It feels like the NFL is on the cusp of a second-half takeover from a wave of backups.
This might be no better personified than by Miami Dolphins rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who finally hit the field in Week 6, making him the last of the big three—along with Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert—from the 2020 draft to see action. He's now leading the backups-turned-starters charge after ESPN's Adam Schefter reported he's earned the starting gig for Week 8 after Miami's bye.
Across the league, rookies and backups (based on snap counts and sometimes rotational splits, not necessarily depth charts) should start to see more playing time because of injuries to others and underperformers in front of them.
These are the names to know a few weeks out from the season's second half.
Ezra Cleveland, OL, Minnesota Vikings
The 1-5 Minnesota Vikings aren't squeaking into contention anytime soon, so the team is looking toward the future.
That shift was evident in Week 6 when offensive lineman Ezra Cleveland finally got the nod in front of quarterback Kirk Cousins.
"I think Ezra's putting himself in position that he deserves opportunities," Vikings offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak said, according to Mark Craig of the Star Tribune. "I think before this thing's said and done, you're going to see him get an opportunity to produce and be a part of our team. I'm really proud of how far he's come."
Cleveland, the 58th pick this year, got 100 percent of the snaps during his team's Week 6 loss, and in a real trial-by-fire moment, had his struggles against an elite player in Atlanta's Grady Jarrett en route to a 43.8 Pro Football Focus grade.
But the flashes were there, and Cleveland is playing out of position at guard. He'll adapt, if not get to move to tackle and let his natural traits blossom.
J.K. Dobbins, RB, Baltimore Ravens
Based on talent, it feels inevitable J.K. Dobbins will become the workhorse back for the Baltimore Ravens.
Through six games, Dobbins only has 25 carries. Among the team's rushers, he's behind Lamar Jackson (50), Mark Ingram II (50) and Gus Edwards (48).
But Dobbins is Baltimore's only running back with a per-carry average north of 4.5. He's turned his looks into 154 yards and two scores on a 6.2 average and caught 11 of his 14 targets.
Dobbins still isn't getting his fair shake, even with an ankle injury sidelining Ingram. He's played 37 percent of the offense's snaps yet picked up seven first downs on the ground, with two outbursts of 20-plus yards on his limited chances.