Baker Mayfield and Saquon Barkley went No. 1 and No. 2 overall in the 2018 NFL Draft, and now, less than four months later, the big-name rookies are set to square off in the Big Apple to welcome the first week of the preseason.
Football officially returned on Aug. 2 with Canton’s Hall of Fame Game between the Chicago Bears and Baltimore Ravens, but the full preseason schedule kicks off Thursday. And the Baker-Barkley showdown — Cleveland Browns vs. New York Giants — is among the best of the bunch if you’re all about redemption stories.
Mayfield isn’t exactly playing the underdog role after going first overall in the draft, but he won’t let you forget that he’s not the tallest guy, that he was once a college walk-on and that, entering 2018, he’s entrenched as a backup behind new Browns quarterback Tyrod Taylor. An early star of HBO’s Cleveland edition of “Hard Knocks,” he’ll have his first live-game shot at flashing his No. 1-caliber athleticism. And he’ll do it against a Giants team that’s got a new coach in Pat Shurmur, a familiar leader in Eli Manning and a rousing crew of weapons headlined by Barkley, who’ll get his first opportunity to own the Giants’ backfield in East Rutherford.
The stakes won’t be quite as high for these lowly 2017 teams until September, but the intrigue and the drama is already there.
The reaction of many NFL fans to the preseason can be rather ho-hum. The early games in August often feature free-agent players who have little chance of seeing significant playing time in the regular season and may not even make their respective teams.
However, preseason games often turn out to be quite important for the players who are competing for the bottom positions on the roster. They get the opportunity to participate in practice and limited chances in games. One or two excellent plays along with consistent work in practice can earn a spot on the roster.
That player may see very little action in the regular season, but the importance of playing well in the preseason can earn a player a paycheck for a full season.