5 Rookie Preseason Storylines To Watch Tonight

Photo: Junfu Han via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Friday night’s preseason slate includes four appetizing matchups. Several noteworthy rookies will make an appearance with teams such as the New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles, and Pittsburgh Steelers all set to play their final exhibition contest. The eight teams in action will get one last chance to see their young players in a game setting before the margin for error disappears with the start of the regular season.

We’re super excited to measure the progress of several first-year players on Friday night. With that said, let’s examine five rookies and storylines we’ll be paying extra close attention to.

QB ZACH WILSON (JETS): MORE OF THE SAME

Jets fans have plenty of reason to be excited about their No. 2 overall pick. Wilson is a combined 15-of-20 with 191 passing yards and two touchdowns through two exhibition games. Wilson had a modest yet solid showing in his debut, but his Week 2 performance against the Green Bay Packers was especially eye-opening. Wilson showed good eye discipline and composure while commanding the Jets’ offense at an extremely high level. To summarize just how great Wilson was, his touchdown total matched his incompletions on the night (two). Simply put, Wilson looked ready for the challenge ahead.

Wilson is the Jets’ starting quarterback, and there isn’t a viable option waiting in the wings behind him should he struggle. Through two weeks, it doesn’t look like the Jets will need a backup plan. Wilson has been as advertised, and another good showing against the Eagles on Friday night would set him up nicely heading into his regular-season debut versus the Carolina Panthers on Sept. 12.

OT PENEI SEWELL (LIONS): SHOW CONTINUED GROWTH AT RT

The Detroit Lions drafted Sewell with the No. 7 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft and then quickly asked him to change positions, from left tackle to right tackle. Sewell protected the blindside at Oregon for two seasons before opting out of the 2020 college football season. Asking a guy that hasn’t taken a live rep in more than a year to switch positions in the pros is going to come with some expected struggles. Sewell was quick to admit the transition came with some difficulties.

“It’s not that easy,” Sewell said in a media conference call back in May. “Everybody thinks it is, but, man, it’s a whole different feeling. It’s like I’m right-handed. I’ve been right-handed my whole life and then one day, you’re just asked to write your full name left-handed at full speed.”

It’s worth noting that Sewell played on the right side in high school, but those days are long behind him. Sewell has shown a considerable amount of growth at his new position since making those comments back in May. He played an entire half at right tackle during the team’s Week 2 matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers and there were some positives to take away from his enticing battle with veteran pass rusher Melvin Ingram.  

Sewell will get another chance to prove that the transition is going swimmingly against the Indianapolis Colts and their feared D-line on Friday night.

WR DEVONTA SMITH (EAGLES): SHAKE OFF THE RUST 

Smith started the preseason slowly. He missed the Eagles’ first exhibition game with a knee injury. He returned for the Week 2 contest against the New England Patriots to much fanfare, but it was far from a perfect night for the former Heisman winner. Smith dropped his first two targets and finished with just two catches and 19 receiving yards on four total targets. It wasn’t what Eagles fans hoped to see from their top-10 pick, but it’s far too early to jump to any significant conclusions. 

Smith showed some really good things as a route-runner that’s capable of creating separation with ease. He should get a big opportunity to bounce back on Friday night against the Jets. If history is any indication, Smith is in line for a much better performance.

TE PAT FREIERMUTH (STEELERS): GO UP AND GET IT, BIG MAN

It hasn’t taken Steelers fans long to fall in love with their new tight end. After two rather anonymous performances in the Hall of Fame Game against the Dallas Cowboys and the Week 1 contest versus the Eagles, Freiermuth caught everybody’s attention by turning both of his catches into touchdowns during a Week 2 meeting with the Lions.

At Penn State, Freiermuth was a sure-handed receiver with a large catch radius. His ability to create separation in tight spaces makes him an especially intriguing target in the red zone, something that was on display a week ago. If Freiermuth can show more of the same on Friday night by scoring another touchdown, Steeler Nation might explode.

WR TERRACE MARSHALL JR. (PANTHERS): CONTINUE TO MAKE ‘EM PAY

Marshall was considered a fringe first-round talent after running a blazing 4.38 in the 40-yard dash with a 39-inch vertical at his pro day. When it was all said and done, it was a bit of a surprise to see Marshall slide all the way to 59th overall. The Carolina Panthers certainly aren’t complaining.

It’s early, but Marshall already looks like a steal. Marshall trails just two receivers (New Orleans’ Marquez Callaway and Chicago’s Rodney Adams) for the preseason lead in receiving yards with 138.

All of the things we thought about Marshall pre-draft have been proven true thus far. He’s a twitchy receiver with a knack for winning downfield. Marshall possesses soft hands at the catch point. He understands how to use his size and physicality to create separation. Every single one of these traits has been on display during the preseason. 

If Marshall produces another big stat line on Friday night, it won’t be long before general managers around the league are kicking themselves for passing on him.


Written By:

Justin Melo

Staff Writer

Justin Melo is an NFL draft analyst that cut his teeth at The Draft Breakdown and USA Today's Draft Wire. He specializes in interviewing prospects, but also produces big boards, mock drafts, and scouting reports. He also covers the Tennessee Titans nationally for Broadway Sports Media and SB Nation.

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