Sports

6 winners and 8 losers from Week 2 in the NFL

It wasn’t until 2012 that I started seriously trying to evaluate players in the draft. I was blogging about the Carolina Panthers, and obviously stakes were high with the No. 1 pick. Jimmy Clausen demonstrably proved he was never going to be an NFL quarterback, and it was a serious crap shoot of a draft with it truly feeling like the top five picks could be any combination of players all the way up until draft day. It’s here that the best thing that ever happened to me did. Ready for it? I thought Blaine Gabbert would be better than Cam Newton.

Yes, yes. Laugh at me. Seriously, do it — because you cannot possibly make me feel worse about being wrong than I have over the decade. It was such a monumental failure, so pronounced in its utter ineptitude, that I vowed I would never make the same mistake again. I stopped banking on things like “upside” and “promise” when it came to quarterbacks and looked at brass tacks: Did the dude perform? Who did he perform against? At the end of that day, that’s all that really matters.

So why are we talking about an almost decade old draft today? Zach Wilson.

See, I learned something from that process. I internalized my personal failure, and learned to look at players more holistically. If you had to bend over backwards, dig deep into the recesses of reasoning and advanced stats to justify why someone would be a star: They weren’t going to be. Football, like so many things in life, is so much simpler than we give it credit for. Complexity bias runs strong, which is an innate human need to overcomplicate things, because we prefer to tackle complex problems, rather than simple ones. Soon we’ve turned a relatively easy to solve issue, into a mountain — and that makes us happier.

When I watched Zach Wilson before the draft I felt like the odd man out. The butt of a cosmic joke. The world was telling me this kid was going to be a star, but I really, really did not see it. Like a hundred people staring at a “Magic Eye” picture and immediately seeing the hidden image, I was left seeing a mess. It’s something I alluded to prior to the draft.

BYU played one of the softest schedules in all of college, ranked 67th in the nation. Wilson was in the ideal position to succeed, and he did for the most part. However, what I see is a quarterback who took a ton of risks that won’t translate on Sunday. Too often Wilson threw jump balls to his receivers, missing his progression on a safer, chain-moving throw. You can look at that as “having faith in his receivers,” which is good — and he should have, especially when you’re playing the likes of North Alabama.

I can’t shake this feeling that Wilson is going to be a bust though. After watching film I’m not confident in him to be an elite quarterback in the NFL, and it concerns me to think he’ll be selected with that expectation on him.”

I don’t think this is funny. There’s no joy in seeing a player struggle, or a fanbase terrified that after Mark Sanchez, Geno Smith and Sam Darnold it’s all happening again — but here we are. Wilson has every physical tool you could want, and he could absolutely turn this around with time. However, as it stands he looks like a player who never faced adversity and really isn’t good at digging his way out of it.

Through two weeks his stat line speaks for itself.

39-of-70, 468 yards, 2 TD, 5 INT — 55.7 QB rating

Wilson has the worst QB rating in the NFL among players with over 50 passing attempts. The saving grace: Trevor Lawrence is the second worst. The not so good news is that Jacksonville is dispositioned to give Lawrence all the rope in the world. New York is already eating Wilson alive. That and, well, Sam Darnold has a QB rating of 100.5 right now.

Winner: Carolina Panthers

It seems like a cosmic joke to discuss Darnold and the Panthers right after pointing out how bad Wilson has been, but here we are. Let’s not get is twisted: Darnold’s stats are artificially inflated right now by playing the Jets, then the Saints, who were missing numerous defensive starters.

That said, it’s not always about being the best in the NFL. It’s about being good enough — and right now, Sam Darnold has been good enough to win football games in Carolina.

Naturally the QB position gets the attention, but the real story of what’s happening in Carolina is the defense. The Panthers lead the league in passing defense, giving up an average QB rating of 52.5 and allowing a league-best 22 percent of first down throws. They’re also allowing just 2.7 yards per carry on the ground.

Oh, the Panthers also lead the NFL in sacks with 10.

It’s a formula that’s allowing Darnold to play relatively pressure-free football, with Christian McCaffery playing the role of ultimate safety blanket, as well as a player who can run the clock down when Carolina gets ahead. I don’t know if this will last, but the Panthers are 2-0 right now and have a pretty nice stretch ahead the next three weeks with the Texans, Cowboys, and Vikings. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that this team starts 5-0. which seems ludicrous based on expectations.

Loser: Jaguars

I wasn’t going to say anything, until the team posted this.

I have never, ever seen a team make a statement like this when we haven’t even hit October yet. It reeks of post-season musings, and that’s just sad.

It was a missed opportunity to go full motivational poster with this too.

Winner: Lamar Jackson

Sunday Night Football was the perfect epitome of why Jackson is, and will be, the most polarizing player in the league this season. It’s partly because his play, by nature, drifts between the poles. It’s always been a case where if you evaluate him purely as a passer you see, honestly, a fairly average quarterback. A large part of this is lack of weapons, sure, but it also paints an incomplete picture.

So many players would have folded in the second half against the Chiefs, down 28-17 with Patrick Mahomes cooking. It’s a familiar refrain we’ve heard for years, but Jackson wasn’t having any of it. He rebounded with a 42-yard touchdown pass, then when Kansas City answered he ran in a score, then another — and kept running for over 100 yards and two touchdowns on the day.

In totality he had a positive touchdown/turnover ratio, and contributed 346 yards of the team’s 481 yards. That is wholly impressive, even if the passing picture alone doesn’t show it.

Winner: Derek Carr and the Las Vegas Raiders

I gushed early last week about how Carr was due to much more respect than he was getting, and yeah, that still stands. The Raiders are now 2-0 coming off a brutal two game stretch against the Ravens and Steelers.

On Sunday Carr threw 28-of-37, 382 yards and 2 touchdowns in the 26-17 win. At this point ignore him at your peril, because he is balling. The news gets better for Raiders fans too, because now the team hits a fairly soft five game stretch in the schedule against the Dolphins, Chargers, Bears, Broncos, and Eagles. While it’s likely the team could drop a game or two, it’s also wholly possibly they could be 7-0 at the end of this. Like the Panthers, things are just breaking right for them, but unlike the Panthers, Las Vegas is more talented team that is finally learning to put things together.

Winner: Tom freaking Brady

I dunno what else to say here. This man is so gifted at ripping the heart out of Atlanta it defies belief. Five touchdowns. Nuff said.

Winner: Mike Edwards

It’s impossible to talk about Brady without mentioning Edwards on the other side of the ball. His TWO fourth quarter pick-sixes to close the game shut down any hopes of a Falcons win.

Loser: Pretty much every rookie and second year quarterback

We all know it takes some time for quarterbacks to get their footing. Yes, the whole “three years” notion and all that jazz, but goodness I don’t know the last time we saw this many young QBs struggle in one afternoon of football.

Just so we’re clear, I’m talking about: Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Justin Fields, Mac Jones, Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert, and Jalen Hurts. It’s kinda unfair to lump Jones and Hurts into this group, because they were the most okay of the group, but still nothing to really write home about.

Anyway, care to guess how this group performed as a whole? I promise you’re not ready.

124/207, 1,322 yards, 4 TD, 12 INT — 60.9 passer rating

That is just remarkable. We’re talking about eight quarterbacks, six of whom are starters. In a week where 13 quarterbacks finished with a rating over 100, this group would have averaged 27th in the NFL out of 30 players (Monday night still pending, obviously).

It’s part of the learning process, but still … woof.

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