Thursday Preseason Recap: Giants-Patriots & Titans-Ravens

Thursday Preseason Recap: Giants-Patriots & Titans-Ravens

This article is part of our NFL Observations series.

Most Baltimorons weren't too excited about Thursday's preseason opener, knowing a majority of Ravens starters would be held out. But unlike most morons — sorry, Baltimorons* — I had just drafted Malik Willis and Treylon Burks in my highest buy-in dynasty league (18th and 7th, respectively, in a two-QB league... thanks for asking).

So, I took advantage of some nice weather and walked to a half-empty M&T Bank stadium for Thursday's game, then went back home after the first half to watch a replay of Giants-Patriots on NFL+. A better analyst might've stayed for the whole Titans-Ravens game and then stayed up until 3 am watching the other game, but really we all know that would've been a waste of time.

The Giants were the only team to play more than a few starters Thursday night, which meant the main thing to watch for was rookies. Burks disappointed, but Willis didn't, nor did Ravens TE Isiah Likely and Patriots WR Tyquan Thornton. We'll look at those four and more below, going team-by-team through Thursday's scalding-hot preseason action.

Tennessee Titans

  • Both teams rested most of their starters, and all the top guys. 
  • Note that the Titans didn't play RB Dontrell Hilliard or WR Nick Westbrook-Ikhine; that's because both are locked in for Week 1 roles. 
    • Hilliard is the passing-down back, and also could get 8-12 carries per week if Derrick Henry misses time. Both Mario Puig and I have been touting Hilliard as a late-round pick for best ball, and he's also in play for other deep formats.
    • NWI is very likely a top-three receiver, and potentially as high as No. 1 if Robert Woods isn't ready for the opener (or starts slow) and Treylon Burks continues to struggle. But it's hard to say if snaps and routes will translate into targets (and then production). If nothing else, Westbrook-Ikhine is another reasonable end-game pick for best ball, like Hilliard.
  • Willis got the start and played poorly at first, including a near-interception on the opening drive (to be fair, slot receiver Kyle Phillips slipped on his route). The Titans didn't pick up a first down until their fourth drive, when Willis completed two passes for 30 yards to RBs and then ran it in from seven yards out for a TD.
    • Willis then completed a 48-yard deep ball to Racey McMath on the next drive, setting up a FG.
    • Willis ultimately produced only 10 points on eight drives while playing the entire first half, but with a trio of impressive highlights (the seven-yard TD, the 48-yard pass and a thread-the-needle, 19-yarder to Mason Kinsey shortly before halftime)
      • Mike Vrabel wasn't as impressed as I was...
  • McMath and Dez Fitzpatrick took most of the WR snaps early, with Phillips getting slot work.
    • McMath made the big play, which reportedly has been a them in practice, while Phillips failed to back up the camp hype (he fell on his lone target) and Fitzpatrick caught just one of four targets for 10 yards.
  • Burks did get work with Willis and the second-team offense, but McMath and Fitzpatrick seemed to be on the field more early on. Burks finished the first half with zero targets and one carry for four yards.
    • Burks then played deep into the second half, finally seeing a lone target (incomplete) early in the fourth quarter.
      • Not a good sign, but also not cause for panic... it's his first preseason game, and the Titans still badly need someone to step up at wide receiver.
  • RB Hassan Haskins, a rookie fourth-round pick, came in behind undrafted rookie Julius Chesnut, who fumbled the ball away on Tennessee's second drive but then had a 12-yard catch and 29-yard run on the third drive.
    • Haskins ultimately had a busy night with six carries for 19 yards and three catches for 29 yards, but it's still not a good sign for him to be second through the rotation on a night when the top two guys were held out.
    • Jordan Wilkins also got some snaps in the first half, seemingly on passing downs for the most part, and finished with three touches for six yards. No wonder Hilliard is a roster lock, if Wilkins is his "competition" for the role. The Colts mostly used Wilkins as a backup for early downs during his time in Indy.


Baltimore Ravens

  • Not much to care about here, even for a Ravens fan like myself. Baltimore rested nearly every starter, including all the skill-position guys. And unlike the Titans, the Ravens don't have many rookies of interest for fantasy football.
  • Fourth-round rookie TE Isaiah Likely was Baltimore's star of the first half, catching each of his four targets for 44 yards, including two tough grabs and another easy one where he then made at least three defenders miss.
    • Likely got a ton of playing time with second-team QB Tyler Huntley, who played the entire first half and completed 16 of 18 passes for 109 yards and a TD.
    • Likely also had two holding penalties, perhaps feeling overmatched at 235 pounds. The Ravens drafted him for his receiving skills, but it's hard to get on the field if you can't block and Mark Andrews is healthy.
    • Fellow fourth-round rookie TE Charlie Kolar is recovering from sports hernia surgery, while Mark Andrews and Nick Boyle were rested. That left plenty of work for Likely, while Josh Oliver did more of the blocking at TE.
  • Mike Davis took five of the six RB carries on Baltimore's first two drives, going for 22 yards and a TD (from four yards out). He's in good position for a Week 1 role, with Gus Edwards (ACL) looking unlikely and even J.K. Dobbins (ACL) not a sure thing. Even if Dobbins is fine, the Ravens aren't likely to use him as a workhorse right away.
    • Justice Hill, coming back from last year's Achilles tear, was second through the RB rotation but got only three carries for 11 yards.
    • Fifth-round rookie Tyler Badie got some work too, especially in the two-minute drill at the end of the first half. He finished with six carries for 19 yards and one catch for nine yards, also playing some in the second half.
  • Tylan Wallace, Binjimen Victor and Jaylon Moore got most of the WR snaps early, but it was 24-year-old UDFA Shemar Bridges who ultimately established a connection with Huntley, shining late in the second quarter with a third-down conversion and then a 14-yard TD on back-to-back plays.
    • Bridges, out of FCS Fort Valley State, later added a 35-yard catch in the second half with the third-string offense. He has a shot at a depth job but isn't on the fantasy radar yet.
    • Wallace left with a knee sprain. Coach John Harbaugh doesn't think it's serious. Wallace had been mentioned earlier this offseason as a candidate to start, but James Proche and Devin Duvernay (both held out Thursday) are the favorites behind No. 1 Rashod Bateman.
  • Huntley is a smart, mobile QB with good accuracy on short throws. But he lacks arm strength, and doesn't exactly make up for it with good touch on deep balls (he had a couple nice intermediate throws Thursday night but also overthrow a wide-open guy on a 9 route). He seems safe in the No. 2 job, though opponents can load the box against him even more than they do against Lamar Jackson.


New York Giants

  • Barkley got four carries for 13 yards on the opening drive, with his highlight being an eight-yard catch to convert a 3rd-and-medium. He was done for the night after getting those five touches on the first series.
  • Gary Brightwell was the second back through the rotation, though it doesn't mean much with Matt Breida (undisclosed) being held out.
    • Brightwell took seven carries for 40 yards and added two catches for 19. 
    • Most of the third quarter went to Antonio Williams, who took nine carries for 61 yards and a TD, perhaps making a case to challenge Brightwell/Breida. It's hard to get excited about any of these backup RBs in New York, even with Barkley's recent injury history.
  • Rookie TE Dan Bellinger played 16 of 18 snaps with the starters, though he caught just one pass for five yards.
  • Rookie WR Wan'Dale Robinson played 13 of 18 snaps with the starters but finished without a target.
  • The good for Golladay? Three targets, including one in the end zone and another inside New England's 5-yard line. The bad news? He caught just one pass for six yards, and his third-down drop may have cost the Giants a TD on their otherwise impressive opening drive.
  • Daniel Jones played pretty well and completed six of 10 passes for 69 yards, but the blocking fell apart after a strong start, including one poor where first-round pick Evan Neal got beat for a sack.
  • Collin Johnson got more work than Darius Slayton with the starters.
    • Especially noteworthy given that Johnson caught seven passes for 82 yards, including gains of 17 and 13 when Jones was still in the game. Johnson did lose a fumble.
    • It was mostly Golladay, Johnson and Robinson in three-wide sets, with Slayton subbing in.
  • Starting LG Shane Lemieux left the game with a toe injury, per SNY's Alex Smith.


New England Patriots

  • The Patriots rested starters, plus Rhamondre Stevenson. (And Ty Montgomery.) 
    • James White (hip) just retired, and either Montgomery or Stevenson look like the best bets to handle passing downs.
    • Also, there have been Harris trade rumors. Not sure about the validity, but there's an argument to be made, especially after the Patriots drafted Pierre Strong and Kevin Harris.     
  • J.J. Taylor got the start at RB, over Strong and Harris, both of whom ultimately had mediocre nights.
    • Harris had seven touches for only seven yards, but did score a TD. Strong had seven touches for 25 yards.
    • Taylor took five carries for 16 yards and one catch for 11.
  • Second-round pick Tyquan Thornton generated some buzz with a short TD catch, and it was he, Kristian Wilkerson and Tre Nixon dominating WR snaps while QB Brian Hoyer (Thursday's starter) was in the game.
    • Thornton finished with only two catches for nine yards, though, while Wilkerson had eight for 99 on 12 targets (including two for 42 from Hoyer).
  • Matt Sokol started at TE with both Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith out. Not that you really cared.

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Jerry Donabedian
Jerry was a 2018 finalist for the FSWA's Player Notes Writer of the Year and DFS Writer of the Year awards. A Baltimore native, Jerry roots for the Ravens and watches "The Wire" in his spare time.
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