It’s dangerous to draw sweeping conclusions from the preseason.
The field is littered with backups, and most teams do zero game-planning. Many even call plays against poor looks on purpose, just to see how players respond.
That said, we can glean tidbits from how players execute in given circumstances. With those caveats in mind, we dissected every preseason snap from the top four quarterbacks drafted in April.
Kyler Murray — First overall, Arizona Cardinals
After his second game, Murray was shown on HBO’s Hard Knocks asking Oakland Raiders wideout Antonio Brown, “Why they bringing the house on me, bro?”
“That’s what people gonna do to you,” Brown responded. “You gotta get used to that cause you so fast.”
Brown is right: Murray will be blitzed early and often — though not necessarily because he’s fast. Defensive coordinators will try to speed Murray up mentally so he becomes erratic physically. Pressure — perceived or real — often forces him to drop his eyes or trigger “escape mode” too early.
More importantly, Kliff Kingsbury’s scheme features wide O-line splits and limited protection calls, making blitzes lethal. That was an issue against the Raiders and Vikings, who also exploited the splits by stunting D-linemen regularly. If Kingsbury maintains wide splits against Aaron Donald and others, Murray could be running for his life all season.
The best antidotes are quick, defined throws that Kingsbury’s designs provide. Murray has been sharp there, flaunting his whip of an arm and deadly accuracy on perimeter strikes in Minnesota, including a pair converting third-and-7s.
Murray also showed mental progress mid-game against the Vikings. After failing to see a wide open corner route in the end zone against Cover-2 in the second quarter, he recognized the same coverage a drive later and attacked the corner void (called a “holeshot”) with a bullet.
Murray has shown both his tantalizing talent and some concerns from college. We’ll learn a lot more once Kingsbury’s scheme is unveiled this week.
Daniel Jones — Sixth overall, New York Giants
Derided as a major reach, Jones was so sharp during preseason that coach Pat Shurmur is already gloating to the QB’s doubters.
The numbers (29 of 34, 416 yards, two TDs) were terrific, and the film mostly matched. Jones showed excellent mechanics, diligence with presnap reads and eye discipline at Duke, all of which have translated. While rarely working deep into progressions, he executed Shurmur’s staples — rub routes, flood concepts, deep play-action designs — very well.
Perhaps most encouraging is Jones’ accuracy, which was good but not stellar at Duke. He has often hit open receivers with perfect ball placement, maximizing yards after the catch. That said, receivers bailed Jones out despite poor placement occasionally, most notably on two deep shots against the Bengals.
Jones showed pocket toughness in spades in college, but he hasn’t needed it much so far. He played five of his 11 series behind the Giants’ starting O-line against primarily backups (and was still strip-sacked twice). Giving Jones extra support early was smart, but he’ll face more pressure when games count.
One minor trend to watch: At Duke, Jones was sharper with mechanics and accuracy in games played on turf compared to on grass. All four preseason games were on turf, but the Giants do play five games on grass this season.
Dwayne Haskins — 15th overall, Washington Redskins
It should be no surprise the inexperienced Haskins, learning a complex scheme, lost the starting job to Case Keenum, but he’ll claim it before long.
Haskins has had plenty of rookie mistakes, most notably inaccuracy stemming from lazy footwork. Often sharp despite poor feet at Ohio State, he missed too many easy throws during the preseason while stepping in the bucket or not following through.
That included his first interception against the Browns, when he way underthrew a wheel route with static feet. The pick was also the product of a predetermined read, as Haskins failed to see that the linebacker avoided the rub route and was reading him (not the receiver), and threw it anyway. Those sorts of mistakes make head coaches lose trust.
But Haskins has also shown his tremendous ceiling, highlighted by his touchdown against the Bengals. After his hard count revealed the safeties’ rotation, he changed the protection to account for a blitz. The line failed to pick it up cleanly, but Haskins threw a gorgeous post for a 55-yard score while getting hit. Even more impressive, the post was not the primary route — Haskins recognized the safety sitting low in the Bengals’ Cover-4 and took advantage.
It was likely the single most impressive play by any rookie QB all preseason. That combination of high-level processing and physical talent is rare, especially for a one-year college starter.
Add in the surprising mobility Haskins has shown since shedding the knee brace he wore at Ohio State, and there’s a lot to like.
Drew Lock — 42nd overall, Denver Broncos
Lock’s preseason was cut short by a thumb injury in his third game, robbing him of critical opportunities for experience he sorely needs.
A talented but raw prospect, he has had more deer-in-the-headlights moments than the three aforementioned QBs combined.
Narrow vision and shaky field-reading were expected, but Lock rarely looked settled in the pocket, and his highly-touted arm surprisingly lacked zip at times. He made a few “wow” throws, but some fluttered, a significant concern given it should be his greatest strength.
Now on injured reserve for 8-plus weeks, Lock has a long way to go just to operate an offense. It’s hard to see him pushing Joe Flacco until at least 2020.
–David DeChant (@DavidDeChant), Field Level Media