Rookies shine in preseason

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The NFL season got underway this week with every team competing in a preseason game. Many rookies from April’s draft showed the league what they were capable of in a competitive atmosphere for the first time.

Cleveland continued their preseason dominance with a 20-10 victory over the New York Giants on Thursday. The Browns have now won five straight contests in August dating back to their 4-0 preseason record in 2017. The problem is that they have lost 17 straight regular season contests and continue to be the laughing stock of the league.

But optimism is at an all-time high among the Cleveland faithful with a new-look squad in 2018. The team acquired former Miami Dolphins wide receiver Jarvis Landry in the offseason and drafted Oklahoma Sooner Baker Mayfield number one overall in the draft.

Mayfield looked sharp in his first game action, completing 11 of 20 throws for 212 yards and two touchdowns. One of the scores went to Antonio Callaway, who the Browns picked up in the fourth round thanks to the receiver’s troubles off the field. He was originally projected to be taken late in the first.

While Callaway looked effective and could prove to be a valuable asset for Mayfield someday, the rookie’s problems continued after the draft when he was allegedly caught with marijuana, firearm parts and bullets during a traffic stop.

Cleveland knows all too well the frustrations of having a playmaker with promise miss time due to trouble off the field. The team is still holding onto Josh Gordon, who checked himself back into rehab when it appeared he was ready for a fresh start in 2018.

There is still no time table for Gordon’s return or how Callaway’s latest allegations will play into his future, but the Browns could have a potentially deadly slate of targets if everyone was present an accounted for. On top of Landry, Gordon and Callaway, the Browns have a promising second year tight end at their disposal in David Njoku. Njoku’s rookie season was nothing to celebrate under a turbulent offense primarily led by DeShone Kizer (who led the league in interceptions), but the tight end found the end zone on both of his receptions on Thursday.

Cleveland will likely give the nod to former Buffalo Bill Tyrod Taylor to start the season under center while Mayfield continues to progress. While there is no reason to suspect the Browns will compete in the AFC North this season, their fans certainly have a reason to be optimistic. They could even win five or six games in 2018, a fine improvement from last year’s winless campaign.

Back in April, USC’s Sam Darnold was touted by many pundits as the best quarterback prospect in the new class. Instead, Darnold was the second player selected at his position behind Mayfield and taken third overall by the New York Jets. In Friday’s 17-0 shutout over the Atlanta Falcons, Darnold completed 13 of 18 passes for 96 yards and a touchdown to Charles Johnson.

Darnold is one of three notable quarterbacks for the New York’s AFC franchise. Josh McCown, who will likely start the season at the position, has grown from a career backup into a savvy veteran option. He is clearly on his way out and should do just fine for New York until Darnold is ready to go.

The third is Teddy Bridgewater, who had a promising start with the Minnesota Vikings until a brutal knee injury has all but silenced him since. Bridgewater looked impressive for the Jets on Friday, completing 7 of 8 throws for 85 yards and a touchdown.

With no clear role in the future, I would think Bridgewater would be the odd man out in New York, but will be an interesting player for another team to pursue.

The third quarterback selected in the draft was Wyoming’s Josh Allen. Allen was chosen seventh overall by the Buffalo Bills and saw his first action against Carolina on Thursday.

The biggest story from the game was not Allen, or even the game itself. Former Panther and current Bill wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin had some choice words for Carolina quarterback Cam Newton in the days leading up to the game.

Benjamin used the media to voice his disdain for Newton, stating his career would have gone a whole lot better to this point if he had a more accurate quarterback. Benjamin spent three and a half seasons in Carolina, but missed the entirety of 2015, when Newton was NFL MVP and the Panthers went to Super Bowl 50 after a 15-1 regular season.

Granted, Newton is not exactly Mr. Accuracy, which seemed to be the main source of Benjamin’s beef. However, he is a step above Buffalo’s QB situation, even with the future promise of Allen. The former teammates met at midfield before the game and exchanged words. Benjamin would score a touchdown in the 28-23 Carolina victory.

The Houston Texans won their first preseason matchup 17-10 on Thursday over the Kansas City Chiefs. Deshaun Watson threw one pass, which he completed for four yards. Houston will host the San Francisco 49ers on Saturday night.

The Dallas Cowboys fell to those same Niners on Thursday by a score of 24-21. Dak Prescott looked especially sharp on one drive of work, completing all three of his passes for 39 yards, including a 30-yard touchdown connection with Michael Gallup. Running back Ezekiel Elliot did not participate. Dallas will host the Cincinnati Bengals on Saturday evening at AT&T Stadium.

On a sad note, Washington rookie running back Derrius Guice tore the ACL in his left knee on Thursday in a 26-17 loss to the New England Patriots in Foxboro. Guice was selected in the second round by Washington out of LSU and was poised for a promising inaugural season in D.C.

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