The NFL preseason may be a long, tedious grind as we wait patiently for the real games to start, but Week 3 is by far the most interesting part of the whole affair. Often dubbed the "dress rehearsal," the third preseason game is where most teams play their starters an entire half and into the third quarter.
So this is the closest we’ll get to real football all month, and as a result the All-Star list will look a little different. Whereas the last two weeks featured young backups, camp bodies and Preseason Hall of Famers, this list is mostly comprised of players you will be seeing the rest of the year.
Stay strong everyone — only one more week of preseason games is left. For now, let’s look at players who had the biggest plays and most impressive performances from preseason Week 3.
Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
In what might be his best performance of the preseason, Winston carved up the Cleveland Browns’ defense, completing 16 of 25 passes for 259 yards, two touchdowns and no turnovers. More importantly, he continued to establish a strong connection with Mike Evans, who hauled in all five of his targets for 115 yards and a touchdown.
The highlight of the game was this beautiful dime from Winston, which Evans perfectly high-pointed for the easy score.
Mike Evans with the "This Is Why You Draft Me In Fantasy Football" kind of touchdown. pic.twitter.com/N8dwo2J6G8— Trevor Sikkema (@TrevorSikkema) August 27, 2016
These two are going to be real fun to watch in 2016.
Teddy Bridgewater, Minnesota Vikings
Bridgewater wasn’t expected to play much after missing the second preseason game with a sore arm, but he stayed in this game through the first half and didn’t look the worse for wear. Bridgewater finished his day 12-of-16 passing for 161 yards and a touchdown against the San Diego Chargers. He hooked up with Stefon Diggs early and often, and the Vikings kept the chains moving thanks to some big runs from Jerick McKinnon. Bridgewater also found Kyle Rudolph in the end zone. Not a bad day, considering he didn’t have Adrian Peterson to lean on.
The Vikings probably won’t have the most explosive offense in the league, but Bridgewater looks like he’s comfortably in charge heading into his third season.
Brock Osweiler, Houston Texans
Osweiler has a lot of question marks following the big contract he signed with Houston in the offseason, but he acquitted himself well in an extended preseason showing against the Arizona Cardinals. Osweiler finished the game with 146 yards and a touchdown on 11-of-13 passing, hooking up with rookie receiver Will Fuller on a 26-yard score.
If Osweiler can keep the Texans’ offense moving and J.J. Watt comes back on a timely basis, Houston fans should have a lot to look forward to this season.
Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys
After missing most of camp with a hamstring injury, Elliott looked like the real deal in his preseason debut. The No. 4 overall pick racked up 48 yards on seven carries in limited action, working over the Seattle Seahawks’ first-team defense in the process.
With Tony Romo expected to miss several games, there will be even more on Elliott’s plate to start the regular season. Based on this weekend’s small sample size, he certainly looks like he’s up for the challenge.
Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans
Hey, here’s another rookie running back who’s doing well. Henry continued his strong preseason against the Oakland Raiders, rushing 12 times for 49 yards and a touchdown.
Spain on the pull, Henry in for six. https://t.co/JtY7QvShfr— Terry Lambert (@TLambertFB) August 28, 2016
DeMarco Murray appears to be entrenched as the Titans’ starter in the backfield, but Henry has shown that he’s too talented to keep off the field. He figures to play a key role in Tennessee’s "exotic smashmouth" offense this season.
Amari Cooper, Oakland Raiders
Finally healthy after plantar fasciitis slowed him down in his rookie year, Cooper looks like he’s ready to take off in 2016. He went off for 52 yards and a touchdown on three catches against the Titans, with the obvious highlight being this score. Cooper showed outstanding field awareness to keep his feet inbounds while securing the catch. It’s the kind of play you expect your rising star receiver to make.
Demaryius Thomas, Denver Broncos
The Broncos’ quarterback battle is getting all the headlines, but let’s not sleep on Thomas — he’s still one of the best receivers in the league despite struggling with some high-profile drops last season. Thomas showed why he remains an elite playmaker against the Los Angeles Rams, making this one-handed catch look like a walk in the park.
If Trevor Siemian and/or Paxton Lynch can get the ball to Thomas on a consistent basis, the Broncos’ offense might be in good hands following Peyton Manning’s retirement.
Tajae Sharpe, Tennessee Titans
On paper, Sharpe didn’t have a big game this weekend, catching just one of his four targets against the Raiders. It’s what he did with that catch, however, that puts him on this list. Taking advantage of Sean Smith’s over-aggressive pursuit, Sharpe went from zero to 60 yards in the blink of an eye.
With his big-play ability and early connection with Marcus Mariota, you wouldn’t guess that Sharpe is a fifth-round rookie. The Titans have a potential gem on their hands.
Geno Atkins, Cincinnati Bengals
Despite years of dominance, it sometimes feels like Atkins is still underrated among football fans. That shouldn’t be the case, especially after Sunday night’s showing against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Atkins was a wrecking ball on the interior line, making life miserable for poor Luke Joeckel (who’s making a transition from left tackle to guard this year).
Atkins didn’t actually record a tackle, but he didn’t have to — his disruptive presence threw Blake Bortles off his game and gave the Jaguars’ running game nothing to work with. As long as Atkins is healthy and in top form, the Bengals’ front four should continue being a force.
Robert Nkemdiche, Arizona Cardinals
Nkemdiche missed most of camp and preseason with a sprained ankle and didn’t see a lot of snaps in the third preseason game. However, he showed in limited action why the Cardinals took him in the first round, making this Madden-esque spin move to stuff a run at the line of scrimmage.
Granted, it was against the Houston Texans’ backup offense, but those are the kind of plays you want first-round rookies to be making against inferior competition. Look for Nkemdiche’s role to grow over the season as he gets up to NFL speed.
Von Miller, Denver Broncos
Say, does this look familiar?
Yeah, looks like the Super Bowl MVP is ready for the season.
Roberto Aguayo, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The second-round kicker (!!!) made a 21-yarder and a 27-yarder on Friday night, while nailing all three of his extra-point attempts. Yes, this counts as progress for Aguayo, who had a bad case of the rookie jitters all month.
By all accounts, Aguayo will be just fine and help the Bucs more often than not. But even if he’s great, let us never forget this fact: the Bucs traded up to draft a kicker in the second round.