The NFL preseason doesn’t mean much if you’re an established starter. At best, it’s a chance to run through a handful of series and break up the monotony of training camp. At worst, it’s a few hours roaming the sidelines in front of a disinterested crowd while zoning in and out of some AAF-caliber football.
But if you’re battling for a spot on the roster, these games could be the difference between earning your jersey and being unemployed come September. Unproven players and longtime veterans looking for one more shot will use exhibition experiences to convince coaches they belong on the team. While stars are going through the motions, they’ll be the guys tearing up the field as though it were January.
This leaves a major opportunity for young players and journeymen to add a little extra name value in NFL circles. In years past, players like Raheem Mostert and Jacoby Brissett have turned garbage time’s garbage time into the resume fodder that kept them on full-time rosters. Who will we have our eyes on as the 2019 preseason kicks into full swing?
We’ve got a few names in mind, and we’ll be tracking their progress through the four weeks of preseason, so be sure to check back for updates.
Garrett Bradbury, C, Minnesota Vikings
Center isn’t the sexiest position in football. You know what else isn’t sexy? Butt sweat. And apparently that’s two strikes against Bradbury.
Kirk Cousins was all loose lips when he told reporters about his rookie center’s “posterior sweating.”
“He says it’s not a problem on gamedays, so the moment of truth: Friday night,” Cousins said playfully before the Vikings’ preseason opener. “That’s a big thing I’m going to take away from Friday night is how tough was it to grip the ball after he snaps it to me?”
Cousins was just having a little fun and really, there is no shame in normal bodily functions like perspiration, no matter where it comes from. Still, all eyes will be on those exchanges under center in Minnesota this preseason, because the last thing Cousins needs is another obstacle to fixing his fumbling issues.
Week 1: Bradbury started the Vikings’ preseason opener and so far, so good.
“He was great. I thought he was as he’d been all through practice,” Cousins said, via the AP. “Great command. Really sharp. No concerns whatsoever.”
Guess you could say Cousins isn’t ... [puts on sunglasses] ... sweating it.
Week 2: Things were a little sweatier for Bradbury in the second game. A bad exchange with Cousins led to the quarterback fumbling the snap early against the Seahawks. The Vikings recovered, but it set up a third-and-14 that they couldn’t covert.
Week 3: The bad news is that holding penalty on Bradbury nullified a short run from Dalvin Cook against the Cardinals. The good news is that on the very next play, Cook took the ball 85 yards for a score.
Bradbury also made up for the penalty later in the game, when he recovered running back Alexander Mattison’s fumble.
Week 4: The Vikings saw enough out of Bradbury in the first three games and sat him against the Bills. That’s probably a good sign.
Danny Etling, QB??????,
New England Patriots Atlanta Falcons
Etling showed up to the first day of Patriots training camp wearing a white jersey instead of his typical non-contact quarterback red jersey.
The 2018 seventh-round pick spent his first NFL season as the Patriots’ third-string quarterback. But he has been alternating between wide receiver and quarterback drills in camp as he fell to fourth string, behind Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, and rookie fourth-rounder Jarrett Stidham.
Etling has also made some appearances on special team drills, lending to the idea Bill Belichick could use him in a Taysom Hill-type role rather than a straight quarterback-to-receiver like Julian Edelman. The problem is Etling doesn’t have the same athleticism that those guys do. It’s a long shot that Etling makes the final 53-man roster, but we still want to see how Belichick uses this August.
And no matter what happens to Etling, he’ll always have this 86-yard touchdown run from last preseason.
Week 1: Etling saw one target, but did not catch a pass — or attempt one. The writing was on the wall, and Etling was released a few days later.
The Patriots have waived QB/WR Danny Etling, per source. Etling begun working at WR this offseason to try to increase his roster chances.— Field Yates (@FieldYates) August 13, 2019
A day before preseason Week 2 began, the Falcons claimed Etling off waivers.
Week 2: Etling didn’t record a stat in Atlanta’s second preseason game.
Week 3: Etling was the second quarterback in the game behind Matt Ryan in their preseason game against Washington. He definitely looked like he was still learning the playbook and didn’t seem all that comfortable.
Etling completed two of his six attempts for just 19 yards. He was sacked twice and ran the ball seven times for 48 yards in a half of playing time.
Week 4: With Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub, and Matt Simms (it’s Matt city in Atlanta, my goodness) all sitting, Etling played the entire game against the Jaguars. The Falcons cruised to a 31-12 win and Etling finished 15-of-25 passing with 174 yards, one touchdown, and no interceptions. He also rushed for 67 yards.
It was a strong showing to end a wild ride of a month for Etling.
Justice Hill, RB, Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore used the 2019 draft to add speed on offense. Oklahoma wide receiver Marquise Brown was the headliner of the Ravens’ draft class, but their most intriguing rookie might be Oklahoma State running back Justice Hill.
Hill was one of the stars of the NFL Combine. He posted results in the 90th percentile for the 40-yard dash, vertical jump, and broad jump. He won’t be taking over Mark Ingram’s role as the starting running back, but he has the potential to create explosive plays every time he touches the ball.
Hill can carve out a role for himself in the revamped Ravens offense with a strong showing in the preseason.
Week 1: One game into preseason, he’s already shown why the thought of him in the backfield with Lamar Jackson is so exciting:
Hill led the Baltimore ground game with 10 carries for 33 yards against the Jaguars. He also caught two passes for 16 yards.
Week 2: Hill was once again the lead horse in the Ravens’ stable, carrying the ball 10 times for 49 yards and a touchdown in a win over Green Bay.
Week 3: Hill wasn’t as explosive in Week 3. He carried the ball seven times for 8 yards and caught two passes for 8 yards.
Week 4: The Ravens decided his 27 carries through the first three preseason games were enough and sat Hill vs. Washington.
Jake Kumerow, WR, Green Bay Packers
The Packers didn’t do much to upgrade their receiving corps for Aaron Rodgers, and that’s an endorsement for youngsters like Equanimeous St. Brown, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and J’Mon Moore. But there’s also a 27-year-old Wisconsin-Whitewater grad with what may be his last shot to make an NFL roster.
Kumerow, a former Division III Offensive Player of the Year, bounced around the league before returning to the Badger State. He emerged late in the year to provide a useful third or fourth option for Rodgers, finishing with eight catches and a 72.7 percent catch rate, gaining 103 yards and adding a touchdown in the process.
He still faces tough competition at receiver. Davante Adams is a sturdy WR1, and Geronimo Allison is healthy again after missing 11 games due to injury last season. St. Brown, Valdes-Scantling, and Moore are all jockeying for depth chart position. So are 2016 draftee Trevor Davis and last year’s late signee Allen Lazard.
Kumerow has a great opportunity in Green Bay — but he’ll need to continue to make plays to stay on the roster.
Week 1: Making plays like he did in the Packers’ preseason opener is going to be his only chance at standing out in that crowded field.
Even though Kumerow hauled in just two catches for 27 yards, he led the Packers in both receiving categories.
Week 2: Kumerow and fellow undrafted 6’5 wideout Allen Lazard each stood out in an Aaron Rodgers-less passing game. Together they combined for six catches (on nine targets) for 115 yards.
Week 3: The Canadian field that Oakland and Green Bay were playing on might have been a mess, but that didn’t stop Kumerow from putting together a solid performance. He caught two passes for 20 yards and a touchdown.
Week 4: Kumerow was another player on the long list of guys who didn’t see the field in the preseason finale.
Avonte Maddox, CB, Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles might have found a steal in the fourth round of the 2018 draft. Maddox was pushed into the lineup after the several injuries at cornerback last season, and he performed admirably.
According to Pro Football Focus, Maddox wasn’t just good for a rookie; he was one of the most productive cornerbacks in the league.
Maddox played a big role in the Eagles upsetting the Rams on the road last year as they surged toward the playoffs. Maddox played 100 percent of the snaps, recording three tackles and defending two passes — one of which was an interception.
Philadelphia already has one of the most stacked rosters in the league. If Maddox can maintain his level play from a year ago, the Eagles could be one of the most complete teams we’ve seen in a while.
Week 1: Maddox didn’t play much in the Eagles’ preseason opener, though he did record a tackle.
Week 2: Another low-key night for Maddox, who had another one tackle performance against the Jaguars.
Week 3: Maddox only had one tackle against the Ravens, but he rolled out with the first team defense as a nickelback.
Week 4: An uneventful preseason for Maddox ended with him being listed as inactive against the Jets.
Kyler Murray, QB, Arizona Cardinals
Who doesn’t want to see the No. 1 pick in the draft in his first NFL action?
He’s a dynamic, unique talent who will try to overcome his height deficiency (he’s 5’10) to turn around the offensively inept Cardinals. Helping him to try to achieve that goal is first-year coach Kliff Kingsbury, whose offensive system that will presumably be about the closest an NFL team has ever been to a college-style spread offense.
Oddsmakers have set the over/under for wins for the Cardinals at just 5.5 in 2019. So far, Murray’s getting rave reviews, and his performance in the preseason so far is giving Arizona fans reason to expect at least six wins.
Week 1: Murray opened the preseason with six completions on seven passes against the Chargers. He only played one series and didn’t throw a pass more than 10 yards, but hey, it’s hard not to be enthusiastic about his efficient debut.
Week 2: Murray’s second go-round was worse than his first. He completed just three of eight passes for a mere 12 yards in a very un-Murray performance against the Raiders.
Week 3: In five series — the most playing time he’s received yet — Murray looked much improved from the week before. He completed 14 of 21 passes for 137 yards against many Vikings starters, and he was not sacked once. Though he didn’t score a touchdown, Murray did attempt some longer throws with pinpoint accuracy:
Week 4: Murray — like every other starting quarterback in the NFL — didn’t play in the last week of preseason.
Ed Oliver, DT, Buffalo Bills
The Bills already had one of the league’s better secondaries and now they have a potentially dominant defensive tackle to play in front of them.
At his pro day, Oliver ran a 4.73-second 40-yard dash and had other workout results that were more in line with skill position players rather than defensive linemen. The first-round pick’s athleticism should be on full display against the bevy of backups that he’ll see during the preseason.
Hopefully, Oliver is able to replicate this training camp moment in a preseason game.
Ed Oliver just burst into the backfield so quickly three offensive linemen all went to the ground. Unreal. https://t.co/OxfXOBkzMc— Mark Ludwiczak (@marklud12) August 1, 2019
Oliver will quickly get a chance to prove that he can replace the recently retired Kyle Williams as the heart and soul of the Buffalo defense. Oliver was completely dominant in college — now it’s time to see how skill translates to the NFL.
Week 1: So far, he hasn’t had a preseason play that deserves a spot on highlight reels. His August debut was a tough matchup against the Colts’ stud guard Quenton Nelson. While he was stoned on some plays, he also showed the strength and speed combination that makes him dangerous.
Week 2: This week, Oliver got his highlight, taking on a Panthers double team and somehow having the time and ability to also swat the ball down:
He still had a couple of bumps, but it’s clear Oliver will be a problem for opposing offenses.
Week 3: Although he didn’t show up in the box score this week, Oliver got playing time early and wasn’t hard to spot because he never. stopped. moving.
Week 4: The Bills shut down Oliver and kept him on the sideline vs. the Vikings.
Kemoko Turay, DE, Indianapolis Colts
All-Pros Quenton Nelson and Darius Leonard headlined the Colts’ 2018 draft class, but there’s another member poised for a breakout season.
Turay had four sacks in 14 games last season, which is pretty solid production for a second-round rookie. According to Sports Info Solutions, Turay ranked 12th out in pressure rate among the 114 defensive ends and linebackers with at least 200 pass rush snaps in 2018.
While he has a slender build at 6’5, 248 pounds, he’s a ridiculous athlete who can turn the corner like a skill player, like he did on this sack against the Eagles.
Turay developing would help the Colts’ defense take the next step as they try to get back to the playoffs this season. We’ll get a good idea of his progress during this preseason.
Week 1: Turay tallied two tackles, but struggled a bit in the preseason opener.
Week 2: This week, Turay put together much stronger effort. He tallied two tackles for loss against the Browns, including this third-down sack:
Week 3: Turay is riding some momentum now. He picked up another sack this week against the Bears, along with two solo tackles.
Week 4: The Colts felt good enough about Turay’s first three preseason games to keep him off the field in the fourth.
Quinnen Williams, DL, New York Jets
Williams was one of the best — if not THE best — defensive players in the 2019 NFL Draft. The Jets picked him at No. 3 overall.
In 2018, Williams won the John Outland Trophy that goes to the top interior lineman in college football, but he can ideally play anywhere along the defensive line. At 6’3 and 303 pounds with a good mix of speed and athleticism, he’s almost impossible to block.
Williams is currently listed behind Steve McLendon at nose tackle on the Jets’ depth chart, but head coach Adam Gase said Williams’ “football IQ” along with his ability will make him an immediate contributor to the Jets’ defense.
Plus, we just love him:
Week 1: Williams started the game and played the first two series against the Giants. His only contribution to the box score was an assisted tackle, though it happened on a third-down stop.
Week 2: That man bad.
Week 4: The No. 3 overall pick was an easy choice for the list of inactives in the Jets’ preseason finale.
Javon Wims, WR, Chicago Bears
Last season, the Bears drafted Wims in the seventh round. With a roster already filled with playmakers like Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller, and Taylor Gabriel, the chances of him making the roster seemed slim. Then he impressed during the 2018 preseason and stuck around.
Wims didn’t play a whole lot during the regular season, but he made an impact in the Bears’ Week 17 win against the Vikings. He had four catches in the game, including two on third down on a fourth-quarter touchdown drive.
Just like last year, the competition is stiff. Cordarrelle Patterson and Riley Ridley join an already deep group. But Wims is still hanging around in terms of a roster spot, and another productive preseason could help him crack the rotation.
Week 1: Wims was targeted three times, bringing in two of them for 15 yards. His second catch came in the middle of the Bears’ only touchdown drive of the night.
Week 2: It was a mostly forgettable night for the Chicago offense, but Wims was a lone bright spot. He led the team with five catches for 64 yards and really impressed on curl routes.
Week 3: This was a quieter game for Wims, who caught his only target of the night for 3 yards.
Week 4: Wims didn’t play in the Bears’ preseason finale.