By: Robert Bishop
Back again, and Jacksonville’s season has yet to begin, but the Jaguars suffered a tough loss on Monday night as first-round draft pick Travis Etienne was forced from the action with a foot injury. While there has not yet been confirmation, the Jaguars did reveal it’s a potentially serious injury that could cost Etienne the entire season. Viewed as a unique weapon for the revamped Jacksonville offense, losing Etienne is a tough blow for Trevor Lawrence as he looks to hit the ground running as a rookie. James Robinson is back to likely being a bell-cow option for the Jaguars out of the backfield, while the Jaguars are unlikely to find a suitable replacement for Etienne’s potential role in the passing game.
Against the Jaguars, Saints quarterback Jameis Winston staked his claim to the team’s starting job. Winston had a pair of brilliant passing touchdowns, showing incredible chemistry with Marquez Callaway. With Michael Thomas sidelined indefinitely, the Saints are in desperate need of a game-changing pass catcher, and on Monday night, Callaway looked every ready for the job. Winston’s biggest challenger for the starting quarterback job, Taysom Hill, wasn’t at his best, being a relative non-factor as a rushing threat and inconsistent as a passer. At this point, Hill will likely be a featured piece of New Orleans’ offense, but Winston has to be viewed as the better starting option for Week 1 and beyond.
One of the biggest surprises of the preseason so far has been the stellar play of Pittsburgh’s offensive line. The revamped blocking unit has fared shockingly well through two preseason games. Most encouraging for Pittsburgh in the team’s most recent game against Detroit was the return of right tackle Zach Banner, who suffered a season-ending injury in Week 1 a season ago. Kendrick Green, Kevin Dotson, Zach Banner—they may not be the household names the Steelers are accustomed to having along the offensive line. However, the unit has been a revelation so far in the preseason. With anything close to a carryover into the regular season, the Steelers will be an unexpected threat to the Ravens and Browns in the AFC North.
Carolina enters the season with an exciting collection of playmakers around quarterback Sam Darnold, a clear-cut reclamation project. The Panthers made a move to extend veteran receiver Robby Anderson, who has a history with Darnold as the two shared a huddle with the Jets in the past. Anderson agreed to a two-year extension. Coming off a career-best season in which he racked up 99 grabs for 1,114 yards, emerging as a viable possession receiver while continuing to be elite at racking up yards after the catch. Anderson will join D.J. Moore and running back Christian McCaffrey to give Darnold a collection of worthy options in the passing game as the former third overall pick looks to kickstart his career in Carolina.
Rookie receiver Ja’Marr Chase was viewed as a sure thing during draft season, and the LSU product was more than deserving of his top-five selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, joining the sneaky-good receiving corps in Cincinnati. However, in a preseason matchup against Washington, Chase recorded three drops on three targets. Considering zero concerns were surrounding his catching ability entering the draft, the Bengals have to be hoping the struggles result from a lack of concentration. On the plus side, Chase continues to showcase an elite ability to get open. At this point, Chase could start the season behind veteran Tyler Boyd and fellow youngster Tee Higgins within the pecking order for quarterback Joe Burrow.