We get it: it’s meaningless preseason games often against backups. That being said, the evaluation process of rookies adapting to the NFL is constantly evolving. A team would much rather their draftee look like he belongs out the gate than completely lost, and these guys were quite obviously the former.
Here are the rookies who flashed most in Week 1 of the 2021 NFL preseason.
1. CB Patrick Surtain II, Denver Broncos
You couldn’t script a better debut for the Broncos' top selection. Only targeted twice, Surtain broke up one of them and returned the other for a pick-six.
Patrick Surtain II: 94.8 PFF Grade vs. Vikings ????
Highest among all CBs ????
— PFF (@PFF) August 15, 2021
Surtain was on the field for 13 coverage snaps all day, so he did about as much as possible, finishing with a 94.8 overall grade. He looked like the most NFL-ready corner in the draft at Alabama last year, and he’s showed that once again in preseason Week 1.
2. QB Mac Jones, New England Patriots
Jones' initial comfort level in the Patriots' offense is rarely seen from rookies. While it was still only a few series against backups, Jones’ poise is difficult to fake. He finished 13-of-19 for 87 yards, which doesn’t sound exceptional, but it should have included another 34 yards and a score if his best pass of the day hadn’t slipped through Kristian Wilkerson’s hands.
My goodness. Mac Jones put this ball right on Kristian Wilkerson's hands (and only where the WR could catch it). ???????? pic.twitter.com/odjmGeahQP
— Henry McKenna (@McKennAnalysis) August 13, 2021
Jones got the ball out at a swift 2.56-second average time to throw on his 21 dropbacks and was sacked just once on seven pressured dropbacks. It was an all-around solid start for the New England first-rounder.
3. EDGE Joseph Ossai, Cincinnati Bengals
Ossai really had only one year as a full-time edge at Texas, and as such, he was seen as a project by the NFL. That makes it all the more encouraging that he’s contributing so soon out the gate. On 33 snaps in preseason Week 1, Ossai racked up seven pressures as well as two run stops for an 89.6 overall grade.
— Texas Football (@TexasFootball) August 15, 2021
He looks noticeably more physical already compared to the guy we saw a year ago. For a player who just turned 21 this offseason, that’s an encouraging sign.
Cisco was known primarily for his range and ball-hawking skills as a deep safety at Syracuse. This past weekend, he showed that he’s far more than just that. He made multiple plays all aligned at or near the line of scrimmage. He broke up a pass in man coverage versus a tight end and blew up multiple blocks in the run game. Those are the kinds of plays he wasn’t asked to make at Syracuse.
JOK’s electric mix of fearlessness and explosiveness showed in full effect against the Jaguars. He notched a sack on one of his three pass-rushing snaps and finished the day with seven stops on 47 snaps. The range he displayed is exactly what the Browns have been missing at the linebacker position of late.
— Roberto Shenanigans (@Rob_Shenanigans) August 15, 2021
6. CB Marco Wilson, Arizona Cardinals
Ever since Wilson started as a true freshman at Florida, the world knew he was talented. And that was apparent Friday night. He was targeted six times against the Cowboys and allowed only three catches for 30 yards to go along with three pass breakups.
Marco Wilson is a pass breakup machine ????@GatorsFB
— PFF College (@PFF_College) August 14, 2021
For a team desperately in need of cornerback help, Wilson could earn himself some playing time in the regular season if he continues to show out.
We knew Stevenson could bang between the tackles, but after shedding some weight after being listed in the 240s at Oklahoma last year, he proved he could run, too. He outraced Washington’s defense for a game-icing 91-yard score in the fourth quarter Thursday night.
RHAMONDRE STEVENSON COAST TO COST
— PFF College (@PFF_College) August 13, 2021
He finished with 127 yards on 10 carries and two scores, and his 86.3 overall grade ranked second among rookie running backs for the week. It’s a crowded backfield for Stevenson to see meaningful time, but that’s as good a start as he could have had.
Cosmi was punishing Patriots defensive linemen in the ground game Thursday night. One of the most gifted athletes at the tackle position you’ll ever see, Cosmi generated easy movement right out the gate.
— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) August 13, 2021
He finished with an insane 92.4 run-blocking grade on 16 such snaps, and he played 41 snaps overall.
9. DI Osa Odighizuwa, Dallas Cowboys
Odighizuwa got an extended run against the Cardinals, seeing 51 snaps on the day. He played up and down the line of scrimmage — including three snaps at nose tackle despite being listed at 279 pounds. Odighizuwa still more than held his own with two pressures and three run stops on the day. For a Dallas team desperately in need of defensive tackle help, Odighizuwa’s performance is a breath of fresh air.
— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) August 14, 2021
10. WR Josh Palmer, Los Angeles Chargers
Palmer showed a decidedly different skill set over the weekend from what he flashed at Tennessee. He mainly ran the underneath route tree on his 10 routes against the Rams. He caught five of his ridiculous six targets on those 10 routes, with five being hitch routes and the other a crosser.
I see you Josh Palmer!!! pic.twitter.com/PTxoRFfYn0
— Bob Baskerville (@TheHoundBB) August 15, 2021
Palmer flashed very strong hands and the physicality he’s known for. He was hit immediately after securing the pass on all of those receptions and still hauled each of them in.