Sep 9, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings cornerback Mike Hughes (21) celebrates an interception return for a touchdown during the third quarter against San Francisco 49ers at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
The first week of the 2018 NFL regular season is in the books and the dust has settled on the standout performances and how rookies played in their debut performances but an underlying theme that went under the radar in Week 1 is how each NFL team replaced an integral member of their 2017 squad.
Be it retirement, free agency or trades, the 2018 offseason saw a lot of movement from stalwarts on several NFL franchises and Week 1 was the first iteration in which fanbases got to see how their new-look position may fare this season.
Cleveland Browns Left Tackle – Joe Thomas
Replacement: Desmond Harrison, 1st Year (West Georgia)
Replacement Week 1 Grade: 40.4
After 10,363 consecutive snaps played at left tackle for the Cleveland Browns, Joe Thomas suffered a torn triceps last season and later called it a career. Thomas set the standard at the tackle position in Cleveland and had been excellent in recent years, ranking in the top-five among all tackles each of the last five seasons. Stepping into his shoes in Week 1 was undrafted free agent Desmond Harrison, who struggled to fill the void left by Thomas. Harrison showed his inexperience with three pre-snap penalties. He also allowed five hurries and one sack in 58 pass-blocking snaps, but it was run blocking where he really struggled. His run-blocking grade of 35.8 ranked second worst among 69 tackles with at least 25 snaps played in Week 1.
Minnesota Vikings Slot Cornerback – Terence Newman
Replacement: Mike Hughes, 1st Year (UCF)
Replacement Week 1 Grade: 73.1
Terence Newman retired this offseason after 15 seasons in the NFL, leaving an opening at the starting slot cornerback position that he manned for the Minnesota Vikings last season. Rookie cornerback Mike Hughes has been battling with Mackensie Alexander for the position left by Newman. An ankle injury to Alexander gave Hughes an opportunity for more work in Week 1, and he delivered a solid performance. Hughes actually played twice as many snaps at outside cornerback (30) as he did in the slot (15) on Sunday, but he still led all Vikings cornerbacks in slot snaps played. Hughes was targeted six times and allowed three receptions for 59 yards while also showcasing his ability to make plays on the ball with an interception and two pass breakups.
Seattle Seahawks Strong Safety – Kam Chancellor
Replacement: Bradley McDougald, 6th Year (Kansas)
Replacement Week 1 Grade: 84.2
A neck injury led to Kam Chancellor‘s retirement this offseason. His replacement in 2018 is the same man who replaced him for the Seattle Seahawks while injured last season, Bradley McDougald. McDougald played well last season, particularly in coverage. His coverage grade of 82.0 ranked 14th among safeties with at least 250 snaps played in 2017. Last week, he recorded the fourth-highest grade of any NFL safety at 84.2 behind another strong performance in coverage. McDougald was targeted three times, allowed no receptions and intercepted two passes. He also showed versatility, lining up 22 snaps in the box, 15 in the slot and 16 at free safety.
Dallas Cowboys Tight End – Jason Witten
Replacement: Geoff Swaim, 4th Year (Texas)
Replacement Week 1 Grade: 63.3