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NFL Draft

NFL Preseason Week 2 Storylines To Watch

  • The Draft Network
  • August 20, 2021
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It’s almost here. With the first regular-season game a little less than three weeks away, we are so close to seeing NFL games that really matter. Lucky for us, there’s still some NFL action to take in over the next couple of weeks, and there’s still much to learn about many players and teams before the real action begins in September.

Each team still has its own decisions to make ahead of the regular-season openers. There will be another roster cut this coming Tuesday, with the final roster cuts deadline a week after. Before then, many players will be making their pushes to stay with a team or earn a higher spot on the depth chart.

Of course, some questions and decisions loom larger than others entering this weekend’s slate of preseason games. Here are the ones I’m most interested in seeing during NFL preseason Week 2.

Will We See Sam Darnold’s Panthers Debut?

When the New York Jets secured the second overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, it all but guaranteed Darnold’s time in New York was ending. Unsurprisingly, they traded him to Carolina at the beginning of April in anticipation of drafting Zach Wilson at the end of that month.

Through one preseason game, we have yet to see Darnold on the field in the black and blue. Panthers head coach Matt Rhule told reporters on Thursday that he was “leaning toward” Darnold getting some playing time in Saturday’s matchup against the Ravens.

I’m interested to see how much this change of scenery might help the former Jet silence the doubters. We can only learn so much about starters during the preseason, especially in the first couple of games, but seeing Darnold with his new team for the first time will be somewhat indicative of what we can expect to see from him with a new offense in Carolina.

Who Will Make/Has Made Strides Broncos’ QB Battle?

The Jets’ failure on the field last season and Darnold’s subsequent move to Carolina started a ripple effect that reached Denver. With a new starting quarterback on his way in, the Panthers decided to send last year’s starter Teddy Bridgewater to the Broncos.

Since Denver had a starting quarterback of their own in Drew Lock, Bridgewater’s move to Mile High brought the beginning of a QB competition to the Broncos’ training camp.

So far, the two quarterbacks seem to be neck-and-neck in their efforts to woo head coach Vic Fangio, who told reporters on Wednesday he was “pretty damn close” to deciding on the Broncos’ starter. Lock excelled in his starting performance in Denver’s first preseason game against Minnesota, finishing 5-of-7 for 151 yards and two touchdowns. Bridgewater followed that up with an impressive performance of his own: 7-for-8 for 74 yards and a touchdown.

Bridgewater will start this week in Seattle on Saturday night, and we may get a clearer idea of who will step into the starting role in Denver afterward.

How About Saints’ QB Battle?

When Drew Brees retired after the 2020 season, the Saints suddenly had a true vacancy at starting quarterback for the first time in 15 years. It presented a chance for both Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill to compete for the starting role with the Saints during the preseason.

Like in Denver, there’s no clear leader in the competition quite yet. They had similar appearances in the Saints’ game in Baltimore, with Hill finishing 8-of-12 for 81 yards and an interception and Winston 7-of-12 for 96 yards plus one touchdown and an interception. Winston may have taken an edge when he led a two-minute drill drive that ended in a touchdown to conclude the first half, but head coach Sean Payton declined to compare the two quarterbacks after the game.

Winston looks like the more capable NFL starter after one week in the preseason and he does have more experience in that role, after all. Hill has the advantage of being Brees’ protégé in his four years in New Orleans. We’ll see how things shake out after another preseason game when the Saints take on the Jaguars on Monday.

Who Will Surprise Us This Weekend?

One of the most fun parts about the preseason is discovering breakout stars that didn’t enter camp with the same hype as, say, the five quarterbacks taken in the first round in this year’s NFL Draft.

Last week, the Colts had two of them: QB Sam Ehlinger and WR Mike Strachan. With presumed starter Carson Wentz out for now following foot surgery in early August, Ehlinger made his case for QB2––and potential Week 1 starter––in Indianapolis on Sunday. The Colts’ sixth-round pick finished 10-of-15 for 155 yards and one interception with an additional 30 rushing yards on eight attempts. Indianapolis’ seventh-rounder, Strachan, capitalized on his playing time against Carolina as well. He finished with 57 yards on three catches, including a beautiful, high-point catch in the second quarter.

After the first round of cuts, I’m excited to see which players will surprise us with unexpected standout performances in the second week of the preseason. Might quarterbacks Kyle Trask and Kellen Mond bounce back after unimpressive debuts? Or will we see a highlight-worthy performance from someone unexpected, like Strachan?

Which To- 4 Rookie QB Will Shine The Brightest?

Last week was superb for Justin Fields, great for Trey Lance, and good for both Zach Wilson and Trevor Lawrence.

Fields looked every bit like the exciting, playmaking quarterback that Bears fans hoped he would be. His stat line of 14-for-20 for 142 yards and a touchdown in the air with an additional 33 yards and a score on the ground. Chicago head coach Matt Nagy won’t budge from his position that Fields will begin the season as a backup behind Andy Dalton, but barring a severe drop in performance and production in the next couple of weeks, it’s only a matter of time before Fields snags the QB1 spot. I’m looking forward to Fields’ matchup against former Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky and the Bills on Saturday.

Lance had the biggest highlight of any of the rookie quarterbacks in his first game: a beautiful 80-yard touchdown strike to begin his second drive.

The debut for Lance didn’t look great in the box score with just five completions on 14 attempts, but four of the incompletions were receiver drops and can’t reflect too poorly on Lance. His 128 yards and touchdown look much nicer on the stat sheet and his flashes of talent showed how he’s clearly made a case for himself to take over as the starter in San Francisco as soon as Week 1—just ask Trevor Sikkema.

Lawrence and Wilson, meanwhile, had near-identical preseason debuts, going 6-for-9 for 71 and 63 yards, respectively. Neither of them was asked to do too much in their first glimpses at NFL action, but––besides Lawrence taking a strip-sack in his first snap––they performed well when called upon and were able to build up confidence early.

Overall, Wilson shined a bit brighter. He had a few beautiful throws to convert on third down in the first quarter against the Giants, getting his feet set and throwing the ball quickly.

For Lawrence, he took a couple of sacks in 15 total snaps on plays that took a while to develop, but it clearly didn’t hurt his confidence as he also made a nice throw to Marvin Jones Jr. for 35 yards on another long-developing play.

Lawrence and the Jaguars will take on the Saints on Monday night, while Wilson and the Jets face the Packers on Saturday. I assume we’ll get more and better looks at what each of this year’s top two picks can do in their action this weekend.

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