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Preseason Weekly Awards: Week 1

Image: Kirk Irwin (Getty)

NFL Preseason is here. Each Week, I’ll be giving out a few awards to the stars of exhibition football. 

Offensive MVP: Jalen Hurd (3 receptions, 31 receiving yards, 2 TD)

Image: Josie Lepe (AP Photo)

What used to be “You know. Antonio Gates played basketball in college,” became “You know. Chris Hogan played college lacrosse.” In 2019, the fun fact that announcers will lean on like it’s a Lazy Boy recliner might just become “You know. Jalen Hurd played running back at Tennessee.” In a transfer that gave birth to the collegiate career of Alvin Kamara, Jalen Hurd reinvented himself at Baylor, taking his 6’4, 227-pound frame to the wide receivers room.

That switch came with a sacrifice. Once dubbed a future first-round pick as a running back, Hurd went in the third round to San Francisco as a wide receiver. In his first pro action at the position, he showed the flashes of ability that at times, only he expected from himself. He is not a running back playing receiver anymore. He is a wide receiver.

Three catches for 31 yards turned into two touchdowns. Hurd demonstrated real route-running ability, sifting through a soft Cowboy’s zone, getting behind the middle linebacker, and catching a deep cross with no defender within seven yards of him. Then, he looked for contact. Blasting through the last of the Cowboys’ secondary, Jalen Hurd lowered his shoulder to his first career touchdown. Later in the game, he ran a goalline fade, creating enough space for CJ Beathard to lob one up. Hurd’s ability to high-point the ball for his second touchdown was another sign that he was right along. His future is at wide receiver. 

Defensive MVP: Mack Wilson (3 tackles, 2 interceptions, 1 TD)

Let me get a “Roooooooolllllll TIiiiiide. After an All-American career at linebacker and backup punter, Lyndell “Mack” Wilson is in Cleveland, suiting up for the same franchise that some fans claimed his 2016 Alabama team could have beaten several years ago. How times have changed. Wilson will work to crack the starting lineup for the NFL’s trendiest playoff pick. 

If his next three preseason games are anything like his first, he should have no problem with that. Three tackles aren’t exactly a crazy first impression, but two interceptions serve as one heck of a hello. Wilson’s elite speed at the linebacker position made him a steal of a third-round pick. That speed was certainly on display while he raced down the sideline, stiff-arming first-round pick Dwayne Haskins before he dove into the end zone for his first career score. 

A second interception late in the game reminded everyone watching at home why Wilson was one of the best coverage linebackers in the country. He flew from sideline to sideline, keeping pace with receivers, and most importantly, made the big plays when they came to him. A true matchup nightmare.

Never Played College Football Award: Christian Wade (65 rushing yards, 1 TD)

Image: (Getty Images)

Unusual paths to the NFL are becoming less unusual. Taking a rugby player and turning him into a football player is no longer a novel idea. It’s something that’s been tried before, but yet to be successful. Shoutout to the Hayne Plane. Bills’ rookie running back Christian Wade made the most of a “light” workload. One carry. One 65-meter try. Translated into football, one 65-yard touchdown.

He broke through the line, running with straight-up posture like only a rugby player would. And just like that, the Brit left eleven Patriots in the dust. And that breakaway run has earned Christian Wade the “Never Played College Football Award” for preseason Week 1.

The “He’s Still In the League Award”: Joe Webb III (25/40, 286 passing yards, 1 passing TD, 47 rushing yards)

Following Saturday’s Texans-Packers game, we can confirm that Joe Webb III, the man with 15 more kickoff returns in his career than starts at quarterback, is still in the NFL. Preseason football is a family reunion of sorts. Instead of cousins you forgot you didn’t like, you reacquaint yourself with the quarterbacks of Citrus Bowl lore (Any other mid-major bowl will do).

From starting a playoff game for the Vikings in 2012 after not taking a snap at quarterback that regular season to returning kicks in the Super Bowl, Joe Webb III has a knack for showing up places. If Woody Allen was right when he said, “80% of life is showing up,” the 32-yeard old UAB product is on track to be a Hall of Famer. 

Having three career regular season starts in ten years of NFL experience is a rare combination. That being said, you don’t stick around in the NFL for ten years without talent. Add Texans’ record-holder for preseason single-game passing yards to Joe Webb III’s resume. Webb III made the most of an unusually large workload for any quarterback in a preseason game by tossing one touchdown and completing 25 out of 40 passes for 286 yards. Hats off to Joe Webb III for still being here. 

Undrafted Of The Week: Spencer Schnell (7 receptions, 119 receiving yards)

Image: Cliff Welch (PewterReport.com

Preseason is for the undrafteds. While the starters rock bucket hats and street clothes, undrafted free agents get the chance to make a career out of what the casual fan calls garbage time. Undrafted rookie wide receivers showed out the most. Preston Williams hauled in a number of contested catches, making him the lead dog for this coveted award– a lifelong dream of his I’m sure.

That dream came to an end when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers took on the Pittsburgh Steelers. Bruce Arians came out of the least believable retirement of all time to turn around a post-hype Bucs team and its turnover-happy quarterback. The offense played well. However, the star of the vertical, Bruce Arians offense was not Mike Evans, nor was it Chris Godwin. It was undrafted rookie Spencer Schnell. Targeted nine times in his first NFL action Schnell grabbed seven receptions. 

All of which, came in the final nine minutes of the game. The Illinois State product, all 5’9 181 pounds of him, paced the entire NFL with 119 receiving yards. A couple of chunk plays of 21 and 26 will help Schnell push for more reps in an already crowded wide receivers room. 

Moment: Damon Sheehy-Giuseppi  (86 punt return yards, 1 TD)

If you haven’t heard Damon Sheehy-Giuseppi’s story by now, you’re missing out. After failing to make Phoenix Community College’s basketball team, he decided to go out for the football team. After becoming an NJCAA All-American as a returner, he spent what little money he had traveling to every Big 12 and SEC school with hopes of playing FBS football. After being turned away, he set his sights on professional football.

Limited collegiate experience and a relatively one-dimensional skillset didn’t stop Sheehy from attending whatever tryout he could. After trying out for the CFL, Sheehy’s funds were running low and his window was closing. Eventually, he convinced a training partner to give him the address and time of a Cleveland Browns invite-only tryout. With no place to stay, he would sleep inside of a 24-hour fitness. Not the only time he’s had to do so either. 

When he arrived at the tryout, he had to lie his way in. So, he claimed to have been invited by Browns’ Vice President of Player Personnel Alonzo Highsmith. The highlight of the tryout was his 4.38 40-yard dash. That earned him a trip to training camp. 

Wearing OBJ’s cleats, Sheehy fielded his first NFL punt. All he did was take it 86 yards down the right sideline for a touchdown. To chase a nearly impossible dream for one chance to prove your worth and answer with that kind of play is inspiring. Inspiring is certainly the word that came to mind when half of the Browns’ sideline ran into the end zone to celebrate with a teammate they barely knew. Sheehy has a lot more to prove before he can make the 53-man roster, but he took as big a step in the right direction as he possibly could.

1st Rounder Of The Week: Daniel Jones (5/5, 67 passing yards, 1 passing TD)

Image: Adam Hunger (AP Photo)

He’s been booed. He’s been doubted. No first-rounder has more to prove than Daniel Jones. The number six pick in this year’s draft is currently battling with future Hall of Famer Eli Manning for the title of most-scrutinized New York Giants quarterback. One drive to define them all. 

Daniel Jones dissected a Jets defense in his only series, going five-for-five and dropping a perfect pass into the corner of the end zone to Bennie Fowler. Carving up the second-teamers is no drop the mic moment. Granted, you can only play with the hand you’re dealt. For Jones, accounting for 67 of the 73 yards the Giants gained on that drive was a win. 

As nice as it would be to make predictions on what this performance means for Daniel Jones, it would be an overreaction to a small sample size no matter how you slice it. Jones had a solid performance and played better than every other first-rounder.