Football. Is. Back! The NFL reigns supreme once again, as a full weekend slate of pre-season action has us chomping at the bit for opening weekend, when the..ahem...Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles host the Atlanta Falcons in a rematch of last year's NFC Divisional round on September 6th.
With the first glimpses of the 2018 rookie class on the field, there is no shortage of options for this week's Studs & Duds programming. There's plenty of time for that and much more.
Welcome back to Studs & Duds, let's party.
Stud - Baker Mayfield
You probably already know this, but the 2018 NFL Draft had some *players* at the quarterback position. The 1st-round touted five QBs, a number not matched since 1999. Week 1 of the preseason belonged to Cleveland's Baker Mayfield.
Yes, Josh Allen's late touchdown pass was incredible. I'm still not sure how he squeezed that ball through such a tight space. Lamar Jackson's touchdown run against the Rams was a reminder of how deadly he can be with his feet. Rams defensive tackle Tanzel Smart is probably still shaking his head in disbelief in how hard Jackson juked him.
Josh Rosen's first half appearance deserves enthusiasm, as does Sam Darnold's methodical approach and his work in the two-minute offense to score a late touchdown in the first half against the Falcons.
But Mayfield played on a different level, even if just for one week.
Mayfield's torching of the Giants back-ups was highlighted by several big time throws. His work from the pocket was cloned from his film at Oklahoma...he baited pass rushers late into the play, slipping out of their grasp while simultaneously keeping his eyes down the field.
Mayfield's footwork was immaculate. Like a boxer in the ring, Baker is constantly balanced. And those sweet feet yielded favorable fruits on numerous occasions against the Giants.
Mayfield's drop here on 3rd-and-11 carries him five steps out of the gun and when the fifth step hits the ground, DE Kerry Wynn has uncovered in the A-gap, bearing down on Mayfield. Mayfield climbs back towards the line of scrimmage, negating Wynn's angle as a rusher. But note how sudden Mayfield is to snap back into a throwing posture after he's been forced off of his platform! A perfect strike hits his target in stride. But from a murky pocket, we shouldn't fuss about a 3rd-and-18 conversion.
For my money, Mayfield's best throw was another play where he was forced off his platform. This, too, came on third down.
This throw travels 37 yards down field as Mayfield's momentum carries him away from the line of scrimmage. This throw also travels right into the waiting hands of Antonio Callaway, who toed the sideline and finished the play. This was just the first act of "wow" plays from Mayfield and Callaway on the night, as the latter later took a short slant 50+ yards for a house call.
We'll see if anyone can answer the call from this fully stocked rookie QB class in Week 2 this week.
Dud - Carl Nassib's future career as a financial advisor
Folks, don't let defensive end Carl Nassib's advice cloud your judgement! The former Penn State product set the Twitter-sphere aflame last week with his hilarious segment on HBO's Hard Knocks, in which Nassib proceeded to get on his soapbox and school his fellow defensive linemen on the ins and outs of compound interest.
Except Nassib's advice is a bit ambitious. I, for one, would love a business card from anyone at Carl's bank. I'd love to hear more about my investment options with a 10% annual return.
Adding insult to injury, it's unclear whether Nassib's own grandmother would take him up on his financial advising after hearing his potty mouth on Tuesday night.
Stud - Andrew Luck's return to football
It has been almost 600 days since we last saw Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck sporting his Colts uniform and taking contact. That's almost 600 days too long.
Luck was eased into the action with a quick swing pass to open the game, a toss that RB Marlon Mack zipped up the right sideline for a big gain. Luck shortly thereafter completed a slant on 3rd-and-6 to convert a first down and ultimately led the Colts to a field goal on that first possession. And with that, it was back to business as usual. Well, except for the first big hit.
That came this weekend too, but Luck survived with no problem. Welcome back, Andrew. It's great to see you again.
Dud - Paxton Lynch
That sound you hear? That's the sound of the final few cars of quarterback Paxton Lynch's hype train falling off the tracks.
After Lynch's Pro Day in 2016, two NFL general managers reportedly told NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks that Lynch had the "highest ceiling of any quarterback in the draft."
In case you've forgotten, that year's class had Dak Prescott, Jared Goff and Carson Wentz. Yeah, that's gonna be a no from me, dog.
Lynch's performance against the Vikings this weekend was punchless, to say the least. Things got so ugly that Denver's fans booed Lynch off the field at the half, where he was just 4 of 9 passing for 12 yards and an interception. Lynch's play was skittish and lacked confidence in the pocket, issues that have marred Lynch throughout his limited sample size in the NFL.
Lynch's career, barring a stunning turnaround, looks to be on the outs in Denver.
Stud - Tiger Woods is #back
Speaking of stunning comebacks, welcome back Mr. Woods. Tiger Woods roared on Sunday at the PGA Championship with a 64, coming up two strokes short of a tie to force a playoff.
No, this isn't a golf website. But Tiger Woods withstanding nearly a decade of trials and tribulations (most of them self inflicted, but I digress) to nearly win his first major championship in a decade was a stunning display.
The last time Tiger Woods won a major, the football world was a very different place:
- The Miami Dolphins won the AFC East, going 11-5 and winning a head to head tiebreaker against the Patriots, sans Tom Brady. Miami unveiled their Wildcat offense against the Patriots early in the year, romping the Pats in Foxboro to kickstart their stretch run.
- The Tennessee Titans went 13-3 with 36 year old Kerry Collins starting 15 games, led defensively by All-Pro defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. Collins passed for less than 2,700 yards with 12 touchdowns that season, which was the last winning season of coach Jeff Fisher's career (45-63-1 thereafter).
- The Detroit Lions became the first team in NFL history to go winless over a 16 game schedule (although thanks to the Cleveland Browns this past year they aren't the last).
- The 9-7 Arizona Cardinals (+1 point differential) got hot in the playoffs, winning games against the 11-5 Falcons, 12-4 Panthers and 12-4 Eagles en route to a NFC Championship.
- Saints quarterback Drew Brees eclipsed 5,000 passing yards for the first time in his career, logging 5,069 yards. He's since accomplished the feat an additional four times and came up just 48 yards short in 2014.
- A wide receiver from Central Michigan led the college ranks with a 20.5 yards per punt return average. His name was Antonio Brown.
- Tim Tebow ran roughshod on Heisman Trophy winning QB Sam Bradford and the Oklahoma Sooners in the BCS Championship game, a game the team won 24-14 for their second title in three years. That year, the Gators scored 611 points...or 107 more points then the team has in the last two seasons combined.
Woods still trails Jack Nicklaus by 4 wins at a major for the all-time record (18-14) and the ship has likely sailed on him ever catching the Golden Bear. Yet seeing Woods breathe life into the sport in his patented Sunday red brought back memories of a decade ago, at least for this football fan.
Dud - Derrius Guice's ACL injury
I can't speak for everyone but I'm personally bummed out by running back Derrius Guice's injury, which will cost him his entire rookie season. Guice has a ton of personality and was an early standout in the community for the things he would do to go above and beyond for the fans of the team.
That won't go away, but we'll dearly miss seeing him pay out some punishment with his pads on Sundays. Guice got a bum rep throughout the NFL Draft process, by my knowledge. Our staff had several people in contact with those close to Guice, all vehemently denied the smear campaign regarding his character in the build-up to the 2018 NFL Draft.
Now? Guice will have a whole year to get himself physically right and ensure he's ready to roll. Best wishes, Derrius!
Stud - Alfred 'Big Al' Delia
One day I aspire to have the bravado required to go on national television, declare myself to the world and inform you all that I "hit dingers". Look at this big stud!
Big Al, you sir, are a legend.
Dud - Kelvin Benjamin's pre-game showing
Wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin torched his former quarterback, Cam Newton last week with some, ahem, pointed comments. Benjamin would specify that he felt he would have been more successful early in his career had he been picked by a team with an "accurate" quarterback "with knowledge".
Okay then. As luck would have it, Benjamin's new team, the Bills, faced off against his old team, the Panthers, in the preseason's first weekend. During the pre-game, Cam Newton made a point to find Benjamin in order to discuss what was said.
Benjamin had every right to say what he did to The Athletic's Tim Graham in the original interview. If he felt that to be true, so be it. But Cam Newton approached Benjamin before the game and offered his hand, which Benjamin refused to shake before repeatedly looking to slink away from the conversation.
Suddenly, Benjamin wasn't the same hard act he'd been playing in the media in the days before the game. That's one way to go from stud to dud.