As I did over the first two weeks of the 2021 NFL preseason, I've graded the performance of one rookie from each contest played in Week 3. Again, these evaluations are not predictions of how players will fare this upcoming season, nor are they long-term career projections. Each mark simply takes stock of how the rookie played in the final week of the preseason.
The Colts routinely rely on two-TE sets, so it was no surprise they selected the versatile Granson in the fourth round of the 2021 NFL Draft. In Friday night's victory over the Lions, the rookie tight end showed himself to be a strong safety valve for second-year quarterback Jacob Eason. Granson used his thicker frame to box out the nickel back on multiple occasions, creating a nice target for Eason. The former SMU Mustang carried his defender for a couple of yards after one catch and showed some shake-and-bake to pick up a first down later in that same drive. Granson did false start on a second-and-10, creating a long-yardage situation that eventually resulted in a punt. He showed his athleticism blocking from the H-back spot, but could use a little more fire on contact. Granson held his ground against defenders when asked to block in-line.
Marshall looked strong throughout the preseason, making his case for the No. 3 receiver spot on the Panthers. The LSU product lined up inside on most plays in Carolina's win over Pittsburgh on Friday night, though he used his frame to shield defenders when outside, as well. New Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold found Marshall free on the sideline coming out of the slot on the opening drive, with the rookie keeping himself in bounds and stretching for a first down. Marshall flew past nickel defenders and into open zones early in the game, but Darnold did not look his way or missed the throw. Darnold got the ball to Marshall on a quick slot screen in the red zone midway through the second quarter, and the receiver's quickness (and teammates' strong blocking) got him to paydirt. Marshall had a long gain over the middle into the red zone late in the first half, fighting for every possible yard after the catch. The 6-foot-3, 205-pounder missed a block on the opening drive and again later in the second quarter (though fellow rookie Chuba Hubbard exploded past that defender for a nice gain), but stuck on his man on other plays.
The Jets' fourth-round selection is trying to secure the No. 3 spot on the team's running back depth chart. He displayed quickness on his initial carry against the Eagles in a surprisingly exciting tie Friday night, trying to weave his way to the sideline for a 3-yard gain. His next two carries were more successful, as he followed his blocking straight upfield, spinning off contact on his first attempt. Carter is not as powerful as other Jets backup runners like Ty Johnson and Josh Adams, but got a first down on third-and-1 in the second quarter using a low pad level while churning his legs in traffic. He's a solid receiver out of the backfield, as erstwhile veteran quarterback Josh Johnson found in the second quarter when Carter picked up a first down over the middle. Carter's relative lack of power may prevent him from getting a ton of carries as a rookie, but he might be the team's best option as a change-of-pace back and kick returner.
The Chiefs played Bolton with the second unit in their Friday night win over the Vikings, but it's clear his future is as a starter. His speed and agility helped him pick up a receiver on his first third-down play and then attack quarterback Kirk Cousins at the sideline to prevent a scrambling conversion. Bolton's quickness allows him to shoot gaps in the run game and stick with tight ends and running backs out of the backfield when called upon in coverage. Bolton takes on blocks with intensity, though linemen can overpower him at times so he must use violent hands to shed their advances. Bolton contributed on special teams return and coverage units, as well.
Buffalo's first-round pick played with the starters against Green Bay's No. 2 offense in the first half of the Bills' shutout win over the Packers. He moved down the line on an early stretch play and shed his man to make a stop on powerful running back A.J. Dillon. Rousseau overwhelmed H-backs with his strength and length off the snap, regularly getting into the backfield. He adjusted well to a bootleg play in his direction in the second quarter, slowing up the underneath receiver near the line and attacking quarterback Jordan Love to make the throw more difficult. On the next play, the former Miami Hurricane found the ball on another run fake and bore down on Love, forcing a throwaway. Rousseau played in a stand-up position, as well, showing some good chase ability for a guy with a 6-foot-6, 266-pound frame. He never really was a threat to get to Love with his initial rush off the snap, though, getting taken around the pocket or pushed inside. He'll be dangerous on the edge once he learns how to take full advantage of his strong hands and athleticism. Rousseau was called for lining up in the neutral zone late in the first half, though I've seen many players set up in this area without getting flagged.
Washington's tight end group needs depth behind Logan Thomas, so Bates has a great chance to contribute as a rookie. The fourth-round pick was only targeted once as a receiver, taking advantage of soft coverage in the middle of the field and then lowering his pads to get yards through contact. Bates displayed his versatility by lining up with his hand down, as an H-back, in the backfield and standing up in the slot. His initial quickness is not elite, but he can use his size and physicality to get open against nickel backs and linebackers underneath. Bates will challenge the seam, though, by striding past smaller players in the secondary. His blocking is solid, sustaining with strong hands and active feet as an H-back and in-line -- and he will hit multiple targets as plays continue. Bates played on all four special teams units, blocking with strength in front of returners and on the line during punts, and getting downfield on coverage.
Radunz got the start at right guard for the Titans against the Bears and then finished the Tennessee loss at right tackle, playing every snap of the contest. Early in the game, he got pushed back into quarterback Matt Barkley, forcing an incompletion on third-and-6. He anchored more effectively throughout the rest of the game. The former North Dakota State Bison exploded out of his stance at guard on a third-and-short play, staying low and pushing his man backward, creating a hole through which you could drive a truck. He stayed low near the goal line to create space for a touchdown up the gut. Radunz was inconsistent sticking on his blocks on zone plays, sometimes allowing his man to slip off and make the tackle. At the second level, Radunz displayed athleticism to get to targets, but struggled to make blocks while at guard. He moved to right tackle in the second quarter, though, and dominated at times in space. The rookie pushed piles in the run game, as well, which is something offensive line coaches love to see. Those coaches didn't like to see his chop-block penalty in the fourth quarter (cut block while the defender was already engaged); the flag cost the team a first down and a possible chance to score.
Tampa Bay's second-round pick is trying to show coaches they can trust him to run the offense effectively if future Hall of Famer Tom Brady is unable to go at some point this season. He came into the Bucs' win at Houston for the second half, performing well when throwing off a quick drop or hitting his initial read, moving the chains with reasonably accurate underneath throws. On his second series, Trask kept active feet in the pocket, moved around until throwing a solid pass (if a bit high) to a crossing receiver over the middle. He lofted a couple of passes in that drive, one for a long gain toward the left sideline after spinning out of the pocket and the next down the seam to an open tight end for a touchdown. His next deep throw floated on him and should have been intercepted down the right sideline. Trask had two turnovers, one due to a mistimed handoff and the second a fumble in the pocket when double-clutching a throw and succumbing to unseen pressure. He was slow-footed throughout the game when coming out from under center and had a pass affected when being a tick late stepping up in the pocket. His final downfield attempt landed between two receivers as he tried to throw across his body while moving forward to escape pressure.
Garrett has made a name for himself attacking quarterbacks this preseason. The former Division II All-American out of Concordia College in Minnesota got the start in Saturday night's loss to the Broncos. He did not make much progress winning outside against four-year starting left tackle Garett Bolles early on, as one would expect. Against backup Calvin Anderson in the second quarter, however, Garrett's inside power rush caught the veteran off guard -- but quarterback Teddy Bridgewater got away from the pressure and rolled to his left, completing a touchdown pass. Garrett showed both tackles he is not just a pass rusher, holding the line of scrimmage against the run using his extended arms for leverage and moving to the ball while engaged. At the end of the second quarter, the rookie finally got his hands on quarterback Drew Lock, twisting inside and using quick, violent hands to beat the block of first-year guard Quinn Meinerz. The second-year passer's knee did not hit the ground during Garrett's tackle attempt, however, so he nearly ran for a first down. On other twists in the second quarter, Meinerz and other linemen stoned Garrett to keep him out of the backfield. Garrett used his speed on special teams coverage units, helping down a punt on the 1-yard line.
Rumph, a fourth-round selection, came in late in the first quarter and played on both sides of the line throughout the rest of the Chargers' loss to the Seahawks. He did not have a great start, earning a penalty for roughing the passer on his third play. Rumph's bend as an outside rusher is obvious, as he gets upfield and turns quickly to the quarterback. His relative lack of strength, however, caused him to miss one sack and be engulfed by tackles on the edge at times. The former Duke Blue Devil is willing to use his length to push back tackles into the quarterback, though, resulting in a couple of pressures and a pass breakup late in the game. In the second half, Rumph beat tight end blocks for three tackles for loss: twice corralling running backs in the backfield and bringing down a scrambling quarterback for a sack. Rumph looked smooth covering running backs out of the backfield and also played on punt coverage and return units, trying to do as much as he can to earn playing time in the regular season.
Jacksonville used the first pick of the third round to secure Cisco's services, so it's expected he will contribute early in his career. He came in at the start of the second half of Sunday's win over the Cowboys. Cisco lined up as a single-high safety, as part of a two-deep look and near the line of scrimmage, stopping a Dallas offensive lineman in the hole on the first run he saw. He tossed aside a receiver trying to stop one of his blitzes, though the running back was waiting for him. The Syracuse product made a couple of tackles on the night, once bringing down a big tight end after a teammate failed to wrap up. In quarters coverage, he broke on a third-down out route thrown off the quarterback's back foot and knocked it away. Cisco is experienced at reading quarterbacks and receiver routes, and he seemed to be around the ball on a regular basis.
Doaks is in a fight for a roster spot, but has done just about everything possible to stick as a seventh-round pick. He scored twice in the Dolphins' miraculous "Hail Mary" win over the Bengals, the first on a downhill run in the red zone, putting his pads into a would-be tackler in the hole and carrying him to paydirt, and the second running up the back of his left guard on the goal line. His best play was an off-tackle run midway through the second quarter, with the back jumping inside to avoid an untouched edge blitzer, then moving the ball into his left hand and going to the sideline, using his right hand to stiff-arm a defender and get an additional 7 yards after contact. Doaks started the second half with a jump-cut to his left and exploded into the secondary for a 14-yard gain. He looked quick in his routes out of the backfield, extending away from his body to snare a screen pass and getting upfield quickly. Not everything went perfectly, as Doaks slipped on the paint at midfield trying to cut in the second quarter, went the wrong way on a handoff later in the game and missed his chip block going out as a receiver. He's going to be a tough cut because it wouldn't take long to get a call from another team.
Ragas was not drafted, but has impressed during his preseason work with the Raiders. He ran hard between the tackles through the first three quarters of the team's loss to the 49ers, using small and large cuts to find openings and then using his low center of gravity and thick legs to fall forward for yardage after contact. Ragas' power showed on a strong stiff-arm to push aside a linebacker and pick up a third-down conversion in the second quarter, as well as in the third quarter when a tackler bounced off him like a fly on a toss play to the left sideline. He made defenders miss in the open field on throws to the flat and spun off contact, as well, to keep the offense on schedule. Ragas dropped his hips and sustained in pass protection and did the same when blocking for returners on kickoff units -- which is exactly the kind of thing that lands an undrafted free agent on the 53-man.
The Giants' second-round pick lined up opposite massive right tackle Trent Brown on Sunday evening, receiving a nice "Welcome to the NFL" experience from the Patriots' 6-8, 380-pound veteran. Ojulari didn't back down from Brown (or other linemen), but struggled to get a lot of push, like most smaller edge defenders typically do. He did attack tight end blocks, though, to move down the line against the run; New England tried blocking him with a slot receiver and he stuffed that run for no gain. Ojulari might have beaten Brown with a pure speed rush on an early third down, but New England had a helping running back on his side. His quickness off the snap from a stand-up or hand-down position was evident, but he was never able to beat a block to get to the passer. His athletic frame helps him move in space, whether man-up on a back/tight end or dropping into his zone.
Mayfield was a starting right tackle at Michigan, but was announced as a guard when drafted in the third round by Atlanta. After a short stint at his old RT spot earlier this preseason, it became clear his best chance for playing time as a rookie would be at left guard. Mayfield played there from late in the first quarter on, looking as ready to attack defenders in the run game as he did with the Wolverines. On zone plays, he got into his target and shielded adeptly on the move to create running lanes. He stuck on doubles most of the game, but went out to the second level a couple times later in the contest. When a linebacker was aggressive versus the run early in the game, the first-year lineman took him 7 yards downfield and flattened him. In pass protection, however, Mayfield's man got leverage off the snap a couple of times and pushed him into rookie quarterback Feleipe Franks. That anchor must improve for him to start this year. Mayfield saved Josh Rosen in the fourth quarter, though, by pushing away a lineman let go by the left tackle, allowing the quarterback to run for 9 yards.