I know, I know. It’s only pre-season (actually not even technically pre-season yet), and a majority of the players on the field won’t even make the final 53 man roster come September, but rookies do make an impact in the NFL each season and this is our first real chance to get a look at some of the players who could potentially do so.
The Baltimore Ravens had accumulated a total of 28 rookies this past off season, with 12 draft picks and 16 undrafted free agents all fighting for a roster spot. Let’s look at a few of the guys who are making their case to make the final roster.
Gus Edwards was one of the undrafted Free Agents who got a lot of opportunities in this game, and for the most part took advantage to help his case to potentially make the roster. He finished the game with a game leading 10 carries for 35 yards and 1 reception for 23 yards. The next highest amount of rushes by a Raven running back was Mark Thompson with 5. Edwards looked relatively good running aggressively, lowering the shoulder, and fighting for yards. The Miami Hurricane and Rutgers product had 58 total yards Thursday night, leading the team in both rushing and receiving yards.
Behind Gus Edwards in receptions was 1st round draft pick Tight End Hayden Hurst. The TE out of South Carolina finished the game with 3 receptions for 14 yards and a touchdown. His 3 receptions were the highest of any Baltimore Raven on the field. He looked very comfortable blocking, running routes, taking hits and making difficult catches. He showed he could catch the ball in traffic and get open for his quarterback when the play breaks down. 3 receptions doesn’t sound like much, but it was a very run heavy game for the Ravens and they spread the ball out with 15 different players receiving at-least one reception. He played very well and should see plenty of playing time come September with the departure of Benjamin Watson.
Orlando Brown Jr.
Orlando Brown Jr. played very well Thursday night. The tackle from Oklahoma got beat off the line in a small handful of plays, one of which resulted in him giving up a sack, but for the most part he held his ground and didn’t allow himself to be bull-rushed or beat around the edge. He blocked well on passing downs, blocked well on running downs, and on a few broken plays ran up field to block 10-20 yards away from the line of scrimmage. He moved to the outside well on sweep plays and showed overall excellent athleticism.
I really liked how DeShon Elliot looked. The 6th Round pick out of Texas forced a fumble, had 4 total tackles, and seemed to be all over the place in the secondary breaking up passes left and right. He didn’t give up any big plays, didn’t seem to miss many tackles if any at all, and was seemingly around every play that ended in the secondary.
Kenny Young, the 4th Round pick from UCLA, was seemingly invisible for the majority of his early snaps, but then once he got settled started to get a great feel for the game. He was reading plays before the snap and shooting the gap and meeting the running back either at the line or in the backfield. He finished with 4 total tackles, but looked very comfortable on reading the plays before the snap and seemed to always be in the right spot. There were a small handful of plays however that he missed tackles that should have been made, or read the play wrong, but for the most part it was a good showing for Young.
I was hesitant to put Lamar Jackson on this list. He played ok, at best. Completed 4 of his 10 pass attempts for 33 yards with 1 touchdown and 1 interception. His finishing QBR was 42.9, and he looked about as Lamar Jackson as he could. He had a few very well thrown balls, and then he had a few very poorly thrown balls, one of which ended up in the hands of a Bears defender. Now where he did look pretty well was on the designed QB run play calls. He ended up rushing 8 times for 25 yards, and was just a few inches away from breaking off a big run on a few of those. He looked… OK, but there are still 4 more pre-season games for him to show what he can (or cannot) do.
Perhaps the biggest rookie surprise for the Bears after the first pre-season games are the rookies that didn’t play. Their first four draft selections did not play in the game, including their first round pick Roquan Smith who is the only drafted rookie who has yet to sign a contract. But there were plenty of other young guns who made the most of their opportunities.
The 6th round pick from Utah has been creating quite a buzz in training camp he followed that up with a very impressive outing. A key focus for the Bears in the offseason was to improve their pass rush from a year ago. Fitts entered the game in the first quarter and played most of the first half recording 3 tackles and sack as well applying pressure on multiple other plays. A safety in college, Fitts has transitioned into the money-backer position in the NFL and so far looks strong. He is definitely a player to keep your eye on this pre-season.
Pressure up the middle
A trio of young players really impressed in the middle of the Bears defensive line. 5th round pick Bilal Nichols (Delaware), and undrafted rookies Cavon Walker (Maryland) and Abdullah Anderson (Bucknell) were consistently able to collapse the pocket and close down running lanes. The three players combined for 5 tackles and 2 sacks with Nichols leading the pack. It is unlikely that all three of these players will make the final roster, but all three played well tonight and may make it a difficult decision come cut day for the Bears coaching staff.
Perhaps the most impressive player of the whole game. It took the 7th round pick out of Georgia a few drives to find his footing, but once he did he never looked back. Wims finished the game with 7 catches for 89 yards including an incredible 24 yard reception along the sideline where he nearly jumped over the defender to make the catch. The Bears are a team in desperate need of a playmaker at wide receiver and if Wims continues to play like he did in this game, he will be a welcome sight for Bears fans come regular season.