5 winners, 5 losers from preseason Week 2
With preseason week 2 in the books, Senior Analyst Sam Monson takes a look at those who shined—and those who didn't.
5 winners, 5 losers from preseason Week 2
Preseason Week 2 is in the books, and while the game results don’t matter, individual performances most certainly do. Obviously grading out at the top of your position doesn’t mean you’ll be a Pro-Bowler, and grading out at the bottom doesn’t mean you’ll be cut, but we’ve often seen breakout players make their mark in the preseason.
With this in mind, we now take a look at the biggest winners and losers from Week 2 of the preseason.
1. Cowboys QB Dak Prescott
In his first NFL action a week ago, Dak Prescott made Jerry Jones and the Cowboys sit up and take notice, and suggested that the answer to their backup QB problem may lie in-house. This week, he removed all doubt by backing that performance up with another nearly-flawless outing. Prescott made one bad mistake in the game against Miami, but even then he got lucky, because a roughing-the-passer call bailed him out and nullified the play. Otherwise he was poised, accurate, and understood when he was able to just toss the ball up to Dez Bryant and let him go and make a play. Prescott ended the game with a perfect passer rating, and his rating under pressure was only two points lower, at 156.8. Dallas has their backup QB—and, just maybe, the long-term heir to Tony Romo.
2. Chicago Bears’ offensive line
Last year, the Chicago Bears’ offensive line graded out below average in every facet PFF measures; run blocking, pass protection, and penalties. QB Jay Cutler has his problems, but he’s never going to play his best behind a bad line. This week, the Bears may have come up short against the Patriots, but three of their five starting O-linemen graded well, as did multiple backups. The top two RBs of Jordan Howard and Jeremy Langford combined to average 5.2 yards per carry, and Cutler was only pressured on four snaps during the game, hitting the turf on a sack just once.
3. Backups around the league
Although some NFL coaches dislike the preseason more than others, in Week 2 we saw many teams opting to keep their starters safely on the sideline, presenting an interesting opportunity for many backups. At times, those snaps didn’t necessarily even go to the No. 2 guy on the depth chart, providing those deeper down the roster with a chance to impress. With some of these guys producing standout performances, it will be interesting over the next week to see how depth charts across the league shake out.
4. Vikings P Jeff Locke’s career
Since entering the league in 2013, Jeff Locke has been either the lowest or second lowest-graded punter every season. The Vikings have yet to give him a serious challenge for his job, but at some point, the overwhelming inability to aim the ball consistently on punts should become too much to ignore. So far this preseason, though, he has been as good as any punter in the league, and was the highest-graded this past week. Locke had eight punts in preseason Week 2; three of them resulted in the opposing team beginning drives inside their own 20-yard line. Though four of them were returned, the combination of good direction and hang time resulted in just 6 return yards, total. The Vikings seem to have admirable patience that Locke will eventually justify his fifth-round selection; maybe he’s finally beginning to prove them right.
5. Titans WR Tajae Sharpe’s fantasy value
Despite being a fifth-round pick, WR Tajae Sharpe has been making noise in Titans camp from day one, and it’s been common knowledge that he’s looked like a starter for some time now. He may end up doing even more than that, and could be the team’s top target, even with the return of Kendall Wright. Sharpe runs crisp routes, seems to always be in the right place, and QB Marcus Mariota has been singing praises about his ability to adjust and read the game as plays unfold. He clearly has huge confidence in Sharpe already, and it shows on the field. This week, the former UMass standout caught all six passes thrown his way for 68 yards, showed he could make tough catches, and was simply in the right place at the right time. The Titan could have a huge rookie season.
1. Jared Goff’s opening day prospects
It’s not often that a No.1 overall pick sits on opening day, but that’s looking increasingly likely for Rams QB Jared Goff after another unsure performance this week against the Chiefs. Goff’s raw numbers actually look okay, but in this case, provide a great example of how the box score can lie. He completed eight of 12 attempts for 82 yards and a touchdown, and three of the four incompletions were drops, but that doesn’t tell you that he fumbled the ball twice, and was responsible for sacking himself by being unable to escape the pocket without tripping on his own lineman. It also doesn’t tell you that the one remaining incomplete pass was a bad decision that was dropped by CB Marcus Cooper, who otherwise could have taken it back for six, ruining Goff’s numbers and dropping his passer rating by 34.7 points. Goff is obviously the future QB for the Rams, but that future might not be starting on opening day.
2. Cleveland’s run defense
The Browns are doing some unusual things with their young players on defense, and it’s not necessarily to their benefit. Emmanuel Ogbah—one of the best edge rushers in the 2016 draft class—has been playing as a defensive end in their 3-4 scheme. Carl Nassib—a 4-3 defensive end at Penn State last season—played 28 of his 43 snaps this week at 3-technique (defensive tackle), essentially the same role as Ogbah, a 3-4 end in base and a tackle in sub-packages. When you add in second-year player Xavier Cooper, the Browns seem to have a stable of light pass-rush interior players that are less suited to playing the run, and that’s been looking like a problem. Atlanta, who could only manage 79 rushing yards the week before against Washington, rushed for 224 yards against the Browns’ defense at 5.5 yards per carry. Cleveland has some young, talented players up front, but are they being deployed most effectively at the moment?
3. The Arizona Cardinals prospects in 2016
Carson Palmer’s 2015 season was otherworldly. Given the deep-passing offense Bruce Arians runs in the desert, with Palmer leading the league in average depth of target (11.3 yards down field), he shouldn’t have been able to be as efficient and careful with the football as he was prior to injuring his finger late last year. That season was so far removed from his career baseline (in terms of PFF grades) that you have to wonder just how far he will regress this season, even if we concede that this might be the best-suited offense for his skill-set that he’s had around him since entering the NFL. In preseason Week 2, Palmer had a disastrous outing against the Chargers, throwing one pick-six and another pass that should have been intercepted. It’s only the preseason, but it certainly brings the topic up, and the Cardinals need Palmer to be elite for this team to be true contenders again in 2016.
4. Buccaneers GB Jason Licht and the decision to take K Roberto Aguayo in the second round
When you trade up to select a kicker in the second round—expending multiple draft picks to take him in the first sixty picks of the draft, in fact—he needs to be extremely accurate, for his own sake as much as anything else. With extra points moved back to become effectively 33-yard field-goal attempts, kicking accuracy has never been more important, and the Minnesota Vikings can attest to how critical even chip-shots can be when the game is on the line. That said, there is some logic to the pick, but Aguayo has looked very shaky so far. Last week he missed a PAT attempt, and this week he missed a field goal that was actually a yard closer to the posts. Nothing in terms of PFF grading during his final two college seasons suggested that he was a can’t-miss prospect, so the Bucs are out on a limb with this selection, and it’s already on shaky ground.
5. Titans CB Antwon Blake’s starting spot
Last season, CB Antwon Blake was one of the worst starters in football. He surrendered 1,074 receiving yards—the only corner to top 1,000—eight touchdowns, and a passer rating of 117.0 when targeted. The undrafted free agent from 2012 looked overmatched as a starter, and the Steelers let him go. But his old coach, Dick LeBeau, has inserted him into the line-up in Tennessee, and he looks much like the same guy so far this preseason. Against Carolina, Blake gave up six catches for 113 yards and a touchdown, surrendering a reception every time he was targeted, with five different receivers catching passes against him. Maybe it’s time to accept that Blake just isn’t cut out for starting work in the NFL.