Throughout training camp and into the preseason, the vast majority of eyes will be focus on only a handful of players within each organization. In some instances the attention will be placed firmly on one or two competitive battles for a starting spot on the roster (i.e. Manziel vs. Hoyer). In other cases, that focus will be shifted to talents that were acquired via free agency (i.e. DeSean Jackson, DeMarcus Ware, etc.). However, in most camps, the spotlight of the preseason will be aimed primarily at the 2014 NFL Draftees, attempting to justify their selections with their performances on the field.
Aside from the Hall-of-Fame game, this past week was the first real chance to see these rookies in action against “live,” non-friendly competition. For the St. Louis Rams, who sat the majority of their starting offensive and defensive players, there were plenty of snaps to evaluate their most recent selections.
Greg Robinson played adequately in his new role on the interior of the offensive line, albeit sandwiched between a pair of limited-experience backups. Aaron Donald showed some promise, regularly finishing at the whistle in the opposing backfield, despite not recording any official statistics on the night. Tre Mason led the team in rushing yards and was, more importantly, effective in pass protection. EJ Gaines, Lamarcus Joyner, and undrafted rookie, Marcus Robinson, all had solid showings in the secondary, allowing only 34 total yards between the three cornerbacks. Undrafted tight end, Alex Bayer, led the team in receiving yards, hauling in five receptions for 71 yards, including a 42 yard catch and run. Even Michael Sam and Ethan Westbrooks played well at defensive end, with players like Robert Quinn, Chris Long, and William Hayes essentially getting the night off.
However, by now, we’ve all seen plenty of recaps and breakdowns of the St. Louis Rams rookies. A more intriguing question might be, how did some of the other potential Rams 2014 NFL Draft picks perform in their opening week?
OT Jake Matthews, Atlanta Falcons (-3.5)
Jake Matthews was the presumed “favorite” of Jeff Fisher for a good junk of the offseason. With unmatched NFL pedigree, experience at both right and left tackles, and arguably the most balanced combination of run blocking and pass protection skills in the draft, many thought the St. Louis Rams would favor the Texas A&M stud over Greg Robinson with the No.2 overall pick.
Matthews first “start” in the NFL went rocky, to put it kindly. Pro Football Focus (PFF) gave the rookie a -3.5 overall grade, ranking him 103rd out of 109 qualifying offensive tackles in Week 1 of the preseason. Not only did Matthews allow a hit on $100 million quarterback, Matt Ryan, he was flagged twice in only 24 offensive snaps, one of which brought back a 75+ touchdown run. Obviously, one game is not the end-all, be-all of the conversation for Matthews, but it should be noted that offensive tackles taken in the Top 10 have not fared well on the outside over the last two years.
WR Sammy Watkins, Buffalo Bills (-0.2)
Unlike the majority of the 2014 rookie class, the dynamic receiver out of Clemson has had two preseason opportunities to show off his playmaking abilities. We’ve all seen plenty of highlight catches from Watkins in practice, and heard reports of awe-inspiring performances that have left the reports, coaches, and the crowd speechless. However, it doesn’t appear as if that has translated over onto the “real” football field just yet. In two games, albeit only 27 snaps, Watkins has managed only three receptions for 21 yards. Worse, he has accumulated only two total yards after the catch in those contests, leading to a -0.2 overall grade from PFF. If the Buffalo Bills are anything like the St. Louis Rams, they might be opting for an ultra-conservative approach during the preseason, which would inevitably hinder Watkins’ ability to fill up the stats sheet. However, one would think that the Bills brass would like to see their very expensive investment perform outside of the practice setting. Three more games to go…
OLB Khalil Mack, Oakland Raiders (-1.3)
Some tagged Mack as the “next great pass rusher” in football, with a handful even suggesting that the Houston Texans should consider taking the small school phenom with the No.1 overall selection in the NFL Draft. However, if the opening week of preseason was any indication, Mack still has a ways to go before unleashing on the league, recording only one tackle in his 18 snaps with the starting unit. PFF graded the University of Buffalo draftee at -1.3, with negative makes in all three “major” categories for a linebacker (i.e. run defense, pass rush, and pass coverage). With so few snaps, it is difficult to truly gauge anyone’s effectiveness on the field, but, at least for now, Mack still has a long way to go to justify being the No.5 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Other potential draftees stats lines from Week 1 of the preseason:
WR Mike Evans (-0.4) - zero catches (two targets) in 18 offensive snaps
OT Taylor Lewan (+3.2) - 3rd-highest graded offensive tackle, +1.8 pass protection, +1.2 run blocking in 48 offensive snaps
FS HaHa Clinton-Dix (+0.4) - three tackles (one missed tackle), one defensive stop, no catches allowed in coverage in 29 defensive snaps
QB Johnny Manziel (+0.4) - 7-of-11 passing (63.6%) for 63 yards, no touchdowns in 27 offensive snaps
CB Darqueze Dennard (-2.7) – one sack, two tackles (two missed), two catches for 20 yards allowed in coverage in 36 defensive snaps
Tags: St. Louis Rams