Week 1 of the NFL preseason had no shortage of storylines. As the weekend unfolded every team across the league was able to open up its exhibition season and take a look at the roster in live game scenarios. Naturally, that change in the action will give clubs a new perspective of their team as they look to craft their roster down to 53 men by the time Week 1 rolls around in September, as we got to see some of the more anticipated players hit the field for the first time.
Below, we highlighted some of the good and bad from the weekend with our winners and losers from the first official week of the preseason.
Winner: Rookie quarterbacks
It was a fantastic first showing for rookie quarterbacks all the way around. At every turn, there was a young signal-caller making a name for himself, either stamping a claim as a Week 1 starter or opening eyes for his organization to possibly be the QB1 of the future.
The first quarterback to show out was Titans third-round pick Malik Willis, who showed flashes of his playmaking ability against the Ravens. He completed six of his 11 passes for 107 yards while rushing for 38 yards and a touchdown. Of course, Ryan Tannehill is solidified as the Week 1 starter, but if his struggles from 2021 carry over into 2022, it won’t take long for folks to be clamoring for Willis, especially if he continues to blossom.
Next was former Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder, who played the majority of the snaps after Marcus Mariota gave way after the opening series. He showed his ability to move the ball through the air and with his feet, passing for 103 yards and two touchdowns, while rushing for a game-high 59 yards on six attempts. Ridder also showed a clutch gene, completing a 21-yard touchdown pass on a fourth-and-9 attempt with 1:30 remaining in the game to help lead Atlanta to the win.
Day 3 pick Sam Howell flashed his potential of being a future option for the Commanders as he nearly led Washington to a comeback win over the Panthers. After Carson Wentz and Taylor Heinicke got some work, Howell came in and threw for more yards (145) than both of them combined. He also showed his rushing ability that was on display during his days at UNC, scampering in for two scores.
While all of those quarterbacks are likely going to be on the bench when the season gets rolling, first-round pick Kenny Pickett made a strong case to be Pittsburgh’s Week 1 starter. He came in to begin the second half and completed all five of his passes on his opening series while leading the Steelers on a touchdown drive. After the defense came up with a clutch strip-sack in the closing minutes of the game, Pickett tossed the game-winning touchdown with just three seconds remaining on the clock.
You really can’t ask for much more from these first-year quarterbacks.
For the first time in 19 months, Deshaun Watson played in an NFL game and he exactly didn’t look like the $230 million quarterback that the Browns traded for. After publicly apologizing for his off-the-field actions to CBS Sports’ Aditi Kinkhabwala, Watson took the field and had some noticeable rust, completing just 1-of-5 passing for seven yards.
While the scrutiny for acquiring Watson considering his baggage was inevitable, the justification — in Cleveland’s eyes — was the talent upgrade that the player brings to the table. So far, they’ve yet to see that and may not for quite a while as the NFL pushes for a year-long ban in its appeal.
We all know that Jalen Hurts is a menace with his legs, but there is still some question surrounding his ability as a passer. Well, in Philadelphia’s preseason opener, he showed that he may be taking a big leap in that aspect of his game in 2022. In his lone series of the night against New York, Hurts was dynamite as a passer, completing all six of his throws for 80 yards, and a touchdown to tight end Dallas Goedert. Hurts was the catalyst for the opening seven-play, 80-yard drive that only took 3:47 to get into the end zone.
If he continues to look like that as a passer, Philadelphia will be a legit threat in the NFC.
Loser: Bears O-line
One of the bigger concerns with the Chicago Bears is the offensive line’s ability to keep second-year quarterback Justin Fields upright. In the preseason opener against the Chiefs, the grouping that got the start didn’t do much to ease those worries. In the early stages of the game, Chicago’s O-line did seem to let Chiefs defenders find their way into the backfield and disrupt plays quite a bit. Fields was also sacked twice and the offense punted on all three of his drives to open the game in part because of that poor play up front.
Of course, you have to point out that Riley Reiff and Lucas Patrick did not play in this game, so there is room for this group to improve between this game and when the snaps actually count for real in the regular season. When given time (and even sometimes when he wasn’t), Fields showed an ability to make eye-popping plays, including some impressive scrambles and nice touch on a couple of throws to Darnell Mooney and Tajae Sharpe.
While he can make those plays on occasion, if he continues to be under siege every time he takes the snap, it’ll drastically hurt his development.
Winner: Doug Pederson
The change from Urban Meyer to Doug Pederson will be looked at as one of the biggest additions of last offseason. Already, the Jaguars are looking like a more well-run organization with a capable head coach manning the sidelines, and, most importantly, Trevor Lawrence looks to be back on track. While most of the starters didn’t play in the Hall of Fame game, Jacksonville did roll them out in their matchup against Cleveland. Lawrence played the first three series and led the offense to scoring drives in each of them while completing 6 of his 12 throws for 95 yards and a touchdown.
He looked more like the quarterback we saw at Clemson, which is a tremendous sign for Jacksonville’s prospects going forward and that’s a credit to Pederson — who is 20-1 to win Coach of the Year at Caesars Sportsbook — being able to right the ship.
Kenny Golladay has yet to live up to the $72 million contract he signed with the Giants last offseason and he didn’t start his preseason on a positive note either. In New York’s first exhibition of the summer against the Patriots, Golladay was only able to bring in one of his three targets on the night and seemed to really struggle creating separation. Either that or was running half-heartedly on this shot from Daniel Jones.
Golladay also had a drop on a third-down attempt inside the red zone, which may have given New York a first down and a chance to score a touchdown.
Winner: Lions first-team offense
The Hard Knock stars came out of the gate strong in the preseason opener against the Falcons and looked like a well-oiled machine on offense. Jared Goff and the starters played just the opening series and they made quick work of Atlanta’s defense, moving 79 yards down the field and into the end zone.
Goff was 3-of-4 passing for 47 yards with his long incompletion coming on a drop from running back Jamaal Williams. Second-year wideout Amon-Ra St. Brown picked up where he left off last season, catching both of his targets from Goff for 29 yards, while running back D’Andre Swift rushed for 20 yards on four carries, including a nine-yard touchdown run.
Loser: Colts first-team offense
The Indianapolis Colts are looked at as the favorite to win the AFC South and a possible sleeper to come out of the conference. While it’s admittedly very early, Indy’s starters didn’t look too hot against Buffalo’s second and third-team defense. Matt Ryan got the start with his new club and played the first four series of the game. Over that stretch, the Colts managed just three points and struggled to convert two fourth-and-4 attempts on back-to-back drives.
While star running back Jonathan Taylor wasn’t in the backfield, it’s not like Von Miller and other stars along Buffalo’s defense were in there either, so those absences may cancel each other out. Again, it’s early, the Colts are working in yet another new quarterback, and there’s plenty of time between now and Week 1. Still, it wasn’t the best first impression.
I know we’re still calling this a competition but all signs seem to be pointing to Baker Mayfield being the guy under center in Week 1 for the Carolina Panthers. The former Browns QB got the nod to begin the preseason on Saturday and played well in his debut, completing 4-of-7 for 45 yards while leading Carolina to a field goal on his lone series of the day.
His main competition, Sam Darnold, did throw a touchdown during his only drive of the day, but it does seem like Mayfield has a noticeable lead in this QB battle, even if head coach Matt Rhule doesn’t want to make any definitive proclamations at this stage of the preseason.
It was not a good weekend for Zach Wilson by any measure. The Jets second-year quarterback suffered a bone bruise and a meniscus tear in New York’s preseason opener and is now expected to miss two to four weeks. Wilson was scrambling out right and seemed to try and juke upfield and went down awkwardly on a non-contact injury. While he’ll undergo surgery to repair the issue, Wilson’s ligaments in that right knee are reportedly in good shape.
Before the injury, Wilson’s play also left much to be desired. He was 3-of-5 passing but had a bad interception to Eagles linebacker Kyzir White in the middle of the field.
In his absence, veteran Joe Flacco will likely be the starter for New York.