Folks, we made it.
While COVID restrictions continue to wreak havoc on the sports landscape, we made it to game week, and it’s never felt better. Just a few short days from kickoff, full stadiums will be back, pre-game tailgates will be in full swing, and most importantly, the NFL returns to your television set for your viewing pleasure for the next five-plus months.
With each of the 32 teams in action in Week 1, a slew of rookie talent jumps off the page with favorable matchups; but just one trumps the rest in what should result in a dominant NFL debut: the No. 1 overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
It’s hard to ignore the obvious.
With his first preseason in the books, it’s now time to translate what has been an impressive slate of exhibition contests into production under live fire of the regular season. With a lowly Houston Texans team awaiting, Lawrence should have no issue living up to expectations from the opening whistle when Sunday arrives.
Throughout his slate of exhibition appearances, Lawrence was precise in his reads with a surgeon-like approach, putting the finishing touches on his first professional summer against Dallas’ second-teamers last week. In just a tick over a quarter's worth of work, Lawrence managed to produce a nice showing, totaling 139 yards through the air while completing 11 of his 12 attempts, a 91% clip.
At 6-foot-6, there aren’t many in football who look as fit to masthead an offense as Lawrence, as his poise, IQ, mobility, and arm arrogance provided a further look into the sole future of Jaguars football following the trade of Gardner Minshew to the Philadelphia Eagles. While his running mate at Clemson in Travis Etienne won’t be in action for any part of his first campaign, the weaponry around Lawrence in Jacksonville offers plenty of enough meat on the bone for Lawrence to pick at when he takes the field in Houston.
Despite the loss of Etienne, the additions of Marvin Jones Jr. to complement wideouts D.J. Chark Jr and Laviska Shenault Jr present an awfully tough task for a weak Texans secondary to handle. In fact, despite major adjustments up top, the lack of assets set aside to improve the apex of head coach David Culley’s defense remained bleak following a season in which Houston finished in the cellar of the league in completion percentage allowed, and total interceptions, amassing just three in 16 games. It’s a recipe for disaster against a talent like Lawrence, who will shred you pre-snap when he’s able to identify a matchup he’s able to take advantage of.
With as weak a roster as any in football, the Jaguars should dominate the time of possession battle, leaving Lawrence with a bevy of opportunities to distribute the football around the yard. With snaps, comes opportunity, and with opportunity, well, we’ve seen what Lawrence is able to do with time and a clean pocket.
Kyle Pitts vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Philadelphia’s lack of pop at the second level has been an issue for a long while. With just two snaps in the preseason, Pitts is rested and charged to jolt onto the NFL scene. Whether the Eagles plan to bring down Anthony Harris to attempt to cover him in man or deploy a zone hybrid look with two players mirroring him at all times, having Calvin Ridley on the outside could result in a field day for the No. 4 overall selection.
Terrace Marshall Jr. vs. New York Jets
The Jets are improving, but they will enjoy their major share of bumps and bruises in Robert Saleh’s debut season. With a fully healthy Christian McCaffrey back joining Robby Anderson and D.J. Moore, Marshall will likely line up across Javelin Guidry, a matchup in which the 6-foot-3 Marshall should dominate all afternoon long. With Sam Darnold now the owner of the offensive reins in Carolina, I expect former Big 12 bench boss Matt Rhule to open up the offensive game plan, allowing his dynamic weapons to flourish. We’ll also see the Jets’ No. 2 overall selection Zach Wilson make his NFL debut in this matchup.