Week one of the 2019 NFL preseason is in the books. Especially for late-round draft picks and undrafted rookies, every game is crucial to make an impression, and ultimately, make a roster. It is also a great opportunity for early-round draft picks to show that they are ready for early playing time, come September. Here are some of the rookies that did just that in the opening week of the preseason.
Mecole Hardman, WR, Kansas City Chiefs
While he did not blow up the box score necessarily, Mecole Hardman showed us a glimpse of how dangerous his speed can be in this Kansas City offense, alongside Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins and Travis Kelce. I gave Hardman an early third-round grade on my 2019 big board, but in this offense with Patrick Mahomes' arm talent, that may look way too low when it's all said and done.
Jakobi Meyers, WR, New England Patriots
The New England Patriots depth chart at receiver is wide open for young players like Jakobi Meyers to step up. He did just that against the Detroit Lions, racking up two touchdowns on six catches for a total of 69 yards. The most telling story for the undrafted wide receiver from NC State? He sat the entire second half. That is a clear sign of the coaching staff's trust in him, and I think he is almost a virtual lock to make the 53-man roster.
Olabisi Johnson, WR, Minnesota Vikings
I can't imagine how 246 players went before Olabisi Johnson in the 2019 NFL draft, but here we are, and the Minnesota Vikings have to be counting their blessings. Coming out of Colorado State, Johnson was one of the best route runners in the 2019 draft class, and it showed against seasoned New Orleans Saints veterans like PJ Williams and Patrick Robinson. His two catches for 35 yards and a touchdown may not stand out immediately on the box score, but he was consistently creating separation each time he lined up. Don't be surprised if he becomes the third wide receiver in this offense.
Preston Williams, WR, Miami Dolphins
Talk about a first impression. Hauling in four catches for 97 yards, Williams showed the potential of being a legitimate starter on the outside for the Miami Dolphins. His ability to separate against man coverage and at the catch point with a combination of speed, hand strength, and body control is outstanding. As this game showed, he has already established an excellent rapport with quarterback Josh Rosen. He went undrafted because of serious off-field issues, but in terms of on-field talent, Preston Williams looked like a first rounder against the Atlanta Falcons.
Malik Reed, EDGE, Denver Broncos
With a sack in each of his first two preseason games, undrafted EDGE Malik Reed is making his case to compete for a rotational role on the Denver Broncos. That same juice he showed at Nevada as an ultra-productive pass rusher has been on display for this Denver coaching staff for most of camp, and now, the first two preseason games. If Reed can keep this momentum going, he will not only be a lock for the 53, but he may also carve out a role as a situational pass rusher.
Mack Wilson, LB, Cleveland Browns
Based on talent alone, Mack Wilson should not have fell past the top 30 picks. But because of character concerns raised in the pre-draft process, Wilson had a free-fall all the way to pick 155 in the fifth round. The Browns were the team to take a chance on his natural gifts, and if this game is any indication, that gamble may pay dividends. Wilson's best trait coming out of Alabama was his ability to cover. That clearly showed against the Washington Redskins with two interceptions, including a pick-six.
Corey Ballentine, CB, New York Giants
I was a huge fan of Corey Ballentine in the 2019 NFL draft class, as I gave him a solid third-round grade because of his man coverage upside and physical style of play. He showed both in bunches against the New York Jets in the preseason opener. He made big plays all game, including this spectacular interception. The Giants cornerback depth chart is filled with a lot of young talent, but the door is wide open for a player like Ballentine to carve out a significant role for playing time.