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2022 NFL Preseason Week 1 recap: What you need to know about injuries, position battles, rookie debuts

Published: Aug 15, 2022 at 02: 46 PM

Most people have better things to do than keep track of all 32 training camps and 16 preseason games from the last week. Here’s my attempt to help those people out, broken into fancy sections:

1) Zach Wilson‘s knee injury might only cost him 2-4 weeks, which feels like a best-case scenario after the Jets quarterback’s non-contact injury on Friday. Tuesday’s surgery will provide a more specific timeline, but the missed time won’t help the 23-year-old signal-caller’s development regardless. Lost in the concern for his health were Wilson’s two terrible mental decisions in only six dropbacks during the preseason opener. After Wilson’s telegraphed interception ended his first drive, New York coach Robert Saleh appeared to mouth, “I can’t believe he threw that.”

The play Wilson was hurt on also was a mental error. Instead of going out of bounds, Wilson unsuccessfully tried to make a play while scrambling on third down. It reminded me of Jimmy Garoppolo‘s torn ACL in 2018, another play Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur was on the sideline for. Wilson needs practice reps and all his athleticism to make the second-year leap the Jets’ season hinges on. The initial timeline of the injury makes a trade for Garoppolo less likely. But if the Jets’ offense runs better with Joe Flacco than Wilson again this season, the team will face some difficult questions.

2) Baltimore running back J.K. Dobbins is back at practice. It’s uncertain if he’ll be ready for the start of the season, but he looks closer to returning than teammate Gus Edwards. The Ravens can survive with rookie Tyler Badie, veteran Mike Davis and Justice Hill in the meantime.

3) The Browns lost starting center Nick Harris just a few plays into their preseason opener. Calling up JC Tretter, their center for the last five years, feels like too obvious a move. Tretter is the NFLPA president; like Joel Bitonio, I think the lack of interest in Tretter’s services is suspicious.

4) 2020 No. 3 overall pick Jeff Okudah played his first snaps since tearing his Achilles last season, rotating in as the Lions’ third cornerback.

5) The Packers activated three key players from the PUP list Sunday: offensive lineman Elgton Jenkins, second-round receiver Christian Watson and tight end Robert Tonyan. Watson’s return will make the receiver room awfully crowded when the rookie gets up to speed.

6) Drew Lock‘s stats looked better than Geno Smith‘s overall numbers in the Seahawks’ quarterback competition, but a costly sack fumble that Lock took the blame for soured his night. Geno was solid in situational football and was Pro Football Focus’ second-highest-graded Seahawks offensive player at 84.5 (Lock was at 69.3).

Pete Carroll cracks me up when he answers questions about his quarterbacks, because he always slants the answer in favor of Geno.

“Both quarterbacks were efficient,” Carroll said after the game. “Really, Geno could have been 10-for-10. He had two drops, and Noah (Fant) has got to stay in bounds on the ball on the sidelines, and he hits them all. We moved the ball around pretty good with Drew also.”

I believe Carroll prizes conservatism in quarterbacks. Geno made a few nice throws on the move, but his defining trait may be that he doesn’t force passes. He takes 6 yards on third-and-12, and Carroll loves that. Lock is a roller coaster.

7) The Falcons played Qadree Ollison first in their running back rotation — and he looked good, with 33 yards on five carries.

8) It appears that Coleman Shelton, a fifth-year player with two career starts, will win the Rams’ starting right guard job over third-round pick Logan Bruss, if you are into that sort of thing.

9) Steelers first-round quarterback Kenny Pickett turned down the volume on all those negative practice reports with an inspired first showing. After Mitchell Trubisky and Mason Rudolph held serve with positive outings, too, Pickett probably still isn’t a threat to start Week 1. But if the No. 20 overall pick shows again in the preseason that he plays better in games than practice, then Mike Tomlin will be motivated to test that theory sooner in the regular season.

10) The Jets have moved George Fant over to right tackle after signing Duane Brown. With Brown turning 37 at the end of this month, it makes sense to keep the veteran at his natural position following Mekhi Becton’s season-ending injury.

11) Fantasy heads probably want rookie Isaiah Spiller to claim the Chargers’ backup running back role, but it sure looked like third-year pro Joshua Kelley took the lead Saturday night with an excellent performance after starting the game. He had 44 yards on six touches and consistently made defenders miss.

12) In case you thought second-year Packers receiver Amari Rodgers might not make the roster, it appears his role as the team’s dual returner makes him a lock. (Oh, you don’t think about this stuff in the middle of the night?) Rodgers also had a nice score in Friday’s game.

13) The hamstring injury suffered by center Daniel Brunskill all but decided the 49ers’ last position battle on the offensive line. Now they are set to break in an entirely new trio of interior offensive line starters: center Jake Brendel, rookie fourth-round guard Spencer Burford and second-year pro Aaron Banks. This is the ultimate test of Kyle Shanahan’s system mattering more than the personnel. (It’s also not the best sign that right tackle Mike McGlinchey‘s return to game action will be followed by a week off for a knee injury.)

14) While it’s not exactly a position battle, it made a lot of sense to read that Jacoby Brissett finally started taking the majority of reps with the Browns’ starters at practice on Sunday. Deshaun Watson‘s ugly preseason performance could be the last we see of him for a while, possibly the entire season.

15) Kansas City used rookie running back Isiah Pacheco with Patrick Mahomes near the goal line on the Chiefs’ first preseason drive. Pacheco appears to be the team’s No. 2 running back already, which might not leave a spot on the roster for Ronald Jones. Pacheco’s burst — and the violence with which he runs — pops off the screen.

16) When a camp practice hype bunny pops up in a game situation, it’s time to take notice. Former Bucs wideout Justin Watson looks like a lock to make the Chiefs after racking up five catches (including a 22-yard touchdown) on Saturday. It’s easy to imagine Watson having some random 100-yard game on Sunday Night Football when the Chiefs are missing three receivers and put up 30 points anyway.

17) While the Broncos rested their starters, buzzy tight end Albert Okwuegbunam played a lot in a rotation with the other Broncos tight ends. It’s worth remembering that this Nathaniel Hackett-led staff didn’t draft Okwuegbunam and could be looking for a different skill set at the position — specifically that of their own third-round draft pick, Greg Dulcich.

18) Baker Mayfield started and got a little more work than Sam Darnold in Carolina’s preseason opener. Panthers coach Matt Rhule has tried to keep this battle even — despite all signs pointing to Mayfield — although I wonder if the team’s joint practices against the Patriots this week will close the deal. Darnold has historically been at his very worst against Bill Belichick.

19) Antonio Gibson is at some risk of losing snaps to rookie Brian Robinson. Gibson played with backups in the preseason opener and lost a fumble, a massive problem for him last season. Robinson is Ron Rivera’s kind of grinding back and ran hard against the Panthers. Rivera has been happy to split the workload before (SEE: Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams, one of my favorite tandems of all time). Third-down back J.D. McKissic will stay very much in the mix, too.

20) Coming into camp, it was worth wondering if third-year running back Zack Moss was a safe pick to make the Bills’ roster. His preseason performance against the Colts backed up a strong camp where he’s worked plenty with Josh Allen. He’s not going anywhere.

21) With Tyler Johnson and Jaelon Darden excelling among Tampa Bay’s depth receivers, a few of the Buccaneers’ random game-winning heroes of the recent past — Scotty Miller, Cyril Grayson and Breshad Perriman — might not make the team.

22) The Steelers brought in Myles Jack to essentially replace Devin Bush, and by all indications, he has. Bush could also lose playing time to Robert Spillane, putting him third in a rotation.

27) Daniel Jones took three brutal hits in one quarter of preseason work. That’s more than Tom Brady may take in two months of games. While the impulse is to always blame the Giants’ offensive line, Jones’ awareness of blitzes and pressure around him remains lacking. He reportedly has experienced a rocky training camp, according to Dan Duggan of The Athletic. Kenny Golladay, who had a goal-line drop Thursday, also has reportedly “underwhelmed” in practices.

28) Giants defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale loves to leave his cornerbacks on an island while he sends blitzes. Look for a lot of teams to take the same approach Patriots backup quarterback Brian Hoyer did on Thursday by repeatedly targeting No. 2 corner Aaron Robinson.

29) Reporters haven’t seen Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White since a workout early in training camp. Joe Buscaglia of The Athletic guessed that White would start the season on the PUP list in his latest 53-man roster projection, which would keep White sidelined for the first four games of the season. With White out, rookies Kaiir Elam and Christian Benford appear to be in a tight battle for snaps despite being drafted five rounds apart.

30) The Dolphins lost cornerback Trill Williams to a torn ACL against the Bucs. The little-known pickup from the Saints was carving out a role, possibly as the top backup at outside corner. The Dolphins have a great starting group, but their talent level falls off a cliff after that. They will likely look to upgrade with veterans from other teams on cutdown day.

31) This is what Mark Kaboly of The Athletic wrote about George Pickens before the wideout did this (and this) in his preseason debut:

Honestly, I’ve never seen a rookie this good this early.

Now consider the rookie receivers who have come through Pittsburgh during the last two decades in which Kaboly has covered the team. Also consider that I ranked Pickens second in this rookie class behind Jameson Williams, so this tiny sample size is just confirming my always-correct priors. I’m biased, but I’m right!

32) Malik Willis had a handful of jaw-dropping plays in his preseason start, but Titans coach Mike Vrabel played the tough love card.

“I wanted Malik to throw the ball and he wasn’t, so I put Logan (Woodside) in,” Vrabel said after the game.

Vrabel wasn’t happy with how often Willis held the ball and ran, even though those runs were often the Titans’ best plays. Woodside came in and threw two interceptions. The backup quarterback job appears up for grabs, and Woodside could wind up getting cut.

33) It’s hard to get a handle on Tennessee first-round pick Treylon Burks‘ development. He was playing with the deep reserves late in Thursday’s game presumably because the Titans believed he needed the work. He had 30 snaps and only one target. According to PFF’s Nathan Jahnke, no other receiver drafted in the first or second round played into the second half over the weekend. In the last decade, only one other first-round receiver (D.J. Moore) has played into the fourth quarter of his preseason opener.

For comparison, Titans fifth-round rookie Kyle Philips only was asked to play three snaps and looks like the favorite for the team’s slot receiver job. Philips’ Week 1 role may be more secure than his first-round counterpart. While Philips appears headed for the slot, Nick Westbrook-Ikhine could wind up sharing a lot of Burks’ snaps.

34) The Lions have reportedly been moving No. 2 overall pick Aidan Hutchinson inside on passing downs in practice, and that’s exactly what they did in the preseason opener, too. Hutchinson drew a holding penalty and had a tackle for loss in his only series of work — and he broke out a “Billie Jean”-inspired leg kick celebration after his breakout Hard Knocks moment.

35) The excellent Jason Kelce impression by Eagles rookie center Cam Jurgens is one reason why I love Philadelphia’s chances of winning 10-12 games this season. The Eagles have solutions to injuries throughout the roster, with high-quality backups everywhere.

36) I’m trying not to overreact to random preseason games, but my god Rams undrafted rookie Lance McCutcheon backed up all his training camp practice hype. The man bullied the Chargers for two touchdowns, a two-point conversion and drew two other penalties; he was all but uncoverable. The performance reminded me of Victor Cruz‘s breakout preseason game for the Giants in 2010.

Don’t tell me that McCutcheon, who led the Big Sky in receiving last year, doesn’t already have more upside than other Rams depth receivers like Tutu Atwell and Ben Skowronek. Los Angeles coach Sean McVay indicated Saturday night Atwell’s role on the team is secure. (If Atwell hasn’t been drafted in the second round, would that be the case?) The Rams now can’t risk trying to get McCutcheon through to the practice squad.

37) The Ravens are so deep at safety that first-round pick Kyle Hamilton might not start. On a single drive, the Notre Dame product missed a tackle that led to a long run and then another that led to a Malik Willis touchdown. He also showed off his incredible range on a few plays, but it was hard not to notice he was playing into the second quarter with backups. This is hardly cause for alarm, but it won’t be a surprise if Baltimore breaks in the rookie slowly to start the season. The Ravens might trust their veterans in coverage more.

38) Meanwhile, Baltimore fourth-round TE Isaiah Likely backed up his boffo training camp reports with some incredible tight-window grabs in his preseason opener. With possible No. 2 wideout James Proche the latest Ravens receiver to get hurt, Likely could have a meaningful role in this passing attack sooner than anyone expected.

39) Romeo Doubs’ long touchdown from Jordan Love made up for a few drops in his preseason opener, but the most eye-opening development for the rookie receiver came from a midweek practice story courtesy of Matt Schneidman of The Athletic. Packers No. 1 corner Jaire Alexander personally sought out covering Doubs in live reps in practice, to make Doubs feel the intensity of playing a top-tier corner.

“Certainly you want your better players going against one another,” coach Matt LaFleur said of one of the highest paid cornerbacks in football and … the team’s fourth-round pick.

40) Garrett Wilson was fourth in line for snaps when Zach Wilson was on the field in the Jets’ preseason opener. That’s not a total shock because Elijah Moore, Corey Davis and Braxton Berrios have more experience in the offense, but it’s something to watch.

41) Chiefs rookie second-rounder Skyy Moore didn’t get any snaps with the first team in the preseason opener, a sign he’s probably not higher than fourth on the depth chart. Moore did catch three passes, including a tough one where he took a big hit from Bears rookie safety Jaquan Brisker. Fellow Chiefs rookie George Karlaftis was a monster against the Bears backups; I’m so much higher on the Chiefs’ pass rush this season.

42) The Eagles gave Nevada quarterback Carson Strong the highest guaranteed salary of any undrafted free agent this year, but he looks like a long shot to make the team’s roster.

43) Well, they said Desmond Ridder was a gamer. ESPN’s Mike Rothstein wrote that Ridder was more accurate against the Lions than he’s been in any training camp practice. Drops and an overturned interception add context to his 10-for-22 box score, but my biggest takeaway was how dynamic he was using his legs. Both he and Marcus Mariota rolled out more plays than not. This is not a quarterback competition, but if Ridder stacks up promising preseason outings, Atlanta will be more likely to try out the rookie earlier in the season.

44) Falcons coach Arthur Smith said receiver Drake London‘s knee injury isn’t a long-term concern, although his status is “week to week.” Let’s hope that it’s not an omen he got hurt on his very first preseason catch.

45) Bears fifth-rounder Braxton Jones has all but locked up the starting left tackle job. While he’s protecting Justin Fields, it’s fair to wonder if last year’s second-round pick, Teven Jenkins, is even a lock to make the team. Chicago could possibly get a late-round pick for him in a trade.

46) Matt Corral had a bizarre preseason debut, running a disorganized Panthers offense while completing one of his nine pass attempts for 11 yards. But he did “lead” a game-winning drive with the help of some penalties. It was positively Tebowian.

47) Jordan Davis belongs. I know it’s the preseason, but just watching the Eagles’ big man tilt the field, it’s so obvious he’s going to be a problem.

48) The Giants are set to start rookie fourth-round pick Daniel Bellinger at tight end. He doesn’t even appear to have any competition.

49) It’s quite possible the NFL’s only two starting rookie tight ends in Week 1 are Bellinger and … the Commanders’ Cole Turner, a fifth-round pick. The draft is weird. So is the NFC East!

50) Punt God Matt Araiza hit an 82-yard punt in his first preseason game for the Bills. That is announcing your presence with authority.

51) Safety Lewis Cine and cornerback Andrew Booth were drafted by the Vikings in the first two rounds of the 2022 NFL Draft and everyone immediately slotted them into the starting lineup. As often happens with rookie defensive backs, the transition isn’t so simple. For now, it appears Cine is behind Camryn Bynum, while Booth is behind a resurgent Cameron Dantzler.

This is nothing to panic about. The Vikings have better secondary depth than most. But it’s yet another reminder that we tend to overrate the immediate impact of rookies in aggregate after studying them so heavily in draft season.

52) Saints first round pick Trevor Penning didn’t start the preseason opener and then had the lowest PFF pass-blocking grade on the team, giving up a sack, a QB hit and three pressures with a penalty in 26 passing downs. Penning’s competition at left tackle, James Hurst, played six snaps alongside the rest of the starters.

53) Every year, there’s a rookie running back whose preseason performance is undeniable. Texans fourth-rounder Dameon Pierce might be that guy this year. His cuts and vision were sharp as glass against the Saints, and he is not afraid to run defenders over. After five carries, it was as if Lovie Smith had seen enough.

54) New England let Matt Patricia call plays for Brian Hoyer, while Joe Judge called plays for rookie Bailey Zappe. OK then. The Patriots also didn’t show any of the new zone concepts that have plagued their shaky practice sessions. It’s at least possible Bill Belichick will change course on the new playbook if the Patriots don’t improve. He’s historically not afraid to scrap a bad plan.

55) Kyle Shanahan is not happy with the NFL.

“I have such beef with them right now,” Shanahan told reporters last week. “It’s a tough issue going on. They won’t let me pick out my own [hat].”

IRRESPONSIBLE SPECULATION

56) Patriots second-round speedster Tyquan Thornton has developed faster than expected, which extended to a strong first preseason game. If Thornton is ready to be active on game day, it’s hard to see how Nelson Agholor still fits on the team.

57) Kareem Hunt is fresh off the least successful hold-in/trade request in NFL history. I don’t think he’d attract much interest on the trade market because of his high salary ($6.25 million), but Jerome Ford‘s nice preseason effort was a reminder the Browns could live without Hunt if someone were to come calling. D’Ernest Johnson, Demetric Felton and Ford would work well enough as reserves behind Nick Chubb.

58) Denzel Mims was the seventh Jets receiver on the field Friday, so he looks very unlikely to make the roster. He could potentially attract a late-round pick swap in a trade.

59) Indianapolis’ receivers beyond Michael Pittman Jr. didn’t step up in the first preseason game. Colts GM Chris Ballard is the most likely win-now decision maker to pull a surprise at the position in the coming weeks. Whether that’s in free agency (Odell Beckham Jr.? Will Fuller?) or via a trade, the Colts have plenty of cap space. Frank Reich and Nelson Agholor had time together in Philly, so that could be a match.

60) Andy Dalton looked smooth leading New Orleans to a touchdown drive, just like he reportedly has looked throughout camp. He’s a natural fit in Pete Carmichael’s offense because he gets rid of the ball quickly. I’m not saying there’s a quarterback competition, but if Jameis Winston struggles during the season coming off knee surgery, the Saints may think about playing Dalton. Winston is far from a lock to stay healthy enough to play all 17 games anyhow. A Daltonaissance is exactly the kind of weird I expect from NOLA football.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter.

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