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.
Danny Etling, QB??????, New England Patriots
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.
Now we wait to see if another team picks him up.
Justice Hill, RB, Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore used the 2019 draft to add speed on offense. Oklahoma wide receiver Marquise Brownwas 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.
Hill led the Baltimore ground game with 10 carries for 33 yards against the Jaguars. He also caught two passes for 16 yards.
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 Davisand 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.