This may have been the least revealing Preseason Week 1 in NFL history. There are a few interesting notes and/or unexpected twists. Many teams either started who we anticipated they would and where we expected them to start, or they started almost none of their regulars at all. Here is the lowdown.
So the Cardinals gave us one of the most interesting and possibly important twists of the week. Scooby Wright got the starts at middle linebacker over veteran Josh Bynes. It is hard to say if this is a real thing or a mirage. Everyone including the Cardinals know what they have in Bynes. He is a dependable veteran presence that can hold down the fort but is not a long-term answer. Wright is a young guy who would have been an early pick as a rookie in 2016 if not for a serious knee injury late in his last season in college. In other words, there is a boatload of potential. It seems logical they would play the young guy and see where he is. Wright looked good in general and was particularly solid in coverage.
Benson Mayowa stood in at end for Markus Golden who is still thought to be a few weeks away, and Jeremy Cash got the call for weakside linebacker Deone Bucannon who is a little gimpy. Other than that, the Cardinals were pretty much as expected. Haasan Reddick worked on the strong side and looked immensely improved after seeing lost much of his rookie year. He stayed on the field in some sub packages as well. It will be tough for Reddick to be more than marginally IDP relevant even as a three-down strong side backer, but it is a situation to keep an eye on the rest of preseason.
Chandler Jones started opposite Mayowa and was his usual disruptive self. On the inside, Corey Peters played the nose with Robert Nkemdiche as the 3-technique tackle ahead of Olsen Pierre. Pierre played well and put up good numbers down the stretch last year, so this is somewhat of an unexpected development. Nkemdiche was finally healthy for an offseason and looked great.
There was a little sigh of relief for many of us when it comes to the safeties. Shortly after Tre Boston was signed, Coach Wilks said Boston would start at free safety with Budda Baker working as the nickel safety and Antione Bethea at strong. Baker was a stretch run sensation for IDP owners down the stretch last season. We are not out of the woods yet but when he and Boston were in the opposite role against the Chargers, hope was rekindled for all of us who already have Baker on our rosters.
There were no surprises from the Falcons who started Deion Jones at middle backer, Duke Riley on the strong side, and De'Vondre Campbell weak. With Vic Beasley Jr moving to end on a full-time basis, the hope was Campbell moving into a three-down role on the weak side. So far so good as that is exactly what happened against the Jets. Campbell’s upside will be somewhat limited by the competition around him. That said he has the potential to be a quality third starter if he continues to play full time. It may be noteworthy that Riley moved to middle backer when the team began to take starters off the field. Store that bit of knowledge in case Jones misses time.
Other than Chuck Clark standing in for Tony Jefferson at strong safety, it was business as usual for the Ravens will all the anticipated starters on the field together. One guy to keep an eye on here is rookie inside backer Kenny Young who is competing with incumbent Patrick Onwuasor for the starting spot. Against Los Angeles, both players saw time with the starters. To have IDP value Young would not only need to beat out Onwuasor but would have to earn a three-down role as well. We are a long way from crossing that road but Young is on the radar.
Tremaine Edmunds had a quiet game against Carolina but he was in the expected role of three down middle backer. Edmunds was caught up in the wash often and did not look comfortable in his debut. The only play he made on the first two series was a tag down of a sliding Cam Newton. The Bills are committed to the rookie who is wearing the communications helmet and calling plays in the huddle. The numbers will come soon enough.
With Trent Murphy dinged yet again, Shaq Lawson is getting one more opportunity to shine. Entering camp there was speculation Lawson might be playing for a roster spot. If he continues to get it done like he did versus the Panthers, he may still be in the mix for a starting spot.
Matt Milano started on the weak side and paired with Edmunds in nickel packages.
The Panthers depth chart lists Julius Peppers as the starter opposite Mario Addison but it was Wes Horton getting the call at end against Buffalo. The plan is to limit Peppers snaps through the preseason and possibly into the regular season so the 38-year-old can be effective late in the season as he is early on. Horton did a respectable job as he has in the past.
Amid his four-game suspension, there was talk of this being the final year for Thomas Davis. There was also talk of this being the season he finally had a reduced role so Shaq Thompson could step up. Now Davis says he wants to play in 2019 and he was back in a three-down role against Buffalo. Looks like Thompson may have to wait a little longer yet.
Mike Adams and Da’Norris Searcy were the starters at safety with rookie Donte Jackson and Kevon Seymour on the corners. James Bradberry sat out so we should not read too much into Jackson starting just yet.
The Bears played several starters but rested a few as well. Danny Trevathan and Prince Amukamara were among those sitting while Roquan Smith did not sign until Monday. There is no reason to expect any surprises here. Hopefully, we will be able to confirm that after the third game if everyone is healthy enough to go.
Cincinnati activated Vontaze Burfict from the PUP last week but he did not suit up for the first warmup game. Hopefully, by Preseason Week 3, we will get a glimpse into who will stay on the field with Burfict after he returns from suspension. Strongside backer Nick Vigil joined middle backer Preston Brown in sub packages against the Bears and should continue in those roles through game four of the regular season. Vigil has a stand out performance making several plays before the starters were pulled.
Second-year linebacker Jordan Evans got the start as a two-down weakside backer and turned some heads. Barring injuries ahead of him there is not much chance Evans has a significant role this year but he may eventually get a shot. Vincent Rey was banged up in the game so Evans could end up starting the first four games.
Shawn Williams started at strong safety versus Chicago and looked good, but he looked rather solid last preseason as well, and it meant nothing once the real games started. Rookie Jessie Bates III joined Williams on the second series replacing George Iloka at free safety. The youngster made some nice plays and showed more energy than the team has seen at the position in a long time.
After early chatter about Jordan Willis possibly starting at defensive end and Carl Lawson playing strongside linebacker; neither of those things happened against Chicago. Willis actually lined up at tackle on a nickel call early in the game but saw no first team snaps outside. Meanwhile, Lawson came on as a rush specialist pushing starter Michael Johnson inside on those downs.
William Jackson has passed Darqueze Dennard for the starting corner job and was spectacular on the opening series.
The Browns created some questions when they signed Mychal Kendricks. With the quantity of IDP production that came for Cleveland’s linebackers last year, this is one of the highest priorities on the watch list. Unfortunately, the game may have given us more questions instead of some answers. Cleveland opened as expected with Jamie Collins Sr on the strong side, Joe Schobert in the middle and Christian Kirksey weak. On the second series, with the starters still playing, Kendricks replaced Kirksey and seemed to be everywhere. It gives you the feeling this story may not be over yet.
Larry Ogunjobi got the start as the 3-technique tackle with Jamie Meder on the nose, Myles Garrett and Emmanuel Ogbah on the outside. Terrance Mitchell continues to work at corner opposite Denzel Ward while Damarious Randall and Jabril Peppers were at safety as anticipated.
Defensive end and linebacker are the positions IDP owners are looking at in Dallas. The main questions being what can we expect from Randy Gregory and Leighton Vander Esch. Gregory did not play against San Francisco as he works back into football condition. Hopefully, we will get a good look at him sometime before the regular season.
The Vander Esch saga is a little more complicated. The initial word after the draft pointed to him starting in the middle right away. Then Jaylon Smith came to the offseason program healthier than any other time in his young career. Against San Francisco Vander Esch was the second team middle backer but that may have been at least partly because they want him getting used to working inside and calling plays. The coaching staff has looked at a few combinations at linebacker since camp opened but do not appear to have settled on anything yet. Both Smith and Vander Esch have performed well so the ultimate goal will probably be to get them on the field at the same time. With Sean Lee locked in on the weak side, Either Smith or Vander Esch are likely to be stuck on the strong side. The worst scenario would be Smith as a two-down middle linebacker and Vander Esch as a three-down strongside linebacker. Unfortunately, it feels like that may be where we end up for a while.
Todd Davis is banged up so Zaire Anderson started next to Brandon Marshall on the inside. Anderson made a strong impression. If he continues to shine there may be a changing of the guard at inside linebacker. Anderson is certainly a better option versus the pass so if he can land a job there is a fair chance he could play in sub-packages. Keep this one on the radar over the next two weeks.
Von Miller had the night off but other than that Denver was as advertised defensively.
Anthony Zettel impressed last season and has been working ahead of Kerry Hyder Jr all summer. The coaching staff may want to ease Hyder back into action anyway, so playing him as the third end makes a lot of sense. Ezekiel Ansah had the night off so Cornelius Washington started opposite Zettel with A’Shawn Robinson as the 3-technique tackle and Sylvester Williams at the one.
Devon Kennard made some good plays from the strong side linebacker spot. He had an opportunity or two as a pass rusher as well; which is something the Giants seemed to have forgotten he is good at in recent years. Jarrad Davis was in the every down middle backer role as expected. He struggled at the position at times last season but looked much smoother against Oakland. Davis may live up to last year’s expectations in season two. The Lions list Christian Jones as their starter on the weak side. Indeed he has been working ahead of Jalen Reeves-Maybin but the competition has not yet ended officially. It would not be a surprise to see Reeves-Maybin line up with the starters this week. If he does not, we can safely assume Jones will be the guy. The winner of this job is roster worthy so long as the job includes nickel snaps. Jones worked in most if not all nickel sub packages against the Raiders while he was in the game.
Corners Darius Slay, Deshawn Shead and safeties Tavon Wilson, Quandre Diggs, and Glover Quin were all on the field together for much of the first quarter against Oakland. The Lions used some imaginative alignments including a nickel featuring two tackles with Devon Kennard and Anthony Zettel coming off the edge out of a two-point stance. They had nine players within six yards of the line of scrimmage including both Tavon Wilson and Quandre Diggs while Glover Quin played single deep. Wilson was in the strong safety spot most of the time with Diggs lining up more as a slot corner. If this continues Wilson should be the best IDP option of the group.
Deshawn Shead is as physical a corner as there is in the game today. It just feels like he is going to have a big season working opposite Slay.
Green Bay Packers
When the Packer let Morgan Burnett walk it was believed to be so Josh Jones could step in and start. Jones played a lot as a rookie last season and appeared to be ready. The headline coming out of game one concerning Jones, was his leaving with a possible concussion. The other important fact, he was not running with the starters and was hurt in the third quarter. Maybe this is the coaching staff sending a message but it clearly puts up a big red flag if you are drafting this week. Kentrell Brice got the start at strong safety. His play was solid but nothing special.
Clay Mathews and Nick Perry are both banged up a little so Reggie Gilbert and Kyler Fackrell got the call at outside linebacker. Rookie Oren Burks stepped in for Jake Ryan and was rather impressive. Burks is smaller than Ryan but as a former safety, is much better in coverage. He was all over the field against the Titans. Unlike years past when the Packers used a lot of three safety packages, they left Burks on the field with Blake Martinez in sub packages. Everyone knows Martinez is a stud, but if you have the room, it may be a good idea to stash Burks.
The Texans gave us virtually nothing as not many starters played. The only noteworthy takeaway being how much rookie strong safety Justin Reid stood out. Between Tyrann Mathieu and Reid, Houston may finally give us a safety with good IDP value.
The Colts are still trying to figure out what they have on defense so nothing they did in this game would have been a surprise. Rookie Darius Leonard is the guy with the highest expectations of the group. He did not disappoint but it was fellow rookie Skai Moore who unexpectedly turned a lot of heads. Indianapolis lists Anthony Walker as their starting middle backer but he is recovering from a groin injury that may keep him out a while longer. Meanwhile, Moore made a lot of plays against Seattle. The Colts are desperate for someone to step up in the middle and the undrafted rookie out of South Carolina is getting a chance to be the answer to their wishes. So far he has looked the part, but let us see how he hold up when the adrenalin level goes back to normal.
In one move that was somewhat of a surprise, Margus Hunt started at end opposite Jabaal Sheard. The Colts list rookie Kemoko Turay as the starter on their depth chart but has been missing time with an injury. Turay had been competing with Tarell Basham who ran with the first team early in camp but has since lost a grip on the job. Hunt has flashed here and there throughout his career and did it again against the Seahawks. Basham also saw action with the starters so until/unless someone grabs the reins here, avoid every Indianapolis lineman not names Sheard.
There were no surprises from the Jaguars. The way this unit played last year, why would they make many changes? All the expected starters were on the field with the exception of Calais Campbell who was rested. Marcel Darius started at nose tackle with Malik Jackson as the 3-technique. Blair Brown left the contest with a concussion.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs are another team that played it safe. Some starters got a little work but a few sat out including Anthony Hitchens (hamstring) and Eric Berry (heel) who are gimpy. Neither injury is thought to be serious, but they will be given plenty of time to heal up.
Los Angeles Chargers
IDP managers were looking for some answers when the Chargers took the field. We wanted to see what is going on with both weakside linebacker Jatavis Brown and rookie safety Derwin James. The news was great for those wanting to see Brown succeed. He struggled for the first few plays. Then it looked like someone turned on the juice. He made tackles on two or three consecutive plays then made a nice play in the passing game. The rest of the time Los Angeles had their starters on the field Brown seemed to be in or near almost every play. It would be nice to know what happened behind the scenes last season when he struggled, but it looks like Brown may be back as a quality three-down fantasy target.
The news was much less positive for James fans. The rookie saw little or no time with the starters as Jahleel Addae started at free safety and Rayshawn Jenkins at strong. When James got on the field with the second team he lined up at several different spots including both safety positions, deep and in the box.
The Chargers came out showing a 3-4 look with Brown and Denzel Perryman at the inside linebacker spots, Kyle Emanuel and Melvin Ingram III outside. The defensive line was Brandon Mebane, Darius Philon and Isaac Rochell. Interestingly Ingram was playing from a two-point stance regardless of the call, standing up in four-man fronts as well. Hopefully, this will not prompt league hosts to move him back to linebacker.
Los Angeles Rams
The Rams sat all starters against Baltimore. The second unit held their own for the most part but no one stood out as a potential fantasy prospect. Maybe they will show us more this week. It is worth mentioning Los Angeles used some 4-3 on opening series.
Miami played many but not all their starters. Safety Reshad Jones and end Cameron Wake did not see action so Robert Quinn and Charles Harris were the ends. These guys may actually be the starting ends if the coaching staff follows through on the plan to reduce Wake’s snap count. Both Quinn and Harris played well but Quinn stood out more. He finally looks both healthy and comfortable in a scheme that fits his abilities. He could be in for a big year.
With Jones out, Miami played T.J. McDonald at strong safety and rookie Minkah Fitzpatrick at free. Fitzpatrick showed why he was picked so high with a couple excellent plays in coverage and a tackle or two in run support.
The starters at linebacker were Stephon Anthony, Raekwon McMillan in the middle and Kiko Alonso weak. The too held up well but it was rookie Jerome Baker who stole the show when he replaced Anthony on the second series and beyond. He was not in the game on passing downs but was around the ball often on when the Dolphins were in base sets. Chances are Baker will be in the starting lineup for game two.
The Vikings first-team defense is set so the coaching staff took no chances. Not many starters got on the field in this one and the backups played like backups.
New England Patriots
It is almost a waste of time to even report on the Patriots at this point since we never know what is real anyway, but here is the scoop from game one. Adrian Clayborn is listed as the starter on their website but he did not. Instead, it was Derrick Rivers (standing in for Trey Flowers) and Deatrich Wise Jr at end on base downs with Clayborn replacing Rivers in nickel packages.
New England used a lot of nickel in this game with Kyle Van Noy and Dont’a Hightower staying on the field. When they were in a base 4-3, Hightower lined up on the strong side with Elandon Roberts in the middle. Hightower is finally healthy but beware the lure of believing he will actually be a three-down player.
New Orleans Saints
Possibly the most IDP relative safety competition this summer is in New Orleans where Kurt Coleman and Von Bell are vying for the strong side job. Coleman has been the favorite for the spot all along and got the call against Jacksonville. Bell stayed in the familiar role of third safety. Bump Coleman up your board if you draft this week.
One of the few real surprises from this round of games was Alex Anzalone starting in the middle for New Orleans. Their initial depth chart had him backing up Damario Davis on the weak side with Manti Te’o starting in the middle. This is great news for Anzalone’s fantasy potential but the wind went out of those sails when he left the field on sub-package downs. Davis and Klein were the nickel backers. That said, we have seen more than enough of Klein over the years to know he is not a three-down player. If Anzalone can land the full-time job at MLB he could have a strong season.
New York Giants
The Giants played most of their starters for at least a couple series. Everyone has grand expectations for Alex Ogletree but if you miss him on draft day, pick up B.J. Goodson in one of the last couple rounds. He was set to be a three-down starter last season before injuries derailed his season. He put up 18 total tackles in week one and was a strong 29-9-0 with a forced fumble and a pair of batted passes after four games. Goodson is pairing with Ogletree at inside backer in the Giants 3-4 and stayed on the field in sub packages. He made a few tackles and arguably looked better than Ogletree. Put that under your hat for emergency use.
New York Jets
New York played a lot of starters for the first series or two, but nothing or no one really stood out.
If you are one of the many managers trying to get one more solid season out of Derrick Johnson, it may be time to cut your losses and grab someone like Scooby Wright or B.J. Goodson. Johnson was not on the field in base packages against Detroit, seeing time only in sub packages. The base scheme had Tahir Whitehead on the weak side, Marquise Lee in the middle and Emmanuel Lamur strong. Whitehead stayed on the field with Johnson in sub packages and is the only linebacker to target here at this point.
Nathan Gerry is batteling Kami Grugier-Hill for the starting job at weakside linebacker. Gerry got the first crack at the job and performed admirably. Like Mychal Kendricks who held the job last season, Gerry did not see passing down snaps. Those belonged to Jordan hicks and Nigel Bradham as usual.
Brandon Graham sat this one out so Chris Long and Derrick Barnett were the starters at end. Michael Bennett saw some action on the outside but his main role with the first team seemed to be as an inside pass rusher in sub packages. Barnett looks like the real thing.
The Steelers played most starters for a couple series. The interesting news here is Morgan Burnett working up in the box at strong safety while last year’s IDP sensation Sean Davis was lined up deep and rarely in the same picture frame as the ball. Burnett, on the other hand, made a couple nice plays.
A pair of Seattle rookies made a strong impression against the Colts. Defensive end Rasheem Green was particularly impressive which has to be a huge relief for Seahawks fans. With Michael Bennett gone and Cliff Avril retired, was a position of need. Green looked quick and explosive as a pass rusher getting good pressure, and did a solid job setting the edge versus the run. It was a small sample size but enough to move Green up the rookie list in a draft class short on pass rushers.
Tre Flowers is a tall physical press corner who unlike many at the position, loves to hit people. He is in line to be an immediate starter after playing well with the first unit against the Colts and is a perfect candidate for the rookie corner rule.
San Francisco 49ers
Unfortunately, the most important news out of the San Francisco camp revolves around injuries. Weakside backer Malcolm Smith came up lame just a few plays into the game when his hamstring tightened up. The injury did not look serious but he did not return to action. Smith is an under the radar guy with strong LB3 potential so keep an eye on his status.
The other injury may be more serious as defensive end Solomon Thomas left the field to be treated for a possible concussion. It took him a while to gather himself which is usually not a good sign, but Thomas was eventually able to walk off the field. You never know with concussions but this one looked like it might take some time to recover from.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Brent Grimes did not play so the Buccaneers started Ryan Smith and rookie Carlton Davis at corner with Vernon Hargreaves in the nickel role. Hargreaves later left with a groin injury but it feels like the coaching staff plans to either phase him out altogether or play the former first-round pick in a lesser role all season. Either way, it looks like his IDP value has left the house. Tampa Bay has given us decent production at corner in recent years so if Davis lands the job opposite Grimes he could be a solid CB2 or better.
Unlike his time with the Eagles, it looks like Tampa Bay is going to give Vinny Curry an opportunity to stay in the game as a three-down end. He and Jason Pierre-Paul were on the field nearly every down while the starters were in the game. Curry is far from a sack master but with the tackle opportunity that accompanies a full-time job, he could develop into a quality second starter.
Logan Ryan was the odd man out at corner in the opener. Adore Jackson and Malcolm Butler started on the outside with Ryan handling slot duties in sub packages. Kenny Vaccaro lined up at strong safety with the starters, which was a bit of a surprise considering he had only been with the team for a few days.
Most expected to see rookie Rashaan Evans next to Wesley Woodyard at inside linebacker, but that was not the case. Will Compton started and played in base sets with Jayon Brown replacing him on passing downs. Evans should get his shot soon since neither Compton nor Brown was particularly impressive.
Washington sat their entire starting defense and used the game to evaluate the back end of their roster. No one really stood out or made their way onto the watch list in this game.
It appears the normal preseason routing we have become accustomed to may be a thing of the past for many teams. No longer can we count on seeing starters for a series or two in the first game as in years past. This may make some of the Week 2 games more interesting. Hopefully, teams will still use the third game as a warm up so we can get a better look at teams like Washington. Until then; best of luck in all your drafts!