So, let’s be real here for a moment. We’re talking about week one of the preseason. I know that we’re all excited to see NFL Football, but let’s not crown a new Super Bowl Champion just yet. The best teams are showing very little of their real potential this early, using the games as extra practices, while the worst teams are getting as many reps as possible for their top talent. You want to know who went undefeated in the preseason last year? Yup, the Browns. It’s a weird time of year. That doesn’t mean we can’t watch the tape and learn some things around the league.
1. Saquon Barkley is exactly who we thought he was.
The Giants number two overall selection wasted no time whatsoever in proving that he’s going to be a force on the Giants offense this season. The first down from scrimmage was a quick run to the right side that he niftily juked and twisted into a thirty-nine-yard gain before being pushed out of bounds. He showed burst and shiftiness that’s rare in the league, but he also showed something else that doesn’t get enough credit when evaluating running backs. Patience. On all his touches, Barkley exhibited a willingness to let plays develop in front of him that will remind fans of Le’Veon Bell. And when he hits the jets, it’s a thing to behold. The G-Men didn’t do a lot of work with their first-string offense against Cleveland, but man, does Barkley look like the real deal. He’s out of practice early this week with a minor hamstring strain, but if he can stay healthy, he could easily be a top five back this season. I’m pretty sure that despite the meaningless preseason win, the Browns lost the war by letting Barkley fall to the Giants.
2. The Patriots have some work to do on defense.
It’s not so much the number of yards allowed (333), nor is it the seventeen points put up by Colt McCoy and the Redskins second-stringers that call attention to this fact. It’s that Bill Belichick used almost all his healthy defensive starters for a good portion of the game. Patrick Chung, yup. Stephon Gilmore, check. Eric Rowe, present. While the majority of New England’s offensive starters watched from the sidelines, many veteran defenders worked series after series. Clearly the Hoodie doesn’t love where the unit is at just yet. They did take some time to come together last season, looking awful for the first four weeks, so it’s possible that Coach Belichick just wants to get all the sloppiness out of the way before the season gets started in earnest.
3. The Jaguars are chippy. That’s a good thing.
While fans in Florida might not be happy to hear that two of Jacksonville’s top defenders have been sidelined for a week, it shows the spark and feistiness that made this team a contender last year hasn’t waned. With Jalen Ramsey and Dante Fowler sitting down, there will be plenty of chances for some of the Jags younger talent to make waves, and honestly, those two cats probably don’t need the reps. The Jaguars defense was absolutely ferocious last season, and you’ve got to like any sign, even this early in the preseason, that they will be bringing that type of fire again.
4. Not everyone is clamoring for their rookie QB, yet.
While Baker Mayfield looked composed last Thursday, it’s pretty much common knowledge that Tyrod Taylor is the overwhelming favorite to start week one. Per coach Hue Jackson, Taylor will be getting all the first team reps this preseason. That’s commitment! It won’t last, though. Cleveland is desperate for a win, and in the tough AFC North, if they go the first five games without a victory, they’ll be seeing what Mayfield can do. Buzz is high in New York, too. Sam Darnold might be the face of the future for the Jets, but he’ll need to supplant a hungry Tedy Bridgewater and last year’s surprise, journeyman Josh McCown. He’s not taking many first team reps yet, so my guess is that coach Todd Bowles wants to take his time getting Darnold ready. Hordes of typically impatient New Yorkers will likely want to see Darnold by week two. Josh Rosen is showing polish in Arizona, where he’s likely to sit behind oft-injured Sam Bradford until his number is inevitably called. No need to hurry. It’s going to happen… Buffalo moved up to grab Josh Allen, and while he has a cannon for an arm, he hasn’t looked pro-ready, showing impatience and some poor decision-making in his preseason debut. He’s mired behind both A.J. McCarron and Nathan Peterman (he of the five-interception half), so only time will tell if the Bills staff can turn his raw talent into something resembling a competitive NFL quarterback. Lamar Jackson was one of the most exciting QB’s in the draft this year, but he’s in Baltimore, behind established starter Joe Flacco, so unless an injury takes down the Ravens QB1, expect to see Jackson only in small doses once the regular season starts.
5. Defenders are still trying to get paid.
As most of the holdouts come back to camp in preparation for the season’s meaningful games, there are a few that look like they could go the distance. While Le’Veon Bell is out of Steelers camp, we all know where that’s headed. The truly interesting pieces are on the defensive side of the ball, where Aaron Donald, Khalil Mack and Earl Thomas are all locked in staring contests with their teams. Don’t be surprised to see two out of the three in different uniforms as a result. The Rams aren’t going to let Aaron Donald go anywhere, and he has by far the most leverage. Expect to see him as the highest paid defender in the league by week one. Anything else would be downright folly on the part of a team that is built not just to contend, but to be a Super Bowl winner this year. Khalil Mack in Oakland is another story entirely. He’s the best piece of a terrible defense. That’s hard to swallow as a front office. Mack is an elite talent, but Oakland got shredded all season long last year with Mack in the lineup. Are the Raiders better off trading Mack away for some younger, lower-priced talent? Most likely. The same can be said for Earl Thomas in Seattle. Rumors have swirled that the Cowboys might make a play for the former Legion of Boom free safety, but so far, the rumors have been only that.
Image Source: USA Today