It would appear football season is upon us. I’ve been dragging my feet through much of the summer, immersing myself in Cavalier news and Indians games, ignoring much in the way of training camp and fantasy season preparation. Outside of injuries, I’ve always felt that training camps are simply ephemeral spurts of action that rarely provide much in the way of information worthy of analysis. Thursday night, however, served to provide the official start to actual Cleveland Browns football. Two different teams rostering a slew of players with something to prove, running and throwing and catching and tackling each other for what amounts to 60 game minutes. It was our real first look at these players against actual competition. When a pass is completed in camp, was it a great offensive play, or a terrible defensive one? If a pass is intercepted, was it the work of a ball hawk or a quarterback who shouldn’t be anywhere near a football field?
Here are your winners and losers from the first bout of preseason football for 2017.
WINNER: DeShone Kizer
Yes, I was against what equated to third-string defenders. Yes, it was only 18 passes. And yes, 45 of his 185 yards came on one pass. But in what was his first game of NFL-like action against a set of uniforms that were not orange and brown, the Browns’ rookie quarterback looked pretty damn good. While fans will continue to compare Kizer to Houston’s Deshaun Watson, it was the Cleveland rookie who stood in the pocket and pump-faked the absolute hell out of safety to lead the Browns to their first preseason win since 2015. Pro Fpotball Focus credited Kizer with completing 5-of-10 passes under pressure (for 126 yards) and a 129.2 passer rating. He was also 2-of-2 on deep passes, one of which was a ballsy 45-yard touchdown on fourth down with 1:52 left on the game clock. On the game-winning drive, the rookie completed an 18-yard throw on third-and-17, following it up with a 22-yard completion on third-and-24 on the play before the game-winning pass. The best part? The rookie was given two fourth-down plays to choose from at the line of scrimmage, reportedly audibled out of the run, and dropped an absolute dime to Jordan Payton. We shouldn’t be enshrining Kizer in Canton just yet, but it was a fantastic debut for the kid from Notre Dame.
WINNER: Hue Jackson
Hue went into the preseason saying his team couldn’t afford to go 0-4 this year. While preseason has next to zero correlation with in-season success, knowing how to win football games is an important trait, regardless of who is on the field. While Kizer averaged 10.2 yards per completion, Kessler sat at 4.7; Osweiler at 3.0. While penalties didn’t help matters much (more on this later), Osweiler not recording a single first down in the first quarter was not the best way to grab ahold of the starting job he was given just days earlier.
LOSERS: Brock Osweiler and Cody Kessler
Combining to complete just 11 of 24 passes, this first preseason game did not help solidify anything in the way of a depth chart for the team’s two veterans.
WINNER: Myles Garrett
He only played one half of football, but man is it going to be fun watching Myles Garrett play every Sunday. I hate clichés more than anyone, but the kid just has it. He was in the backfield pressuring New Orleans quarterbacks nearly every snap, had a tackle for a loss, and was instrumental in a play that nearly resulted in Christian Kirksey picking off a pass in the middle of the field. The play where he perfectly timed the snap and simply pushed tackle Khalif Barnes to hit Garrett Grayson was reminiscent of Joey Bosa at Ohio State—but at the professional level. Rookie sack totals are rarely high in the NFL, but if anyone is going to prove that to be an arbitrary benchmark set by the failure of others, it’s Myles Garrett.
WINNER: Jabril Peppers
Peppers had nary a defensive statistic to speak of, but the way he was furious with himself after fair catching a punt in the first half was enough for me. The kid is a straight up competitor, and while I think it’s a bit dangerous to have such an important piece of ones defense returning kicks and punts, it wouldn’t shock me if he had multiple touchdowns this season.
WINNER: Sashi Brown
Not a bad evening from his rookie class.
LOSER: Cam Erving
Holy hell. When I watch this kid play, I think of two things: 1) How much longer will this experiment last? 2) What on God’s Green Earth did Ray Farmer see that said “Make this kid a first round draft pick.” Erving was absolutely destroyed throughout the first half, single handedly stalling the team’s first drive with two penalties, and then completely whiffed on a block when he was supposed to pull to the right side. The good news is that Joe Thomas is the team’s starting left tackle. The bad news is it’s a hell of a drop-off between him and Erving, a player who will need a huge swing of fortune to be on this roster come 2018.
WINNER: Gregg Williams
Even when the Browns gave up first downs, it oftentimes looked as if the scheme and play call was perfect, but the execution just wasn’t there. I’m being careful to not read too much into one preseason game, but this team’s defense may be night and day compared to that abomination from a season ago.
WINNER: Trevon Coley
We may have ourselves a kid who went from undrafted practice squad body to starting defensive lineman in the course of one season. Between his work stopping the run and his strip sack of the Saints quarterback, it may not be off-field issues that cost Caleb Brantley his job as much as it will be the ascent of Coley throughout the preseason.