What kind of analyst would I be if I didn't grade first-round rookies after their first preseason game? A disappointing one. And I'm not here to disappoint but to give you, the reader, what you want. Now, of course, don't read into these scores too much. We are only one exhibition outing into these players' professional careers -- or in the case of the Jaguars and Raiders, two contests in.
But now that there's legitimate NFL film to watch, grades are to be handed out, meaningless game or not.
These are preseason grades for first-round rookies. Before I begin, if a rookie isn't listed, it's either because he did not play in his respective team's opening game or, due to a variety of reasons, wasn't able to make much of an impact at all, bad or good.
1. Travon Walker, EDGE/DL, Jaguars
Most of Walker's rushes have been stymied immediately, but he's been a sturdy edge-setter against the run, forced a fumble against the Browns when he crashed down from the backside, and drew a holding call on Cleveland's starting left tackle Jedrick Wills. His sack in the Hall of Fame game was more due to Jarrett Stidham attempting to scramble right past him than an individual win from Walker. He had another hit on Stidham on an outside speed rush that was more impressive. Altogether, for a raw but freaky athletic specimen, the Jaguars should be decently happy with the early returns on Walker to date this preseason.
2. Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Lions
Hutchinson had two tackles on 10 snaps in his preseason debut for the Lions, one being a tackle for loss. No pressures though. Hopefully we get to see a little more of the No. 2 overall pick before the regular season kicks off.
5. Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Giants
Thibodeaux wasn't credited with an official pressure in the preseason opener against the Patriots but was damn close on a few occasions. His first snap was a push-pull on New England's right tackle that brought the blocker to the turf. Thibodeaux didn't erupt out of the gates but hardly looked out of place against professional talent.
6. Ikem Ekwonu, OT, Panthers
Primarily squaring off against Montez Sweat and Efe Obada -- two super-long, athletic rushers -- Ekwonu was stout at the point of attack, winning all but one of his reps in pass protection. He got up and under those defenders in the run game on most occasions, too. Solid start for the first offensive tackle off the board.
7. Evan Neal, OT, Giants
Neal's debut could've gone better. Depth rusher Anfernee Jennings got the best of him with a variety of moves in a few one-on-one matchups. The former Alabama star was caught off balance on those reps. For the run and screen game, Neal was spry and under control, executing what appeared to be his assignment.
9. Charles Cross, OT, Seahawks
The silky-smooth pass sets that made Cross a top-10 selection were on full display against the Steelers over the weekend. Sure, he didn't see T.J. Watt screaming around the corner, but he was sudden and powerful in his snaps mostly against Derrek Tuszka, not allowing a pressure, although a few were close.
10. Garrett Wilson, WR, Jets
Wilson was urgent in beating press and generating separation relatively early in his routes in the preseason opener against the Eagles. He caught two passes for 25 yards. Nothing concerning about his debut.
13. Jordan Davis, DT, Eagles
Davis played how I expected him to -- flashed a bit against the run, pushing back the Jets center on one play and swimming past him on another, but was a non-factor as a pass rusher. I will say, though, his size alone does draw plenty of attention on the inside of the opposition's offensive line.
14. Kyle Hamilton, S, Ravens
I'll start with the bad -- Hamilton missed three diving tackle attempts against the Titans. Otherwise, he showcased dynamic deep coverage ability, often erasing throwing lanes as they were materializing due to his fluid footwork at his intimidating size. If the diving attempts morph into clean, under-control closeouts, Hamilton will be fine.
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17. Zion Johnson, OG, Chargers
Out of the gate, Johnson looked like a seasoned vet, mostly because the Chargers were running frequently, and Johnson's awesomely low center of gravity and natural power are often put on full display to pave lanes for the ground game. His anchor was sturdy in pass pro except for one overzealous whiff late in the first quarter and a bull rush that started to overwhelm him late in the play. Overall, a positive start for the rookie right guard.
19. Trevor Penning, OT, Saints
In the preseason opener against the Texans, Penning got hit with the harsh reality that he's not blocking against FCS outside rushers anymore. He surrendered five pressures on just 27 pass-blocking snaps and mostly looked out of sorts against any type of defender utilizing any type of rush. Consolation: he moved people in the run game.
20. Kenny Pickett, QB, Steelers
I saw a tweet that the Steelers turned their offense into the 2021 Dolphins offense once Pickett entered the contest, and upon watching the film, that's essentially true. From half-rolls with first reads in the flat, to quick check downs, to wide receiver screens, the Steelers didn't ask their first-round pick to do much in his preseason debut. That doesn't mean it was a flop of a performance from the rookie. He was decisive and accurate with the ball and did connect on one impressive intermediate throw near the sideline early in the fourth quarter.
23. Kaiir Elam, CB, Bills
It was a clean debut in Orchard Park for the rookie corner, beyond a pass interference when he got caught peeking into the backfield on a pass play. Other than that, Elam's coverage was sticky, and he had a pass breakup. For a mostly man corner playing in a zone-heavy scheme, Elam was smooth but unspectacular.
24. Tyler Smith, OG, Cowboys
After extensively watching Tulsa film to zero in on Smith during the pre-draft process, the Cowboys first-round pick's debut as a professional went almost exactly as expected. He was seemingly a bit lost on occasion, even bumping into the center or tackle. But he battled like hell and demonstrated brute, veteran-like strength in straight-up, man-to-man scenarios, in pass pro and for the run game. There was seemingly one blown assignment across a gap from him that led to a pressure. Other than that, I love how Smith played against the Broncos.
26. Jermaine Johnson II, EDGE, Jets
Johnson saved his best rush for... first. Yes, his opening pass-rush snap, from the "wide nine" alignment against Lane Johnson, was his most impressive of the afternoon against the Eagles, rocking back the established right tackle. Other than that, Johnson looked the part of a spry, lengthy first-round pick but was held in check.
29. Cole Strange, OG, Patriots
First off, Strange gets extra points for going no-gloves in his Patriots debut in the preseason. Very New England interior blocker of him. In all seriousness, while slightly sloppy, Strange didn't look out of place at left guard on his 13 snaps, and the tenacious finishing he showcased at [Les Snead voice] UT-Chattanooga was apparent against Giants defensive linemen.
30. George Karlaftis, EDGE, Chiefs
Karlaftis busted out the full pass-rush move arsenal against the Bears and was highly effective, registering three pressures on snaps in which he was tasked to get after the quarterback. He looked explosive and weaponized his arms well at the point of attack. Karlaftis won with a one-arm bull rush, an outside speed rush and a swim later in the game. He was washed out in a few instances against the run but altogether had a dandy debut.
31. Daxton Hill, S/CB, Bengals
Hill was ubiquitous in his first preseason game, logging 40 snaps and hardly looking lost or out of place whatsoever. Midway through the second quarter, he rapidly reacted to a throw down the middle and almost had an interception. He did miss a tackle.
32. Lewis Cine, S, Vikings
Just like he displayed at Georgia, Cine was lightning fast roaming in coverage against the Raiders to begin his voyage through the preseason. He had a solo tackle on an underneath route and otherwise didn't see the ball thrown in his direction much.