For two teams in the NFL, the pre-season is all wrapped up and they’ve got a significant amount of time off before the regular season starts. Those two teams are the Las Vegas Raiders and Jacksonville Jaguars. For other teams, they’ve got another game left to go but that’s not stopping teams from announcing their starting quarterbacks for week one of the regular season.
For example, the Carolina Panthers announced that Baker Mayfield has become their starting quarterback. While that won’t surprise anyone, it’ll certainly get interesting for what the Seattle Seahawks decide to do at the position. Will it be Geno Smith or Drew Lock? Plenty can happen between now and the regular season.
One thing for sure is that there’s been an impressive group of rookies from the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft to the UDFA’s that were selected afterwards. So with that, here’s my top three players on my NFL rookie report form week two of the NFL pre-season.
Brittain Brown, RB, Las Vegas Raiders
Not every year you’ll find a 7th round pick being relatively productive but that happens to be the case for the Raiders. It’s not they struck “gold” but they’ve found themselves a feasible backup that fits what they’re lookign for behind starting running back Josh Jacobs.
It’s gotten to the point where on Monday afternoon, it was being reported that the Raiders were considering letting running back Kenyan Drake. In his lone season with the Raiders, he only had 2 starts but he did have over 500 total yards of total offense and three touchdowns.
Clearly, the Raiders believe that Brown can come into their system and be just as productive, if not more productive. Keep in mind, the Raiders declined the 5th year option on starting running back Josh Jacobs contract. Not saying that deal won’t get done but it’s worth monitoring that Brown pushed for starting time as a freshman at Duke and after transferring to UCLA. So far with the Raiders, Brown has showcased the ability to run hard but also find the openings needed to cut upfield for significant gains.
Through two games played for the Raiders, Brown has 30 total offensive snaps and he’s compiled 124 rushing yards on 23 carries. He’s also gained 70 yards after contact and has also tallied 16 special team snaps. While he wasn’t highly talked about during the third day of the 2022 NFL Draft, there’s a chance that the Raiders carve out a significant role for their rookie tailback out of UCLA. It’ll be interesting if the Raiders keep in their backfield to start the season or if he’ll be put onto the practice squad.
Desmond Ridder, QB, Atlanta Falcons
Should this one surprise anyone? While we could talk more about Kenny Pickett for the Pittsburgh Steelers, it’s time we direct our attention to Desmond Ridder of the Falcons. In the Falcons first preseason game, Ridder played 42 snaps against the Detroit Lions. While he wasn’t the most productive player on the field, he still made impressive throws and seemingly got better as the game went on for the Falcons.
So much so that he delivered the game winning touchdown pass for them.
In his second preseason game, Ridder found himself slinging passes against the New York Jets and boy were they on the money. He finished the game 10-for-13 with 143 yards passing. Clearly, Ridder took a step forward from the first game to the second and it’s a promising sign for the young signal caller.
Ridder with a bullet pic.twitter.com/S0HfDp5xMr— Russell Brown (@RussNFLDraft) August 23, 2022
Many expect Marcus Mariota to win the starting quarterback job for the Falcons but there’s one big question that goes along with that. If he doesn’t win at the beginning of the year to help protect Arthur Smith from entering the hot seat, when will the Falcons turn to Ridder? Only time will tell but all signs are pointing to Ridder getting a chance to play meaningful games during the regular season.
Isaiah Likely, TE, Baltimore Ravens
Staying on the trend of the offensive players that stood out in week two, we go with potentially the most productive rookie so far this pre-season. That’s with Baltimore Ravens tight end Isaiah Likely. Much like everyone in the draft world, it was a bit surprising to see Likely available in the 4th round.
That didn’t stop the Ravens from making another smart draft pick. They wasted no time and selected him and it’s already paying off in a big way.
Isaiah Likely is going to be a problem pic.twitter.com/Ce1zpF4imM— PFF (@PFF) August 22, 2022
This past weekend against the Arizona Cardinals, Likely ended up with a 96.9 offensive grade from Pro Football Focus (PFF) and it’s clear to why he earned that grade. Against the Cardinals, Likely finished with 8 receptions for 100 yards and a score. Through two games, he’s tallied 12 receptions on 12 targets for 144 yards and a touchdown. Adding to that, he’s played 46 total snaps with four of those snaps coming off punt return.
In an offense that has needed some type of weapon to play opposite or alongside Mark Andrews, the Ravens have found themselves another talented tight end. Whether he’s playing in the slot, in-line or running up the seam to produce after the catch, Isaiah Likely has definitely locked up the number two tight end spot for the Baltimore Ravens. He’s looked good in space and has also made tough catches in tight windows. Regardless of where he’s at on the depth chart, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Lamar Jackson ends up building successful rapport with the 4th round pick of the 2022 NFL Draft.