With the first week of preseason games in the books, it was time to pop in the tape and hand out some grades based on performance. This week, we will take a long, hard look at some of the rookies making their NFL debuts over the weekend. With my red pen in hand, I chose one notable rookie per game, and they are arranged below according to grade, as you can see below:
BEARS vs. PANTHERS: Bears RB David Montgomery
Drafted: Round 3, No. 73 overall
I don’t know if the Bears are passing out game balls after preseason games, but No. 32 deserves one following his impressive showing against the Panthers. Montgomery tallied 46 scrimmage yards and a touchdown on six touches while exhibiting the silky smooth running style and dynamic pass-catching ability that made him a star at Iowa State. Not only did Montgomery look like an RB1, but he might be a sleeper candidate for Offensive Rookie of the Year.
CARDINALS vs. CHARGERS: Cardinals QB Kyler Murray
Drafted: Round 1, No. 1 overall
The No. 1 overall pick looked the part during a razor-sharp opening drive against the Chargers that featured six completions in seven throws. Murray peppered Los Angeles with an assortment of quick-rhythm throws, mixing in a screen pass to his running back to take advantage of an aggressive defensive front. The Cards’ QB1 looked comfortable and confident directing the unit down the field. If Murray’s sensational debut is any indication of how he will play when the regular season commences, Cardinals fans are in for a treat, with the ultimate dual-threat playmaker at the helm.
49ERS vs. COWBOYS: 49ers WR Deebo Samuel
Drafted: Round 2, No. 36 overall
Niners coach Kyle Shanahan might’ve found his WR1, with the South Carolina product looking like an absolute stud on the perimeter in his preseason debut against the Cowboys. Samuel not only hauled in a deep ball on a wicked stutter-and-go move, but he added some sizzle to the 49ers’ rushing attack with a 14-yard run on an end-around. The 5-foot-11, 214-pound playmaker is the kind of “catch-and-run” specialist that typically shines in Shanahan’s system, and it looks like the crafty play-caller is going to get the ball into No. 19’s hands early and often this season.
RAVENS vs. JAGUARS: Vikings K Kaare Vedvik
I’m bending the rules of this piece slightly for Vedvik, who signed with the Ravens in 2018 but spent last season on the non-football injury list and thus is functionally all but a rookie, because his case is so unique. It is uncommon for a placekicker to garner significant attention, but Vedvik landed on several teams’ radars thanks to an impressive training camp performance in 2018 that included an 89 percent conversion rate (8 of 9) during the preseason. Vedvik picked up where he left off with a strong showing in Baltimore’s win over the Jaguars, finishing with a perfect night on field goals (4 of 4, including a 55-yarder) and a pair of 50-plus yard punts. The performance was so good, in fact, that the Vikings were enticed into giving the Ravens a fifth-round pick for the emerging star.
DOLPHINS vs. FALCONS: Dolphins WR Preston Williams
The Dolphins might’ve unearthed a hidden gem when they signed Williams. The 6-4, 211-pound pass-catcher has all of the tools to be a No. 1 receiver, based on the brief glimpses that he displayed in the preseason opener against the Falcons. Williams finished the night with four receptions for 97 yards, logging a few jaw-dropping catches that showcased his exceptional hands and nimble footwork. No. 82’s impressive “toe drag swag” on an 18-yard sideline reception was a thing of beauty, and it highlighted the hand-eye coordination and dexterity that could make him a Michael Thomas-like playmaker for the Dolphins on the perimeter.
STEELERS vs. BUCCANEERS: Steelers LB Devin Bush
Drafted: Round 1, No. 10 overall
The Steelers’ No. 1 pick is better than advertised as a disruptive force between the tackles. Bush is a Tasmanian devil within the box, exhibiting a combination of speed, quickness and burst that enables him to track down runners quickly on off-tackle runs. Additionally, Bush shows the athleticism, quickness and instincts to be effective in coverage between the hashes. Bush didn’t get a perfect score because he fell off a few tackles and didn’t produce a game-changing splash play during his time on the field. While the highlights were certainly spectacular, No. 55 needs to continue to work on his angles in pursuit to eliminate any missed tackles.
GIANTS vs. JETS: Giants QB Daniel Jones
Drafted: Round 1, No. 6 overall
The narrative is beginning to change around the New York Giants’ future QB1 after he engineered a touchdown drive as a part of a spectacular debut vs. the Jets. Jones not only displayed impressive accuracy and ball placement as a rhythm passer, but he showed outstanding touch and anticipation firing the ball to open receivers on the perimeter. Despite a flawless performance on the stat sheet, I dinged Jones on his touchdown pass because it could’ve been intercepted if the defender had played the receiver correctly. Yes. I’m nitpicking, but perfect scores should be hard to attain.
PACKERS vs. TEXANS: Packers C/G Elgton Jenkins
Drafted: Round 2, No. 44 overall
The second-round pick is making a serious run at Lane Taylor’s left guard position. The versatile interior blocker is an A-level athlete with the movement skills, balance and body control to dance with defenders at the line of scrimmage or climb onto linebackers at the second level. He logged 45 snaps at center and guard against the Texans while displaying the persistence and determination to finish defenders at the end of runs. Moreover, Jenkins confirmed to Packers’ officials that he is a perfect fit for new coach Matt LaFleur’s scheme. In spite of a pretty solid debut, Jenkins fell short of a perfect score because of a few unfinished blocks. Remember, A-grades are issued for flawless performances; the Packers’ first-year blocker needs to clean up a few issues before becoming a teacher’s pet.
CHIEFS vs. BENGALS: Chiefs WR Mecole Hardman
Drafted: Round 2, No. 56 overall
The Chiefs added another explosive weapon to the lineup when they snagged the former Georgia standout in the second round. Hardman’s speed (he posted a 4.33-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine) and explosiveness jumped off the tape, particularly on his 17-yard touchdown on a jet sweep against the Bengals. Although Hardman’s spectacular touchdown certainly showcased his big-play potential, the Georgia standout didn’t receive a perfect score due to limited opportunities in the passing game. No. 17 will enter the season at the bottom of the totem pole when it comes touches, but he could become a major contributor as another big-play specialist on the perimeter.
LIONS vs. PATRIOTS: Patriots QB Jarrett Stidham
Drafted: Round 4, No. 133 overall
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and the Patriots’ coaching staff do an outstanding job of getting young QB1s ready to play through creative scheming and play design. McDaniels was certainly on his game when he helped Stidham complete 14 of 24 passes for 179 yards and a score against the Lions. Yes, the Patriots’ clever play design consistently produced open receivers, but Stidham deserves credit for routinely hitting the strike zone with his passes on nearly all of his attempts. With a few dropped passes skewing his stat line, No. 4’s imperfect score is due primarily to the execution of his teammates.
SEAHAWKS vs. BRONCOS: Broncos QB Drew Lock
Drafted: Round 2, No. 42 overall
The Broncos’ young quarterback isn’t quite ready to challenge Joe Flacco for the QB1 spot, but he does flash big-time potential whenever he steps between the lines. Lock dazzles as a flamethrower delivering fastballs to receivers in tight windows while also showing a deft touch when connecting with running backs and tight ends on checkdowns to the flat. No. 3 has the potential to be a top-10 player at the position if he can eliminate the scattershot throws and poor decisions that eventually lead to turnovers. Lock improved from the Hall of Fame Game (7 of 11 for 34 yards, zero TDs and a 68.0 passer rating) to Week 1 (17 of 28 for 180 yards, one TD, one INT and a 76.5 passer rating), but he still has a ways to go before he can challenge for a starting job.
SAINTS vs. VIKINGS: Vikings RB Alexander Mattison
Drafted: Round 3, No. 102 overall
The third-round pick logged snaps with the starters and the second team while putting on a solid showing against the Saints. Despite totaling only 31 scrimmage yards on 10 touches (nine rushes and one reception), Mattison should’ve caught the eyes of Vikings’ officials with his versatility and toughness as an RB1. He plowed through the line with force on inside runs and flashed soft hands on the 1-yard touchdown reception that capped the team’s first drive. If Mattison wants to lock up the RB2 job as a rookie, he will need to find a way to pick up positive yards when holes are messy between the tackles.
BILLS vs. COLTS: Bills RB Devin Singletary
Drafted: Round 3, No. 74 overall
The rookie standout from Florida Atlantic didn’t put up gaudy numbers (nine rushes for 27 yards and three receptions for 21 yards), but he certainly showed flashes of the speed, quickness and burst that enabled him to rush for 4,200-plus yards and 66 touchdowns in three college seasons. Singletary’s wiggle in the hole and his solid receiving skills should make him a solid option as a complementary weapon in a deep and talented backfield. To carve out a role as a complementary back, he will need to improve on the yards-per-carry mark he recorded (3.0) against the Colts’ backups.
BROWNS vs. REDSKINS: Redskins QB Dwayne Haskins
Drafted: Round 1, No. 15 overall
The Redskins threw their rookie quarterback into the deep end of the pool against the Browns to see if he would sink or swim. After watching the rookie toss a pair of interceptions, including a pick-six to Browns linebacker Mack Wilson on an underthrown wheel route down the boundary, it became clear that coach Jay Gruden probably should’ve put some floaties on Haskins. Despite those miscues, Haskins flashed impressive arm talent throwing a handful of dimes to receivers at short and intermediate range, while also showing better than expected movement skills on bootlegs and zone-read plays. In this league, games are frequently decided by the turnover margin, meaning Haskins’ interceptions warrant an average score.
EAGLES vs. TITANS: Eagles RB Miles Sanders
Drafted: Round 2, No. 53 overall
It’s hard to pin the blame on Sanders for his pedestrian stat line (three rushes for 3 yards) against the Titans when he played primarily behind a backup offensive line. However, you would like to see him find a way to create some production when things aren’t blocked perfectly at the line of scrimmage. With Sanders also struggling a bit in pass protection in his debut, it is hard to get excited about his potential following Week 1.
RAIDERS vs. RAMS: Rams RB Darrell Henderson
Drafted: Round 3, No. 70 overall
The offseason chatter regarding Todd Gurley’s knee made Henderson’s debut must-see TV around the league. The rookie’s premiere didn’t go according to the script, however, as Henderson finished the night with only 13 rushing yards on six carries. Although the offensive line is primarily responsible for Henderson’s putrid production, the Rams certainly expect more from their third-round pick, who led the team in rushing attempts but generated just 2.2 yards per try.
Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.