Here are my key takeaways after Week 2 of the NFL preseason:
Trubisky and the Bills: Mutually beneficial investment
When the Bears traded up to draft Mitchell Trubisky second overall in 2017, they had higher hopes for him than declining the fifth-year option and letting him walk as an unrestricted free agent. But Trubisky struggled throughout his four years in Chicago; his highest PFF grade was a mere 66.4 in his rookie season.
This offseason, Trubisky signed a one-year contract with the Bills for $2.5 million. Like Jameis Winston last season with Drew Brees and Sean Payton, Trubisky now has an incredible opportunity to learn from one of the league’s best play callers, Brian Daboll. In 2020, Daboll’s offense enabled Josh Allen to take an historical leap in completion percentage. Daboll passes early and often. At 63.1%, the Bills were second behind only the Chiefs in early-down pass rate last season. Likewise, they were in the top five in rate of motion at the snap.
On Saturday, Trubisky looked as comfortable as ever in Daboll’s offense, going 20-for-28 against his former team for 221 yards and a TD. If Trubisky can flourish under Daboll, it gives the Bills a strong backup if anything were to happen to Allen. Trubisky benefits as well by setting himself up to (potentially) earn a more lucrative contract next offseason.
Underrated Storyline: Kelce and Hill are this season’s most indispensable non-QBs
Despite scoring a TD, Chiefs WR Mecole Hardman struggled on Friday, hauling in just 4 of his 8 targets. Unless he takes a step forward in 2021, the Chiefs lack a WR2 and, perhaps more importantly, they don’t have depth behind superstars Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce.
Kelce finished last season with 105 catches for 1,416 yards and 11 touchdowns; Hill finished 2020 with 87 receptions for 1,276 yards and 15 TDs, all of which were career highs. In contrast to the Chiefs, other contenders such as the Bills and Bucs have far more depth at WR and TE. Kansas City allocated significant resources this offseason (money and draft picks) to solidify their offensive line, but the consequence might be that they are not deep with offensive weapons. Like the Rams (but to a lesser extent), the Chiefs will be an important case study in the value of superstars versus depth.
Rookies who opted out last season
While it would be foolish to overreact to rookie performance in the preseason, rookies that opted out of their final season of college ball will be interesting to watch in 2021. In terms of top-15 draft picks, Trey Lance, Ja’Marr Chase, Penei Sewell, Micah Parsons and Rashawn Slater all opted out of the 2021 NCAA season. Leading up to the draft, there was much discussion over whether the Bengals should select Chase or Sewell. Thus far, both have struggled in the preseason. Chase dropped multiple passes against Washington, and Sewell looks uncomfortable after a position change from LT to RT. In contrast, Parsons has been all over the field for Dallas, earning a PFF grade of 91.0 in the preseason.
Although Lance played one game in 2020, he opted out of North Dakota State’s spring season. In turn, Lance played Slater’s Chargers Sunday night; he struggled on his first two drives but finished strong, going 8-for-14 for 102 with 2 TDs and 1 INT in total. Slater did not play due to a lower back injury. As the season progresses, we will circle back to see how rookies who opted out have fared compared to typical first season production.
QBs’ second year in the system
In his second season in Matt LaFleur’s offense, Aaron Rodgers took a massive leap. His EPA/play went from to 0.160 to 0.361. In the process, he won the 2020 NFL MVP. This year, it will be interesting to see if any other QB is able to take a similar step forward. Most notably, Baker Mayfield enters his second season under head coach Kevin Stefanski and Tom Brady begins his second season with Tampa Bay. Focusing on Brady, his average depth of target (aDOT) in 2020 was 9.8 yards, which was the highest of his career since 2003. Plus, his aDOT peaked from Week 16 to the NFC Championship, indicating that he was getting more comfortable in the Bucs’ offense (Bruce Arians is known for QBs throwing downfield). Look for Brady to take another step forward in an already historic career. Could this be his best season since 2007?
Impressive QB play
If preseason Week 1 was the week to showcase rookie QBs, Week 2 was for all QBs to show off. Here are some of the quarterbacks that really impressed me:
- Mac Jones – 13-for-19, 146 yards
- Cam Newton – 8-for-9, 103 yards
- Taylor Heinicke – 11-for-13, 80 yards
- Mitch Trubisky – 20-for-28, 221 yards, 1 TD
- Zach Wilson – 9-for-11, 128 yards, 2 TDs
- Tua Tagovailoa — 16-for-23, 183 yards, 1 TD
- Teddy Bridgewater — 9-for-11, 105 yards, 1 TD
- Ben Roethlisberger — 8-for-10, 137 yards, 2 TDs
Grant Reiter contributed to this story