There’s no doubt that the excitement for football builds as the summer comes to a close. Now, with the Hall of Fame game in the rear view mirror, the real preseason is about to begin. The Panthers and Texans will open the preseason tonight in Charlotte, and eyes will turn there.
But, that is just the beginning. Every team will take the field over the next five days. Everyone taking the field brings about questions. Let’s take a look at a few questions around the league while also reviewing last week’s game. Also, a few fantasy nuggets at the bottom.
5 Thoughts On the Hall of Fame Game
Quarterback Blaine Gabbert played solid overall in his time on the field. Yes, it was preseason, but some of the defenders he played against will start week one for the Cowboys. He completed 11 of 14 passes for 185 yards, which shows that he can be a serviceable backup.
The Cardinals had two other young players show up big last week. Rookie safety Budda Baker looks like a good investment so far. He stuck with receivers in coverage while also providing help downhill. Second year pro Robert Nkemdiche also looked good in his limited snaps. He consistently pushed the offensive line back and provided pressure from the interior. If he breaks out, this defense could be real solid.
Kellen Moore also had a strong outing at quarterback. Moore was the backup early last summer, and he looks ready to prove himself this year. His 12 completions for 182 yards give the Cowboys something stable in case of a Dak Prescott injury.
The best story of the game came courtesy of Dallas tight end Rico Gathers. A former Baylor basketball player, Gathers decided to take the NFL route out of college. He stayed on the practice squad for a year, learning and growing. Last week, he caught three passes for 59 yards and a touchdown. His continued development is something to watch.
Dallas has question marks in other places besides the secondary and defensive line. All eyes will be on right tackle La’el Collins and the competition for left guard. If those two spots end up subpar, that could lead to more pressure on Prescott and Elliott in 2017.
5 Things To Watch For In Texans and Panthers
The biggest thing to watch for is obvious. Rookie quarterback DeShaun Watson takes his first snaps in the NFL. The questions about arm strength and processing a defense are still present, but Watson has a chance here to take the first step to squashing those stories.
The Panthers come in with a young secondary again this season. They added back Captain Munnerlyn, but the eyes are on second year players Daryl Worley and James Bradberry.
The Panthers offensive line is another big battle to watch. They signed Matt Kalil to a big deal this past offseason, and drafted Western Michigan lineman Taylor Moton. If Moton can play tackle at the next level, it’ll help lower the amount of hits Cam Newton takes.
With Texans’ wideout Will Fuller now sidelined for some time, it’s time to see some receiver make a jump. Braxton Miller continues to learn the position, and he will get plenty of chances in the preseason. Another name to watch is Jaelen Strong, who wants to earn more playing time.
Rookies Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel were added in the draft to change the dynamic of the Panthers offense. Both can affect an offense via the run and the pass. It will be interesting to see how offensive coordinator Mike Shula uses them.
5 Things For Packers and Chiefs
If you are a follower of mine on Twitter, you know I do work over at cover32. I cover both the Chiefs and Packers, along with the Packers over here. Let’s take a look at a couple stories for each team.
The Packers have three established wide receivers coming into camp. Behind that, it’s a question mark. Geronimo Allison played well down the stretch, but he’s suspended for the first game of the season. Trevor Davis is a speedster, but the Packers want to see more from his route running. Jeff Janis won’t see the field much, but he could stay due to his prowess on special teams. The Packers also drafted two rookies in Malachi Dupre and DeAngelo Yancey. Both Michael Clark and Max McCaffrey have made headlines in camp as well. This is a great problem to have.
Green Bay also needs to assess the outside linebacker position. Assuming they both stay healthy, Nick Perry and Clay Matthews will come to play this season. A depth issue exists behind them. Kyler Fackrell and Jayrone Elliott will both get increased snaps this season, but they will be under the microscope in the preseason. Once rookie Vince Biegel returns, he will also need to step up.
The Chiefs also have a conundrum at wide receiver. Tyreek Hill and Chris Conley look like the starters, but plenty of questions remain. Demarcus Robinson is a good route runner that could succeed in Kansas City. He needs to continue to make heads turn in camp. Seantavius Jones is the other name to watch. He has made play after play in camp, and his stature would give the Chiefs something extra at receiver.
Patrick Mahomes is the obvious other story. Everyone is watching his every move during camp. When he makes good throws, the fans scream “We’ve got a superstar!”. The reality is, he needs to work on his footwork and his progressions. He’s not a finished product though, and Andy Reid can do wonders with quarterbacks.
One player off the radar to watch on each team: Packers CB Josh Hawkins, Chiefs LB Ukeme Eligwe
5 Rookies To Watch On First Preseason Weekend
I’m really looking forward to watch Dolphins second round pick Raekwon McMillan this weekend. He plays the position with such ease, and was overlooked in a class loaded with defense.
Everyone wants to see rookie wideout Zay Jones, and count me in. Jones dominated in college, and he has an opportunity to see plenty of targets in the Bills offense.
The Ravens have had a tough start to 2017, but the future looks brighter. Tim Williams had a wicked first step in college, and it’ll be interesting to see how he does against NFL competition.
Derek Rivers was one of my draft crushes, and I believe the Pats got a steal there. He has a chance to dominate the preseason and find snaps early in 2017.
What position will Raiders rookie Obi Melifonwu play? That remains to be seen. But, I can’t wait to watch him roam the secondary for Oakland on Saturday.
5 Fantasy Nuggets
Running backs are a dime a dozen this year. There aren’t many at the top, and you have to find the gems late. There’s no reason not to go for them early, even the rookies. Wide receiver is deep, but running back is not.
Andrew Luck and Cam Newton are over drafted right now. There are plenty of quarterbacks to take late that will produce.
Don’t be afraid to zig when everyone else zags. When a run on a position starts, that means better value comes your way. Don’t fall victim to the run.
Speaking of running backs, half of last year’s running backs won’t finish in the top 15. Running backs are important, but be smart. Look at trends, offenses, gameplans, etc. Things will show up to steer you away from some backs.
Unless Rob Gronkowski falls to late round three, don’t pull the trigger. Streaming tight ends or finding two late will work. Yes, Gronk gives you an advantage, but he hasn’t been very healthy as of late.
Jake Schyvinck covers the NFL and NFL Draft for The Sports Guys. He also writes for cover32 nationally, and for the Chiefs and Packers. Follow him @JSchyvinck13 on Twitter.