In our preseason poll of over a dozen current NFL Executives, Coaches, Scouts, and Players, Dallas Cowboys pass-rusher extraordinaire Micah Parsons was the leading vote-getter for the sleeper MVP candidate that wasn't garnering enough attention.
Through two weeks, it's easy to see what those insiders saw coming into the season.
If a defensive player is ever again going to win the MVP, Parsons looks plenty capable of breaking the 37-year drought since Lawrence Taylor became only the second defender to take home the award.
Much like Taylor, Parsons once again showed Sunday afternoon against the Jets that it doesn't matter where he lines up; off the edge, along the defensive line with his hand in the dirt, or standing up as a linebacker shooting the a-gap, he's capable of single-handedly destroying a play.
Using a swim-move reminiscent of the late Reggie White's, bull-rushing as aggressively as Aaron Donald, and showing the versatility in alignment that helped Taylor become arguably the greatest defensive player ever, Parsons finished Sunday's game with 2.0 sacks, one quarterback hit, three tackles for loss, a fumble recovery, a forced fumble, and one pass breakup, for good measure.
"He has elite championship traits," James Franklin, Parsons' college coach at Penn State told FanBuzz. "He's fiercely competitive, has explosive strength, he's smart, loose, can bend, and is strong and powerful. But, his competitive spirit is probably his best trait."
Anyone who's watched Parsons from his time at Penn State, where he became a First-Team All American at inside linebacker — after making a position switch from defensive end, where he was the No. 1 prospect nationally in his recruiting class, through his first two-plus seasons as the focal point of the Cowboys' defense, can attest to how athletically different Parsons is built.
But, Franklin revealed that the program had plans to have Parsons return kickoffs, had he returned to Penn State for a third season in 2020.
"Micah's competitive spirit is probably his best trait," Franklin explained. "He thinks he could have been a professional bowler, that he could have wrestled at Penn State."
That competitive nature has Parsons setting his sights even higher than taking home Defensive Player of The Year honors this season, and playing like he rightfully belongs in the MVP conversation.
Parsons headlines a defense that boasts elite personnel that shut out the Giants in Week 1, and disoriented Zach Wilson with myriad blitzes, disguised coverages, as defensive coordinator Dan Quinn sent pressure from all angles on Sunday at AT&T Stadium.
Safety Jayron Kearse intercepted Wilson, so too did All-Pro cornerback Trevon Diggs. Defensive tackle Osawaru Odighizuwa joined Parsons in the sack-parade, and DeMarcus Lawrence tipped Wilson's hand on a pass that was disrupted just enough to fall short of its intended receiver that prevented a Jets touchdown.
However, it is Parsons and his relentless motor that sets the tone for the Cowboys' defense.
Beyond what appeared on the stat sheet, Parsons was in Wilson's face early and often while providing relentless pressure that altered plays over, and over, and over again throughout Sunday's contest.
Parsons finished the 2022 season as the Defensive Player of the Year runner up, behind fellow pass-rusher Nick Bosa. But, if the first two games of the 2023 campaign are any indication and the Dallas Cowboys remain Super Bowl contenders the entire season, the three-year veteran has a real chance to emerge as the MVP.
"This is the most impressive thing I've seen since Derrick Thomas in 1988 at Alabama," a veteran NFL evaluator told FanBuzz. "He had 27 sacks that season, and was incredible, just everywhere all the time. Micah reminds me a lot of that year."
Thomas went on to wear a Gold Jacket, and while it's still early in his career, Parsons has the look of a player capable of one day heeding Canton's call.
Here's a rundown of the biggest storylines, moments, and takeaways from the Week 2 of the 2023 NFL season, with insight from sources around the league:
First Down: Steve Spagnuolo Strangles Out Trevor Lawrence, Jaguars, as Chiefs Show Championship Mettle
Back at full-strength, it took a minute for Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs' offense to find its footing in sweltering Jacksonville against the Jaguars, but it was defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's relentless pressure that set the tone.
Spagnuolo was magnificent.
The venerable three-time Super Bowl champion defensive coordinator drew up exotic blitz packages that seemed to confuse Trevor Lawrence throughout the day. Meanwhile, the Chiefs' secondary gave the Jaguars' perimeter targets little breathing room in a 17-9 win.
Kansas City held Jacksonville out of the end zone Sunday afternoon, nine months after surviving for a seven-point win at Arrowhead in the AFC Divisional Playoffs.
The Chiefs' defense held Lawrence to just 216 passing yards, allowed only 74 rushing yards, and the Jaguars only managed to make just three trips into the red zone all game.
Kansas City's defense sacked Lawrence 4.0 times, hit him seven times, and lived behind the line of scrimmage where they logged four tackles for loss.
"Spags drew up a really nice game plan for them," an NFC Scouting Director taking in the contest told FanBuzz. "They created all kinds of pressure, but kept mixing up the looks. Jacksonville really couldn't get anything going, at all."
Historically, Kansas City has taken some time to find its footing as a defense. But, through the season's first two weeks have allowed only 23 points. Sunday afternoon, against a loaded offense, the Chiefs held the likes of Travis Etienne and the Jaguars backs to 4.1 yards per carry and Lawrence to a measly 4.3 yards per passing attempt.
Spagnuolo's defense bought Mahomes and the offense time, and by game's end the reigning MVP had completed 29-of-41 passes for 305 yards with two touchdowns, with one interception, while adding 30 rushing yards in a victory that underscored how difficult it is to beat the Chiefs when everything is clicking.
Mahomes' second half was fantastic. But, it just might be Spagunolo's defense that gives the Chiefs the chance to be among the AFC's most complete and dangerous teams.
Second Down: Questions Emerging about Chargers, Justin Herbert
Things are not going nearly as well in the AFC West as the Chargers, Broncos, and Raiders all lost on Sunday. In Los Angeles, Justin Herbert and the Chargers are facing real scrutiny.
Herbert entered the 2023 season with a new contract in tow, quarterbacking a roster that many believed was finally primed to make a legitimate Super Bowl push. But, after a disastrous overtime loss in Tennessee to the Titans, Herbert and the Chargers face more questions than answers.
Herbert finished Sunday's game, a 27-24 loss in OT, 27-of-41 passing for 305 yards with two touchdowns without an interception. It was a fourth straight loss for Herbert's chargers, dating back to last season, in which he's passed for 1,130 yards with seven total touchdowns and no interceptions over that span.
Now 0-2, the heat is on head coach Brandon Staley, who entered the season sitting on an atomically hot hot-seat, but the pressure is also beginning to mount on Herbert to start delivering.
"[Herbert] isn't elite, first of all," an AFC Scouting Director told FanBuzz. "He has elite talent. But, struggles reading defenses. He threw it into double coverage at least five times and didn't complete one of them. He threw it into zone coverage right in the middle of a defense instead of to the edges. He's a pre-determined thrower, not a passer."
While Herbert shouldn't shoulder the entirety of blame for the woefully and perennially underachieving Chargers, he was unable to find the end zone on two drives late that could have made the difference between Los Angeles climbing back to .500, and dropping two conference games to open the season.
Sunday, the Chargers only produced three drives with eight or more plays, converted just two of five trips into the red zone into touchdowns, and the offense quickly became one dimensional as the Titans held Los Angeles' backs to just 2.9 yards per rush.
It is almost unfathomable that the Chargers have gotten so little out of an offense that includes Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, and highly touted rookie Quentin Johnson.
That falls on Staley.
"Staley and [offensive coordinator] Kellen Moore call very predictable first and second down calls," the Scouting Director said. "Then, when they win on third down, it's because their players are better than the defense's. They can't sustain drives, everything is a deep shot or predictable running plays."
This is the same team, led by the same quarterback, who coughed up a 27-7 halftime lead to the Jacksonville Jaguars in an epic collapse that ended the Chargers' 2022 campaign in the AFC Wild Card.
That Staley is getting this little out of Herbert's potential and the playmakers general manager Tom Telesco has put around him is inexcusable.
"I know Staley is a defensive coordinator at heart," the Scouting Director points out. "But, he's the head coach. He's to blame for this crap with a roster this talented."
Third Down: Buffalo Bills Get Right
Reports of the Buffalo Bills' demise, or the Miami Dolphins passing them by in the AFC East, were greatly exaggerated.
Back in front of Bills Mafia, at home in Orchard Park, Josh Allen and the Bills ambushed the Las Vegas Raiders in the kind of performance that serves as a reminder of why this is a team that still very much belongs at the forefront of the Super Bowl conversation in the AFC.
Josh Allen passed for 274 yards with three touchdowns. Nine different Bills receivers caught a pass, with Gabriel Davis and Stefon Diggs combining for 13 receptions for 158 yards and a touchdown. Meanwhile, running back James Cook ran roughshod, finishing with 123 yards while averaging 7.2 yards per carry.
Meanwhile, defensively, Matt Milano and Terrell Bernard both intercepted Jimmy Garoppolo, and the Bills' defense mostly kept Davante Adams under wraps, holding him to 84 yards with one touchdown.
This was an all around get-right performance, if there ever was one, six days after a heartbreaking overtime loss to the Jets at MetLife Stadium that saw Allen toss three interceptions in the opener.
Buffalo began the week staring at the possibility of having to climb out of a historically difficult 0-2 hole, but finished Sunday afternoon putting the kind of prolific offensive performance on tape that serves as a reminder that this might be one of the toughest teams to beat in the entire league.
Fourth Down: D'Andre Swift Steadies Eagles' Offense, May Untap Philly's Potential
Jalen Hurts seems to be going through some growing pains through the first two weeks, navigating working alongside new offensive coordinator Brian Johnson, but the Eagles saw a steadying force and a dominant weapon emerge in Thursday night's win over the Minnesota Vikings.
Running back D'Andre Swift celebrated his homecoming by rushing for a career-high 175 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries, in his first game in an Eagles uniform at Lincoln Financial Field just 8.5 miles from St. Joes Prep, where he emerged as the No. 3 running back prospect in his recruiting class.
The Eagles acquired Swift in a draft weekend trade with the Detroit Lions, and while the backfield is a crowded one with Kenneth Gainwell and Rashaad Penny figuring to play a role, it cannot be dismissed the impact Swift's explosiveness had on the offense. Not only did Swift act as a security blanket for Hurts, at times on Thursday night, but the Vikings were forced to bring a defensive back up into the box, which created opportunities over the top, especially for DeVonta Smith to thrive.
Swift's burst out of the backfield was an element to Philly's offense that had even been missing last season, despite Miles Sanders' versatility, and his Week 2 performance just might have dismissed any notion of the Eagles deploying a backfield by committee the rest of the way.
Week 2 MVP: Chris Jones, DL, Kansas City Chiefs
Forget MVP of the Week, Chris Jones might be the most valuable player not named "Patrick Mahomes" to the Kansas City Chiefs' prospects of repeating. At least he played that way Sunday.
In his 2023 debut, following a lengthy holdout that ended with a new one-year extension signed last week, Jones all but willed the Chiefs to victory while serving as Spagnuolo's battering ram against the Jaguars.
Jones finished Sunday's game with 1.5 sacks, two total tackles, one tackle for loss, and one pass breakup. He also forced Lawrence into a Michael Danna sack.
Arguably Jones' most important rep came on one of the game's most pivotal snaps, when he pressured Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence on a 3rd and 10 from the Chiefs' 14-yard line to force an interception as Jacksonville looked to cut into Kansas City's 17-9 lead with 4:47 remaining.
Jones played like a difference-maker on Sunday, and his presence might wind up making the ultimate difference in the Chiefs' ceiling for this season.
Week 2 Team of The Week: Washington Commanders
Don't look now, but the Washington Commanders have joined the Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles at 2-0 in the tight NFC East race.
Sunday afternoon in Denver, Washington second-year quarterback Sam Howell out-dueled Russell Wilson, passing for 299 yards with two touchdowns as 10 different Commanders receivers caught a pass as the defense made just enough plays to escape Mile High with a 35-33 win.
Washington's win marks the first time since 2020 that the Commanders scored 35 points or more, but the offensive explosion only tells part of the story as Montez Sweat, Daron Payne, Chase Young, Jamin Davis, Casey Toohill, James Smith-Williams combined for 8.0 sacks.
Competent quarterback play, multiple targets capable of making an impact, and a stifling pass-rush is a winning formula. The Commanders have to feel good about how this season has started and where it could be heading.
Week 3 Breakout Star: Jayden Reed, WR, Green Bay Packers
Had it not been for the Packers' defense folding late in a 25-24 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, Green Bay would have pulled off its first pair of road victories to open a season in the franchise's illustrious history.
But, even in defeat, a dangerous weapon in Packers quarterback Jordan Love's arsenal emerged.
Second-round rookie receiver Jayden Reed threw his own coming-out party in Mercedes Benz Stadium, catching four passes for 37 yards with a pair of touchdowns.
"It felt great getting that first touchdown," Reed told FanBuzz late Sunday evening. "Teammates did a great job blocking, and executing. It's just a blessing to have this opportunity."
Reed and Love have been putting in a significant amount of work during the offseason leading up to the 2023 campaign, and those extra reps have helped establish an instant chemistry that is paying instant dividends. Through his first two games, Reed has caught six passes for 85 yards and two scores.
Green Bay is betting big that Love will grow alongside young receivers like Reed, and second-year targets Christian Watson, and Romeo Doubs. So far, even with Watson sidelined due to injury, the returns couldn't possibly be more encouraging.
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