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NFL Preseason: Top takeaways from Thursday night

NFL Preseason
Photo Credit: Panthers.com

Let’s all agree we’re happy football is back on the television screen. After months of waiting, weeks of camp and several joint practices, football made its official return with week one of the NFL preseason Thursday night.

Sorry Hall of Fame game, you don’t count.

With young players earning roles and veterans looking to expand their playing time, anything can happen early in the preseason. That also includes hype on players who probably don’t deserve it and doubts on rookies who could turn into All-Pros.

Listen, the preseason is pretty much just football’s rendition of “Whose Line is it Anyway?” The points don’t matter, someone is going to win, and we wish to see our favorite players succeed. Some did on Thursday, and others are probably glad they played maybe a series or two.

Here are our takeaways from all the action on Thursday night.

Second years quarterbacks rising

When a team draft’s a quarterback high, they want them to be the franchise guy. Not everyone is lucky and can find their long-term starter on day three or off the street like the Dallas Cowboys seem to have done. Five quarterbacks were taken in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. And while their rookie seasons showed flashes of greatness, it’s year two where they’ll have to take the next jump.

Former first overall pick Baker Mayfield looked to be the real deal in his sole drive against the Washington Redskins. The Cleveland Browns’ gunslinger finished the night going 6 of 7 for 77 yards, culminating in a 24-yard touchdown pass to Rashad Higgins. New York Jets’ Sam Darnold is looking stronger thanks to a productive offseason from the team’s front office. He would go 4 of 5 for 68 yards and end his evening with a three-yard touchdown pass to Jamison Crowder.

Buffalo’s Josh Allen should have had a touchdown, but Zay Jones dropped it at the goal line. Several receivers had drops, but overall, his 6 of 11 for 66 yards is hard to complain about. Ravens’ Lamar Jackson finished 4 of 6 and found the end zone on a 10-yard pass to Willie Snead IV. And while Miami still could not be sold on Josh Rosen, several throws to Preston Williams at least salvaged his Dolphins’ debut.

It’s always about getting better at the quarterback position. Four of the five first-rounders certainly looked as if they improved in the offseason and the fifth… well, he’s pretty much a rookie, to begin with. If they continue to grow, there’s a reason fans will remember this draft class for years to come.

Easy on the Daniel Jones hype train

Most people probably tuned into the Jet-Giants game to see the Daniel Jones experiment come to life. The team has heard non-stop criticism for selecting the Duke quarterback sixth overall with talented pass rushers and offensive linemen still on the board. It seemed like everyone couldn’t watch Jones fall flat on his face.

Instead, he looked like a pretty competent quarterback. Like, no joke, you couldn’t have asked for a better start from your future franchise quarterback.

Jones would go a perfect 5 of 5 for 67 yards that culminated in a 12-yard touchdown to Bennie Fowler. Naturally, everyone lost their common sense and already declared him the MVP of the league and the furthest thing from a bust.

All because he went perfect in a preseason game.

Take nothing away from Jones; his night is one to remember. But also let’s not forget that half of the Jets’ projected starting staff was sitting out. And while the throw was strong, let’s give some credit to Fowler to adjusting towards the pass. It’s early, and no one should be criticizing Jones this early into his career. They also shouldn’t crown him the king because he scored against a majority of backups.

Everyone just say “good job” and move along.

Kyler Murray is looking like the right option 

While Jones’ might be getting some high praise, it’s time to head out west and look at the other top drafted quarterback. Kyler Murray became the first player in history to be selected in the first round of both the NFL and MLB Draft when the Arizona Cardinals used the No.1 pick on him in April.

Yes, while he is an athletic freak of nature, he also can silence the critics if he continues to perform the way he did against the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday night. Going 6 of 7 for 66 yards in his only drive, Murray was able to scramble behind his offensive line and still find open targets. While his longest pass of the night would only go for eight yards, the current Heisman Trophy winner looked very calm in the pocket, especially under pressure.

Arizona took some heat for giving up on the Josh Rosen experiment just one year into his deal. And while Rosen was sacked 52 times by pretty much the same offensive line, he wasn’t mobile in the pocket to avoid the pressure. Murray, on the other hand, displayed high awareness of his surroundings to keep this only drive alive.

If he can show the ability to expand the field, this could look like a big win for the organization. The offensive line is still in shambles, but Murray’s dual-threat ability should at least minimize the sacks. Let’s not crown him the Rookie of the Year just yet, but he’s on the right path. It’s safe to say at this point that the team isn’t regretting their decision selecting him as their future signal-caller.

Bill O’Brien, why?

Starters usually never play week one of the preseason, especially key players on either side of the ball. The Houston Texans somewhat got that memo but failed to factor KeKe Coutee into the equation. That backfired fast.

The Texans speedy wideout would leave in the second quarter, sustaining an injury to his right leg according to The Houston Chronicle’s Aaron Wilson. He would not return and would be further evaluated later that evening. And while Coutee’s injury isn’t supposed to be severe, the real question is why was a projected starting receiver still in the preseason game in the second quarter?

The Texans received a backlash of negative comments this offseason thanks to the release of key players, potentially overdrafting rookies and firing their general manager without context. Now, Houston could be without a speedy target for multiple weeks if the injury is considered severe because he was playing later than he should. Coutee has the potential to be a viable threat in the short game, but his injury history is now starting to be concerning.

And he was only injured because his coach left him in too long in a pointless game.

Remember Mack Wilson’s name

Earlier this week, we highlighted rookies that were turning heads at training camp. Cleveland Browns’ linebacker Mack Wilson was one we highly profiled thanks to his success early on in coverage. On Thursday night, the former Alabama standout proved to be a legitimate factor on defense.

Wilson finished his night with two total tackles along with breaking up a pass. But people will best remember his first taste of NFL action for his second-quarter 40-yard interception returned for a touchdown against rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins.

Is Kearse cursed?

At one point in his career, Jermaine Kearse was a reliable weapon in Russell Wilson‘s arsenal. Following a trade to the Jets, his numbers rapidly began to decline. In two seasons, the former Super Bowl champion pass-catcher collected just 102 receptions for only 1,181 yards and six touchdowns. Hoping to bounce back, Kearse signed a one-year deal with the Detroit Lions in the offseason.

That season probably came to an end early in Thursday’s action.

Blocking downfield for Ty Johnson, Kearse suffered a brutal leg injury as he was trampled over by several New England Patriots’ defenders. He would not get up and would have to be carted off the field in an air cast around his leg. Warning, the video below is quite disturbing.

Usually, when the cart is called, it means a player’s season is over. In cases with receivers past a certain age, it could be a career-ending injury that will require extensive rehab. What was set to be a promising comeback season likely is coming to an end.

Anything can happen in the preseason, including season-ending injuries. With Detriot now down one of their potential top targets on offense, it will be interesting to see how the team handles finding his replacement moving forward.

Brian Burns: Coming to a quarterback near you

The Carolina Panthers already have one of the stronger defensive front seven heading into the season. While the defensive end position wasn’t the highest need for the team, GM Marty Hurney couldn’t help but look to the long-term. Brian Burns fell into his lap with the 16th selection in April.

Again, it’s just preseason football. Burns maybe can become a legit top-caliber pass rusher in the league within the next several seasons. But both were answered in a positive way as the Panthers took on the Chicago Bears.

Burns finished Thursday night with just a pair of tackles, both in the form of sacks. Using his speed and agility, the Florida State product delivered a couple of big-time hits that caused for a combined loss of 14 yards.

Carolina might have Bruce Irvin and Mario Addison, but Burns was the highlight of the night for the Panthers’ defense. If he continues to make plays and cause havoc in the backfield, it’s going to be hard for Ron Rivera to not at least have packages designed for him.

Cole Thompson is the Lead NFL writer for Pro Football Network. Follow him on Twitter at @MrColeThompson.

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