O’HARA’S FINAL THOUGHTS: Where rookies stand heading into final preseason game

Lions-Browns Final Thoughts: Last stop before shifting gears to the regular season for the Detroit Lions 2019 draft class and Random Thoughts – a 2018 Browns rookie flashback, young players to watch and Game 4 injury history.

Rookie review: One of the most intriguing aspects of the NFL season is the development of rookies from prospects to players, either as starters of backups.

The Detroit Lions’ 2019 draft class has shown enough that tonight’s preseason close-out game shouldn’t drastically alter opinions on the value of this year’s class.

Bottom line: The Lions got help with the first three picks – tight end T.J. Hockenson, linebacker Jahlani Tavai and safety Will Harris – and running back Ty Johnson looks like a high-value pick in the sixth round.

Some final thoughts on those four rookies for tonight, as follows:

Hockenson: I’d like to see more of him because I like watching him play. But saving him for the opener in Arizona is the prudent way to go. Even with a drop last week against the Bills, Hockenson showed that he’s a legitimate three-down player.

He had three catches for 52 yards while playing 26 snaps – about half of what he’s likely to get in a regular-season game.

His mindset on flipping the switch after tonight?

“You’ve got to be excited about that,” he said. “At the same time, we’ve got one more left. We want to win that and start the season off right.

“The tight end group’s come a long way. We’ve done a lot of good things. Obviously, there are things we want to improve on.”

Tavai: It was apparent from the early days of the offseason program that he was not overwhelmed by the jump from Hawaii to the NFL and playing with veterans. That has continued through training camp and the preseason.

Tavai’s role might expand further because of the injury to Jarrad Davis, but don’t expect to see anything tonight that the Lions will use in Arizona.

Harris: GM Bob Quinn traded up seven spots in the third round – from 88 to 81 – to draft Harris. His athleticism, including a 4.41 40 time at the Combine, has been on display. He returned a fumble recovery for a TD vs. the Texans two weeks ago and recovered another fumble in Game 3.

“We take a lot of pride in that here – attacking the ball and getting the ball,” Harris said.

“I just want to continue to build on everything I’ve learned since being here – make more plays, more production. More than anything, show improvement.”

Ty Johnson: He’s shown enough – including an 11-yard TD catch on fourth down last week – to have outperformed his sixth-round draft status. His size (5-10, 208) to go with speed (sub 4.4 seconds in the 40) is a useful combination.

The next time he scores a touchdown, he’d like to take it more in stride than he did after the first one last week.

“Hopefully, I get another one from Matthew Stafford, or the linemen leading me all the way in there,” he said. “Hopefully that comes, and I won’t freak out as much when that comes.”

In other words, act like he’s been there before – because he has.

View photos from Detroit Lions practice on Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2019.

Random thoughts:

Players to watch:

Mark Thompson has done for the Lions in the preseason what he did for the Jets last year – gain yards. Last year in the preseason Thompson carried 31 times for 146 yards, with 14 carries for 91 yards in the final preseason game. For the Lions, the 235-pound back has 17 carries for 80 yards and two TDs.

Rookie guard Beau Benzschawel, signed as an undrafted free agent out of Wisconsin, has gotten a long look in the last two games. After 13 offensive snaps in the first game he’s had 34 in each of the last two.

Baker Mayfield flashback: He started for the Browns against the Lions in the final preseason game last year while opening-day starter Tyrod Taylor sat out. Mayfield completed a 41-yard pass on the first play of the game. He wasn’t perfect in that game, but on talent alone it was obvious that the Browns made the right choice in drafting him first overall.

As you’d expect, the Browns have made it known that Mayfield is not playing tonight.

Injury nightmare: Injuries can happen at any time, but there’s a reason teams are more cautions in the final preseason game. Once they’ve gotten that far, there’s no reason to tempt fate further.

The Lions lost starting running back James Stewart to a season-ending shoulder injury in 2003, and backup quarterback Jeff Garcia with a broken leg for an extended period in 2005. Both were in Game 4.

That’s two examples of hundreds more why teams rest players in Game 4.

My advice: If you want to see starters tonight, watch videos of last week’s game.

Related Content

Advertising