The third week of the preseason is always considered the most important, but I’m not sure that is the case anymore. Some teams (like the Rams) are completely ambivalent to getting their starters work in preseason action, most teams only play starters for a handful of drives, and even then, some starters still sit with extremely minor injuries.
That’s why context is so important when you’re analyzing preseason action.
Who gets first-team snaps and performance is important, but it’s just as telling to analyze who doesn’t play and why in the third and final game. For example, it’s clear the Jets view Tevin Coleman as their “1A” back after he got starter treatment in the final preseason game while Michael Carter and Ty Johnson continued their battle for the No. 2 job.
In this column, we’ll go game-by-game and find actionable info and ignore the noise.
Preseason: Week 3
The Lions receiver rotation is still a wide open competition.
Tevin Coleman is the Jets Week 1 starter. Michael Carter is still battling Ty Johnson for the No. 2 job.
Sam Darnold was sharp.
Mecole Hardman might not be a full-time player just yet.
Javonte Williams rests while Melvin Gordon plays.
Cortland Sutton impresses in first action in 11 months.
The Bills backfield is still gross.
So is the Texans backfield.
Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones are a true 1A / 1B committee.
Carlos Hyde might be a thorn in James Robinson’s side.
Ja’Marr Chase has had a preseason to forget.
Mac Jones was sharp again.
Raheem Mostert is the 49ers starting RB and looked explosive.
Daniel Jones didn’t get any help.
Indianapolis vs. Detroit
For the third-straight game, we didn’t see many of the Colts core contributors. Carson Wentz (foot) was out obviously while Jonathan Taylor, T.Y. Hilton, Michael Pittman, Nyheim Hines, Marlon Mack, Jack Doyle, and Mo Alie-Cox all got veteran treatment and sat.
Jacob Eason got the start and is going to be the Colts backup QB in Week 1 to Wentz after the rookie Sam Ehlinger suffered what looked like a fairly serious knee injury near the end of the first half.
We got a small glimpse of the Lions first-teamers in their first game, but that is it. HC Dan Campbell has put the lid on in their last two games. This week, the Lions trotted out Tim Boyle as starter and then David Blough played three quarters to close out the game.
While D’Andre Swift, Jamaal Williams, and T.J. Hockenson all got the veteran treatment, it’s interesting that Breshad Perriman, Amon-Ra St. Brown, and Quintez Cephus did not. Tyrell Williams (groin) sat, but the Lions are still searching for what their receiver rotation might look like in Week 1.
The Lions started the game in their 12-personnel (2 WRs, 2 TEs) sets with Perriman and Cephus on the field. St. Brown didn’t get any playing time until Detroit went into 11-personnel (3 WRs, 1 TE) and he played exclusively out of the slot, lining up on the interior on 10 of his 11 routes.
While Perriman (3 targets, 1/6 receiving) and St. Brown (3 targets, 2/4 receiving) didn’t make an impact, Cephus went 3/35/1 on his 3 targets. Cephus’ 15-yard TD was on a crisp slant route where he shook the cornerback and made a nice move upfield to score.
Right now, it seems like Williams is the Lions “X” wideout, St. Brown will be slot-only, while their flanker spot is a true competition between Cephus and Perriman.
Philadelphia vs. New York Jets
After a crazy storm delayed the start of the game, the Eagles decided to sit Jalen Hurts, likely in an attempt to protect their starter from playing on a damp field. So, Joe Flacco got the start and the team loved what they saw from Flacco so much… they traded for Gardner Minshew the following morning. Philadelphia only gave up a conditional sixth-rounder that can turn into a fifth for Minshew’s services. There is a chance Flacco sticks around as the No. 2 QB, but the move signals that GM Howie Roseman wants better security behind Hurts for the long term. It was a bigger indictment of Nick Mullens, who got cut.
As for on-field action, well, the Eagles rested most of their starters. DeVonta Smith, Miles Sanders, Dallas Goedert, and Zach Ertz all sat. Jordan Howard was held out for some reason, too.
Jalen Reagor played six snaps, turned a shallow crosser into 18 yards with some nice YAC skills, and then was put in bubble wrap.
Quez Watkins was the co-starter at receiver with Reagor and played 15 total snaps, all of which were in the first quarter. He wasn’t targeted.
Boston Scott got the start and turned a short dump-off from Flacco into a nice shake-and-bake 49-yard TD and then was promptly put on ice.
Scott played just five snaps, then Kenneth Gainwell got into the game and turned in a nice 5/32/1 rushing line with 4/27 through the air on his 16 snaps.
The Jets rested Zach Wilson, Corey Davis, Jamison Crowder, and Tevin Coleman ahead of Week 1 while Elijah Moore (quad) continued to sit out.
The only important takeaway here is that Coleman is the clear-cut Jets starting running back for Week 1. While he got veteran treatment and rested, both rookie Michael Carter and Ty Johnson got quite a bit of burn in the Jets final preseason game.
Carter got the start, but rotated on and off of the field with the veteran Johnson. Carter played 13 out of 33 snaps with the “first-team” offense led by Josh Johnson while Ty Johnson was on the field for 14 snaps. While Carter’s day was done after half-time, Johnson played into the 4th quarter.
Carter closed out the Jets final preseason game with a lowly 12 rushing yards on 7 carries and caught his lone target for 7 yards. Johnson was much better as he ran for 13/53/1 and added 2/18 receiving.
After a quiet preseason, it’s clear that Carter’s role early in the year is going to be fairly limited. He’s still in a direct competition with Johnson for No. 2 RB duties. Of course, that doesn’t mean that Carter won’t eventually break out, but he is by no means someone you’re going to rely on to be in your lineups in Week 1.
Pittsburgh vs. Carolina
The Steelers rested Ben Roethlisberger, Najee Harris, Diontae Johnson, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Anthony McFarland on Friday night while Chase Claypool (18 snaps), Eric Ebron (8), and Pat Freiermuth (5) all got limited work.
Claypool got two targets (1/18 receiving) and turned his lone carry into 11 yards. Ebron and Freiermuth were not targeted.
McFarland sitting out and Benny Snell getting the start with the first-team and Dwayne Haskins means that McFarland is the clear-cut No. 2 back behind Harris. McFarland worked as the No. 2 runner in rotation in their first two games, so him resting in this third game means he’s locked in as Harris’ handcuff.
Besides Christian McCaffrey who sat out, the entire Panthers starting offense played the entire first half. Sam Darnold and the starters got 5 drives and turned in 17 points against the Steelers mostly second-team defense.
Outside of an ugly sack/fumble on a third and 16, Darnold was sharp on Friday night, going 19-of-25 for 162 yards (2 TDs, 0 INTs). What stood out most was Darnold’s ball-placement and zip on his throws. He clearly has the arm talent to be an above-average starter, but his frenetic play when pressured and decision-making under duress continue to be the main concerns.
Darnold’s target distribution was fairly tight on his 25 pass attempts with D.J. Moore (6) leading the way, Robby Anderson (5) second, and Terrace Marshall (4) third.
Moore was mainly a short-area target on Friday night, as his aDOT was just 2.5 yards. This was Moore’s first action of 2021, so the team probably just wanted to get him in rhythm early with a bunch of quick hitters.
Anderson only caught 2 of his 5 targets, but he scored a TD on a gorgeous back-shoulder ball from Darnold from 8 yards out.
Marshall continued to look like an absolute beast, eating up yards and getting open at will out of the slot. Marshall scored on a tunnel screen where he bobbed and weaved his way through traffic.
Moore and Anderson were the top two wideouts in the Panthers 12-personnel (2 WRs, 2 TEs) sets, so Marshall basically only played in 11-personnel (3 WRs, 1 TE). Marshall has run 46 routes this preseason and lined up in the slot on 30 of them (65%).
While he won’t be a true full-time player in Week 1, Marshall has been phenomenal as the Panthers slot wideout this preseason. He’s tallied up 9/181/1 on 12 targets and is proving a definite threat to Moore and Anderson’s target share.
Finally, and this is no surprise, but Dan Arnold is confirmed as the Panthers starting tight end. Arnold was on the field for 21 of Darnold’s 26 dropbacks while Ian Thomas ran just 9 routes. While he is at best the fifth target on this offense, Arnold is worth a cheap shot as a TE3 in the final few weeks of best ball leagues.
Minnesota vs. Kansas City
Kirk Cousins played three drives and was on the field for 15 total snaps on Friday night, but was without all of his main weapons. Justin Jefferson, Adam Thilen, and Dalvin Cook all sat out.
HC Mike Zimmer was adamant this summer that Irv Smith’s role won’t grow now that Kyle Rudolph is in New York, but he was a full-time player against the Chiefs with all of the Vikings starting receivers out. Smith ran a route on 7 of Cousins’ 9 dropbacks, but the big caveat here is that Tyler Conklin sat out again tending to a minor hamstring strain. Conklin is going to be Rudolph’s replacement, per Zimmer.
The Vikings use multiple tight sets as their base offense, so Smith will have plenty of opportunities to out-play Conklin, but he won’t have top-8 upside at the position unless he plays a true full-time role.
Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs first-team offense played only two drives and were on the field for just 15 snaps, but that was enough to absolutely carve up the Vikings defense. Mahomes was surgical, going 8-for-9 with 117 yards and 2 TDs. His 35-yard connection to Tyreek Hill was a thing of beauty. The Chiefs looked ready to explode in Week 1.
As for usage, Hill was on the field for 8 of Mahomes’ 9 dropbacks, Travis Kelce ran 7 routes, while Demarcus Robinson also ran 7 and Mecole Hardman ran just 4. Byron Pringle got one snap.
This is a concern for Hardman because he has never been a full-time player with the Chiefs and, in this very small sample of snaps, it appears Hardman is still battling with Robinson for snaps.
Jerick McKinnon got the start at running back with Clyde Edwards-Helaire (ankle) and Darrel Williams (concussion) out with injuries. McKinnon played on 6-of-15 snaps with Mahomes while Darwin Thompson was on the field for 9-of-15. McKinnon was on the field for the entire first drive, then rested. He is a shoo-in for the No. 3 job.
Los Angeles Chargers vs. Seattle
Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers wrapped up the preseason averaging 7.7 points and 193.3 yards per game after their shutout loss to the Seahawks. New HC Brandon Staley didn’t play QB Justin Herbert, WR Keenan Allen, RB Austin Ekeler, TE Jared Cook and WR Mike Williams (hip) for a single snap. Staley’s starting offensive linemen also saw 20 snaps or fewer throughout the preseason.
The only offense starting position that saw significant run this off-season was at their No. 3 WR spot because they’re having an open competition. The Chargers rested Jalen Guyton against the Seahawks while rookie Josh Palmer (3/26 receiving on five targets) and Tyron Johnson (4/41 receiving on nine targets) each saw significant playing time. Johnson played nearly the entire game (48-of-52 snaps) while the Chargers pulled Palmer much earlier (33-of-52 snaps). The Chargers are likely to rotate Guyton, Palmer, and Johnson at the No. 3 WR role to open the season. It appears that Guyton has the slight leg up in the battle for snaps but Palmer is a player to target late in deeper drafts since he appears to be on the fast track as a rookie.
Backup QB Chase Daniel (9/12 for 70 yards) took a hit to his elbow on the opening drive of the game and he was relieved by Easton Stick (10/17 for 76 yards) before eventually coming back to play two more series. Staley said Daniel’s injury wasn’t serious and it’s looking like the Chargers could keep three QBs on their 53-man roster.
Joshua Kelley (3/2 rushing, 1/12 receiving) got the start over Larry Rountree (6/27 rushing, 2/8 receiving), but he continued to be unimpressive. He failed to pick up an inside blitz in pass protection, which led to a Seattle defensive touchdown and it forced Daniel to go to the sidelines with his elbow injury. He finished the preseason with just 18/31 rushing (1.7 YPC) and he’s much closer to being the No. 4 RB behind Rountree than to being the No. 2 RB ahead of Justin Jackson.
The Seahawks rested most of their key offensive skill players like QB Russell Wilson, RB Chris Carson, WR D.K. Metcalf, and WR Tyler Lockett. TEs Gerald Everett (1/2 receiving on one target) and Will Dissly (no targets) each saw action with the first-team offense with the Seahawks dealing with injuries behind them at the position. Everett played on 12-of-17 snaps on the first two series while Dissly played on 10-of-17 snaps.
Rashaad Penny (7/24 rushing, 1/5 receiving), Alex Collins (10/37/1), and rookie Josh Johnson (11/33, 3/17) were the only RBs available for the third preseason game — Carson rested and Travis Homer (calf) and DeeJay Dallas sat with minor injuries. Penny got the start and he rotated with Collins in the first half and Collins also split the work with Johnson in the second half. Penny holds the advantage to be the No. 2 runner behind Carson but Collins made the competition tighter in August.
Seattle’s top 2021 pick D’Wayne Eskridge made his professional debut, 11 days after the Seahawks activated him off the PUP list for his toe injury. He played on 13 of the first 17 snaps of the game, and he handled a fly sweep for a nine-yard gain and he caught his only target for a 19-yard gain on a crossing pattern. The Athletic’s Michael Shawn-Dugar believes Freddie Swain is still the No. 3 WR for now but HC Pete Carroll was impressed with Eskridge’s debut, “He looks like the guy we hoped we’d get when we picked him.”
Los Angeles Rams vs. Denver
Los Angeles Rams
The Rams once again rested top skill players like QB Matthew Stafford, WR Robert Woods, WR DeSean Jackson, WR Cooper Kupp, WR Van Jefferson, RB Darrell Henderson, RB Sony Michel, and TE Tyler Higbee.
The only semi-notable fantasy happening from Los Angeles’ third preseason game is that it appears seventh-round pick Jake Funk is ahead of Xavier Jones for the No. 3 RB role. Funk didn’t play a single snap like the rest of key skill players for the Rams while Jones played on 73% of the snaps. Jones finished with 13/44 rushing and 3/20 receiving on five targets, and The Athletic’s Jourdan Rodrigue noted that Jones may have picked up an ankle injury in Saturday’s game. Both Funk and Jones are expected to make the roster but it appears that Funk has the better chance to carve out a role, potentially in the passing game, behind Henderson and Michel.
HC Sean McVay also used the preseason to get second-round pick Tutu Atwell heavy reps. He finished the preseason with 18/129 receiving on 29 targets after posting 8/62 receiving on 12 targets in the preseason finale. Atwell will open the season deep down the Rams’ depth chart as the team’s No. 5 WR, but he’s just one D-Jax injury away from having a role as the team’s situational deep threat.
Denver’s third preseason game marked the much-anticipated returns of WR Courtland Sutton (ACL) and EDGE Von Miller (ankle), but it was more of what didn’t happen that caught our eye for fantasy. The Broncos made second-round pick Javonte Williams a healthy scratch and they instead featured Melvin Gordon in their final preseason game. It’s a sign that Williams is already the No. 1 RB heading into the season and it wouldn’t be shocking if the Broncos try to move Gordon this week if they can find any takers. Gordon finished with 5/35 rushing and he caught his only target for four yards before exiting after the team’s third drive.
HC Vic Fangio minted Teddy Bridgewater as the team’s starting quarterback earlier in the week, and he completed 6/11 passes for 62 yards and a touchdown on three drives — he led four touchdown drives in seven preseason series. His touchdown strike came on a red-zone scramble play to Sutton, who saw his first action since he tore his ACL 11 months ago. Sutton’s most impressive play came on a 19-yard reception on a third-and-7 play when he sold an inside breaking route, planted his surgically repaired left leg, and broke outside for the wide-open catch. Jerry Jeudy didn’t see a target on eight snaps while Noah Fant (leg) and K.J. Hamler (non-COVID illness) rested.
Green Bay vs. Buffalo
Unsurprisingly, HC Matt LaFleur rested all of his key starters in their third and final preseason game. Aaron Rodgers, Aaron Jones, Davante Adams, along with David Bakhtiari all sat.
Jordan Love got the start and played into the third quarter. Love was very up and down, going 12-of-18 for 149 yards (0 TDs, 1 INT, 1 sack). Love’s interception was simply inexcusable. After a big 4th and 1 conversion, the Packers were on the cusp of the red-zone on the following play. Love was pressured, pedaled backwards, and just tossed up the easiest INT Bills S Micah Hyde has ever made in his life. Love should have had another pick at the end of the second half in a third and goal situation, where he was once again pressured, stumbled backwards, and threw a ball into traffic off his backfoot. The Packers 26th overall pick in 2020 doesn’t look remotely close to ready to play in a regular season game.
A.J. Dillon got the start and played into the second quarter. He played 19 snaps, and didn’t do much on his carries going for 18 yards on 7 carries.
We got our first look at Josh Allen and most of the Bills starters played the entire first half. OC Brian Daboll did not put Allen on a leash, either. Allen played 33 total snaps, and 27 of them were passes. Granted it was against the Packers backup defense, but Allen was very sharp going 20-of-26 for 194 yards and 2 TDs.
Emmanuel Sanders (33 snaps), Gabe Davis (33), and Cole Beasley (29) operated as Allen’s 3-WR trio with Stefon Diggs (rest) out, and Sanders led the way in targets with 8. Davis and Beasley both had 5 looks.
The big news of the game wasn’t a surprise, but just yet another reminder why the Bills backfield is one to avoid. On Allen’s 33 dropbacks, Zack Moss played 16 snaps while Devin Singletary played 15. Gross. Not only are the Bills going to be very pass-heavy and do not scheme many throws to their backs because they are deep at receiver, Allen is the goal-line back. Neither Moss nor Singletary has any standalone upside unless one of the duo misses time with an injury.
Baltimore vs. Washington Football Team
Well, what else can I say besides that J.K. Dobbins’ ACL injury absolutely sucks?
Dobbins is done for the season and the only silver-lining is that he’ll have essentially a full 12 months to get back to 100% in time for Week 1 of 2022.
For now, we have bumped Gus Edwards to RB17 in our projections. The Ravens are going to add another back because Justice Hill and Ty’Son Williams won’t cut it as their only depth. Still, Edwards is in line for a massive role in Week 1 and is directly in the high-end RB2 mix.
Baltimore loves Edwards — they gave him a brand new 2-year, $10M contract this summer — and he has been among the league’s most efficient backs over the last two seasons. Among the 65 RBs with at least 150 carries since the start of 2019, Edwards ranks tied for third-best with Nick Chubb in YPC (5.2) and he leads the league in first downs per carry (33%).
We have Edwards projected to carry the rock 275 times, fifth-most among RBs.
Lamar Jackson got his first preseason action in this one, but only played 10 snaps. All four of the Ravens starting receivers and TE Nick Boyle are nursing injuries, so Mark Andrews is in line for a monster role come Week 1. Marquise Brown (hamstring) hasn’t practiced in weeks, Rashod Bateman (core) might miss the first month, Sammy Watkins missed last week with a minor injury.
Nothing of note happened here. Washington rested all of their key starters ahead of Week 1.
Chicago vs. Tennessee
As Andy Dalton rested, Justin Fields got the start and played the entire first-half. The only problem is that Fields was without all of his main weapons as David Montgomery, Allen Robinson, Darnell Mooney, Cole Kmet, and Jimmy Graham all sat.
Fields finished the day 7-of-10 for 54 yards, 1 TD, and a sack. Fields’ best throw of the day was highlight-reel worthy where he was rolling to his right and threw a tight-window dart to Jesper Horsted for a 20-yard score. While that throw was phenomenal, Fields held the ball too long on a 3rd and 4 and took a sack on the opening drive and he largely checked down and threw short of the sticks on the rest of his throws.
While it seems like HC Matt Nagy is going to start Dalton Week 1 vs. the Rams, Fields has looked fairly poised and it doesn’t seem like the game is moving too fast for him. He’ll be the starter soon enough.
The Titans rested their core starters again, just like they did in their first 2 preseason games.
Tampa Bay vs. Houston
We got our first real look at the Bucs’ starters here with Tom Brady and the first-team offense getting three drives and 18 total snaps. HC Bruce Arians had to be pleased with the way their attack looked, as they scored twice after a sluggish opening drive.
Brady was razor-sharp against the hapless Texans defense, going 11-of-14 for 154 yards and a TD to Chris Godwin. Brady’s ball-placement and zip at 44-years-old is still nothing short of amazing.
While we have no doubts about the Bucs’ receiver rotation, we got further confirmation that their backfield is headed towards a three-man committee. Out of 18 first-team snaps, Ronald Jones played 9 snaps (and looked quick on a nice 14-yard TD), Leonard Fournette played 7 snaps, and Gio Bernard got two snaps (both of which were on third-downs).
I’ll take a stab on Jones or Fournette as my RB4 if one of them slides, but I am by no means going out of my way to substantially invest in this backfield.
Tyrod Taylor and the Texans starting offense played deep into the second quarter and OC Tim Kelly orchestrated a very run-heavy attack. Out of 27 plays, Taylor dropped back to pass just 10 times while Mark Ingram (11/44 rushing), David Johnson (4/30), and Phillip Lindsay (6/17) carried the rock early and often.
However, if this game is any indication, the Texans confirmed my worst fears in the backfield. We’ll see if the team carries all four backs through cutdowns next week, but Ingram (10 snaps), Johnson (9), Lindsay (5), and even Rex Burkhead (3) all mixed in for work with the first-team. Avoid, avoid, avoid.
Finally, it looks like the rookie Nico Collins has emerged as the Texans No. 2 wideout opposite Brandin Cooks. Collins was on the field for 20-of-27 snaps while Chris Conley only played 12 snaps.
Jacksonville vs. Dallas
Somewhat surprisingly, HC Urban Meyer played Trevor Lawrence deep into the second quarter even though he was without two of his top wideouts as D.J. Chark (finger) and Marvin Jones (shoulder) both sat. Chark and Jones are both expected to be fine by Week 1.
The good news is that Lawrence and the Jags’ offense looked the best they have all preseason!
Lawrence ripped the Cowboys backups, going 11-of-12 for 139 yards and 2 TDs. Laviska Shenault had a nice little connection on the Jags’ third drive as the duo connected 3 times in a row for 33 yards and a beautiful score.
The bad news is that Carlos Hyde looks like he’s going to be a thorn in James Robinson’s side.
Once again, the Jags’ rotated their backs as James Robinson played 10-of-17 snaps with Lawrence and the first team while Carlos Hyde played 7 snaps.
Like it or not, this Hyde usage is real. The Jaguars first team offense has been on the field for 66 total plays this preseason, which is basically a game’s worth of snaps. Robinson has been on the field for 33 snaps with Lawrence, while Hyde has played 28 snaps.
Robinson was a bell-cow last season and played on 70% of the Jaguars' snaps in his RB7 campaign. It seems like Robinson is not going to have the same role this season with Hyde mixing in fairly heavily with this new staff. We have Robinson plugged in as RB18 in our ranks, but I find it hard to click his name over the counterparts in his ADP range with this looking like some sort of timeshare with Hyde. Whether or not it’s 65/35 in favor of Robinson or closer to 50/50 will be one of the key things I’m watching early in the season.
The Cowboys rested all of their starters ahead of Week 1, so there is nothing of note here.
Miami vs. Cincinnati
The Dolphins rested all of their starters ahead of Week 1, so we didn’t learn anything here.
HC Zac Taylor started Joe Burrow in his live first game action since his knee injury last year, and it was likely in an attempt to just knock the rust off and get the jitters out. Burrow and the first-team offense got one drive — which was a three and out — and then they were all promptly put on ice. Tee Higgins got veteran treatment and sat out while Joe Mixon, Ja’Marr Chase, and Tyler Boyd were all on the field for those first three plays.
The Bengals dialed up a tunnel screen for Chase on the second play, and he had yet another brutal drop on a perfectly thrown ball. It seems like Chase has the yips. Chase has four drops on his 5 preseason targets and has reportedly struggled a bit in practice. Now, this is by no means time to panic though. Chase had not played in a live football game since he and Burrow were in the National Championship game and it is never a surprise when a rookie receiver, no matter how highly touted they are, struggles in August. After a sluggish preseason, Chase is slipping in drafts into the 6th-7th rounds and is a massive value there. You can draft him as your WR3 and insulate any slow start with your top-2 wideouts.
Las Vegas vs. San Francisco
As has been the case all preseason, HC Jon Gruden rested all of his guys again. Interestingly, John Brown got quite a bit of burn in this one. He might get cut this week.
HC Kyle Shanahan’s plan for the 49ers final preseason game was… interesting.
On the opening drive, Jimmy Garoppolo and Trey Lance rotated on and off the field as Lance ran a bunch of zone-read running plays while Garoppolo attempted the lone two passes of the 10-play drive. Raheem Mostert got his first action of 2021 and was the starter at running back over Trey Sermon. Mostert played all 10 plays of the first drive and looked fantastic, ripping off 53 yards on just 7 carries before he was put on ice. Mostert’s speed and explosiveness was on full display as he is back to 100% after an injury-plagued 2020.
Garoppolo and Lance rotated in and out on the second drive as well, and Sermon played that entire drive (14 plays) before he sat for the rest of the afternoon. Sermon wasn’t as explosive as Mostert, but he had a nice 15-yarder on a zone-read with Lance in the backfield where the LB froze on the run action.
Jimmy G’s day was done after those two drives and Lance played into the third quarter. While his final passing stats (6-of-13 for 46 yards) look dismal, Lance’s receivers did him no favors once again and dropped multiple passes. In fact, per PFF, Lance had 9 dropped passes on his 44 total preseason pass attempts which is the most of any quarterback by far.
Now, Lance was up and down in his first NFL action this preseason, but I also don’t think Garoppolo resoundingly won the job either. We’re still in wait-and-see for Week 1.
New England vs. New York Giants
Cam Newton got the start for the Patriots, but the story of the game was how sharp Mac Jones looked. More on that in a second.
Newton played the first two drives with the first-team offense and, once again, we saw very clearly defined roles in their backfield. Damien Harris played on 7 out of 10 snaps with Newton on the field, and then was promptly put in bubble wrap when Jones and the second-team offense came onto the field. While Harris handled all of the early down duties, James White played 3 snaps — all of which were on third-downs.
So, across 39 snaps with the first-team offense in their three preseason games, Damien Harris has been on the field for 23 snaps while James White has gotten 13. The rookie Rhamondre Stevenson has gotten zero first-team work. Harris and White’s roles have been very clear-cut as all 23 of Harris’ reps were on first and second downs while White handled 100% of the third-down snaps.
Harris’ upside is contingent upon him getting goal-line work and his stock is rising given how likely it seems Mac Jones is going to start sooner rather than later.
Granted it was mostly against Giants backups, but Jones was razor-sharp — going 10-of-14 for 156 yards and a score. Jones’ ball-placement and accuracy has looked like that of a five-year veteran this preseason and his stellar play has seemingly sped up the timeline for him to start.
After the game, Bill Belichick said “there is a lot to think about” when it comes to who his Week 1 starter will be under center. Even if Newton does start Week 1, it seems like it is only a matter of time before Jones takes over.
After resting his starters in the first two preseason games, HC Joe Judge finally gave Daniel Jones and the first-teamers some significant burn against the Patriots. Jones and the starters played the entire first half, totalling 39 snaps. Obviously Kenny Golladay (hamstring) and Saquon Barkley (knee) were held out. Kadarius Toney also sat out with an undisclosed injury.
The Giants attack was sluggish at best, but honestly, Daniel Jones did not get much help. LT Andrew Thomas was a turnstyle and was beaten repeatedly on Jones’ blindside. Thomas gave up 3 pressures on just 24 passing plays, which isn’t exactly promising. As a rookie, Thomas gave up the most sacks (10) and the most pressures (54) of any left tackle in football.
Also, already somewhat thin at receiver, Darius Slayton injured his foot and Evan Engram hurt his calf during the game. I don’t have any updates on their status at press-time, but both of those injuries are problematic with Week 1 right around the corner.
Jones’ day ended at the half with 134 yards (17-of-22 passing), 1 TD, 1 INT, and 2 sacks. Sterling Shepard operated as Jones’ top wideout and caught 5 of his 6 targets for 42 yards.
About the only positive thing to come from the game on the Giants side was footage of Saquon Barkley looking somewhat spry in a pregame workout. His Week 1 status is still TBD, but there has been nothing but small, positive signs for the past few weeks on Barkley.
Cleveland vs. Atlanta
We got our only look at Baker Mayfield and some of the Browns first-team offense in Atlanta, as Mayfield played on the first two drives for 17 total plays and then was put on ice. Mayfield was without his main weaponry, though, as Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry, and Nick Chubb all rested.
Kareem Hunt played the opening drive with the starters, and then was replaced by D’Ernest Johnson on the second drive. Austin Hooper also played on the first drive, had a really nice catch and run that turned into a 35-yarder, and then his night was over.
With Rashad Higgins (hamstring) out, Donovan Peoples-Jones got the start at receiver and was on the field for 14-of-17 snaps with the first-team. Especially with Higgins sidelined with an injury, DPJ has the inside track on the No. 3 starting receiver job opposite Beckham and Landry.
HC Arthur Smith has rested all of his key starters this preseason and we got a very brief glimpse of Kyle Pitts and Mike Davis here. And I mean very brief. Davis played one snap while Pitts played two. Matt Ryan and Calvin Ridley both sat.
Pitts made his lone target worth it, though. Pitts’ first NFL catch was an explosive one as The Unicorn motioned, got wide open underneath, and steamrolled his way for 27 yards.