "Hockenson will likely start out the year as the Lions' No. 2 tight end behind Jesse James. How quickly he ascends from there will come down to how fast he understands defensive coverages (sight adjustments) and blocking schemes in the run game."

          

    What it means

    Little, provided fans are willing to abandon instant-gratification expectations for a top-10 pick. Tight ends typically have a tough transition to the pros. Hockenson is 22 with massive upside, so it figures to all come together at some point, but it isn't a guarantee in Year 1.