Every year, the allure and appeal of a new NFL season is always stifled by the reminder that preseason football is usually insufferably boring. While many of the big names sit, the preseason recycles the retread names that we’ve seen fail over and over. It can be a drag watching the same players we know aren’t any good play before what we’re really waiting for: the start of the regular season.
But this year has the potential to be different.
There are a lot of fresh, young faces entering the league (especially at quarterback), and it’ll be fun to watch them play before they have to seriously compete for playing time during the season. Other stars are coming back from major injuries and trying to regain their former level of play, while several teams are implementing new schemes.
Preseason football is going to be preseason football at the end of the day, but it’s OK to watch it — and want to watch it. There are actually compelling reasons to turn on your television for exhibition football this year.
The influx of QB talent will be on display
Between the 2017 and 2018 draft classes, there’s been a huge boost to the quarterback talent in the league. Eight quarterbacks were drafted in the first round between the 2017 and 2018 draft classes.
Get excited for the second-year quarterbacks
Deshaun Watson, Patrick Mahomes, and Mitchell Trubisky headline a 2017 class that offered a decent amount of promise out the gate. Watson was well on his way to securing the Offensive Rookie of the Year award before tearing his ACL in practice after their game against the Seahawks in Week 8, while Trubisky looked like he could grow into a competent starter in the 12 games he started.
Mahomes only started in a Week 17 game last season, but he showed off all the traits that made him a coveted quarterback prospect and was the reason why the Chiefs felt comfortable trading away Alex Smith. He has the arm talent to make difficult passes look routine.
It remains to be seen how much playing time each quarterback will get this preseason. Trubisky didn’t play in the Hall of Fame Game, but he should get some snaps for the Bears’ preseason Week 1 game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Watson will probably be on the field for the first time in almost 10 months for the Houston Texans on Thursday night:
It’s more likely than not we see #Texans QB Deshaun Watson take the field in the team’s first preseason game Thursday, but the coaching staff has still yet to make a final decision. Today they will evaluate where everything stands with reps and have a discussion.— James Palmer (@JamesPalmerTV) August 7, 2018
Hopefully he’ll be ready to go against Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs.
Then there are the much-hyped rookies
This year’s rookie class also has a ton of intrigue. First-rounders Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen, and Lamar Jackson have all been hyped since before the draft, and it’ll be interesting to see how they compare in the preseason.
We got a glimpse at Jackson during his shaky performance in the Hall of Fame Game. Now it’s time for the other rookie quarterbacks to see their first NFL action. Baker Mayfield, the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft, will see his fair share of reps in the Browns’ national televised preseason opener against the Giants on Thursday.
Expect the Browns first team offense to play 1 to 2 series. This first preseason game against the Giants will be tons of Baker Mayfield. So get ready. Told the plan is to play him 2 quarters. #Browns— Dianna Russini (@diannaESPN) August 6, 2018
As of now, the Browns have committed to Tyrod Taylor being the starting quarterback for the 2018 season, but if Mayfield can string together a handful of impressive performances, he might end up pushing for the starting spot.
Mayfield has another nationally televised game against the Buffalo Bills in Week 2, when he’ll be facing off against Josh Allen, the seventh pick in the 2018 draft. Mayfield vs. Allen is the ever captivating battle of polish versus potential that dominates draft talk in offseason.
Allen was probably the most raw of the 2018 first-rounders, but he undoubtedly has the arm strength and athleticism to make big splash plays in the preseason.
Allen will also have a chance to claim his stake for the starting quarterback job, and he absolutely could win it considering his competition is Nathan Peterman and AJ McCarron.
Arizona’s Josh Rosen and the Jets’ Sam Darnold are also going to press for starting jobs in the preseason. Larry Fitzgerald has already been vocal about Rosen’s “unbelievable skillset.”
Darnold has greatly impressed the Jets as of late and appears to have a legitimate shot to start this season if he can continue his strong practices into the preseason games.
Sam Darnold “has a very fair shot” of winning Jets’ starting QB job for regular-season opener, per sources. He has to keep progressing, preseason will be critical, and he probably is a year away, when he turns 22. But Jets love what they see and he has a legit chance to win job.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) August 6, 2018
Darnold’s preseason debut against the Atlanta Falcons will be on NFL Network and it should be a good test for him; the Falcons have a deep, talented secondary where a lot of guys have seen playing time in significant moments.
Teams with established starters are revamping their offensive schemes
The Bears, Indianapolis Colts, Oakland Raiders, and Tennessee Titans are undergoing major offensive overhauls from a schematic point of view. We got a sneak peek of the Bears’ new offense under Matt Nagy at the Hall of Fame Game. They look like they’re going to be much more quarterback friendly than they were a year ago.
first 3 looks the bears gave the ravens last night. complete offensive overhaul from what they were doing last year. pic.twitter.com/UhoARzbyKp— charles mcdonald (lakers 0-0) (@FourVerts) August 3, 2018
Marcus Mariota and Derek Carr have shown the ability to be above-average quarterbacks in the league, but they are both coming off down years in 2017. Both struggled with inconsistent play and schemes that didn’t necessarily fit what they do well as a passer.
The Titans hired Matt LaFleur away from the Rams to be their offensive coordinator. LaFleur spent his last two seasons with Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay, two of the top offensive minds in the game today.
LaFleur was also the quarterbacks coach for Notre Dame when Everett Golson had his best collegiate season before transferring to Florida State. It remains to be seen how good LaFleur will be at calling plays, but he’s exciting as a coaching prospect.
Carr is entering his first season with Jon Gruden pulling the strings for the Raiders’ offense. This one is a total wild card. Gruden has been away from the game for so long that it’s impossible to know how successful the offense will be under his guidance. Still, it’s a fresh change for Carr, who probably played in a system that was too conservative for his arm talent and he does appear to be enjoying his time with Gruden so far.
The Colts are in a peculiar situation with Andrew Luck. Luck has missed extensive time coming off of a shoulder injury, but when he’s at his best he’s shown he can carry an offense deep into the postseason. He has a unique combination of strength in the pocket and downfield touch that makes him difficult to defend, even on the brink of a sack.
New head coach Frank Reich may be introducing a style of offense that Luck hasn’t played in, but it should suit his strengths. Last season, Reich spent the season as the offensive coordinator for the Eagles, where he undoubtedly learned more about integrating a spread offense into the NFL. Luck and Reich’s former quarterback, Carson Wentz, have some similarities in their styles of play.
Luck has been playing in more “traditional” offenses since his days at Stanford; it’ll be interesting to see how he adjusts to Reich’s offense in the preseason. If he’s 100 percent healthy, he has the talent to excel in any scheme. Regardless, it’ll be good for the league to get Luck back on the football field.
The rookie running back class has a number high investments
NFL teams spent a number of high picks on running backs in 2018. Seven backs went in the top two rounds of the draft: Saquon Barkley, Rashaad Penny, Sony Michel, Nick Chubb, Ronald Jones II, Kerryon Johnson, and Derrius Guice.
Of course, the headliner of the group is Barkley, the second overall pick. He has the ability to be a lead, all-around running back out of the gate. His preseason reps will likely be limited as he figures to be a gigantic piece of the Giants’ offense this year, but he should be able to show us why he was selected so high. When Barkley was at his best, he was arguably the most dominant offensive player in college football.
The other six running backs will have a chance to grab starting spots as well. Johnson has a chance to emerge as the do-it-all back that the Detroit Lions have sorely been missing for years. He performs well in pass protection so he should be able to get on the field for plenty of third downs in the preseason.
Penny was a surprising first-round pick for the Seahawks, but he was a monster as San Diego State’s top offensive weapon. Penny rushed for 2,248 yards and a whopping 23 touchdowns in his senior season. Penny certainly has the athletic potential to prove that he deserved to be a first-rounder, and he could help shoulder some of the load for quarterback Russell Wilson, who led the team in rushing last season.
If Michel (New England), Chubb (Cleveland), Jones II (Tampa Bay), and Guice (Washington) have strong debuts as well, we could get even more thinkpieces on the value of running backs throughout the season. Michel just had a minor knee surgery, so there’s a real chance we might not see him play until the start of the regular season.
It’s hard to sit down and watch preseason football. It can be even harder to admit to loved ones, friends, family, and therapists that you do in fact enjoy preseason football. Let go of those preconceived notions. The offensive skill talent in the league right now is at a high level, so enjoy some of these young guys getting a chance to play before they get stashed away for the majority of the regular season — and don’t feel bad about it.