Week 1 of the 2022 NFL preseason is in the books, and it was quite a kickoff. We saw the Baltimore Ravens extend their NFL record for most consecutive preseason wins, several rookie quarterbacks registered impressive performances in their first NFL action and we even saw some unfortunate injuries — the most notable being New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson, who suffered a bone bruise and a torn meniscus.
It’s easy to overreact to these exhibition games, and while our preseason hot takes aren’t always correct, they are fun nonetheless. With that being said, let’s talk about one thing we learned about each NFL team this weekend.
The Cardinals gave former second-round pick wide receiver Andy Isabella permission to seek a trade earlier this offseason, and after this weekend, Arizona may get some calls. While the young slot wideout caught just one pass all year in 2021, he caught four passes for 57 yards in Week 1 of the preseason. He didn’t have much trouble finding a way to get open, and some team is sure to notice. Hey, maybe the Cardinals even decide to keep Isabella and figure out a role for him.
We could talk about Marcus Mariota or Desmond Ridder here, but Falcons undrafted wide receiver Jared Bernhardt caught a game-winning touchdown — which is just another feather in his athletic cap. Bernhardt is a former Maryland lacrosse star and the 2021 Tewaaraton Award winner — which is given to the best player in college lacrosse. Not only was Bernhardt a LAX legend, but he then transferred to Ferris State to play football, and led the program to an undefeated record and their first Division II national championship as a quarterback. Now, he’s caught a game-winning touchdown in the NFL. We aren’t talking about this enough.
Baltimore Ravens: Isaiah Likely will play a role on offense
Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said earlier last week that his tight end out of Coastal Carolina is “going to be a big part of the offense this year,” and it certainly looked like it in Week 1 of the preseason. Likely caught four passes for 44 yards on four targets in his first NFL action, and showcased his speed and catching ability successfully. The Ravens don’t have the best wide receiving corps on paper, but Likely and Charlie Kolar could play important roles in the passing game.
There’s a punting competition occurring in Buffalo between two great players: Matt Haack, and rookie “Punt God” Matt Araiza. There are high expectations for the San Diego kid with the interesting nickname, and he lived up to the hype in Week 1 of the preseason. Araiza punted just once, but it was an 82-yard boot that traveled more than 75 yards in the air!
As our own John Breech pointed out, since 2015, there’s only been one punt of 80 or more yards in the regular season, and that came last year when Corey Bojorquez hit one for the Green Bay Packers. I don’t care that he’s only kicked once, “Punt God” is here to stay.
Carolina Panthers: Matt Rhule has two prospective defensive sleepers
Matt Corral was probably the biggest name among rookie quarterbacks that struggled in Week 1 of the preseason, although don’t put too much into that since his offensive line didn’t do their jobs very well. For the Panthers, let’s take a look at what we saw on the defensive side of the ball this weekend.
The Panthers have two defensive rookies I’m excited to watch more of: defensive end Amare Barno and linebacker Brandon Smith. Barno is super quick around the edge, and he helped force a Taylor Heinicke interception while also recording a fumble recovery to go along with three total tackles. Smith had just one tackle, but he really flashed at times, and figures to be a versatile linebacker that can wear different hats on defense.
Justin Fields was sacked a whopping nine times in his first NFL start last year, and it remains to be seen if things got much better on the offensive front entering 2022. Not all of the starters played, but Fields was sacked twice in Week 1 of the preseason, and spent the majority of his short time on the field dodging defenders. Trevor Siemian was sacked once and Nathan Peterman was sacked twice. If Chicago is going to find any level of success in 2022, the offensive line is going to have to keep Fields upright.
The Bengals are in a weird spot with safety Jessie Bates, but that subject is probably weighing less on the minds of Cincy’s brass after watching Hill take the field for his first NFL action. The first-round pick out of Michigan recorded just one tackle, but he really stood out. His play recognition looked special, and he recorded a great pass breakup in the middle of the field — which was highlighted by his quickness and ability to break on the ball. Hill also almost recorded an athletic interception in the end zone. Bengals head coach Zac Taylor was pumped about his performance.
“He jumped out at you,” Taylor said, via the Bengals’ official website, “He made two real good plays, one down there in the low red (zone) and one on the field there on third down. Those are big time plays, so that’s what stands out and then you’ll evaluate the rest of it and see how he was. But that was exciting to see from Dax.”
It’s something we all probably should have seen coming, but Friday night was pretty eye-opening. Deshaun Watson, who has been accused by two dozen women of sexual misconduct, was given a fully-guaranteed $230 million contract by the Browns. They weren’t the only suitor, but they were the winner of this sweepstakes that had a gross feeling to it.
Watson took the field for Cleveland’s preseason opener, and he completed just 1 of 5 passes for seven yards. He looked rusty, but he also was being hounded by the Jacksonville Jaguars fans — who were relentless in their boos. The fans were loud and they were vulgar, and that’s the environment Watson is going to have to face every single time the Browns hit the road. Watson’s reputation is forever changed, and he along with the entire offense is going to have to overcome that kind of noise not just this year, but probably for years to come.
The Cowboys racked up a whopping 17 penalties for 129 yards in Week 1 of the preseason. They led the league in penalties last year, and head coach Mike McCarthy presumably doesn’t want to do that again. It’s true that this is just an exhibition game and technically meaningless, but the Cowboys and penalties are going to continue to be a topic of conversation until it’s not.
Browning recorded 58 combined tackles and two passes defensed in his first NFL season, but he made the move from linebacker to outside linebacker/pass-rusher this offseason. It seems like it’s going to work out, as he recorded four combined tackles, one sack and one tackle for loss this weekend. His sack came on a slick, outside spin move where he swallowed up Cowboys QB Cooper Rush for a big loss.
It remains to be seen what this pass-rush rotation will look like for the Broncos. Bradley Chubb and Randy Gregory are going to be the starters, but Browning, Nik Bonitto and others should get some playing time too. While Browning may not set any sack records in 2022, it’s noteworthy that the Broncos have several legitimate pass-rushers they can cycle in and out.
The Lions are going to be better than they were in 2021, and there were some good things that we saw in their first preseason game. Amon-Ra St. Brown looks like he’s going to be a star and Detroit’s offensive line looked great, but what stood out to me was the Lions’ struggle to stop the run.
The Falcons racked up 168 total rushing yards, and Ridder and Mariota combined for 82 of them. In fact, Atlanta had 118 rushing yards just in the first half. This is a preseason game and not every starter played much for Detroit, but this is still something to keep an eye on as we move towards the regular year.
Green Bay Packers: Jordan Love looked improved
Yes, I’m being serious. What really stood out to me when it came to the Packers was the play of Love. If you just look at the box score, it seems like the young quarterback had a bad day, but I thought Aaron Rodgers‘ backup played alright overall. The first two of his three interceptions were not his fault, and he was let down by his receivers multiple times with drops.
Love threw two nice touchdown passes, and looked more confident than the guy who threw for 190 yards, one touchdown and one interception in a start against the Kansas City Chiefs last year. It wasn’t a perfect outing for Love, but I was rather encouraged with what I saw. I feel like the narrative around him would be very different if he didn’t get unlucky with two interceptions that he couldn’t help.
The rookie running back out of Florida looked electric in his first NFL action. Pierce rushed five times for 49 yards, looked dangerously shifty in the backfield and was quite literally throwing grown men around in pass protection. It’s early, but he looks like a baller.
We didn’t get much from Matt Ryan and the offense this weekend, but the Colts defense was certainly impressive. They forced five turnovers from the Bills with three interceptions and two fumbles lost. Indy will need an aggressive defense that hunts for turnovers as much as they need Ryan to be an upgrade at quarterback if the Colts want to make a splash in 2022.
Jacksonville Jaguars: The offense will be much improved
On paper, it looks like the Jaguars will be much better in 2022. They just needed a coach like Doug Pederson to come in and put all the pieces together. Jacksonville’s first preseason game featured a solid showing from the offense, as Trevor Lawrence led an 11-play, 78-yard drive that ended in a field goal, and then later, another 11-play, 63-yard drive which was capped with a touchdown pass to Evan Engram. Zay Jones caught two passes for 47 yards and Travis Etienne recorded 33 yards from scrimmage on 10 touches. This offense is going to be much better with Pederson in control.
Kansas City Chiefs: Isiah Pacheco should get run with the starters
The Chiefs have one of the intriguing rookie running backs that fans and fantasy football owners alike are excited for in Pacheco. The former Rutgers back rushed just twice for six yards and made one catch for five yards in his first NFL action, but what was notable was that he was out there playing a little with the first-team offense and Patrick Mahomes. It feels like Andy Reid is going to give this young guy touches, and he could play a legitimate role in this offense.
Undrafted out of Pittsburgh, Turner raised eyebrows with his performance for the Raiders on Sunday afternoon. He led both Vegas and Minnesota with 58 receiving yards and a touchdown, and also returned a punt 26 yards that aided Vegas in its final scoring drive.
We saw what the Raiders did with another shifty small guy in Hunter Renfrow. Could Turner play his way onto the 53-man?
We didn’t really learn much from this “Battle for L.A.” between the Chargers and Rams, but a lot of eyes were on the Chargers’ running backs. Those who are big fantasy football fans view rookie Isaiah Spiller as the guy who will play second fiddle to Austin Ekeler, but we may be getting ahead of ourselves. Joshua Kelley started the first preseason game, and rushed for 16 yards on three carries, and caught three passes for 28 yards. Spiller got the most touches at running back, rushing 10 times for 34 yards, but he didn’t really record any explosive runs. It’s obviously early, but it should be interesting to watch how this battle for No. 2 on the depth chart plays out. Larry Rountree III is in the mix as well.
The Rams weren’t really playing any of their starters in Week 1 of the preseason, which opened the door for a young rookie out of Montana State to showcase his abilities. McCutcheon caught five passes for 87 yards, two touchdowns and a two-point conversion.
Truly, he was one of the big highlights from this past weekend.
Bowden, who has played in just 10 games over his two NFL seasons, has a weird cult following — and I’m very much a member of the assembly. Anyone who watched the quarterback/running back/wide receiver play at Kentucky found themselves intrigued by what he could become at the next level, which is what led to him being selected No. 80 overall by the Raiders in 2020. However, he was traded to the Dolphins before his rookie regular season even came around.
Bowden caught three passes for 55 yards and one touchdown for Miami this weekend, and returned a kick and a punt as well. Mike McDaniel has to find a way to use this guy. Check out how dirty this route was:
Dalvin Cook has established himself as one of the best running backs in the league, but it’s become clear that the Vikings have plenty of depth behind him. Most people know who Alexander Mattison is, but Minnesota has a couple of other interesting players in Kene Nwangwu and rookie Ty Chandler. Nwangwu rushed for 41 yards on seven carries this weekend, while Chandler racked up 50 yards on five carries. That’s 10 yards per carry! A pretty impressive outing on the ground for the Vikings.
We now have a better understanding of what’s going on with Bill Belichick’s staff. Kind of.
During the Patriots’ first preseason game, it appeared Matt Patricia was calling plays when Brian Hoyer and the first/second-team offense were on the field, and Joe Judge called plays for the other backups.
Belichick didn’t offer much on the situation after the game, simply saying, “We’re going through a process. Just like everything else on this team.”
It’s funny, because I’m now more interested in what’s going on in New England. I’m all for this coordinator position battle that may or may not be happening. Patricia says it’s “collaborative,” but who really knows?
The Saints have Jameis Winston and Andy Dalton as their top two quarterbacks, but New Orleans also has another young guy who it selected in the fourth round last year. Book is seen as a quarterback with at the very least a chance to become the future, but he didn’t help his case this weekend. He completed 15 of 22 passes for 121 yards and one interception vs. the Texans. His offensive line didn’t exactly help him, as he was sacked five times, but Book also fumbled twice. You have to wonder if his spot on the 53-man roster is even safe.
I hate to say it, but it’s possible Golladay’s 2021 troubles follow him into 2022 despite a new coaching staff and a new offense. The former Lion caught just 37 passes for 521 yards and zero touchdowns after signing a four-year, $72 million deal with the Giants last offseason, and many were hoping 2022 would serve as his bounce-back campaign. Now, there’s legitimate worry that won’t be happening.
Golladay caught one of his three targets for six yards in the Giants’ first preseason game. It seems like he’s failing to create separation on his routes, and even when Daniel Jones fed him in the red zone on third down, he dropped the ball. Golladay really looked like a stud at times with the Lions, but he has struggled ever since making the move to the NFC East. The Giants coaching staff doesn’t seem worried, but it will be interesting to see what happens.
New York Jets: Zach Wilson still has work to do
Wilson reportedly suffered a bone bruise and a meniscus tear in the Jets’ first preseason game — which is very unfortunate. We aren’t yet sure how much time he will miss, but things were looking bad for Wilson even before the injury.
On Wilson’s first drive of the preseason, he overthrew a pass to rookie first-round pick Garrett Wilson, and then threw an absolutely atrocious interception, which set up Philly’s second touchdown of the contest. The next drive, Wilson was injured.
The Jets worked hard to surround Wilson with upgrades virtually everywhere on both sides of the ball this offseason, and now I’m wondering if Wilson will be able to put it together.
The Eagles drafted two players from arguably the best defense in college football history with Georgia defensive tackle Jordan Davis and linebacker Nakobe Dean. Davis didn’t record a tackle in his first NFL action, but he handled the Jets’ offensive linemen with no problem, and even recorded a bit of a highlight by chasing down Wilson on the play he was injured.
As for Dean, he recorded five total tackles and was flying around all over the place. He certainly was aggressive in stopping the run. PFF loved him, and so did every Eagles fan who watched the game Friday night. Davis and Dean could be a dynamic duo.
All reports coming out of Steelers training camp were that rookie wide receiver George Pickens looked like the real deal. We all got a great look at his potential in Week 1 of the preseason.
Pickens looks fast, he seems to have great ball skills and he was burning defensive backs one play, and then laying them out as a blocker the next. He caught three passes for 43 yards and one touchdown on five targets, and will help whichever quarterback starts for Pittsburgh.
There are some people out there that believe the 49ers are making a mistake ditching Jimmy Garoppolo for Lance, but the former No. 3 overall pick looks ready to take over. Lance played a total of two drives vs. the Packers, and led the offense to 10 points scored. That includes an impressive 76-yard touchdown pass Danny Gray took to the house.
There are still some learning curves ahead for Lance, but his passing ability may be something that takes this team to another level. He’ll throw a handful of long touchdowns this year.
There are a couple of basic takeaways we can glean from Seattle’s first exhibition action. For one, the defense really struggled, but also, we should talk about the quarterback battle again. Geno Smith has always seemed like the leader in this competition, but it feels like Drew Lock has been making a late charge. He performed better than Smith with 102 passing yards and two touchdowns this weekend, although he was playing against more backups and did fumble once.
I think Lock gives the Seahawks offense a higher ceiling, but he’s also not as consistent as Smith. My prediction is still that Smith gets the first crack at replacing Russell Wilson, but will he be able to hold onto the job?
I’m not going to go as far as to say Trask is first in line to replace Tom Brady, but it was good to see him take the field and have a solid outing. He completed 25 of 33 passes for 258 yards, one touchdown and one interception against the Dolphins, and made several “NFL throws” which showed his potential. I’m more excited to watch him this upcoming weekend.
I understand we are overreacting in this piece, but Willis looked like he could become a special quarterback one day. He was quick on his feet in his first NFL action, and recorded an impressive rushing touchdown. The former Liberty quarterback also connected on a 48-yard deep pass where the ball flew out of his hand with ease. Willis didn’t have the best “passing” outing, but he played smart and made a few splash plays. Lamar Jackson is already sold on him, too. For a more detailed breakdown on how Willis fared last week, click here.
Most of the rookie quarterbacks showed out in Week 1 of the preseason, but one maybe I was not anticipating was Howell. The UNC product had NFL teams rechecking their draft notes this weekend, as he completed 9 of 16 passes for 145 yards, and rushed for 19 yards and two touchdowns.
Howell looked rather accurate throwing the football, but also was a serious threat on the ground. Down 14 points in the fourth quarter, Howell scored 15 unanswered points to put Washington in the lead before Carolina kicked a game-winning field goal at the end of the fourth quarter. Despite the loss, Howell was a major headline from Week 1 of the preseason.