By: Tom Di Benedetto
I will state the painfully obvious up front: Week 1 can be deceiving. It makes no sense to judge a draft pick or a team’s Super Bowl hopes after the first game. But in the case of the four first-time starters in this season’s opening week, such remarkably solid and poised play across the board can’t be simply dismissed. Here’s what I made of their debuts, in order of most impressive.
1. Carson Wentz
It was a simply stunning maiden voyage for the second overall pick, who demonstrated composure, confidence, competitiveness, athleticism and a dangerous arm in Philadelphia’s blowout win over the Browns. The hype this week has been deserved and it’s frankly hard to imagine a better start to Wentz’s career. He had the 11th-best passer rating and scouting outfit Pro Football Focus graded him as the 2nd-best QB in Week 1. Now to throw some cold water on the situation: he doesn’t have a particularly quick release or short throwing motion, he holds the ball a little low (turnover risk) and he was playing the Cleveland Browns. Just last season, 2nd overall pick Marcus Mariota torched a terrible Tampa defense in Week 1, but it ended up being his best performance of the year and the Titans didn’t win again until Week 6. Wentz’s potential excites me and he clearly has the most upside of the league’s new starters. But struggles have to be expected as well this season.
2. Jimmy Garoppolo
It was apparent in the preseason and again in Week 1 that Jimmy Garoppolo has spent years observing Tom Brady up close. His footwork and throwing mechanics mimic Brady, especially his lightning-fast release, which was employed to high effect in the Patriots’ quick hitting offense. His arm strength is adequate but the poise he demonstrated in toppling the Cardinals on the road (best exemplified by his otherworldly 151.6 QB rating vs. blitzes) was incredibly impressive. He was also without Gronk and a fully healthy line in Week 1. I think it’s safe to say the Pats will be ok until Brady’s return. The bigger question over the next few weeks will be if Jimmy G can impress enough to deserve a job of his own in the future.
3. Dak Prescott
The excitement surrounding Dak Prescott died down a bit in Dallas after a tight loss at home to the Giants, but my interest in him only increased. He held his own in an intense game and displayed several promising qualities that honestly reminded me of a raw Russell Wilson. While he has miles to go to reach that level, he is further along at this point than I think anyone could have expected. Prescott will have to improve his accuracy over the course of the year and did not look as comfortable attacking down the field as he did in the preseason. He is also surprisingly not comfortable scrambling despite his excellent feet in the pocket. The Cowboys will continue to employ a conservative game plan with the young QB, who is certainly worth watching as the season continues.
4. Trevor Siemian
The least physically impressive of the 2016 Week 1 newbies, Trevor Siemian more than made up for his deficiencies with his poise against the defending NFC champs. His timing in the offense, which was notable in the preseason, continued last week as he was able to move the ball effectively in the short passing game. He isn’t much of a downfield attacking threat, but then again neither was Peyton Manning last year. The QB game plan in Denver won’t be all that different this season from last, and Siemian’s primary responsibilities going forward will be game management and protecting the ball. This formula was highly effective last season and Siemian has given Broncos fans reason to believe he can survive in the role.
Week 1 Game Balls
1. Andrew Luck
It’s a shame the Colts look like they can’t stop anyone again this season, because the good Andrew Luck has returned. He carried the team on his back once again in Week 1, fighting from behind for most of the game and showing off his trademark, jaw-dropping downfield accuracy along the way. Pro Football Focus graded him as the top first-week QB, and while that grade may be a tad generous, Luck was undoubtedly phenomenal. Most exciting is an interesting collection of Colts targets that surprised across the board. Phillip Dorsett was the standout receiver alongside Donte Moncrief and T.Y. Hilton, and tight ends Dwayne Allen and Jack Doyle each turned in stellar performances. The offense line also turned in a halfway decent performance, although Luck still doesn’t look entirely comfortable behind them. If the cast can keep it up, it should be a mega year for Luck.
2. Jameis Winston
Last season was a stellar debut for Jameis Winston and his 2016 Week 1 follow up was yet another very positive step. He terrorized Atlanta with his trademark audacity in the deep passing game en route to a 122.6 passer rating and 4 touchdowns. He is already a smarter quarterback and a better leader than most would have ever anticipated and truly looks the part of the most promising young passer in the league.
3. Matt Stafford
Stafford is my QB of the Week after a criminally under-discussed 31/39, 3 touchdown, 340 yard game in an epic duel with Andrew Luck (which he won). I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Matt Stafford is a top five quarterback when he’s locked in. And boy was he ever locked in on Sunday, completing just under EIGHTY PERCENT of his passes at Week 1’s 3rd highest yards per attempt rate. Sublime numbers. Plus a game-winning drive in the final minute. The cast around Stafford will be the biggest question going forward. Wildcard wideouts Marvin Jones & Anquan Boldin were solid and Ameer Abdullah & Theo Riddick were ridiculously good on Sunday.
Statement on Jared Goff:
The Rams horrendous Monday night performance says nothing about Jared Goff’s development, nor does the fact that he was #3 on the depth chart. From the very beginning, Jeff Fisher warned that he would be cautious with the number one pick and that Case Keenum would start the season. His harebrained idea that Goff needed a game to “observe” rather than suit up also says very little about his ability to play now. It was never the plan for Goff to start right away and seemingly always the plan for him to play eventually this season, which will happen, and likely far sooner than Fisher would prefer. But please, let’s hold off on killing the pick or making the assumption that Goff is somehow egregiously behind schedule.
Week 2 Key Matchup
Tyrod Taylor vs Ryan Fitzpatrick
Both were awful in Week 1, and if either the Jets or the Bills want to keep pace with the Patriots ahead of Brady’s return, something is going to have to give here. Taylor looked like a shell of his 2015 self against the Ravens. He was wild, unsure in the pocket and surprisingly unwilling to attack downfield. And SO MANY PASSES THROWN AT THE LINE OF SCRIMMAGE. Fitzpatrick on the other hand was exactly the same Fitzpatrick from 2015. A few good moments early overshadowed by bouts of wildness and another horrible game-on-the-line drive ending in an interception. With Forte looking great, it appears to be the same deal for Fitz and the Jets: if he makes the wide open throws and doesn’t tank the game, they’ll be fine.
Same seven as the preseason in a new order and with a couple of others close on their heels.
1. Tom Brady
2. Ben Roethlisberger +
3. Aaron Rodgers –
4. Cam Newton –
5. Drew Brees +
6. Russell Wilson –
7. Carson Palmer
Knocking on 7’s Door: Matt Stafford, Andrew Luck