|It was a good week for rookies (left to right) Jenkins, Tannehill and Luck. (AP, US Presswire)|
The first week of the NFL's preseason is in the books, and while there's only so much that can be gleaned from production during brief periods of times against defenses that aren't necessarily playing at full speed, there are still plenty of value shifts around the league.
Let's take a look at some.
Andrew Luck, QB, Colts -- Luck's not just on the rise because he became the first Colts rookie quarterback to throw a touchdown on his first pass since Peyton Manning. He's here because his first game in Indianapolis showed a poised quarterback with a rifle arm, stupendous footwork and the patience not to make mistakes. And he did all that with an offensive line that might better be used to strain pasta.
Chad Johnson, WR, N/A -- It almost feels unfair to pile on the unemployed wideout at this point, but dude might as well be Enron for the purposes of this exercise. He was arrested for domestic violence (still alleged), cut from his team (AKA fired from his job), lost his reality show, and is apparently getting divorced. At least most of this wasn't witnessed on a heavily-watched, popular cable television show ...
Ryan Tannehill, QB, Dolphins -- All of the rookie quarterbacks are awesome! Actually, um, they pretty much have been thus far. This could end up being a much better overall rookie class than 2011's which was stupendous primarily because of Cam Newton and Andy Dalton. Tannehill would be a big reason for that and if his first game is any indication he's got a good shot of getting run early for the Fins. He looked much more NFL-ready than anyone could've expected and his ability to make stick throws was really impressive, even if it was just against the Bucs.
Replacement Referees -- The scabs who are filling in for the currently-locked-out officials didn't yet blow a game-changing call, per se, but their first week of action was chock-full of incredibly awkward gaffes. Despite the Falcons being from Atlanta, they were referred to as Arizona. They marked a punt down at the four and then moved the ball to a touchback. College hashmarks were used. If they don't shape up quickly, the league's going to have a tough time explaining why they keep using these backups.
Cedric Benson, RB, Packers -- Benson spent all offseason hanging out, not having a job, looking like he might not end up finding one ... and then he landed in Green Bay. As it turns out CBSSports.com's fantasy guru Dave Richard was right when he suggested Benson as a decent late-round running back in deeper leagues. The Packers aren't exactly ground-and-pound, but Benson landed with a team that could see plenty of leads, which could mean he sees plenty of carries and tops 1,000 yards once again.
Ryan Mathews, RB, Chargers -- Mathews suffered a broken clavicle during the Bolts first preseason game, on his first carry, on a play that didn't look like it could break a toenail. But he's going to miss four-to-six weeks and while Norv Turner reminds optimistic about Mathews becoming a workhorse back this year, it's just tough to see happening with the injury. The Chargers are in a serious nightmare when it comes to their running back situation.
Luke Kuechly, LB, Panthers -- There are some folks that will argue Kuechly's piling up tackles and that doesn't mean as much as the statistic indicates. That's all well and good, but if you take an anemic Carolina defense that couldn't stop anyone on the ground in 2011 and add in a ballhawking playmaker who's putting offensive players on the ground, that should be an obvious recipe for immediate improvement. Is Kuechly perfect as a linebacker right now? No, but few rookies are at any position. Stripping Arian Foster from behind wasn't an enhanced tackle, it was a big-time play.
Brian Urlacher, LB, Bears -- And by extension, the entire Bears defense, since Urlacher, despite being 34 is the motor that gets the Bears running. Urlacher had out-of-nowhere knee surgery recently and says he's still going to try and play in the opener, but that notion seems pretty insane given all the factors at play here. Chicago still has a ton of playmakers on the defensive side, so it's not like they'll totally collapse or anything, but this is not the start many folks want to see from a team that is actually one of the big favorites to win the Super Bowl.
Jake Locker, QB, Titans -- Locker's officially "closed the gap" on Matt Hasselbeck in the battle to start the regular season for Tennessee. Unofficially, he might have a shot at taking the lead when he starts for the Titans during their preseason game this week. If he plays well, it's hard to imagine Mike Munchak and company rolling with the veteran. Locker gives Tennessee more upside, a potentially higher-tempo offense, an improved running game (mobile quarterbacks!) and more chances for deep plays.
Kevin Kolb, QB, Cardinals -- Is Kolb really 2-for-9 for 25 yards in two preseason games so far? Yikes. Reports are starting to percolate that John Skelton could win the job and it's hard to not think that's the smart thing to do. CBSSports.com's Jason La Canfora reported that the Cardinals will give Kolb every chance over the next two weeks to win the gig, and you can't blame them. Kolb's the guy who was expensive in a trade and more expensive in an extension. But he's just not playing like it. There's even a chance Arizona might get Larry Fitzgerald a new "wife."
Janoris Jenkins, CB, Rams -- Yes, yes, another rookie. But Jenkins has aspirations to be an elite ninja. Or something. The reality is that the red-flag rook has a shot at being an impact player from the get-go for the Rams. He nearly picked off Luck in his first preseason action and could end up pairing with Cortland Finnegan to give St. Louis an impressive duo in the defensive backfield. Obviously the "if he can stay out of trouble" caveat applies, but early returns look pretty good for the big-time gamble.
Cowboys -- Before we got into the heat of training camp and the impending season, I pegged Claiborne as one of my biggest impact rookies of 2012. Stephen Jones apparently doesn't agree, taking a shot at Claiborne for his injury issues. Jones tried to take it back and if Claiborne doesn't get on the field, I'm going to need to take back my claim too. But the bigger issue for Dallas could be their offensive line, which looked like a group of Penn Station turnstiles against the Raiders on Monday night. If they don't shape up, Tony Romo's gonna be lucky to make it out of the opener against the Giants alive.
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