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NFL preseason takeaways: Rookie quarterbacks, injuries, trades, more

Las Vegas Raiders v San Francisco 49ers
Trey Lance
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Preseason football has concluded, and teams will set their initial rosters on Tuesday. Every pro-scouting department will be scouring recent cuts to find value in adding a recently unemployed football player to their active roster. The New York Giants will likely look to add offensive linemen, a tight end, and possibly a cornerback, among other talents at other positions.

It’s been two years since we’ve had the pleasure of watching preseason football. Preseason football has been devalued a bit with the ever-growing nature of joint practices, at least from starters seeing live reps on the football field. Nevertheless, there are still crucial takeaways to ponder and valuable lessons that are learned for young players. Here are some takeaways from three weeks of preseason action.

Rookie quarterbacks

The NFL had five interesting rookie quarterbacks that were selected in the first round. Trevor Lawrence went to the Jacksonville Jaguars with the first overall selection, followed by BYU’s Zach Wilson to the New York Jets at the second pick. Trey Lance, out of North Dakota State, made it a trio of picks at three to Kyle Shanahan and the San Francisco 49ers. Ohio State’s Justin Fields somehow fell to pick 11, where the Chicago Bears traded several picks to the New York Giants for the right to select Fields. Then at pick 15, Alabama’s Mac Jones was chosen by the New England Patriots.

All of these quarterbacks have shown impressive signs of encouragement in the preseason. Preseason defenses aren’t as complex and are much more vanilla than what these quarterbacks will see in the regular season. Regardless, positive signs are better than negative headlines.

Lawrence showed development from Week 1 to Week 3 of the preseason, where he carved up the Dallas Cowboys defense. Lawrence found Pharoah Cooper on a beautiful double-move touchdown and then hit Laviska Shanault two drives later for an impressive touchdown. Wilson only played in the first two preseason games but looked accurate while relying on newly-acquired wideout Corey Davis. Wilson’s timing and rhythm were precocious for the young signal-caller, and the arm talent is evident on film. Wilson had 15 completions on 20 drop backs for 191 yards and two touchdowns in his two preseason games.

Along with Lawrence, Lance and Fields are incredible athletes. Lance didn’t rush much in the first two preseason games but did have a rushing touchdown called back. However, in the third preseason game against the Raiders, Lance took advantage of a misdirection play on the goal line for a touchdown. Against the Chargers in preseason week two, Lance completed 8 of 14 for 102 yards and two touchdowns, along with an interception that was a poorly thrown pass. The interception was poor mechanically, and it seems like Lance didn’t trust his eyes, which were telling the truth. However, these mistakes happen with younger players, and incumbent quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo had a similar interception.

Lance’s difference-making ability does also pop out on tape. He had a great deep pass on a slot fade to WR Kendall Sherfield near the sideline between defenders. Lance did a good job using his eyes to hold the safety on the Sherfield catch. There have been some misreads and some errant throws from Lance, but the future is very bright. He’s also operated a lot in 11-personnel this offseason, not too many snaps with Shanahan’s 12 or 21 personnel packages. With Kyle Shanahan calling plays, the upside of a quarterback with Lance’s potential is staggering.

Fields also impressed in three preseason games. He did take an incredible hit that jarred his helmet off, but he bounced right back up. He has 30 completions on 49 attempts for 276 yards and two touchdowns. Fields also added 92 yards and a touchdown on the ground. He has excellent improvisational skills, and his ability to extend plays led to Jesper Horstead’s touchdown in the third preseason game. Andy Dalton may be the starter, but that won’t last too long - the Fields show is coming to Chicago, and it’s going to be exciting.

Mac Jones has proven capable so far in the preseason as well. He had a beautiful tight-window throw to Gunner Olszewski in the second preseason game. He has done a solid job maneuvering the pocket, and continued his solid preseason against the Giants. Jones connected on 10 of 14 passes for 156 yards and a touchdown while being sacked four times. His arm looked lively, and he processed well for the most part. Jones will start at some point this season for the Patriots. Probably earlier, rather than later.

Trades

I love the aggressiveness and savvy general managing from teams; instead of discarding players who will inevitably get cut, many around the NFL are looking for trade partners to return some semblance of value for players that would otherwise not make the squad. The Giants did this with Isaac Yiadom. Big Blue traded the CB to the Packers for Josh Jackson, a CB with a lot of pedigree who has yet to see the field and who is often labeled a “bust. I like this type of move; however, the ironic nature of life renders a fact that Jackson may not make the Giants because of the injury. Yiadom probably would have after the injuries to Quincy Wilson, and Adoree’ Jackson. Thankfully, it seems like Adoree; Jackson should be ready for Week 1.

Ryan Santoso to Carolina

The Giants can get some value for a player that would have been cut. After his long tenure in Carolina, the Giants acquired kicker Graham Gano; Gano was released from Carolina because Joey Slye was an ascending talent. Slye was released from Carolina and replaced by Santoso, who was traded to the Panthers for a conditional 2022 seventh-round selection. It’s not much, but the Giants also found players like Carter Coughlin and Tae Crowder in the seventh round, so sign me up for that any day.

Gardner Minshew to Philly

The Eagles traded a conditional sixth-round pick for Minshew, who will push Jalen Hurts for the starting role. Ultimately, I expect the job to be Hurts’ to lose, but I wouldn’t be shocked if Minshew gets reps through the season on a team that I expect to struggle. Minshew is a fun guy to root for, but he holds onto the football a bit too long, and he’s not a Jalen Hurts type of athlete. It’s an interesting acquisition nonetheless, and I wouldn’t be shocked if Philly fans are clamoring for Minshew if the team struggles early in the season. Ironically enough, both Minshew and Santoso are proud members of team mustache.

RB Sony Michel to the Rams

The Patriots showcased Michel’s pass-catching ability in the second preseason game, a role often occupied by James White or J.J. Taylor. Lo and behold, Michel was traded to the Rams for a 2022 sixth-rounder and a 2023 fourth-round pick. New England has six backs vying for a spot on the roster; one of them is rookie out of Oklahoma Rhomandre Stevenson, who has looked excellent this preseason. It’s no surprise that New England wanted to trade Michel - they just denied his fifth-year option in May. He’s set to make $1.79 million this year, and the Rams lost Akers earlier in training camp. The Rams have RB Darrell Henderson on their roster, but he’s dealing with a thumb injury. Henderson has underwhelmed when asked to carry a heavy workload, and he’s dinged up far too often. There’s little proven depth behind Henderson, so it makes sense for the Rams to add an established veteran who has played in big-time NFL games, especially since the long-term commitment is minimal (Michel reportedly has degenerative knee issues). The two picks, one being a fourth-rounder, surprised me a bit too be honest, but the Rams felt it necessary to upgrade the depth at RB.

OG Greg Mancz from BAL to MIA

I want to acknowledge this trade because it’s a veteran IOL being traded for a late-round pick swap. Certain teams are deeper along the offensive line, and they have talent that may end up being released. The Ravens were one of them, and they’re sending Mancz, a 29-year-old IOL with more than 500 NFL snaps, to Miami for little compensation. The Giants need depth across the offensive line; I wouldn’t be shocked if a trade like this happens on Monday. If that doesn’t materialize, I expect the Giants to possibly add a player that gets cut by his respective team on Tuesday.

CB Shaun Wade from BAL to NE

In an interesting turn of events, Ravens’ 2021 fifth-round selection Shaun Wade has been sent to the New England Patriots for a 2022 seventh-round pick and a 2023 fifth-round selection. Wade had a roller coaster couple of years; he was projected as a top-15 pick heading into the 2020 NFL season by many draft pundits, but his play slipped so drastically in 2020 that he fell to Day 3. Wade may not have the athletic ability to play cornerback, and many believe he would be better suited as a safety. It is unusual that a team would trade a rookie before training camp is done. The Raiders traded rookie third-round WR Lynn Bowden to the Dolphins last season before the start of the year, so maybe it’s becoming a trend.

Other trades

There were two other trades of note over the last week that I wanted to touch on. Panthers’ 28-year-old linebacker Denzel Perryman was traded to the Las Vegas Raiders for a seventh to sixth-round pick swap. Perryman is a stout run defender who was injured last season. The Panthers have fourth-year backup LB Jermaine Carter as a backup, and his ascension may have been one aspect that facilitated this trade.

After the Carl Lawson injury, the Jets decided to look around the NFL for a possible EDGE defender with experience. They found a familiar face, former Buffalo Bills EDGE Shaq Lawson, who was a member of the Houston Texans before the Jets sent a 2022 sixth-round pick to Houston for the former first-round pick in 2016. According to Pro Football Focus, Lawson has 22 career sacks and 130 pressures in his career.

Injuries

Get through the preseason healthy” is a common wish for all football fans. Players can get hurt in a variety of ways. The Giants have dealt with many training camp hamstring injuries that have sidelined some of their offensive weapons. The Cam Akers torn Achilles early in training camp was a devastating blow to a potent offense. Heck, Vikings tight end Irv Smith Jr. had meniscus surgery out of nowhere and will miss several weeks to open the season. These injuries transpire, and it sucks, to be frank.

Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott has yet to see live reps in the preseason after overcoming his 2020 ankle injury, and he’s been dealing with a latissimus dorsi in his back that has prevented him from throwing consistently through training camp. He is presumed to be “fine” for week one. A lot of these injuries will carry heavy fantasy implications as well.

RB Travis Etienne, JAC

The star rookie running back out of Clemson suffered a Lisfranc injury on his left foot and will likely miss the entire season. It happened in the Jaguars preseason Week 2 loss to the Saints on Monday Night Football. Etienne was poised to split the backfield with 2020 UDFA and fantasy star James Robinson. Now, expect Robinson to shoulder a more significant workload with former Ohio State star Carlos Hyde splitting the duties to an extent.

RB J.K. Dobbins, BAL

Dobbins and quarterback Lamar Jackson are crucial parts of the Ravens’ effective rushing attack. Dobbins appeared to hyper-extend his knee on a little slip-screen pass game in the third preseason game, but the MRI revealed a season-ending torn ACL. Backup running back Gus Edwards will likely assume Dobbins role, with third-year RB out of Oklahoma State Justice Hill being the change of pace back. It’s also worth noting that Todd Gurley worked out for the Ravens in July but wasn’t signed. That could change following Dobbins’ injury. The Ravens’ skill position players have been ravaged by injuries this offseason. Rookie WR Rashod Bateman won’t be available until October with a groin injury. Also, Sammy Watkins and Marquise Brown are dealing with hamstring injuries.

EDGE Carl Lawson, NYJ

Lawson is one of my favorite pass-rushers to evaluate. Lawson tore his Achilles in a training camp practice - brutal. He has many creative moves, violent hands, plays with excellent leverage, and he’s ferocious. He just signed a three-year, $45 million contract to be the bookend EDGE in Robert Salah’s defense. He’s still only 26 years old.

In other, not so grim, injury news, several players are trending towards starting the season. Giants RB Saquon Barkley participated in padded practice with the New England Patriots. It’s not certain that he’ll play in Week 1, and I expect his reps to be monitored if he does, but getting him on the field is a step in the right direction.

Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper was back on the field in Week 2 of the preseason. Cooper claimed his ankle feels “a whole lot better.” WR Odell Beckham Jr. reportedly looks quick and fast at practice, so it seems he’s ramping up to play after recovering from his early-season torn ACL in 2020. Broncos WR Courtland Sutton caught a touchdown pass in the Broncos’ third preseason game, which is fantastic news. Sutton tore his ACL in the offseason of 2020; Sutton planted his surgically repaired left leg into the ground and exploded off of it to get himself open for the touchdown reception.

Lions RB DeAndre Swift may not be ready for week one as he is returning from a groin injury. Swift dealt with hamstring issues earlier in training camp. Head coach Dan Campbell stated that he was “concerned” for Swift’s availability, and he’s “unsure” of his workload if he’s active for week one. Draft Jamaal Williams at his current ADP of 115.