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Definitive Preseason Judgments About the NFL’s 2016 Rookie Class

Dak Prescott (AP Images)
Dak Prescott (AP Images)

First impressions mean everything, and after two preseason games, you basically know all there is to know about an NFL rookie. While some may dismiss exhibition games as meaningless rip-offs, these glorified scrimmages invariably set the tone for the rest of a rookie’s career. As such, now is as good a time as any to take stock of (read: overreact to) what we’ve seen from the latest crop of rookies and determine whether their August performances are worthy of praise or panic.

Trevone Boykin, QB, Seahawks

Boykin may not have a cheesy Costacos Brothers poster (yet!), but he’s done a sterling Russell Wilson impression so far this preseason. Two weeks ago, he led the Seahawks to a last-second 17–16 victory in Kansas City with a 37-yard Hail Mary to Tanner McEvoy:

Boykin continued to shine in Seattle’s August 18 exhibition against the Vikings, in which he resembled Michael Vick circa 2002:

Might the Seahawks be better off if all of their former Wisconsin quarterbacks converted to wide receiver, thereby elevating Boykin to QB1? Early indications are never wrong! No matter what happens for the remainder of the preseason, Boykin has already established himself as the favorite to be the next Madden cover boy.

Verdict: PRAISE

Roberto Aguayo, K, Buccaneers

On Tuesday, The Ringer’s very own Kevin Clark correctly pointed out that Aguayo — whom the Bucs drafted with a second-round pick this April — would have been a poor selection even if he was enjoying a great preseason. Only he isn’t: Aguayo has apparently contracted a serious case of the yips, to the point where he’s had to bring in a mental coach. Despite never missing a kick shorter than 40 yards during his standout career at Florida State, Aguayo’s preseason has been a bizarre shankfest:

So far, Aguayo has missed an extra point and two field goals, and his woes continued in Tuesday’s scrimmage with the Browns:

Aguayo was booed in practice after missing three of six field goal attempts. Unless the Bucs plan to go for two following every touchdown this fall, it’s only a matter of time until they sign another kicker.

Verdict: PANIC

Derrick Henry, RB, Titans

Say what you will about Mike Mularkey’s archaic commitment to the running game, but based on Henry’s stellar preseason, it just might work out swimmingly. Henry leads everyone in the 2016 draft class with 105 rushing yards (on just 15 carries), good for third in the NFL, and he’s shooting up fantasy draft boards. Along with DeMarco Murray, who has rushed for 113 yards this preseason, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner should take some pressure off Marcus Mariota and give the Titans one of the NFL’s scariest rushing attacks.

Look at this 6-foot-3, 247-pound man go. Just try getting in the way of El Tractorcito:

Verdict: PRAISE

Paxton Lynch, QB, Broncos

On the one hand, Lynch, a ballyhooed first-round pick out of Memphis, has taken a whopping six sacks this preseason (compared to his measly two touchdown passes) and failed to beat out Mark Sanchez and 2015 seventh-rounder Trevor Siemian for Denver’s starting job. On the other, he isn’t Christian Hackenberg, whose training camp has been so PANIC-worthy that the New York media is calling for him to be stashed on IR. We’ll call it a wash … for now.

Verdict: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Buccaneers

With a staggering two interceptions in two preseason games, Hargreaves is on pace to shatter Dick “Night Train” Lane’s longstanding single-season interception record. (Don’t come at me with that “small sample size” BS.) He’s already locked down a starting spot, and the former Florida standout almost makes up for Bucs GM Jason Licht’s god-awful Aguayo pick. Almost.

Verdict: PRAISE

Dak Prescott, QB, Cowboys

The Dak Attack has been an honest-to-god revelation this preseason, passing for 338 yards with four touchdowns, and reaching the end zone on the ground twice. He’s completed more than 80 percent of his passes so far, boasting an average of 12.5 yards per attempt. Dak also posted a perfect (!) passer rating last week against the Dolphins:

Jerry Jones is positively giddy about Prescott’s preseason performance, and if any team owner is impulsive enough to bench a four-time Pro Bowler like Tony Romo in favor of a rookie, it’s Jerrah. The Russell Wilson comparisons are gaining steam, and Thursday night’s duel with Boykin’s Seahawks is shaping up to be the greatest preseason QB matchup of all time. Dak and his pet bulldog are taking no prisoners this year.

Verdict: SUREFIRE FIRST-BALLOT HALL OF FAMER