Insiders

Rookie Watch: Preseason Week 2

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The second week of the preseason means the second opportunity for the rookies to get adjusted to playing in the NFL. This is the week where you should see some of the rookies get their legs under them and really show what they can do against their competition.

The rookies who will make an impact this season will start to play faster, instead of thinking too much and being too timid.

For the back end rookies who are trying to sneak their way onto the roster, this may be the most important week as they will get significant playing time against decent competition. The third preseason will be all about the starters and key reserves and the fourth preseason game is just a game the teams try to get through as most of the starters are held out.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some players who have stood out thus far in the second week of the preseason.

Zach Zenner, Detroit Lions

Ameer Abdullah gets all the publicity, but he’s not the only Detroit Lions running back who has made the most of his touches this preseason. Undrafted free agent Zach Zenner has been turning heads with his ability out of the backfield for the Lions.

Through two games, Zenner has averaged 4.5 yards per carry with six catches for 60 yards and a touchdown out of the backfield. Zenner is a decisive runner who gets the most out of each touch he gets. He’s not the most athletic running back, but he meets the basic requirements to play running back in the NFL. What really helps Zenner stand out is his vision. He sees the field clearly and he always makes the right decision with the ball in his hands.

Going into the preseason, Zenner looked to be a longshot to make the team as he was fourth on the Lions’ depth chart. However, he has shown that he has the skills to be a very good complementary back for the Lions if he made the squad. What really hurts Zenner is that he doesn’t make a contribution on special teams. For a third or fourth running back, this is vital and it may be the only reason he doesn’t make the final roster.

Leonard Williams, New York Jets

In the New York Jets’ first preseason game, you probably didn’t notice the highly-touted Leonard Williams. He stuck onto blocks too much and he didn’t create the push that he was known for at USC. While Williams looked like a shell of himself that week, he went back to the Williams that made him thought of as the best defensive player in the draft.

Williams was a disruptive force in the second preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons. He ended the game with 1.5 sacks and five tackles, with three coming for loss. Williams was a menace from the 5-technique defensive end spot where he showed a great burst and fantastic hand usage to make mince meat of the Falcons offensive line.

Williams is playing behind an extremely talented defensive line with Sheldon Richardson, Muhammad Wilkerson and Damon Harrison. However, you can expect the Jets’ coaching staff will find a way to get Williams on the field early and often through the 2015 season. Williams is just too talented to not see significant snaps for the Jets and he has the potential to be a defensive rookie of the year candidate if he plays how he did Friday night.

Xavier Cooper, Cleveland Browns

Quite possibly the most impressive rookie in the second week of the preseason was Cleveland Browns defensive linemen Xavier Cooper. In college, Cooper displayed a fantastic first step with an ability to really stress an offensive lineman’s technique throughout a game. Through the first two games, Cooper has done the exact same thing he has done in college.

Cooper has recorded three sacks through the first two weeks of the preseason as he has turned heads across the league. Cooper’s ability to gain leverage after his first has allowed him to become a nuisance for opposing offenses thus far. He needs to be more stout at the point of attack when his quickness doesn’t win for him, but it is hard to nitpick how well he has played thus far.

Cooper looks like he can be an impact rusher from the interior of the defensive line for the Browns this season. Cooper may not be ready to be a three-down player yet, but he can be an extremely effective nickel rusher, which is extremely important in the NFL today.


About John Owning

John Owning

John Owning is a NFL columnist for Football Insiders. He has years of experience covering the NFL, NFL draft and NCAA football. John's work has been featured on the Bleacher Report and DraftBreakdown.com