With the first week of the NFL preseason in the books, here are five things that stood out:
The Surtain vs. Fields debate continues
Broncos GM George Paton recently defended his first-round selection of cornerback Patrick Surtain (instead of quarterback Justin Fields), telling Peter King that “quarterbacks are available more than franchise corners every year, at least the last couple of years” — a quote sent Twitter into a frenzy earlier in the week. Both players had strong debuts on Saturday. Surtain impressed with a pick six in the second quarter, and he nearly intercepted another pass earlier in the game. At 6-foot-2, Surtain is long and very technically sound. His exceptional ability to plant and drive to react makes him one of the most pro-ready players from the 2021 draft.
Like Paton, Fields had a quote of his own that made headlines. With regards to the speed of the game, he said “it was actually kind of slow to me” after his debut Saturday. In fairness, he was talking about that in comparison with the Bears defense he faces in practice. Fields displayed elite athleticism against the Dolphins. He scored twice, showcasing his speed on a TD run and connecting with Jesse James, who released late. The discussion over which player the Broncos should have selected will surely continue. For now, though, both Surtain and Fields impressed in their first NFL action.
Could the Jaguars be thinking about Gardner Minshew as the starter due to their offensive line struggles?
In all likelihood, Trevor Lawrence will be the Jags’ Week 1 starter against the Texans. On Saturday, it was clear that Lawrence’s arm talent will translate to the NFL game, but it’s concerning that Lawrence faced pressure on numerous attempts in the first quarter. This resulted in a pair of sacks, including a sack-fumble that Lawrence ultimately recovered. Despite continuity—all five projected starters were on the team last year—there are major concerns with tackles Cam Robinson and Jawaan Taylor; Robinson’s PFF Pass Blocking Grade in 2020 was 66.4, and Taylor’s was 51.8. The Jaguars are strong on the inside, however, with Andrew Norwell and Brandon Linder, both of whom had PFF Pass Blocking Grades over 80 last season. But their decision to use the franchise tag on Robinson in the offseason was puzzling, and Lawrence has to be prepared to deal with pressure coming off the edge.
Looking at Special Teams, the Dolphins have a surplus of returners
Jakeem Grant Sr., Jaylen Waddle and Malcolm Perry combined for 104 yards on seven punt returns Saturday vs. Chicago. Plus, all three had returns of at least 20 yards. As for kick returns, Noah Igbinoghene and Lynn Bowden Jr. both returned one (19 and 17 yards, respectively). If another team is in need of a returner, they must reach out to Miami. Of course, as first-round picks, Waddle and Igbinoghene aren’t going anywhere. But Miami may be able to garner interest for Grant, Perry, and/or Bowden.
The Buccaneers’ WR and TE rooms look to be even deeper than expected
Everyone is well aware of Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, Scott Miller, Rob Gronk and Cameron Brate. And while this is one of the best groups ever assembled, the Buccaneers’ depth at both WR and TE is just as remarkable. Let’s start with WR. Tyler Johnson was drafted in the fifth round in 2020 out of Minnesota, where he was one of the most productive slot receivers in the country. He has incredible hands, and at one point last season, Tom Brady hinted that he needs to remember to throw the ball to Johnson. As for the 2021 draft, the Bucs selected Jaelon Darden out of North Texas in the fourth round. Though he’s just 5-foot-8, Darden is twitchy and elusive; he caught two passes for 19 yards on Saturday. Moving on to TE, 2017 first-round pick O.J. Howard returned to action this weekend. Howard is coming off a torn Achilles, but he will be a UFA after this season (the Bucs exercised the fifth-year option), so look for him to try to have a bounce-back campaign. Lastly, TE Tanner Hudson led all Bucs players in the first preseason game with 4 catches for 48 yards. If a team needs another receiving option, Tampa Bay is certainly the first team they will call. It’s unlikely there would be an interdivision trade, but with Michael Thomas sidelined, perhaps the Saints would inquire?
A few UDFAs to watch
Quinn Nordin, PK, Patriots: He is the Pats’ only UDFA, and they have a 17-year streak in which at least one undrafted free agent has been on the opening-day roster. With Nick Folk currently sidelined, Nordin went 3-for-3 on FGs in the first preseason game, including a 50-yarder.
Jaret Patterson, RB, WFT: Patterson carried the ball 10 times for 40 yards in Washington’s game against New England. He’s only 5-8, 195 pounds, but Patterson was incredibly productive at Buffalo. Coach Ron Rivera added, “Patterson didn’t surprise us. That’s what we saw in the young man. He had a terrific college career, and he’s had a good camp so far. I think we expected him to do some positive things, so it was good to watch.”
Jake Curhan, RG, Seahawks: With Duane Brown’s contract decision looming and Russell Wilson talking about protection all offseason, look for the Seahawks to try to develop some of their younger offensive linemen. Along with sixth-round pick Stone Forsythe, Curhan is a player to watch. He received the largest signing bonus of any 2021 Seahawks UDFA.