Tuesday, June 18, 2024
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NFL rookie takeaways from Week 1 of OTAs: Here’s how Caleb Williams, Jayden Daniels, other top QBs have looked

Organized team activities have started around the NFL, and with these organized events, we get a look at the new faces in new places. Another fun facet of OTAs is that we see rookies take the field to practice with veterans. Plenty of first-year players are expected to make immediate impacts in 2024, but which ones appear to be making an impact from the jump? 

Below we will break down a few rookies making headlines early at OTAs. We will discuss some notable names, key injuries and then also some players to keep an eye on as we progress through training camp and the preseason. Let’s start with the quarterbacks selected in the first round.

Football games aren’t won and lost in May, but No. 1 overall pick Caleb Williams has made an impact for the Chicago Bears at OTAs. He’s one of the many rookies putting these “highlight-reel plays” on film that make the rounds on social media, but you can’t put much stock into those. What you can put stock into is how head coach Matt Eberflus says both the rookies and veterans have rallied around the USC product. 

“Once [Tony] Romo got hurt, when he went down in that preseason game out in Seattle, the team just rallied around [Prescott],” Eberflus said, via SI.com. “And I feel that already in our building here. Everybody’s rallying around him. You can feel that with the reps that we got with some of the first on-field stuff we’ve done, with the veterans. You can see the offense, they’re real supportive and same with the defensive guys. And his personality is infectious. He gets along with everybody; he’s very easy to insert into a locker room.”

With the No. 1 overall pick, you want a superstar talent as well as a leader that sets the tempo. So far, it sounds like that’s what Chicago got in Williams. 

“Just in terms of him the person, it’s been outstanding,” Eberflus said. “I’m talking about a worker — this guy is a worker. He wants to learn, he wants to know everything about the offense, he’s a really good learner, asks great questions, has been great in the quarterback room. I’ve been in there pretty much every time with those guys, and that’s been great, to see that relationship grow with him and Tyson [Bagent], and [QB coach] Kerry [Joseph] and Shane, the guys that are in there. And there’s not a lot of people in there, because we keep it tight, and that’s been wonderful.

“And his interaction with the players in the building, on the field, has been outstanding. Then, obviously the talent, you can certainly see the talent.”

Bears beat reporter Nicholas Moreano noted that Williams had a rough day on Thursday, completing just three passes during the 7-on-7 period. That’s to be expected from any rookie early on. No one is going to be perfect. 

Washington Commanders star defensive tackle Jonathan Allen already has some beef with new quarterback Jayden Daniels. Because the rookie is beating him in being the first Commander in the building on workdays. 

“He always beats me here,” Allen said, via Washington’s official website. “I think that’s pretty cool. He stays late. He does everything you want out of your No. 2 overall pick.”

Daniels has made some impressive passes that have been seen on social media, but like Williams, perhaps the more impressive feat Daniels has accomplished is impressing his veteran teammates. 

TE Zach Ertz: “He [Daniels] really, really cares about this thing. He wants to be as good as he can possibly be. He’s working his butt off.”

QB Marcus Mariota: “I think he really moves well, throws the ball well and for a young guy that’s coming in, seems to really like command the offense and I think that’s important. I think that’s very important in the quarterback position to be able to like stand in front of these guys, especially older players, and kind of nail it and say, ‘I got this, I got it figured out.’ So, I think he’s done a great job of that.”

First-year New England Patriots head coach Jerod Mayo had a viral quote about No. 3 overall pick Drake Maye in rookie minicamp, saying, “He has a lot to work on.” But it’s easy to blow that out of proportion. He has also received praise from teammates, such as fellow rookie wide receiver Ja’Lynn Polk.

“The guy can sling it, man,” Polk said, via ESPN. “He’s very confident. He’s a leader, very vocal; he’s setting the tone in practice, trying to get guys moving around and operating at a high level.”

Maye got a footwork lesson early in OTAs, per NBC Sports Boston, and has been working behind Jacoby Brissett. Fox Sports mentioned he spent plenty of time watching instead of throwing during 11-on-11s and 7-on-7s on the first day, but did stay late and throw with his rookie wideouts. 

The surprise pick of the first round, and maybe the 2024 NFL Draft entirely, Michael Penix Jr. appears to have come as advertised. That means there’s some good to go along with some not so good as well. In breaking down Penix’s first three open practice sessions, SI.com’s Daniel Flick said Penix has shown “flashes of brilliance,” along with some “pretty severe overthrows.” But there’s no doubt that last year’s college football passing leader has an NFL arm.

J.J. McCarthy became somewhat of a polarizing prospect throughout the pre-draft process. Some fell for the “top five pick” noise, and even though McCarthy ended up being the fifth quarterback taken, he found a great landing spot with Kevin O’Connell and the Minnesota Vikings.

Alec Lewis of The Athletic has raved about McCarthy’s arm talent, and is even puzzled by how the football doesn’t combust when thrown by the rookie. 

“Pitching coaches often use the term: ‘The ball explodes out of his hand.’ The same cliche applies to McCarthy, whose ball spirals so tightly through the air you almost expect flames to flow from behind. He generates his velocity with efficient mechanics and a fluid motion. If anything, the Vikings will have to monitor the torque on his arm.”

Benjamin Allbright of KOAColorado said quarterback Bo Nix threw some passes behind receivers last week, while DNVR noted that the former Oregon Duck didn’t make any significant mistakes, and didn’t look like a rookie. 

“He’s farther along than most,” Denver Broncos head coach Sean Payton said of Nix. “We’re talking about a player who has played 61 games [in college]. He’s extremely smart. He’s picked it up very quickly.”

Nix is the most experienced quarterback in college football history, and with him being selected No. 12 overall, one could guess he will likely win the quarterback competition that also involves Jarrett Stidham and Zach Wilson

The New York Giants opted to select wide receiver Malik Nabers instead of starting over at quarterback, and he’s an explosive playmaker who should make one of those immediate impacts we talked about. Last week, ESPN reported that Nabers had an eye-opening, explosive play where he scored a 50-yard touchdown off a double move. 

By all accounts, Nabers has been impressive throughout OTAs. The New York Daily News even reported that he was basically open on every 11-on-11 route he ran during a practice session last week. 

“For one, you can tell he loves football,” quarterback Daniel Jones said, via the Giants’ official website. “It’s important to him. He cares a lot about it. Wants to get it right. Obviously, he’s extremely talented. Everybody knows that. Great route runner, strong, fast, adjusts to the ball well. All the things you look for. It will be a process. I look forward to putting in the work with him.”

Injuries

The 40-yard dash champion hasn’t had the best start since being drafted. Xavier Worthy reportedly had his car stolen in the Kansas City area last week, and is now sidelined at OTAs due to a hamstring injury, according to Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid. ESPN reports Worthy only got about a day and a half of work in before the issue. Again, it’s early in the process. 

Those dang hamstring injuries. Rome Odunze dealt with hamstring tightness two weeks ago, and was sidelined out of caution. Per 670 The Score, he is ramping up, and expected to return for practice this upcoming week. 

“When I first seen him, I was like, ‘He can move,'” fellow Bears wideout D.J. Moore said of Odunze, per 670 The Score. “And I didn’t know he was that fast until I saw him in person and how smooth he was. I’m just looking forward to him being out there.”

T’Vondre Sweat was the most polarizing pick of the Tennessee Titans‘ draft. Some analysts believe it could be GM Ran Carthon’s worst selection, while it may be the favorite pick of the Titans fan base. Bottom line, this 360-pound defensive tackle won Defensive Big 12 Player of the Year in 2023, and has enormous potential.

Sweat wasn’t on the practice field for Day 2 of OTAs, and first-year head coach Brian Callahan didn’t want to volunteer any information on the injury. Per reporter Paul Kuharsky, Sweat’s issue is “minor,” and him not practicing was “precautionary.”

Others to watch

The New York Jets may have found a steal in Malachi Corley out of Western Kentucky in the third round. Corley led the FBS in yards after catch over the last three years with 2,068, per the Jets’ official website. That’s why they call him the “YAC King.” Corley FaceTimed Aaron Rodgers just minutes after he was selected by New York, per ESPN. That led to an invitation for Corley to stay in Rodgers’ home during training camp.  

The Jets’ official website says that in just a few days, Corley has made himself at home on the practice field, and also showcased that YAC ability.  

Luke McCaffrey has been described by the Commanders’ official website as “a consistent standout,” and a player who “could be playing his way into a larger role in the offense.”

One thing to know about the third-round pick out of Rice is that he’s a former quarterback, and that’s something that could help his connection with his new quarterback, Daniels. 

“It’s a position that’s hard to understand unless you’ve played it. The biggest thing I’ve noticed is the communication aspect. You speak the same language, you understand that. Going into rookie minicamp you try to get a head start on. It’s a brand new language, it’s a brand new system,” McCaffrey said, via Fox43.

How about another Jet? New York has a star back in Breece Hall, but who’s going to be the player that gets reps behind him? That may be rookie Braelon Allen. What’s interesting about this prospect is he’s a big back who is just 20 years old, but also has plenty of experience. He rushed for 980+ yards in three straight seasons at Wisconsin, including a 1,268-yard campaign as a freshman. Brandyn Pokrass of Jets X-Factor mentioned that Allen had an impressive Thursday afternoon, where he had a long run and showed solid hands when targeted in the pass game.

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