The final starting positions have been decided, with surprise cuts leading to new faces at the forefront. Teams have survived and are finding ways to recover from the season-ending injuries that have already been inflicted. We are ready for some football.
Before we take that last set forward, however, let us have one final glance back to celebrate our top rookie performers of the preseason. They stood out above their peers, making a mark on their teams. Some won starting jobs against the greatest of odds.
Others have already seemed to cement their stardom. Here are the 5 offensive rookies and the 5 defensive rookies that stood out to me most in the preseason.
5 Offensive Rookie Stars
Mac Jones – QB – New England Patriots
What more is there to say about Mac Jones? It was Cam Newton’s job and he stole it. What’s more, he didn’t just win the job, he won the job so decisively that the Patriots decided to move on from Cam altogether. Few realize how impressive this feat is, being that Bill Belichick isn’t one to be swayed easily. It only happened because Mac dominated Cam throughout both training camp and the preseason.
Jones did this by throwing for 388 yards, 1 touchdown, and 0 turnovers in the preseason, posting a 97.4 passer rating. He also was posed and looked to be in control whenever he took the field for the Patriots in the preseason. And while his numbers and pose were not as great as those of another rookie QB I will be discussing later, I gave him this number one spot because of the path he had to take to get there. I also factored in he is with an offense, coach and team that is better suited to win now.
Zach Wilson – QB – New York Jets
Knowing the job was already his, Zach Wilson still went out and put up a performance as if he were competing. Posting a 137.7 quarterback rating through two preseason starts illustrates this point clearly. He looked poised and ready to lead the Jets as he completed 75% of his passes for 191 yards and 2 touchdowns. The coaches were so impressed by his readiness that they didn’t even feel the need to play him in the third preseason game.
The main reason why I chose to rank Wilson after Jones was because there is something about overcoming adversary that impresses me about Mac. The Jets didn’t even pretend that there was a QB battle, thus Zach is going to have to learn to overcome opposition in the regular season. With that said, if the preseason is any indication as to how this rookie will perform, his future is certainly bright.
Royce Newman – G – Green Bay Packers
I could easily have ranked Royce Newman number one, but when you’re only covering ten players total you need a few of the sexier names first. I also acknowledge that most people aren’t watching linemen but if you were there was no way Newman didn’t catch your eye. Forget giving up no sacks or QB hits, Newman didn’t even allow a quarterback pressure over 82 snaps. In addition to this, he also committed no penalties.
It was always going to be an uphill for Newman being that the Packers already had a strong offensive line. Which made it that much more rewarding when Green Bay named him their starting Right Guard for week one. He’s sure to give up the pressure, hit, and sack at some point in time, but the Packers found a very special lineman in Royce Newman.
Terrace Marshall Jr – WR – Carolina Panthers
Terrace Marshall saw the opportunity to carve out a significant role in the Panthers’ offense and seized it. He took many first-team reps and projects to be Carolina’s starting slot receiver in week one. His 9 receptions for 181 yards a touchdown were impressive enough to earn him the top WR grades for the preseason.
A generous target share (12 preseason targets), his big-play capability, and his size have Marshall set to become a star for the Panthers’ offense. He does face a few obstacles being one of many weapons for a QB who is looking to resurrect his career. Time will tell how well Terrace can emerge, but he has all of the tools to be a star in this league.
Trevor Lawrence – QB – Jacksonville Jaguars
I almost didn’t include Trevor Lawrence, but his lights out third preseason performance finally showed me what I was expecting to see out of him all along. Maybe he performed better because he was finally declared the starter. Or maybe it was simply because he needed a few games to get adjusted. Whenever it was, he effortless led the Jaguars offense on three scorings, throwing two touchdown passes. The star was finally born.
In my opinion, T-Law’s first two starters were incredibly mediocre. He honestly looked like the weakest of the five, first-round rookie quarterbacks. I know many were praising him for his flashes of brilliance as his biggest supporters spared neither their rose-coloured glasses nor the thekool-aid, but anyone being objective had cause for some concern. He erased all that concern with the third preseason game. In the end, he threw for 323 yards and 2 touchdowns, to the tune of a 106.5 quarterback rating.
Also in consideration
Rondale Moore – WR
The Cardinals generated a fair amount of touches for Moore and allowed him to start with the first team several times. He seems to be a weapon with big-play potential who the offense wishes to feature. The only reason he didn’t make the cut was that he peaked in week one of the preseason.
Najee Harris – RB
Harris seemed to start slow to me, but he really benefited from having an extra preseason game. That and the fact that it is clear that the Steelers plan on featuring him heavily. He did pull it all together in the end with an electric fourth preseason performance, validating Pittsburg’s faith in their rookie.
5 Defensive Rookie Stars
Micah Parsons – LB – Dallas Cowboys
From the Cowboys’ first series on defense it became clear that Micah Parsons was a special player. He was always hawking the football, knowing where it was at all times. He is clearly the leader of the Cowboys’ defense. There is no doubt in my mind he will be a super-star.
In addition to displaying leadership, excellent vision, ball-hawking skills, Parsons also displayed the sideline-to-sideline quickness which will make him a devastating tackler. In the end, he piled up 9 (7 solos) preseason tackles and a fumble recovery.
Patrick Surtain Jr – CB – Denver Broncos
From day one I have been high on rookie Patrick Surtain Jr, declaring him a week one shutdown CB multiple times. He failed to disappoint in the preseason. This future star set the tone early, returning an interception for a touchdown in the first game of the preseason. The rookie continued to build an impressive resume from there, only allowing one reception and just four targets. He WILL make an immediate impact on the Broncos defense.
And I get it, he is only listed as third on the depth chart, behind the super-talented duo of Kyle Fuller and Ronald Darby, but the Broncos will use three cornerback sets more often than not, especially in the AFC West. Certainly makes that defense even more suffocating, giving opposing QBs no great option to throw at. If they target the rookie, they will prove he is a super-star soon than later.
Elijah Molden – CB – Tennessee Titans
Elijah Molden did it all from the slot cornerback position. The rookie was strong in run defense, excellent in tackling, and solid in coverage. He even showed flashes of brilliance as a Blitzer. The Titans featured him often in the preseason, truly evaluating if he was ready to start on their defense. In the end, Molden earned the starting slot CB role.
Over the course of his 68 snaps, he displayed excellent vision and awareness, racking up 10 solo tackles. He was targeted nine times, yielding seven receptions, but his uncanny ball-awareness and big-play potential overcome the high completion percentage in my opinion. Collecting a sack off of a blitz is just icing on the cake.
Kwity Paye – DE – Indianapolis Colts
In limited preseason action, Kwity Paye was an absolute monster for the Colts’ defense. At points, this future star looked unblockable, terrorizing the second-teamers in front of him. If this is any indication of how he might do against starters this rookie is clearly destined for great things. He has earned the right to start for the Colts’ defense, now let’s see him versus the truly elite.
Paye piled up a very impressive preseason stat line, racking up two quarterback sacks and a forced fumble. He piled on three tackles, proving himself strong against the rush. Who knows how big of a star Kwity can become starting alongside Buckner on the defense.
Nate Hobbs – CB – Las Vegas Raiders
Admittedly, Nate Hobbs was not on my radar until about halfway through the preseason, but when I took time to go back and look at the stats and highlights I must admit the rookie impressed me. He really showed a little bit of everything, with the rookie’s strongest suit being his lockdown defense. In extended preseason time, Hobbs was only targeted six times and gave up three receptions.
In addition to strong coverage skills, Hobbs displayed diversity. He lined up both on the outside and in the slot. He also proved he was able to contribute on the blitz with a quarterback sack. Though his performance did not earn him a starting role, Nate has definitely earned snaps for the Raiders’ defense.
Also in Consideration
Zaven Collins – LB
Though it didn’t convert to a ton of stats in the preseason, it always seemed like Collins was near the ball. It also seemed like had synergy with Isaiah Simmons, flashing glimpses of brilliance for what the two can do together. Altogether, I would like to have seen more than seven total tackles, but I still like what I saw.
This is an extremely talented rookie class, filled with a lot of future super-star players. This article doesn’t even begin to cover all of the impact players on offense and defense, merely just a glimpse at the hottest, for now. Whether it be Fab Five, first-round quarterbacks, the new elite defensive cornerstones, or an elite punter like Pressley Harvin, they are all making us look forward to a great NFL season
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