The NFL season finally kicked off and various rookie expectations were at an all time high. Who dominated on each side of the ball in their pro debuts? I’ll hand out offensive and defensive game balls to answer that.
Over on the college side the action will get much better in week three as we have a tiger vs. tiger fight with LSU traveling to Auburn. There are a ton of prospects on the draft radar in this matchup you won’t want to miss.
The Browns surprised many by naming undrafted free agent Desmond Harrison their week one starter at left tackle. With mixed opinions on how he fared, I jumped into the film room to watch all of his snaps with NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein and USA Today’s Jeff Risdon.
Finally, there’s always a ton of buzz going around in the NFL. I’ll wrap up this week’s with a bombshell on why one new coaching regime is off to a nightmarish start.
Week 1 Rookie Game Balls
Offense: Sam Darnold, QB, New York Jets
It was a disastrous start for Sam Darnold, who threw a pick six on his very first pass attempt. This is also known as the Brett Favre and Jameis Winston club, which is quite the quarterback spectrum.
After that, it was all gravy for the only rookie signal caller to get the week one start, completing 16 of his 20 passes for two touchdowns.
Offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates did a great job scheming players open (hello, Quincy Enunwa) all game while leaning on the run to open up the pass, but Darnold went out and executed the offense.
He looked poised, mobile and was relatively accurate on all of his throws. The Jets defense has plenty of talent and their run game should be efficient. They don’t need Darnold to be a hero, but they do need him to take care of the ball and create on his own at times.
In his debut on the road at Detroit he stepped up to the test after a brutal start, helping the Jets to a blowout win and a 1-0 start.
Defense: Denzel Ward, CB, Cleveland Browns
When the Browns selected Denzel Ward over pass rusher Bradley Chubb with the fourth overall pick in the draft, I was stunned.
As much as I loved Ward, it felt like the premium placed on pass rushers and the sky high grades on Chubb would lead to him being called first.
After asking around league circles what the Browns thought process was I came across one simple, consistent theme: “Gregg (Williams) needs corners.”
It’s more complicated than that. Williams needs superb athletes that can mirror flawlessly in man coverage for his scheme. He knows Myles Garrett will get home eventually to disrupt the quarterback, but how confident could he be in the Browns secondary?
With Ward in the fold, answers have come quickly. The ball skills, the speed, even the physicality for a player his size flashes on film. In a debut where he snagged two interceptions, he was a star.
Cornerback is one of the hardest positions to play as a rookie in the NF, but Ward didn’t look a step behind. I know we beat this into the ground, but the Browns are getting close. Ward is yet another promising piece to a puzzle thats trending more towards ‘solved’ than a mess on the table.
Prospect Game Of The Week: LSU @ Auburn, 3:30 ET
The 12th ranked LSU Tigers go on the road to take on the 7th ranked Auburn Tigers, an opportunity for the squad from Baton Rouge to prove they are ready to take the next step this season.
In a matchup that has huge implications on the college football landscape, it also will be a huge showcase for the draft eligible prospects on the field.
Let’s start with Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham. If you listened to Stick to Football this week, you already know NFL scouts are all over Stidham. As Matt Miller told me on the show, Stidham has the type of skillset that teams will covet in the first round.
If you’re betting on any quarterbacks to separate themselves from the pack in this group, it starts with Stidham and Oregon’s Justin Herbert.
This matchup is especially intriguing because he’ll be throwing against an NFL caliber corner in LSU’s Greedy Williams. With length, size and speed Williams is the complete package. It would be a shock if he’s not the first defensive back off the board in April, with the potential to be selected in the top 15.
In front of Williams is off-ball linebacker Devin White. The former running back has tremendous speed and pursuit ability, but needs to work on fighting through traffic and disengaging from blockers. He has one of the highest ceilings of any defender in this draft, but is currently projected as a day two pick.
On the other side of the ball for LSU under the draft spotlight is guard Garrett Brumfield, a nasty interior presence with a brutal challenge in front of him in the Auburn defensive line. With 15 starts under his belt, it’ll be his job to set the tone up front to protect quarterback Joe Burrow.
Speaking of that Auburn defensive line, I loved what I saw from defensive end Nick Coe against Washington in week one. He’s powerful, explosive and plays a thousand miles per house up front.
After an impressive 2017 season making the SEC All-Freshman squad, he’s ready to take on a full time role and develop into a difference maker on the edge.
I love this LSU team, especially the energy they play with, but I can’t see Auburn losing this one at home. Expect a close, low scoring game where the Tigers in navy and burnt orange come out on top.
Rookie Film Review: Browns LT Desmond Harrison
There were a lot of mixed opinions on how Desmond Harrison held up in his pro debut, a difficult assignment for any rookie let alone an undrafted player.
To get to the bottom of this, Lance Zierlein from nfl.com hosted a film session with Jeff Risdon and I as mentioned above. We dove into all of Harrison’s snaps which ranged from rock solid to sloppy.
The smooth, athletic tackle has had an interesting football career. He was dismissed from Texas for breaking various rules under Charlie Strong, eventually made his way to West Georgia where he started for one full season.
He’s always had high end talent and top notch athleticism for his size, but character concerns centered around work ethic and discipline plagued him for years. The Browns have worked hard to coach him up this Summer (even after he missed some time) and it was clear why they are invested in his potential.
He has great feet that allow him to mirror pass rushers and rarely get beat by speed off the edge. On a majority of plays he finished blocks through the whistle, displaying a tone setting mean streak. The most surprising was his awareness, where he made adjustments better than expected against different stunts and pressure.
As for the bad, core strength and the overall trust in it is an issue for Harrison. It causes him to bend at the waist when he clearly has concern over his ability to anchor. At times, he was slow out of his stance and hesitant to punch as quickly as necessary.
The two false starts he was flagged for were frustrating, but a lack of experience (he was not playing with the starters in camp) could be attributed to that. Overall, while he was far from lights out, the tape was much better than the ‘stats’ surrounding him indicated.
For the full scouting notes from the film session, Jeff wrote them all up here.
What’s The Buzz: The Patricia Problem
It might seem like kicking them while they’re down after a 48-17 home loss to the Jets in week one, but there are serious concerns with the Detroit Lions right now.
Word trickling out of the organization is that there is a belief players are not only disgruntled with new head coach Matt Patricia, but quit on him in the second half in their week one game.
This didn’t begin when things got tough in a brutal opener. It dates back to Summer, specifically in training camp where Patricia got his first extended chance to develop a relationship with players on the roster.
One of the most questionable decisions in the Monday night meltdown was making defensive lineman A’Shawn Robinson inactive. In what’s widely considered one of the weakest position groups on the team, the Lions defensive line got blown off the ball allowing 169 rushing yards on 36 attempts.
Even more concerning? A large chunk of those yards came in the first three quarters, when the Jets weren’t trying to just run out the clock.
It’s not all doom and gloom yet, but first impressions matter. The Patricia era started with an absolute dud in that category and needs to reverse course quickly.