Over Week 1 of preseason we got our first glimpse at the 2021 NFL rookie class. And, honestly, things are looking great so far. There’s considerable excitement around this vaunted class, and rightfully so.
Now, I know we need to have the eternal caveat of “well, it’s preseason,” and yes, I agree. We all know it takes time to see how a player can really adapt to the league, but I’m of the opinion that as college offenses set more and more trends that bleed into the NFL, the old idea of “it takes three years to evaluate a player” has evaporated. We are now seeing who a player is. It is really is quicker than ever, and while one week of preseason certainly isn’t enough to render any verdicts, these were the performances that jumped out at me the most.
No. No. Chicago Bears
14-of-20, 142 yards, 1 TD, 106.7 QB rating — 5 carries, 33 yards, 1 TD
I am 100 percent okay with you getting excited over this, Bears fans — because you should be. Remember that Fields was supposed be the developmental guy in the class, the passer who needed to take his time. He was up against a very deep and good opponent. Dolphins defense and proved he can get the job done.
The stats are obviously good, but the most impressive quality to Fields’ game was his intangibles. The rookie shook off a rough start, didn’t get overwhelmed by the game, then eventually took it over. While it is obvious that a preseason game for a 1st-round pick is insignificant, Fields played as if he was truly concerned about the win. That’s the kind of leadership and attention the position hasn’t had in Chicago.
If Fields puts on another performance like this, there is no reason to start Andy Dalton in Chicago this season.
No. 2: Rhamonde Stevenson, RB, New England Patriots
10 carries, 127 yards, 2 TD
For a long time, the Patriots have not had a bellwether running back. New England was once more a perfect example of the concept of running back-by-committee. It entered the season with a huge group of runners and questions about their success.
Rhamonde, a fourth round rookie, is now making waves for all the right reasons, even after just one week. This wasn’t a case of all the Patriots running all over Washington, it was specific to Stevenson. Stevenson was able run for more than twice as many yards as Damien Harris, Sony Michel, and J.J. Taylor.
This is definitely something to see, because it could be a lot fun.
No. No. 3: Terrace Marshall Jr. Carolina Panthers
3 receptions, 88 yards
Carolina may have massive questions on their offensive line while putting a lot of faith in Sam Darnold to be their starting quarterback — but it’s possible the Panthers found a gem in Terrace Marshall Jr.
The former LSU receiver showed incredible deep threat potential and did more than expected as he made an impact whenever he touched the ball. Marshall won’t start with D.J. Moore and Robbie Anderson are on the roster, but Marshall will not start with D.J.
Keep an eye out for him as the preseason progresses. The Panthers could have the best receiving team nobody is talking about. If only they could find a quarterback to make it work. I guess we’ll see of Darnold is up for the job.
No. No. 4. Patrick Surtain II (CB), Denver Broncos
1 interception, 1 TD, 2 passes defended
The draft’s top cornerbacks were rightfully celebrated, and Surtain II so far looks like everything the Broncos wanted and more. He’s an impact player at corner who didn’t get overwhelmed against the Vikings, and lived up to the vaunted praise he was getting from teammates and coaches in training camp.
Denver was desperate for a major secondary upgrade to a division that already boasts Justin Herbert and Patrick Mahomes. So seeing him emerge will be a huge blessing.
Surtain, a big-bodied ball hawk showed incredible ability to play his part while finding the ball in the air and breaking down key passes. That’s the cornerback position in a nutshell, really — but it’s often something that takes longer for rookies to grasp than Surtain II showed.
No. 5: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Cleveland Browns
8 tackles, 1 sack
Owusu Koramoah was drafted too long. He was the perfect hybrid defender and was a second-round steal for Cleveland. His debut was eye-opening. Comfortable supporting his team in pass coverage, rushing the passer, and holding his own in the box — Owusu-Koramoah registered seven solo tackles in the Browns win.
This Swiss Army Knife defense defender excites defensive coordinators because of his ability to do almost anything that is asked of him. This flexibility is amazing on a team with a solid defense. This game demonstrated that coaches are willing to move him around and let him be a defensive weapon. Notre Dame.
Don’t be surprised for a second if Owusu-Koramoah ends up being one of the best all-around defenders in the league this season. That’s how promising his debut for the Browns was, and it’s really exciting.