Three Players to Watch | NFL Preseason Week 2

08/17/2018
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For some, covering the NFL Preseason can be a daunting task. For me, it’s a chance to take a closer look at the players that I loved during the NFL Draft. More often than not, I’m grinding away watching film for the next NFL Draft and the upcoming college football season. However, I wanted to take a moment away from that to remind my people that I actually watch the preseason. Maybe I don’t watch it as closely as others, but I do enjoy watching third-string quarterbacks battle it out for roster spots in August.

There were two preseason games last night, there are five games on tonight (Friday), and seven scheduled for Saturday. Oh, I can’t forget, we’ll get some Monday Night Football action when the Colts and the Ravens square off in what will feature plenty of Lamar Jackson showing why he’s better than Joe Flacco. But rather than dipping into each and every single one of those games, I want to talk about three players we should get familiar with during this, the second week of the NFL Preseason.

Dorance Armstrong, EDGE, Dallas Cowboys 

Watching tape on Armstrong was tough last year, not because he was bad, but because everyone else around him was. The Jayhawks were all over the place, and the only steady piece that they had was Dorance Armstrong.

For the 2018 NFL Draft, I gave him a fourth-round grade and, in fact, Armstrong came off the board in the fourth round. It made sense for the Cowboys to select him with so many question marks in their defensive end group. From the failed experiment with Greg Hardy to having Demarcus Lawrence play on the franchise tag, moving into the middle of August, it’s starting to look like Armstrong was a good selection.

On tape, the first thing that stands out is the length that Armstrong provides. He’s only 6’3 and 257 pounds, but his wingspan is 83 inches long. It’s safe to say that he can create separation from offensive linemen at will. Last year, the Jayhawks played him out of position. He would play heads-up on offensive tackles as a 5-technique, and his primary focus was to stop the run. However, allowing him to utilize flexibility and length to rush the passer is exactly what he needs and is exactly what the Cowboys are doing.

This week in practice, Armstrong has been turning heads, and it should continue when the Cowboys match up against the Cincinnati Bengals. He only had one tackle during the first preseason game, but there’s a good chance that he records his first sack, if not multiple, in this matchup.

Da’Shawn Hand, DT, Detroit Lions 

When the Lions selected Da’Shawn Hand, I had a hard time reconciling how they went about drafting him. Giving away a third round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft without knowing where your team ends up for the upcoming season will always bother me. I know that I sound crazy to some, and they may have a point. Hand is a freakish athlete and was a former 5-star recruit. What’s not to get excited about?

For starters, he didn’t do much for the Crimson Tide during his four years there. Don’t get me wrong, he flashed and played alongside some crazy talented players. From Jonathan Allen to Reuben Foster, he really had a high bar to meet, but Hand was supposed to be one of those crazy talented players, and for the Tide, he just wasn’t. It’s okay, though, it doesn’t mean that he can’t turn it around and put it all together for the Lions.

It’s only the preseason, but during week one, Hand was dominant against the Oakland Raiders. At times, he was unblockable. He finished with two tackles but was a nightmare for offensive linemen to handle. This week, he matches up against the New York Giants, an offensive line that has spent money on Nate Solder and a second-round pick on Will Hernandez. But the door is wide open for Hand to play early and often for the Lions. A’Shawn Robinson has been average, and Sylvester Williams is a murky second option at defensive tackle.

By the time the season rolls around, Hand could be one of the starting defensive tackles for the Lions. His versatility is a plus because he’ll play anywhere on the defensive line for Matt Patricia. However, his ability to bull rush quarterbacks and disrupt backfields needs to become consistent. If and when it does, Hand could be unstoppable. The fourth-round pick was a gamble on the surface, but so far, it’s paying off, and there’s no reason to believe it won’t continue after the second week of the preseason.

Ian Thomas, TE, Carolina Panthers 

Nobody was a bigger fan of Ian Thomas during the 2018 NFL Draft than yours truly. The fact that he went in the 4th round was shocking to me, but it’s a blessing in disguise. The Carolina Panthers are a great fit for him, and he could thrive in year one, by a fourth-round pick’s standards, at least.

Former tight end Ed Dickson signed with the Seattle Seahawks in the offseason. Greg Olsen has contemplated the next journey of his career, broadcasting. The door for Thomas to step up and contribute right away is open. Obviously, Olsen is still there, but that doesn’t mean that Thomas can’t make an impact.

During the first preseason game for the Panthers, Thomas played 35 offensive snaps. He only produced one reception for two yards, but that’s neither here nor there. With his thick build and ability as an in-line blocker, Thomas will have plenty of chances to increase the amount of offensive snaps he takes and his overall production.

This week of practice has been impressive for Thomas, and he’s wowed players and coaches, but it would be great for Thomas to wow them and the Panthers faithful with a stellar performance in week two of the preseason against the Miami Dolphins. I don’t normally make predictions on statistics, but for Thomas, I’ll go with three receptions for 58 yards and a touchdown.

National Scout for Cover 1. Host of Cover 1 | The NFL Draft Podcast. NFL Draft Enthusiast. X's and O's. Heard on ESPN Radio, FOX Sports Radio and CBS Sports Radio.

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