NFL Preseason Player Stock Watch Heading into Week 3
With Week 2 of the NFL preseason in the books, it's time to take stock of the league's most buzz-worthy players heading into Week 3.
The players on this list were chosen because they're among the most talked about in the league. Some are embroiled in position battles, while others are looking to bounce back in a major way. And one notable defender is trying to crack his team's 53-man roster.
Quarterbacks (of course) dominate this list, with six of the 10 players being passers. We'll examine the fortunes of three rookie signal-callers along with three NFC East veterans who are seeking to return to form.
In addition, we'll discuss three rookie defenders who sparkled in Week 2 and determine whether the Atlanta Falcons can count on their greenhorn left tackle to keep their franchise quarterback upright.
Once we've analyzed each individual situation, we'll assign either a "Stock: UP" or "Stock: DOWN" verdict for their performance. Easy enough, right?
Here is the NFL preseason player stock watch heading into Week 3.
Browns QB Johnny Manziel
If Monday night's nationally televised contest against the Washington Redskins is any indication, Cleveland Browns rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel isn't yet ready for prime time.
Manziel struggled in his second NFL game, completing only seven of 16 passes for 65 yards (a dreadful average of 4.1 yards per attempt) and a touchdown. He fired off a number of inaccurate passes and looked skittish in the pocket.
His most noteworthy contribution to the proceedings might have been his spot-on impression of Stone Cold Steve Austin, as he flipped the bird to the Redskins bench in full view of the television cameras. That immature incident comes on the heels of Manziel arriving late for a team meeting, which surely doesn't sit well with coach Mike Pettine.
The Browns knew what they were getting when they drafted the charismatic-yet-callow Manziel, but it's time for him to start acting like a professional. His passion is praiseworthy, but he needs to do a better job of reining it in.
In speaking to reporters after the game, Pettine said:
I was informed of (the middle finger incident) after the game and it's disappointing. That's what we talk about, is being poised and being focused. You have to be able to maintain your poise. All football players, especially the quarterback, we have to keep our composure, so it's something that we'll obviously address.
The good news for Manziel is that his competition for the starting job, Brian Hoyer, was equally dreadful, completing two of six passes for 16 yards. Of course, what's good for Manziel is awful for long-suffering Browns fans, who have witnessed superb quarterback play about as often as they've glimpsed Halley's Comet.
Manziel still has time to get it together and play well in the club's next preseason contest against the St. Louis Rams, but Monday night's performance in Washington was a disconcerting one. The only reason Manziel still has a chance to start in Week 1 is Hoyer's ineptitude.
Cowboys QB Tony Romo
In his first game action of the preseason, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo offered the organization a glimmer of hope that the season might not go as poorly as projected.
Romo, playing for the first time since Week 16 last December against the Redskins, completed four of five passes for 80 yards and a touchdown, a 31-yard strike to star receiver Dez Bryant on which the two made it look easy.
But the best news of all is that Romo, coming off a second back surgery at age 34, reported no physical maladies in the game's wake, telling coach Jason Garrett that he "felt fine," per Jon Machota of The Dallas Morning News.
Romo provides Dallas with its only hope at making a run toward the postseason. If he stays healthy and dazzles, well, the Cowboys still probably won't make the playoffs because of their horrendous defense, but fans can expect Romo to do his part.
This December, it's going to be a crying shame when Romo is once again blamed for the team's failures when he's the only player keeping the club from a 2-14-type season.
Giants QB Eli Manning
An ancient proverb reads: "It's always darkest before the dawn."
The New York Giants offense and quarterback Eli Manning surely beg to differ. They're currently submerged in darkness, and there doesn't appear to be a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.
To say Manning has been dreadful throughout the preseason would be a massive understatement. He's accrued only 49 passing yards in three games and went 1-of-7 for six yards in a pitiful effort against the Indianapolis Colts this past weekend. He also had an interception wiped out via penalty, surely giving Giants fans sickening feelings of deja vu with memories of last year's 27-interception campaign.
While it's true that the team is installing a new offensive system under first-year coordinator Ben McAdoo, it's not a legitimate reason for Manning, an 11-year veteran, to play like a rookie. It's almost as if the former two-time Super Bowl MVP has been possessed by the ghost of Dave Brown.
Despite the struggles, Manning is committed to staying the course, telling Ebenezer Samuel of the New York Daily News:
I don’t think we’ve ever been a great preseason team as far as I can remember. I know how things are going in practice and what we’re capable of doing. We’ve got improvements to do for sure, but we’ve got a little time and we’ll work on those things. I feel good about what we’re understanding of the offense. Now, it’s just a matter of kind of taking that next step.
Manning might be bullish on the offense's potential reversal of fortune, but you shouldn't be. The Giants have the look and feel of a bad football team.
Jaguars QB Blake Bortles
Since selecting him with the third overall pick of May's draft, the Jacksonville Jaguars have publicly insisted that it's their desire to keep quarterback Blake Bortles tethered to the bench during his rookie campaign.
Bortles is doing his best to throw a wrench into those plans, however, playing marvelous football in each of the club's first two preseason affairs.
Bortles was money last Thursday night against the Chicago Bears, completing 11 of 17 passes for 160 yards. He displayed outrageous arm strength, and his physical attributes are through the roof.
While the expectation remains that Chad Henne will begin the season as the club's starting passer, Bortles is gaining ground, with coach Gus Bradley admitting that Bortles would play a quarter with the club's first-team offense this Friday in Detroit, per Ryan O'Halloran of The Florida Times-Union.
Regardless of who starts the year, the bottom line is that Bortles is going to finish it. He's simply too good to be redshirted for the entire campaign. Expect Bortles to replace Henne in the lineup once the Jaguars are set to drop out of playoff contention.
Redskins QB Robert Griffin III
In life, some people are just gluttons for punishment, inexplicably putting themselves in a position to fail.
After yet another contest in which he put himself in harm's way on multiple occasions, it's starting to look like Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III falls into that category.
It's incredible to think that Griffin still hasn't learned to properly utilize a baseball slide to avoid taking bone-crunching hits, but his cavalier attitude while running with the football was on full display on Monday night against Cleveland. On one play, he pinballed off three separate defenders, drawing an audible gasp from the denizens at FedEx Field.
Griffin also threw a mind-numbing interception to Browns cornerback Joe Haden that looked like a stoned teenager's final act in a game of Madden before flinging the controller against a wall. He ended the game completing six of eight passes for 112 yards and that turnover.
There's no question that Griffin possesses incredible talent, and in 2012, his rookie year, he proved that he has what it takes to lead and win in the NFL. Anyone who's ready to write Griffin off for 2014 based on the preseason is crazy.
But is it really so insane to think that Griffin might never again ascend to the level achieved in his dynamic neophyte campaign? At this point, it's hard to imagine Griffin making it through an entire season without getting himself hurt and missing games.
Vikings QB Teddy Bridgewater
This past weekend, for the first time, the Twin Cities' clock operated on #TeddyTime.
In his second preseason game, Minnesota Vikings rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was magnificent, completing 16 of 20 passes for 177 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner in the closing moments to secure a 30-28 win over Arizona.
The late-game heroics might have earned Bridgewater the adulation of the (sparse) crowd at TCF Bank Stadium, but they likely won't land him under center for the club's Week 1 contest against the Rams.
That's because incumbent starter Matt Cassel played well for the second consecutive week, completing 12 of 16 passes for 153 yards and a touchdown. Cassel will start the club's third preseason game, per Ben Goessling of ESPN.com.
But don't get it twisted: Even though he won't open the year as the starter, Bridgewater impressed in a major way against Arizona, offering fans hope that he is indeed the future of the franchise.
Falcons OT Jake Matthews
When the Atlanta Falcons selected tackle Jake Matthews with the sixth overall pick in May's draft, the expectation was that he'd be counted on in a major way to help deliver them back to the postseason.
But through two preseason games, the reviews for Matthews aren't great.
Matthews struggled in the preseason opener, and while he was better against the Houston Texans this past weekend, he did allow a sack to defensive end Quentin Groves. And with the season-ending injury suffered by left tackle Sam Baker, Matthews will be moved to left tackle, where he'll guard the blind side of franchise quarterback Matt Ryan.
The Falcons need Matthews to be Ryan's personal bodyguard, and right now, he doesn't appear up to the task.
Texans DE Jadeveon Clowney
Houston Texans rookie defensive end Jadeveon Clowney has been called many things.
A beast. A monster. Transcendent. A once-in-a-generation talent.
This past weekend against the Falcons, Clowney lived up to the hype with back-to-back splash plays that surely left the team's coaching staff and fanbase salivating.
On Atlanta's second drive, Clowney drilled Falcons running back Antone Smith in the backfield for a two-yeard loss on 2nd-and-4. And on the next play, Clowney blew by left tackle Sam Baker and sacked Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan.
The two plays provided the perfect encapsulation of what Clowney could be. If he plays at that level alongside All-Pro defensive end J.J. Watt, the Texans defensive line is going to cause sleepless nights for quarterbacks around the NFL.
Clowney's performance offered a tantalizing glimpse of what's to come. Few defenders have married speed and sheer brutality with quite the same gusto as Clowney.
Rams DE Michael Sam
St. Louis Rams rookie seventh-round defensive end Michael Sam notched a sack in the team's loss to Green Bay, which will surely help in his quest to make the final 53-man roster.
For Sam, it was an improvement on his first game action, where he only managed one tackle.
But the issue is that Sam is likely competing for the last spot on the team's loaded defensive line with the undrafted Ethan Westbrooks, who stood out in a major way against the Packers, accruing a sack and another tackle for a loss.
As Bleacher Report's Ty Schalter wrote here, Sam is doing his part to make the team; it's just that Westbrooks is doing more.
Stock: UP, but it might not be enough to make the team
Steelers LB Ryan Shazier
After a second consecutive 8-8 season without a playoff berth, the Pittsburgh Steelers badly needed an injection of youth and speed on defense.
Enter first-round linebacker Ryan Shazier, who sparkled in his introductory NFL contest.
Shazier was dominant in a half of football against the Buffalo Bills, gobbling up 11 tackles and completing a highlight-reel interception.
He made a wonderful open-field, special teams tackle on speedy Bills kick returner T.J. Graham, and his interception was a thing of beauty, as he dropped back in coverage and stole the ball away from Buffalo tight end Scott Chandler. Shazier looked like a safety in that particular sequence.
Shazier appears set for a monster rookie season that could help the Steelers return to the postseason.