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6 winners from the final week of the 2019 NFL preseason

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Jesper Horsted and Demaryius Thomas are basically the same player.

Bears TE Jesper Horsted jumps for the ball over Titans’ Mike Jordan.
Bears tight end Jesper Horsted had an impressive final game before the start of roster cuts.

Week 3 of the NFL preseason was supposed to be a dress rehearsal for most teams as they prepare for the speed and rigor of the regular season. Instead, we got a Cam Newton injury, two drives from Patrick Mahomes, an 80-yard field in Winnipeg, and Andrew Luck’s announcement that he’d had enough of all this football stuff.

Week 4 didn’t have the promise of seeing many 2019 starters; the vast majority of this year’s meaningful players never left the sideline. That gave way to the practice squad players of tomorrow and young hopefuls left aching for their spot as the 53rd man on the roster this fall. And while Thursday’s games were short on star power, there was still enough action to technically be considered football.

But hey, at this time next week we’ll have an actual, real-life game in the books! So, in advance of the Packers and Bears opening up the regular season next Thursday, let’s reflect on the winners of the final week of the 2019 preseason.

It wasn’t:

Not considered: the Miami Dolphins, who are threatening to fall right back into their old ways

It’s understandable to want a player like Jadeveon Clowney. The Texans’ defensive end/linebacker is one of the game’s most unstoppable pass rushers when he’s on, and he’s currently holding out of Houston’s training camp in order to get paid like one. The former No. 1 overall pick is potent against both the run and the pass, and can line up almost anywhere on the defensive line and wreak havoc.

That chaos comes at a price. Anyone trading for the 26-year-old will do so knowing he:

a) can’t sign a long-term contract extension until after he plays out his franchise tag season in 2019, and
b) will require a potentially market-resetting contract to stick around.

That’s a worthy gamble for a team that can earnestly contend for a Super Bowl in 2019. The Dolphins, who are very much not in contention, have no interest in that logic. They recently met with Clowney to sell him on a potential trade to South Beach. If they pull it off, they’d get a player who could spend one season as the centerpiece of a teardown, then sign elsewhere rather than participate in a rebuild — leaving Miami with nothing but a 2021 compensatory draft pick in exchange.

This would be an extremely Dolphins move. The team’s residence in limbo the past decade has been predicated in giving entirely too much money to veteran players while ignoring needs elsewhere. It would also go against the plan owner Stephen Ross laid out while overseeing a regime change.

Then again, Clowney might save the Dolphins from themselves:

Now, on to the week’s winners.

6. Brock Osweiler, who is here to mop up your quarterback mess by spreading the stain around

The Colts got thrown for a loop last week when Andrew Luck decided to retire rather than spend another year rehabbing from injury. That promoted Jacoby Brissett back to the starting role he held in 2017 and turned Indianapolis’ depth chart from one of the league’s top backup situations into one of its grimmest. With one announcement, the team has gone from having a promising young passer playing understudy to some combination of Chad Kelly and Phillip Walker.

Kelly was once good enough to hold down Denver’s backup job, but his off-field exploits have earned him a two-game suspension to start the season and leave him as an unreliable option. Indianapolis needs an experienced backup to take snaps in case of emergency ... and may land on another former Bronco instead.

Enter Osweiler, the player Houston once gave up a second-round pick just to keep away from its roster. He was a useful addition to the Dolphins’ roster last season, playing cromulent football in relief of Ryan Tannehill. His 7.0 yards per attempt was the second-highest rate of his career. It was also 29th best among all QBs who threw at least 100 passes last year.

That was still good enough to earn a visit to Indianapolis, along with other journeymen like Matt Cassel and Brandon Weeden. General manager Chris Ballard hasn’t signed anyone yet — but in that pile of broken toys, Osweiler seems the most game-ready. Otherwise, he could take a long hard look at the Week 4 box scores and find a likely-to-be-released passer who could serve as a short-term backup after final cuts roll around this weekend.

5. The Bills, who are America’s team of destiny (question mark?)

I mean, probably not. The Ravens haven’t lost a preseason game since 2015. That’s resulted in exactly zero postseason victories in that time for Baltimore. Let’s pump the brakes at least a little.

But! Buffalo did look pretty good in its furious comeback win over the Vikings, making it the club’s second — but much less impressive — owning of Minnesota in the past 10 months. Tyree Jackson, who according to Madden 20 is a better quarterback than Daniel Jones, overcame a 23-6 deficit in the final four minutes. The former University of Buffalo star sandwiched a rushing touchdown and a game-winning pass to David Sills V around a punt return TD to shock the Vikings’ backups and give Bills fans a non-Fireball reason to be happy.

4. Dare Ogunbowale, who did not shine Thursday but could thrive in a hollowed-out Tampa backfield

Ogunbowale was, uh, bad on the ground during Tampa Bay’s preseason finale. The third-year veteran couldn’t find a seam behind an offensive line filled with backups and roster hopefuls, running for a total of 9 yards on eight carries.

But Ogunbowale still found a way to help the offense, hauling in a pair of catches on two targets for 17 yards. His ability to slide out of the backfield and move the chains could make him indispensable for a Buccaneers team in dire need of playmakers — and that would be a major leap forward in a challenging career.

The former University of Wisconsin walk-on has bounced from practices squads to futures contract signings since 2017, making a handful of main roster appearances along the way. He rarely seemed like a regular contributor, but that could end in 2019. Ogunbowale looks set to handle third-down duties for the Buccaneers this fall. Given the rest of the backfield rotation — Peyton Barber has a career 3.8 yards-per-carry average and prized second-round pick Ronald Jones ran for 44 yards on 23 carries as a rookie — he could be the first man up to earn carries by October.

For now, the Buccaneers are hoping he can be their Corey Clement — a fellow undrafted free agent out of Wisconsin who has developed into a weapon for the Eagles. Clement, the RB1 to Ogunbowale’s RB2 with the 2016 Badgers, has scored nine touchdowns (including one in Super Bowl 51) the past two seasons as a dynamic safety valve out of the Philadelphia backfield.

Tampa Bay would be thrilled to get similar production. Ogunbowale has been its workhorse in the preseason, and while that hasn’t resulted in big gains on the ground (2.6 YPC), he’s been an impact player as a receiver out of the backfield (10+ yards per target).

3. Jesper Horsted, our new Ivy League overlord

Horsted, the Bears tight end with the name of a Swedish dust bowl settler, was an absolute beast at Princeton. He was an FCS All-American and the Ivy’s offensive player of the year in 2018 after a 72-catch, 1,047-yard, 13-touchdown campaign in only 10 games. His junior year, where he put up a 92/1,226/14 line, was somehow significantly better.

If that weren’t enough, he spent his springtime on the diamond with Princeton too. He led his team in batting average in 2018 (.324!) as an All-Ivy League centerfielder.

That wasn’t enough to push his name into this year’s draft, but he did make his way into the Chicago training camp as a free agent. The first three weeks of the preseason came and went without many highlights from the two-sport star. Then he made one hell of a case to stick around an NFL roster with his Week 4 performance, even if it’s not ultimately with the Bears.

Horsted finished his night against the Titans’ backups with five catches for 82 yards and one touchdown on a gorgeous back shoulder throw from Tyler Bray. At 6’4 and 240ish pounds, has the frame to be a useful receiver from the tips of the offensive line. He’ll need a whole lot more seasoning before he can make an impact on an active roster, but his ability to overachieve against lower-level opponents — whether while barnstorming a bunch of nerds in college or showing out against other roster hopefuls in Week 4 — suggest he’s worth a spot in the league this season.

2. Bud Light, who turned Cleveland’s misery into the opportunity to sell refrigerators

Do you like beer, but can’t truly enjoy it unless one of the league’s saddest franchises wins a game? Then I have good news for you, you oddly specific weirdo!

For two days the September, you can buy one of the fridges that once rewarded the dwellers of the Dawg Pound for suffering through a year-plus of defeat. A pop-up store in downtown Cleveland will offer fans the chance to buy an extremely-branded refrigerator as costs ranging from $199 to $599. Anyone who shows up will also get $15 worth of free beer, too.

This is, somehow, a big enough deal to warrant an appearance from not only a former WWE champion and a brand mascot who supposedly died back in February, but also a smattering of Browns players and even the damn mayor of Cleveland himself. This all sets some extremely high expectations and optimism for the Browns this fall. History suggests this is a great idea.

1. Demaryius Thomas, who may not be cooked yet

Thomas finished the 2018 season — his ninth as a pro — on injured reserve after suffering a torn Achilles. He signed with the Patriots this offseason in an effort to rehabilitate his career, which came with its own caveats. That path failed to revive aging All-Pros like Reggie Wayne and Chad Ochocinco in the past. After missing the bulk of the preseason while getting healthy, he made a long-awaited debut for a needy position group in Week 4.

Thomas’ first game in a New England uniform made him part of a star-studded Patriots receiving corps who stood out like a sore thumb against a backdrop of reserves. He, Josh Gordon, and Julian Edelman have 24 seasons, six Pro Bowl appearances, and five Super Bowl rings between them. On Thursday night, they teamed up to face a Giants secondary led by players like Terrell Sinkfield, Henre’ Toliver, and Ronald Zamort in the first half.

Needless to say, they fared well as the Pats ran out to a 29-10 halftime lead. No one did more than Thomas, who hauled in seven of his eight targets from rookie Jarrett Stidham for 87 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

It came against many players who will likely fill practice squads, but it’s an encouraging sign for a veteran whose career was in question. Now we’ve got to see what he can do with Tom Brady ... and coverage from players who weren’t playing against FCS wideouts in 2018.