NFL News & Analysis

Top 10 rookie performances in NFL preseason Week 2

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) drops back to pass against the Philadelphia Eagles during the second quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

We are back to breaking down the most impressive performances from Week 2 of the 2021 NFL preseason. As always, we give deference to players who perform well against first-stringers and on larger sample sizes. Let’s dive in.

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1. QB Mac Jones, New England Patriots

After finishing at No. 2 on this list last week, Jones managed to rise even higher after Week 2. He once again went 13-of-19, but this time he passed for 146 yards and increased his average depth of target to 8.8 yards downfield.

The most impressive part of his performance was how little he looked like a rookie. Jones’ pocket presence and timing are NFL-starter level already, and while it helped that he was only under pressure on two of his 20 dropbacks, a lot of that is credited to Jones' 2.79-second average time to throw.

The Pats signal-caller's 92.4 overall grade this preseason is the highest of any quarterback in the NFL. He may not be the Week 1 starter, but Jones is ready to step up.

2. S Elijah Molden, Tennessee Titans

The former Washington defensive back had quite the NFL debut. Molden was targeted eight times in coverage, and while he allowed six catches, none of them resulted in a first down. He also rushed the passer 11 times and had the highlight of the weekend when he split a double-team block to sack Kyle Trask.

Molden is the Swiss Army knife you want roaming around the line of scrimmage and manning the slot in your defense. Of his 48 snaps, 42 came from the slot against the Bucs in Week 2. 

3. LB Micah Parsons, Dallas Cowboys

I called Parsons the best linebacker I’ve scouted since we started grading in 2014, and the rookie hasn’t disappointed. He has a 91.0 overall grade through three games, and he put up a 90.8 overall mark against Houston this past week.

Parsons allowed only one catch from two targets for six yards. He recorded a defensive stop and generated a pressure on his only pass-rushing snap.

The former Nittany Lion's ability to slither off blocks with minimal effort seems to be translating nicely into a starting role for the Cowboys.

4. QB Zach Wilson, New York Jets

Jets' fans have long been waiting for anything to get excited about at the quarterback position, and Zach Wilson is looking like the answer after two preseason games. The only worry is that the rookie could still be a mirage, as we’ve only seen him for 20 total dropbacks. This week against Green Bay, Wilson once again looked similar to the guy we saw at BYU. His arm talent was on display, and his off-platform mastery shone through, as well.

My favorite throw was the touchdown to Tyler Kroft because it's the kind of pass that proves why Wilson was QB2 on the PFF draft board last spring. A seam throw against a middle-field safety, the pass needed to be placed perfectly on the back shoulder to secure the score. Had he thrown it on a rope, the underneath linebacker would have come into play. If he had led Kroft out front, the safety would have come into play. Instead, Wilson put it exactly where it needed to be.

5. TE Pat Freiermuth, Pittsburgh Steelers

Big Ben might have a new favorite red-zone target after Saturday night. Against the Lions, Freiermuth showed off the wide catch radius he was known for in his days at Penn State, hauling in two touchdowns on high passes that were well outside his frame.

Friermuth's ball skills and ability to adjust should be a noticeable upgrade from Eric Ebron in the red zone. He also blocked well in the run game and has the ability to be Pittsburgh’s TE1.

6. CB A.J. Parker, Detroit Lions

If you don’t recognize the name, don’t fret. Parker was an undrafted free agent from Kansas State, but he’s quickly ascended on the depth chart and started over veteran Nickell Robey-Coleman. On seven targets, Parker allowed five catches for 16 yards and added a pass breakup. He finished the day with three coverage stops as well as two run stops for a 90.8 overall grade. The rookie didn’t play slot until his final year at Kansas State and already looks extremely confident.

7. EDGE Jonathon Cooper, Denver Broncos

Cooper has to sit behind Bradley Chubb and Von Miller, but he’s still doing all he can to earn regular-season snaps. After putting up an 87.8 overall grade last week against the Vikings, Cooper earned a 91.3 mark on 29 snaps against Seattle Saturday night. He had five pressures — including two sacks — on only 15 pass-rushing snaps.

The 24-year old Cooper fell to the seventh round because of his age and middling physical tools, but the man knows how to use his hands as a pass-rusher.

8. CB Nate Hobbs, Las Vegas Raiders

Hobbs made his presence felt from a number of different alignments against the Rams, as he started the game in the slot before kicking outside. The interception below, which came on a slot vertical, showed exceptional awareness and recovery speed as he bailed to Cover 3 after initially lining up over the split wide receiver.

Hobbs also finished with a pass breakup as he closed to the catch point on a crossing route. The fifth-rounder put up some of the best athletic testing numbers of any corner in the draft and now has a 90.7 overall grade through two preseason games. 

9. G Royce Newman, Green Bay Packers

Saturday marked the second straight game that Newman has looked like he belonged. He’s yet to allow a single pressure on 32 pass-blocking snaps this preseason and has been a consistent peoplemover at right guard in the rungame.

This past week was made even more impressive by the fact that Newman got the start and was going up against real competition on the Jets‘ defensive line. For an offensive line desperate to plug holes this offseason, the fourth-rounder out of Ole Miss may be just what they needed.

10. EDGE Kwity Paye, Indianapolis Colts

One of the biggest physical freaks to come out of the college ranks in recent memory, Paye showed some all-world athleticism in his 15 snaps against the Vikings. You simply do not see starting NFL tackles beaten this violently by rookies every day.

He even got to Kirk Cousins faster than an unblocked blitzer. Meanwhile, in the run game, Paye was once again the line of scrimmage resetter we saw at Michigan. It was a limited sample, but it was a solid debut for the Colts first-rounder.

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