With the Hall of Fame Game in the rear view, the rest of the league kicks off their preseason slate starting tonight. While the final score is virtually meaningless, preseason contests serve as a prime time audition for those on the fringe of a roster spot, a platform for rookies to acclimate to the NFL and an opportunity for veterans to ramp up to ‘real’ game speed. Below are story lines to watch for around the league this week.
In a bit of strategic scheduling, The NFL’s top two picks in the 2018 draft will square off in Week 1 of the preseason. Number one overall pick Baker Mayfield will see considerable playing time, given that former Ravens back up quarterback Tyrod Taylor is slated to be the starter for the Browns. Considering Taylor’s journeyman career, the 2017 Heisman Trophy winner is certainly within striking distance of taking over the top spot on the depth chart, especially if he shines during the preseason and proves his size will not limit his ability to produce as a franchise quarterback. Saquon Barkley, selected second by the Giants, is one of the most anticipated talents coming out of the draft, and he is already a hot commodity on the fantasy football market. It will be intriguing to see how Barkley’s electric athleticism, good for two 18 touchdown seasons at Penn State, will translate to the pro level.
NC State linebacker Bradley Chubb will debut against the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday. He has already impressed the Denver coaches enough during training camp to be slated number one on the depth chart. However, the Broncos have one of the best defense’s in the league, so Chubb will still have to keep pace with an aggressive clip and expectation at Mile High.
Over in Miami, 11th overall pick safety Minkah Fitzpatrick is striving to work his way up the Dolphins depth chart. As an Alabama product, Fitzpatrick is no stranger to excellence. During his three years in Tuscaloosa, he recorded 110 solo tackles, five sacks, nine interceptions and four touchdowns. The preseason will be an opportunity for him to prove he deserves the edge over T.J. McDonald who is entering his second year with the organization.
With a whirlwind offseason for the quarterback position, many organizations will rely heavily on the preseason as a means to name a Week 1 regular season starter. Some competitions to key in on include the Bills, the Jets and the Cardinals.
Against the Panthers on Thursday, Buffalo will distribute reps between AJ McCarron, Nathan Peterman and rookie Josh Allen. Drafted in 2014 by the Bengals, McCarron has played in just 11 NFL games, starting in only three of those contests back in 2015 for a 2-1 record. Peterman was a fifth-round selection by the Bills in 2017, and he started two games last season when the Bills attempted to shake up the team by benching starter Tyrod Taylor.
The Bills will likely view Allen as the quarterback of the future if either veteran performs well. However, as a top 10 pick, the Wyoming product could be poised to start sooner rather than later, given that both McCarron and Peterman have underwhelming resumes. With such limited experience among the trio, the starting role will be solidified based on the next four weeks.
On Friday, the Jets will test the skills of Sam Darnold, Teddy Bridgewater and Josh McCown. The Jets are in a similar spot to the Bills, with two shaky veterans and one unproven high draft pick vying for the job. Bridgewater, who once held great promise, suffered a gruesome ACL tear during training camp in 2016 and has never fully returned to form. McCown has bounced around the league since being drafted in 2002, with a 23-50 record as a starter. Sam Darnold will look to avoid the fate of many highly touted USC quarterbacks and become a successful NFL starter. Like Allen in Buffalo, the window is wide open for Darnold to being that campaign immediately.
With the retirement of Carson Palmer, the Cardinals are evaluating Sam Bradford, Josh Rosen and Mike Glennon. To mirror the Bills and Jets, Arizona’s quarterback room is filled with uncertainty. The two veteran have struggled to produce whether due to injury in Bradford’s case or an inadequate skill set in regards to Glennon. Rosen was a polarizing figure throughout the draft process, and the UCLA quarterback has drawn unfair criticism for having other interests outside of football. Bradford has not played a full season since 2012, and Glennon has a career winning percentage of 37.5. Like his rookie counterparts in Buffalo and New York, Rosen will have the opportunity to win the regular season reps if he produces in the preseason.
The preseason is when under the radar, thinly scouted players are able to make a name for themselves and force an NFL team to grant them an unexpected roster spot. Who will be the next player to replicate Victor Cruz’s break out performance in the 2010 preseason as an undrafted free agent out of UMass? Who will be the next surprise hometown hero like Adam Thielen from Division II Minnesota State? Bleacher Report breaks down the most intriguing undrafted free agent for all 32 teams.