Today brings us our first full slate of preseason action with 12 highly-anticipated matchups, including 10 cross-conference showdowns and two tilts between playoff teams from last season (Saints v. Jaguars and Eagles v. Steelers). We get our first glimpse at the No. 1 and No. 2 overall draft picks from the 2018 NFL Draft as the Browns visit the Meadowlands to take on the G-Men, and Andrew Luck sees his first live game action in 19 months. Perhaps most notably, we get to watch the notorious chain-snatcher himself, Aqib Talib face off with Michael Crabtree as the Rams and Ravens battle in Baltimore.
Before we get to the games, here are a couple of quick-hitters from around the league that came out earlier in the day. If you didn't play hooky from work or school today, here's what you missed:
Veteran defensive back Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie worked out for the Seahawks, whose secondary lays in ruin as none of the team's Week 1 starters from last year are participating in training camp at the moment. Richard Sherman moved on to San Francisco over the offseason, Kam Chancellor has been placed on the PUP list with a severe neck injury, while cornerback Jeremy Lane was cut in March and subsequently charged with a DUI. Not to mention, the best defensive player on the roster (possibly with the exception of Bobby Wagner), Earl Thomas is holding out and may be traded before the end of the month. The 32-year-old Rodgers-Cromartie is coming off a rocky campaign with the Giants in which he was a part of the 31st-ranked pass defense, personally failing to record an interception for the first time since 2011. DRC is a two-time Pro Bowl selection however, and would be providing much-needed senior leadership to a vulnerable secondary if he were to sign with Seattle.
As was indicated by ESPN's Mike Reiss via Twitter this afternoon, it seemed improbable that Tom Brady would play in New England's preseason opener, and that report held true as veteran Brian Hoyer took the ball against the Redskins. The Patriots are dealing with a myriad of early-season injury concerns including rookie running back Sony Michel, who had fluid drained from his knee last Wednesday, though he may be ready for the team's Week 1 game against the Texans. Reiss also advised that projected starters Marcus Cannon (undisclosed) and Kenny Britt (hamstring) are likely to miss preseason time while recuperating from seemingly minor ailments.
Across the field on the Redskins' sideline, Washington elected to withhold two of their most potent offensive weapons from playing in the exhibition, deeming Chris Thompson (leg) and Jamison Crowder (groin) as inactive for tonight's game. The Redskins are aiming to keep Thompson on a strict pitch count this season, as he has potential to be one of the best receiving backs in the league but has struggled mightily with injuries dating back to his collegiate career at Florida State. Thompson is a warrior who fought through two broken vertebrae in his spine as well as a torn ACL, eventually defying the odds by becoming a bona fide NFL player in what once seemed to be a lost career. He was a top-10 back in PPR scoring last year before going down with a broken fibula in a gut-wrenching Week 11 loss against New Orleans. Crowder, on the other hand has been remarkably durable over his three-year career, suiting up for 47 of a possible 48 regular-season contests for the Redskins. The severity of his groin injury is largely a mystery at this point, meaning fantasy owners should keep a keen eye out for updates regarding the 25-year-old's status over the coming days and weeks.
The Vikings' offensive line was dealt a major setback as it was confirmed that the neck injury Nick Easton suffered in practice last Friday will likely force him to miss the entire season. Easton decided to seek a second opinion on the matter this week from a specialist in New Haven, CT, but it became evident that his herniated disk would require immediate action. The 26-year-old went under the knife Thursday, and while it is a near certainty that he'll miss all of the 2018 season, the injury is not projected to be a career-ending one. This Vikings' front is starting to look like a bad sequel to the 2017 Redskins injury-plagued offensive line, as right tackle Mike Remmers has missed much of camp with an ankle injury, and center Pat Elflein is on the PUP list with a banged-up shoulder and ankle.
Sam Bradford is set to lace up for the Cardinals' preseason game against the Chargers on Saturday, Darren Urban of the team's official site reports. The oft-injured, former first-overall pick has missed at least six contests in four of his eight pro seasons, most recently dealing with a knee bruise that led to him undergoing arthroscopic surgery in November. Though he's never posted a winning season as a starter (besides last year when he went 2-0), there's no question about Bradford's individual talent when he's able to stay on the field. In seasons with at least 14 starts, Bradford has averaged a 63.9 completion percentage with 3,704 passing yards, 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Bradford will be pushed in training camp by arguably the most NFL-ready rookie quarterback in Josh Rosen, who has injury concerns of his own coming into the league.
Now onto the preseason action, where there was a lot going on Thursday night – both in terms of what happened during the course of the games, as well what happened prior to kick off. Let's start it off in Orchard Park, where there was some pregame drama thanks to a run-in between former teammates Cam Newton and Kelvin Benjamin.
Ex-Panther Kelvin Benjamin had some choice words regarding his experience in Carolina. "I just think Carolina was bad for me," Benjamin said after practice last Friday. "It was a bad fit from the get-go. If you would've put me with any other quarterback… (someone) that (knows) how to place a ball and give you a better chance to catch the ball." Newton had responded to the comments in an Instagram post by saying, "I ain't gonna go back and forth with him. I'm just gonna work." That all seemed to go out the window Thursday night, when it appeared that the bombastic quarterback took exception to the words of his former wide out.
Benjamin quickly left the confrontation behind him and put forth an excellent outing, collecting four receptions for 59 yards and a touchdown. Nathan Peterman looks to be a different man from the one who threw five interceptions in the first half of his regular-season debut, completing nine-of-10 attempts for 119 yards, including a couple really tight sideline throws to Benjamin. Wyoming product Josh Allen was largely inefficient (nine completions on 19 attempts), but looked promising in his debut all-in-all, racking up 116 yards through the air with a touchdown pass to Ray-Ray McCloud.
Odell Beckham Jr. was ruled inactive for the Browns-Giants matchup, partially as a precautionary measure to keep him fresh for games that count, and probably also due to the fact that he took two debatably dirty hits in last year's preseason against Cleveland, the second of which led to his inactive status for New York's Week 1 game. Big Blue faithful didn't have to wait long for their coveted first-round pick Saquon Barkley to make his presence felt, as the Penn State standout peeled off a 39-yard run on his very first NFL carry. Second-year tight end Evan Engram provided a nice seal block on that play to spring his rookie teammate for the long gainer.
On the other end, Browns rookie cornerback and No. 4 overall selection Denzel Ward picked up a taunting foul on the game's opening drive, but settled in as the contest wore on. Tyrod Taylor was pulled shortly after tossing a 36-yard touchdown pass to David Njoku, ending his night without an incompletion (five completions on five attempts for 99 yards). The story of the night however was Baker Mayfield, who looked every bit like a No. 1 overall selection despite the questions about his physical attributes and mental make-up, occasionally even receiving comparisons to Browns' flameout Johnny Manziel. Mayfield was stellar against the Giants on Thursday night, leading the team down the field on a trademark drive in the second quarter by picking up two first downs with his legs (once a third-down conversion, the other time being a fourth-and-short situation), and eventually whistling the ball between two defenders in the back of the end zone to hit Njoku for his second touchdown of the night. The rookie signal caller went 11-for-20 passing with 212 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Colts fans have been impatiently awaiting the return of Andrew Luck, and the three-time Pro Bowler relieved concern from the fan base with a solid outing against Seattle in the night cap. Luck completed six-of-nine attempts for 64 yards before being chased by Jacoby Brissett midway through the second quarter. The Colts have to be pleased with the way Luck's return went. He looked confident and efficient, and more importantly, was able to absorb a couple of hits and pick himself up. The franchise player is on a trajectory to lead Indianapolis back into playoff contention in 2018, and there may be no AFC team more likely to double their win total from last season (four) than the Luck-led Colts.