The 2020 NFL Draft class didn't have the benefit of the preseason before they took the NFL field for their very first regular-season game. And for the most part, it showed.
No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow earned a relatively disappointing 61.6 overall grade in a three-sack debut that set the scene for the year ahead, all while highly billed players such as Tristan Wirfs (61.5), Jerry Jeudy (57.1) and Isaiah Simmons (27.1) stumbled out of the starting blocks. After all the fanfare and excitement that came with the opening game of an improbable campaign, it served as a humbling reminder of how challenging the step from the college level to the NFL level can be.
Things appeared a lot smoother this past week, thanks in large part to the month's worth of warmup games to preface the 2021 season. The first-year players, for the most part at least, looked more acclimated to the speed of the NFL game, and some — Mac Jones, in particular — passed their first NFL test with flying colors.
KEY TAKEAWAYS FROM NFL WEEK 1
Relying on Rookie Tackles is a Dangerous Game
Some tackles can go their whole college careers without having to square up against NFL-caliber pass-rushers. And when that is the case, it’s difficult to know how they’ll fare against 6-foot-5, 260-pounders who can run in the 4.5s.
For first-rounder Alex Leatherwood and second-rounder Sam Cosmi, who mustered PFF grades of 34.1 and 15.0, respectively, the answer was … not great. The answer was the opposite for Rashawn Slater, who didn’t allow a single pressure and earned a 79.9 pass-blocking grade.
It’s not iT, but when for Mac Jones
After Mac Jones almost went full Aaron Brooks to start the game, he settled down in a big way.
Mac Jones 1st NFL pass attempt is a banger pic.twitter.com/sKgas33OkT
— Analytics Plant (@AnalyticsPlant) September 12, 2021
Jones not only finished with a class-leading 83.3% adjusted completion percentage, but he also unleashed four big-time throws, beating Trevor Lawrence (2) and Zach Wilson (1). And that’s coming against a defense that held quarterbacks to a 93.9 passer rating last year, fifth among the NFL's 32 defenses. Jones won’t find many tougher tests on his schedule, and even though he didn’t get the win, he passed with flying colors in Week 1.
ELIJAH MITCHELL is set up for a monster year, while NAJEE HARRIS is not
Mitchell had the proverbial red carpet rolled out for him on his second-quarter touchdown run. He was clearly the “next man up” after Raheem Mostert went down early in the game, and the 2021 sixth-round pick finished with 19 carries on the day. He received 1.7 yards before contact per attempt but also did his fair share, breaking six tackles in total. He was one of the best athletes at the position in the class coming out of Louisianna, and he has already beaten out Trey Sermon, who was drafted before him.
Najee Harris would certainly love to be in a situation like that. On average, he was given a measly 0.6 yards before contact, as the first-rounder picked up only 45 yards on 16 carries. That’s almost akin to the space he saw in the preseason, which isn’t a good sign moving forward.
Mike Zimmer still hates rookies
The Vikings left the 2021 NFL Draft with five top-100 picks, yet not a single one of them played in Sunday’s loss against the Bengals. Now, first-rounder Christian Darrisaw only recently started practicing again after missing all of camp, but Chazz Surratt, Wyatt Davis and Patrick Jones were all no-shows during Week 1. Fifth-round receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette played four measly snaps, the most among the Vikings 11-man rookie class.
Dallas Cowboys (29) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (31)