Preseason is to real NFL games what Snackwells are to real cookies: They’ll do fine if they’re all you’ve got.
Thursday night at 7:30 p.m., your New England Patriots play the Washington Piscataway (see, Dan Schneider? Not that hard). If you’re a Pats fan, you’re feeling pretty excited right now. Like the NFL draft, your current excitement should devolve into malaise about one hour in, so let’s enjoy the anticipation!
Some changes from last month’s Patriots Roster Preview (great call by me on the whole “Troy-Niklas-with-Gronk-potential” thing) compel us to keep track of who’s doing what. Also: farewell, Malcolm Mitchell. Your Super Bowl highlight reel shall live on in New England lore.
Time for the Preseason Prediction Awards. Remember, these involve the next four ersatz games, not the regular season, so many of the names you’ll read below may not survive cuts. Prepare yourselves. You’re welcome.
Winner, PR Battle: I’m going with punt returner Braxton Berrios over punt returner Riley McCarron, only because Berrios has seemed more dynamic in that role. Overall, though, I think McCarron catches more passes this summer due to his superb athleticism (4.41-second 40, 40.5-inch vertical, an electron-quick 6.59-second 3-cone drill). McCarron also has a year in the Patriots system that should serve him well in August.
Over/under on comparisons of both above players to Julian Edelman and/or Wes Welker? Take the number of national stories, multiply by 1.5.
The Rohan Davey Award: Oh, backup Patriots quarterback from LSU? That goes to Danny Etling, for whom I predict a shaky preseason. New England’s offense has proven difficult for rookies to learn (maybe not for Mitchell, but for most others), and with Etling topping out at a merely decent 60 percent last season, we might end up watching more wayward balls than at a Bangkok-based billionaires’ convention.
By the way, did you know Rohan Davey’s middle name was St. Patrick? Yup. Rohan St. Patrick Davey, born in Jamaica. Damn shame he couldn’t stick around, but completing eight of 19 passes in three years probably didn’t help. Two rings, though. Not too shabby.
MVP QB: This goes to Brian Hoyer, in part for the Etling-related reasons stated above, and also because, Tom Brady won’t play in the fourth game and could sit out this Thursday’s contest. For those thinking I mean that Hoyer will play better than Brady, that’s not what I’m saying. Hoyer will end up with more gaudy stats after four games that serve as about as meaningful a predictor as a 10-day weather report.
Why didn’t they hold onto Garoppolo? I can give you over 20 million reasons. Too bad Brady has maintained a high level of play, I guess?
The Zach Sudfeld Preseason Tight End Darling Award: With Rob Gronkowski unlikely to play much in the preseason, Jacob Hollister looks like a prime candidate to put up solid numbers, but his tenure and likelihood to make the roster again take him out of this category. No, we need a rookie who could do well this month yet still will have a tough time making it through September, and that means Ryan Izzo. The 6-5, 255-pound Florida State product made his name as a blocker for the Seminoles (do you see, Dan Schneider?) while managing to add to the passing attack with 20 catches for 317 yards and three TDs last season.
The Danny Woodhead Award: Looking for a Tonka-truck-sized running back to put on some moves and make a highlight reel this summer? Undrafted rookie Ralph Webb (5-9, 202) set the record at Vanderbilt for career rushing with 4,173 yards. Caught 13 passes for 188 yards last year. Should be a fun guy to watch.
Speaking of fun guys to watch…
The Randy Moss “How The Hell Did We Get This Guy?” Award: New England let left tackle Nate Solder go to free agency and managed to replace him with a geological formation known as Trent Brown, listed on the Patriots web site as 6-9, 380 pounds, which is more or less the same weight as Berrios and McCarron together (not an exaggeration). He apparently has the wing span of a condor and the foot speed of a leopard, making it very difficult to get past him. Has to bring the most potential entertainment among the offensive line, right?
On that note…
Most Likely To Win A Starting Role By September (Offense): I’m betting on rookie lineman Isaiah Wynn. New England drafted him in the first round, eliciting some howling from pundits that a 6-2 player can’t effectively man the left tackle spot. Then Brown stepped in and made that point moot. Still, would like to see what Wynn can do in game-like conditions vs. opponents fighting for their jobs. I think he takes over the left guard spot from Joe Thuney eventually.
Most Likely To Win A Starting Role By September (Defense): Welcome back, Derek Rivers. The pass rusher had his season cut shorter than a broccoli stem after suffering a knee injury last summer. He has a one-year tutorial on New England’s defense, and seems to bring a type of athleticism that the team lacked last winter. While veteran Adrian Clayborn will get plenty of time, Rivers could end up starting some games opposite Trey Flowers before the leaves turn. How he does in the next few weeks will help determine that.
The Trey Flowers Second-Year Leap Award: Why not a fellow Arkansas alum? That’s Deatrich Wise, who had five sacks in 2017 and could improve on those numbers as a sophomore. Interesting to see how well he holds up in August, where he fits along the line, and how often he plays (this is the only time of year when staying on the sidelines can get interpreted as a good thing).
The Comeback Award (aka The 28-3): Not sure when this might happen, but the moment linebacker Harvey Langi makes his first tackle of the preseason, the crowd will go wild. Langi and his wife Cassidy got rear-ended in a terrible car accident, putting their lives in jeopardy and, less importantly, ending his rookie season. Langi has missed recent practices but did spend time on the field in July and August. Considering the linebacker picture is about as filled in as a brand-new coloring book, he’s got a solid shot to contribute.
The Kendrick Perkins Award For Leading The Team In Picks: It’s got to be a bubble guy, right? A player who gets in at the end of games and intercepts opposing third- and fourth-string quarterbacks? I’m going to say Keion Crossen, because he’s so fast (4.33 40) and athletic (39.5-inch vertical, 6.67 3-cone), and should get a few opportunities to shine this month.
The Sugar Hill Gang Award For Most Memorable Hit: Rock the rhythm that’ll make your body rock. Rookies tend to move at a faster pace during preseason because their professional futures remain on the line. With that in mind, I’m picking linebacker Ja’Whuan Bentley to bring the lumber and store it in an opposing running back’s shoulder pads. Interesting to see whether Bentley gets the green dot helmet, showing he’s the guy getting directives from defensive coach Brian Flores.
The Tom Brady Award For Guy We Don’t Want To Play In The Preseason Who Will Probably Do So: This goes to Julian Edelman, who got hurt last preseason (yikes), got suspended taking substances to aid his comeback (dang), and needs time to get on the same page as Brady before his forced vacation (awwww). Not too much playing time, but enough to establish the action-movie-buddy-level rapport he and the QB will need.
The Paul Giamatti Award For Being Least Likely To Get Noticed And That’s Okay: Here’s to defensive tackle Danny Shelton shoring up the run defense. He may not get many solo tackles, but the 6-2, 345-pounder has proven about as easy to move as a “Game of Thrones” binger off a couch. Shelton’s ability to occupy blockers will help the likes of Bentley and fellow rookie Christian Sam bring more hits than K-tel.
A 1994 Movie You’ve Probably Forgotten About Award: The Specialist? Anyone? In any case, no one should feel surprised if Cordarelle Patterson returns kicks and does little else. Maybe a reception or two here, maybe an end-around there. Overall, though, the coaches could keep this high-octane athlete on the sidelines for the bulk of the preseason. And, due in part to the shiny new kickoff rules, he’s got a better-than-average shot to make at least one big return.
The Chad Jackson Award For Guy I’m Probably Putting Too Much Value On: I loved the trade up to get Jackson in the 2006 draft. He remains one of New England’s biggest busts. After a promising year of potential, could former Colts first-rounder Phillip Dorsett live up to my expectations? In 2017, the athletically talented receiver had only 12 catches in 15 games, but a full off-season in the system might make him more valuable. Do they continue him in last year’s Brandin-Cooks-sprint-for-the-end-zone role, or can he mix in some medium-range routes to keep the defense thinking? Not sure how much of the offensive playbook we’ll see this summer, so any consistency with Dorsett as a target could become a positive sign.
The You’re Fine Seriously You’re Fine Right There Award: No need to play Gronkowski, or linebacker Dont’a Hightower, or receiver Chris Hogan, or even the starting defensive backfield, really. The toughest aspect of this time of year involves managing enough playing time to get in synch while avoiding injuries. Coaching is like cleaning up summer roadkill in one aspect: I’m glad I don’t have that job.
The Dave Roberts Short-Yet-Highly-Effective Run Award: Go ahead. Watch it again. Anyway, who will show up as the preseason short-yardage picker-upper? I’ve got my eye on Jeremy Hill – all 230 pounds of him – taking the third-and-one carries. The coaches know what Mike Gillislee can do, while rookie running back Sony Michel needs time off for his knee to heal, leaving Hill with many preseason chances to show off his ability.
The Quarterflash Award For Most Sax: I’m going to harden my heart and ignore the prime candidates like Rivers, Clayborn, Flowers, and Wise, and go with a backup who could notch plenty of QB stops during second-half playing time vs. third-string O-linemen. That’s Keionta Davis, an injured holdover from last year who has put on 10 pounds over the winter to tilt the scales at 280. If Davis has kept some of his speed (he ran a 4.72 40) and strength (an impressive 30 bench reps at his pro day), he could wreak more havoc than a den of baby cobras loose in a licorice factory.
The Driving Behind A School Bus When You’re In A Hurry Award For Most Stops: Again, keeping in mind playing time for the younger guys looking to impress, I’ll go with linebacker Sam, who drove the Arizona State defense last season with 127 tackles, 87 of them solo. I can see him flying around the field in upcoming fourth quarters (and all of Preseason Game Four), making himself indispensable in fans’ eyes, only to watch him get cut and picked up by the Jets.
For the record, Christian Sam, I want you on this roster.
The Memento Award For I Have No Idea What’s Happening With This Guy: This goes to Paul Turner. Heard of him? He’s a new New England receiver who played for the Eagles in 2016 and had zero NFL receptions last season. If you watch his highlights from West Monroe (La.) High, you’ll see an option quarterback who seems to run a little like Malcolm Mitchell (sigh). He might get cut before September, or he might prove stubborn and stick around, much like Devin Lucien. Who knows?
Plus, why do I have all these weird phrases tattooed on my body?
The Asia MTV Video Award: Only time will tell how much new veteran receiver Eric Decker gets done. Could become a preseason darling, only to fade away during the regular season; could produce next to nothing, only to become as much a fall staple as pumpkin lattes. Still, rather have him on New England’s side than the opposing team’s.
The Randall Gay Undrafted Rookie Free Agent Defensive Back Award: We could call this the Malcolm Butler Award, but we’ll go farther back to Gay, with a nod to current corner Jonathan Jones and former safety/special teamer Ray Ventrone. This year’s candidates include First Initials Club members A. J. Moore and J. C. Jackson. Both have a decent shot, but I’ll lean toward Jackson, who has showed up recently in camp competition. The 5-10, 200-pound Maryland product made All-Big Ten Honorable Mention last season with 40 tackles, three interceptions, and seven pass break-ups. He also transferred out of Florida in 2015 after getting kicked off the team for his arrest on four counts of armed robbery, but, hey, at least he doesn’t kneel during the anthem.
The R.E.M. Lyrics Award: Oh, life is bigger; it’s bigger than you, and you are not me. In other words, the preseason means next to nothing. Please don’t read too much into it – just sit back, watch, and enjoy NFL football. Or not quite. Everybody hurts sometimes.
If something big happens in the next month, I’m on it. Otherwise, see you at the beginning of the Patriots’ 2018 season.
Follow Chris Warner, don’t follow Chris Warner: he’s got his spine, he’s got his orange crush. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @cwarn89