We’ve officially reached the serious portion of the NFL preseason. At least, as serious as it’s going to get.
Teams will play their starters for at least a full half and there is even a chance some will install (somewhat) of a game plan for the opposition. This is where the rookie quarterbacks, who for the most part have shined, show whether they’re ready or not.
On the college side, Week 0 is about to get underway. That’s correct, real college football will be played this Saturday, even if it’s not considered opening weekend.
As always the buzz around the league is getting louder than ever, with a large majority of it having to do with one player potentially leaving the New York Jets, while another star might be in their sights.
I’ll close this week out with a history lesson as always, so pay attention. You don’t want to be the next victim of a key quarterback problem, do you?
Preseason Performances That Matter
Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills
Allen is the most intriguing of the rookie quarterbacks because he’s facing significantly weak competition on the depth chart, but also has very little around him.
Is he ready to be the guy that elevates those around him, unlike most rookies that are asked to limit chances and take care of the ball instead?
It’s hard to tell right now. Allen has flashed playmaking ability, especially on his preseason Week 2 touchdown where he eluded a free rusher and found a target for six over the middle.
Favorite Josh Allen throw – lot of conservative throws in this one for him, but accuracy really looked improved. This was a great one as he dodges a free rusher and finds a target pic.twitter.com/1pNgzFySEN
— Connor Rogers (@ConnorJRogers) August 20, 2018
Is it fair to expect that level of play each week right now? No, but early on he looks like the Bills best option.
On the plus side, Buffalo has an impressive defense that should keep them in games. The hope with taking Allen is that he gets them over the hump on the other side of the ball in the future. Sometimes in the NFL, the future is now.
Sam Darnold, New York Jets
After a great debut, Darnold came back to earth in week two against Washington’s starting defense.
He did lead one very good drive down the field, but the Jets offense showed little in the red zone without Quincy Enunwa or Chris Herndon.
Favorite Sam Darnold throw – big time third down conversion with perfect placement. Hope he takes some shots down the field week three, but hard not to take what's given pic.twitter.com/y2AYNRgVE9
— Connor Rogers (@ConnorJRogers) August 20, 2018
Here’s the thing: this might not even be a competition anymore. Unless Darnold implodes against the Giants, all signs point to him starting Week 1 at Detroit under the Monday night lights.
Ronald Jones, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Man, it has been a disappointing summer for second-round pick Ronald Jones. He now has 11 rushing yards on 12 carries. You read that correctly, less rushing yards than actual carries (he hasn’t caught a pass either).
Guess what? He still has time to show he can be an instant impact rookie. Tampa Bay’s running back depth chart is nothing to fear and Jones is the most talented of the bunch by far.
Some players are slow starters and that’s okay. If Jones has a big Week 3 game, the Bucs should let him handle a bulk of the workload early this season.
CFB Week 0: What To Watch For
The game I’ve circled is Wyoming at New Mexico State, which kicks off Saturday night at 10 pm eastern time.
Now you’re probably thinking, why the hell would you spend your Saturday night like that? The big reason is I want to see Wyoming pass rusher Carl Granderson.
The long, stout defensive end was ultra productive in 2017, tallying 9.5 sacks with two forced fumbles as well as two interceptions.
While you’re at it, keep an eye on the guy behind him: safety Andrew Wingard. He’s a tackling machine, posting five games of double digit stops last year. With his wicked flow and heat seeking missile style, it will be hard to miss him.
2020 Radar: Najee Harris, RB, Alabama
Tracking 400+ prospects from each draft class is enough work, but sometimes a player catches your eye even when they aren’t draft eligible.
The 2020 running back class has a chance to be historic. Florida State’s Cam Akers, Georgia’s D’Andre Swift, Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor and Boston College’s A.J. Dillon instantly shined last year, but don’t sleep on Alabama’s Najee Harris.
Excited to watch Najee Harris take on a bigger role in the Alabama backfield this year – nasty running style at the second level pic.twitter.com/2JUS1jBWEQ
— Connor Rogers (@ConnorJRogers) August 22, 2018
Harris, along with Akers, was considered the gem of this group in recruiting. The issue is when you go to Alabama, it’s not always easy to get on the field right away.
The tall, powerful runner is an explosive athlete. He hurdles defenders with ease, displays a vicious stiff arm and constantly churns out extra yards at the second level of the field.
With his role expected to expand this season, he’s the star runner that isn’t getting enough hype right now.
What’s the buzz?
On my podcast Stick To The Jets this week Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News joined me to discuss a potential deal involving Teddy Bridgewater.
While there has been teams interested, the Jets haven’t found a suitor willing to pay up. After signing a very low level deal in free agency (and with the Jets in need of assets), you’d have to assume it wouldn’t take an overwhelming package to acquire the former first round pick.
While Tyrod Taylor did suffer an injury in the Browns third preseason game, they don’t seem like a logical destination. They can either start Baker Mayfield (who has looked more than capable) or give him more time by playing Drew Stanton depending on the severity of Tyrod Taylor’s injury.
My gut feeling is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers make the most sense. Ryan Fitzpatrick can’t hold the fort for three games that include a road matchup with New Orleans, then back to back home games against the Eagles and Steelers — yikes.
The biggest mystery surrounding the Bridgewater situation is what exactly the return needs to be. My best guess? A conditional fourth round pick that can become a third based on playing time or a playoff appearance.
The phones should be buzzing before August ends.
Draft History: A Simple, Yet Complicated QB Lesson
As always, let’s step into The Bert Bell Historical NFL Draft Library. Eliminate your search to only ’round’ and ‘position’ available. Now type in ‘1 qb.’
This test case certainly works for quarterbacks taken outside of Round 1 (Christian Hackenberg being example 1A) where the fail rate becomes extremely high, but let’s stick to Round 1 for today to keep things simple.
I want to talk about accuracy and how it pertains to success in the NFL. There are a lot of accurate college quarterbacks that fail, but how many relatively inaccurate college quarterbacks succeed?
It’s too early to discuss 2018, but Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson are going to be fascinating to watch as both were sub-60 percent passers at the college level.
Our most recent example of this poor a rate was Jake Locker in 2011. He went eighth overall despite completing 54 percent of his throws in college. While he improved junior and senior year, that rate across those two seasons only increased to an average of 57 percent.
Locker played for four seasons in the NFL and completed just 57.5 percent of his passes.
Two years before Locker, Matt Stafford was taken No. 1 overall. He completed 57.1 percent of his passes in college, but finished strong by completing 61.4 percent his final season.
Stafford has been a star in the NFL and his accuracy improved, as he’s completed 62 percent of his career attempts.
The contrast here is what created a fascinating, intense debate last spring over Allen. Why could things go so poorly for a guy like Locker after seeing such success for Stafford?
First of all, it does take time. In his rookie year Stafford threw for just 13 touchdowns while completing only 53.3 percent of his passes with 20 interceptions. The NFL game is not only fast, but complicated.
Second, talent around a player matters in terms of translating to the NFL. People forget this, but Chris Polk was a very good college running back for Locker to lean on. Jermaine Kearse compiled a 1,000 yard season playing with him (and has carved out a nice NFL career so far).
He wasn’t entirely alone in that Huskies offense. Zeroing in on the player, much of his accuracy issues were a product of him, not drops, poor routes, or a ‘bad offense.’
This is what makes scouting quarterbacks beyond difficult. People can slice and dice numbers anyway they want, like I just did with Locker and Stafford.
One made a significant jump over time, while the other was a bust after four years (yes, injuries took their toll but the play was always poor).
Inaccurate signal callers finding success at the next level tends to be an outlier, but the variables are limitless. Can you fix his footwork? Yes. Will the game slow down? It only gets faster, so what is his mental capacity? Will the player put in the time? Hello, Johnny Manziel.
The debate over accuracy will not end and does not need to. It just needs to be supplemented by the things that matter. It’s a simple concept in a complicated lesson.
Now go see what other outliers you can find in the draft library.