The NFL preseason is finally over. Many younger and/or fringe players fought for roster spots on NFL and your fantasy football teams. We got slight glimpses into the thought pattern of some teams with how much or how little these athletes played and others we can only guess. Here are my general thoughts about some of the more interesting younger players or free agents from the first half of their last preseason game.
Falcons vs. Jaguars
The Hard Knocks legend, rookie running back Devonta Freeman, may continue to get dressed down in team meetings and see the field third of the backs, but he continues to produce. I love the way he gets small in the hole, shows a good burst, and runs tough between the tackles. The former FSU runner scored a short yardage touchdown, makes clean catches in the passing game, and is working on his pass blocking. Second year linebacker, Paul Worrilow, gets to the ball quickly with good vision and agility. He also provides pressure in the passing game rushing the passer or can drop back into coverage.
NFL and fantasy football pundits alike should be discussing first round rookie quarterback, Blake Bortles. The young signal caller showed maturity taking a sack when nothing was open and no safe passing lanes were present. He is very mobile, sets his feet before he throws, but needs to improve his pocket presence. For his detractors that question Bortles’ accuracy and arm-strength, look at his 45 yard rainbow that fellow rookie Marquise Lee caught for a 57 yard touchdown. Receiver Cecil Shorts is still knocking off the rust for not playing the rest of the preseason due to injury. The wide out creates separation with clean, crisp routes and a bit of wiggle. Third year defensive end Alan Branch is stepping up his game, playing the Leo position at times. He gets good penetration off the snap, and flows quickly down the line playing both the run and pass equally well.
Bills vs. Lions
I guess Kyle Orton is watching the Bills preseason games, because he signed with the Bills after EJ Manuel regressed again. Manuel seems to only get bailed out by second year receiver Robert Woods. The young quarterback doesn’t feel pressure, holds onto the ball too long, and throws high the majority of the time. Manual was fortunate enough to get a ricochet pass caught or his day would have ended worse. The future of the franchise, Sammy Watkins, was once again smashed in the ribs because of an errant pass, which ended his limited preseason game experience.
For the Lions, second year runner Theo Riddick is pushing for more playing time. He wants to be a Reggie Bush/Darren Sproles clone in this high-powered offense. Riddick lines up in the backfield, in the slot, and as an outside receiver. The former Golden Domer has quick feet, catches the ball well, uses a spin move, and looks great in space. I just wonder how the Lions will fee three backs. Rookie Eric Ebron shows some improvement when blocking. He lines up as a traditional tight end, in the slot, and split out wide. The tight end made a nice catch in traffic, spun away from the initial contact, and is doing a better job of shielding the ball from defenders.
Packers vs. Chiefs
The Chiefs offensive performance in the preseason has been without all-star back Jamaal Charles. Second year runner Knile Davis is a larger runner with quick feet and more power. The KC coaching staff brought Davis back to run their two-minute offense where he got to use his soft hands and decent pass blocking skills. If Davis can stay healthy, he might see a slight uptick in touches to keep Charles fresh. Preseason superstar tight end, Travis Kelce, had a quiet game other than a nice pitch and catch in traffic where he attacked the ball for a first down. Kelce is the third most dynamic offensive player for the Chiefs after Charles and might even rival Dwayne Bowe. Rookie free agent receiver Albert Wilson continues to increase his chances for playing time with crisp routes and by catching his targets in stride. I would throw him on a taxi squad if you have one in your league for safe keeping.
At this time, it looks like former Cal Bear tight end, Richard Rodgers won the Green Bay tight end sweepstakes. The rookie catches the ball well in stride and is showing more consistent hands than he did in college. Of course, I expect the Packers tight end position to have many suitors this season. Rookie receiver Devonte Adams won the number four receiver role during this game. Adams got behind his corner for a 20 yard touchdown. His coverage mistakenly thought he had safety help. The wide out excels with quick slants, gets separation, and can take heavy contact. It might have taken awhile, but fellow rookie receiver Jeff Janis also cemented his 53 roster spot with a solid game. The former Saginaw Valley playmaker created separation, tracked the ball well in the air, and made an over the shoulder catch look easy on the way to a touchdown. The Packers receivers are back to being fully stocked.
Seahawks vs. Raiders
The Super Bowl champs look ready to start the season, but ran into a fired up Raiders offense lead by rookie quarterback Derek Carr. The young leader is a quick decision maker with a strong-am. He had good ball placement, showed good mobility in the pocket, and took what the defense gave him. Carr has good footwork, steps up on his passes, and had a little luck on his side when his bad throw got tipped into Mychal Rivera’s hand in the end zone. The tight end Rivera moves all around the formation and is showing a few acrobatic moves adjusting to the ball. He can also sky to catch passes in the middle of the field. Second year rusher, Latavius Murray, has good wiggle for a bigger back, and uses his size well to get lower and generate power in short yardage situations. Depending on health, Murray might become the starting running back for the Raiders before the end of 2014. Rookie linebacker, Khalil Mack, made his presence felt when he broke up a nicely developed screen and then tipped a pass while rushing the passer. Mack flows well to the ball and could become a dominate rush linebacker.
Second year tight end Luke Willson made a nice 30 yard touchdown catch between the linebacker and safety right up the middle of the field. He seems to be pushing Zach Miller for playing time. However before you sink too much into Willson, the youngster has major issues blocking and is only really a pass catching option. Even though rookie receiver Paul Richardson hasn’t made an impact with the first team, the wide out impresses when he gets the chance. With less than a minute in the first half, Richardson skied to get the ball and had a nice toe tap to stay inbounds. This put his team in position to score right before halftime.
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