Each week, we’ll be highlighting ten things you need to know following the weekend of college football and NFL play that affects the 2022 NFL draft. This might be a player who breaks out, an important injury, an ascending NFL player who erases a presumed team need, or just something we see happening that needs talked about.
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1. NFL Week 1 Awards:
Offensive Player of the Week: QB Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks (18-23, 254 yards, 4 TD)
Defensive Player of the Week: Chandler Jones, Arizona Cardinals (5 sacks)
Rookie of the Week: Rashawn Slater, Los Angeles Chargers
Coach of the Week: Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers (23-16 win over Buffalo)
2. Week 1 of the NFL season had me traveling north on I-49 to attend the Cleveland Browns at Kansas City Chiefs. A wild comeback game saw Baker Mayfield play close to perfect football until the fourth quarter while the Kansas City defense was absent until Chris Jones started working the backup left tackle following Jedrick Wills injury.
Arrowhead is a magical place to attend a football game, if you don’t mind the heat or the 30 minute wait at the security gate no matter what time you try entering the stadium. It was no different for this neutral observer surrounded by tomahawk chops and peace-signs as Patrick Mahomes led the team to a comeback win.
My biggest takeaway: The Browns were able to keep this game very close, but did so with Tyrann Mathieu and Frank Clark out of the lineup. It’s also only Week 1 for the new Chiefs’ offensive line that will only improve over the course of the season as they build continuity and chemistry.
I thought the Browns were one of the few teams that could matchup against the Chiefs on paper. Sunday proved they’re not there yet.
3. Damn, it was good to see Joe Burrow playing and playing well. After a preseason that saw Ja’Marr Chase dropping passes and Burrow timid early in training camp, it was refreshing to see the confident Joe Cool we saw at LSU back on the field following last year’s knee injury.
It’s only a win over the Minnesota Vikings, but the Bengals’ offense was promising with the offensive line keeping Burrow mostly upright (he was sacked five times) and giving him time to complete 20 of 27 passes, including a beauty to Chase that looked like a replay of the 2019 LSU season.
The AFC North might be the best division in the NFL, and the Bengals don’t look like competitors just yet, but Burrow playing a high level is something this fan wanted to see Sunday.
4. Chandler Jones, get your payday.
The Cardinals’ pass-rusher put on a clinic Sunday against Taylor Lewan and the Tennessee Titans with five sacks and a dominant performance that ranks as one of the best single games I’ve ever seen for a defender.
Jones, who has been one of the NFL’s best since arriving in Arizona, somehow remains underrated. Hopefully his performance in Week 1 will change that and his tax bracket.
5. Jalen Hurts was the NFC East’s best quarterback on Sunday; and while that might not seem like high praise considering the competition was Daniel Jones, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Taylor Heinecke (Dak Prescott played Thursday), it still speaks volumes to the game plan devised by Nick Siriani to best the Atlanta Falcons.
Hurts finished a damn-near-perfect 27-of-35 for 264 yards and three touchdowns, plus another 62 yards rushing. He made his reads fast. He was accurate. He was in control.
That’s what the Eagles needed to see from Hurts to feel comfortable about him as this year’s QB1 but also a player with the talent to hold that job down into the future.
6. Feeling great after a Week 1 win by your NFL or fantasy team? Or maybe you’re sulking in a loss. The point is, don’t get too high or too low following the first game of the season.
Week 1 can have us thinking Derek Carr is an MVP candidate, considering Aaron Rodgers as a backup, and thinking Jameis Winston shouldn’t have been backing up Drew Brees last year.
And while some of the observations made on the opening weekend of the NFL season, the important lesson is that this is a 17 game schedule and we’re 1/17th of the way through it.
Much like the hot start by the Pittsburgh Steelers last year or the New England Patriots’ defense in 2019, it can sometimes take a week or two (or more) for NFL coaches to catch up to the tape and formulate a plan to stop teams. It can also, like Pittsburgh last year, be a situation where a team looks red hot and unstoppable only because of their opponents.
So take a deep breath and wait-and-see this NFL season. There are no awards for hottest take after Week 1.
7. RIP, Florida State.
Fresh off a close loss to Notre Dame that had folks thinking maybe the Seminoles were ready to at least pull up for second or third in the ACC, they completely left skidmarks on the bed in a loss to Jacksonville State.
And no, Jacksonville State isn’t even in Florida. The Gamecocks of Jacksonville, Alabama pulled off one of the great surprises of the 2021 season with a last-second Hail Mary win over the Seminoles.
For FSU, it’s time to evaluate the hiring of Mike Norvell and a fresh look at a program that’s been on the decline for the last five years.
8. USC made a surprising move while firing head coach Clay Helton on Monday. It’s not that the move was a surprise due to Helton being on top of his profession or USC being competitive, but instead that the Trojans waited so long. Helton has been on the hot seat for two seasons. And no matter how many Texas Tech quarterbacks he brings in as offensive coordinators (Kliff Kingsbury was there for a cup of coffee, Graham Harrell is there now), Helton couldn’t build the type of powerhouse program they’ve been waiting for or hoping for in Los Angeles since Pete Carroll went to the NFL.
Good friend of The Draft Scout Bruce Feldman wrote a great piece for The Athletic about USC’s next head coach, or where the search should go, but I’ll add a few of my own here.
A. Luke Fickell — Fickell was hired by USC athletic director Mike Bohn hired Fickell at Cincinnati, where Fickell has built a tough program and has recently had a trove of legitimate NFL draft prospects coming through a Group of 5 program.
B. Eric Bieniemy — The Kansas City Chiefs’ offensive coordinator has never been a head coach at any level, but his work under Andy Reid and his work with Patrick Mahomes has made him a household name in football circles. He has the player-friendly reputation to be a good recruiter, even though it’s something he hasn’t done in quite some time. But there is a feeling around the NFL that Bieniemy needs to take a head coaching job if offered (either in the pros or at an elite college) before he goes through many more hiring cycles. Bieniemy has interviewed numerous times but never been offered a head coaching job. This could be the job that changes that.
C. Mario Cristobal — The Oregon head coach is definitely worthy of the USC job, but would he want it? Oregon has excellent facilities, bottomless pockets, and he’s been able to steal plenty of top talent from southern California despite being out of state. Cristobal would be a home run get for the Trojans—get arguably the best coach in the conference and weaken an opponent—but the Ducks can afford to match anything USC offers him. The only thing USC has that Oregon doesn’t? The prestige of the program and the ease of backyard recruiting in Los Angeles.
9. Who can compete with Alabama? And be realistic. Last week when I posted this question on Twitter a lot of fans responded Ohio State, Florida, or whomever their hometown team is. But after watching Ohio State fall to Oregon—with the Ducks down their two best defenders (Kayvon Thibodeaux, Justin Flowe)—you can’t put Ryan Day’s team on this level. Same with Florida and its quarterback competition.
Georgia, though? Maybe.
Kirby Smart is one heck of a defensive coach and has a great squad this year. The only question would be their ability to score with ‘Bama. With JT Daniels sidelined at the moment due to injury, it’s impossible to pick the Bulldogs over the Crimson Tide if they were to play this weekend, but by season’s end in a potential No. 1 vs. No. 2 SEC title game battle?
10. My beloved Texas Longhorns are not back. Not even that “back” means what most think or use to insult Texas fans.
Texas being “back” would mean what? A return to being a competitor for No. 2 in the Big 12? After all, the Longhorns haven’t won the conference since 2009 and have actually only won the conference title three times.
The program in Austin is a big one thanks to the cache of the name and the money involved, but the actual football team is a middle-tier squad with big-time potential. Much like USC mentioned above, Texas could become a juggernaut thanks to the resources (money, in-state talent, facilities, reputation) but it’s not there yet and even being “back” wouldn’t mean they’re at the blue blood level many fans think the school is at.
Reality check time, Longhorns. And that’s before moving to the much more competitive SEC.