Ranking the 10 Most Impressive NFL Preseason Performers so Far
Even though we aren’t very far into the NFL preseason football, there have already been some exceptional individual performances. Some of these players, both young and old are stepping up their games in a hurry in anticipation of the start of the regular season. And some are doing it in a desperate attempt to either gain prominence or return to it.
In most cases, the stars of preseason are lesser known veterans, or youngsters trying to make their marks. Most of the established veterans don’t see enough reps in preseason to make a splash. So, when we are talking about ranking the top performances of the week, look for an eclectic mix of youth and experience.
Let’s rank 10 of the top standout performances of the week, and keep an eye on these players going forward. This list is far from comprehensive, but these are the 10 guys I've studied so far that have really stood out.
All statistics courtesy of NFL.com.
10. Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, New York Giants
New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul looks to be a man on a mission. After a big down year in 2013, JPP looks primed to approach his form in 2011, when he got 16.5 sacks in only 12 starts.
Against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Saturday, Pierre-Paul finished the game with four tackles and no sacks. Nevertheless, he makes this list because he was able to beat his man off the edge consistently. Even though he wasn’t able to finish many plays with tackles, he was looking more like his old self.
If the Giants want to win this year, they need Pierre-Paul to play well. It is so far, so good for the 25-year-old pass-rusher two games into the preseason.
9. Kellen Moore, QB Detroit Lions
Detroit Lions backup quarterback Kellen Moore had a game that perfectly illustrates why he wasn’t drafted, but why teams still want him on their roster. Moore’s stat line was 11 completions for 121 yards passing and a touchdown.
Moore doesn’t have a strong arm, and he will never be confused with a player like Aaron Rodgers. And at one critical point in Detroit's preseason opener against the Cleveland Browns, he fumbled away the ball.
However, when the defense gave him the football back with just over two minutes to play, he put together a drive that culminated with as pretty a touchdown pass as you might see all year. Moore is battling with Dan Orlovsky for be the primary backup for Matt Stafford. His performance on that final game-winning drive has to help his case.
8. Logan Thomas, QB Arizona Cardinals
Things are looking pretty exciting in Arizona. The Cardinals front office and staff have started putting some pieces in place to assure this team remains competitive in the NFL West.
One player the Cardinals snatched up in the 2014 draft that is looking like a steal is quarterback Logan Thomas. If you were building a quarterback in a lab, Thomas would be your guy. The problem with his game has been in his consistency in his reads and accuracy with his throws.
So far in the preseason, it seems Thomas has taken well to coaching and is making great strides. Thomas came in early during the second half of the Cardinals preseason game against the Houston Texans and showed impressive poise and accuracy.
Thomas threw for 112 yards and a touchdown in the second half, with only one incompletion in 12 attempts. He looked so at ease on the field and was throwing the football with a confidence I didn’t see at Virginia Tech.
The real test for Thomas will be if the Cardinals’ coaches put Thomas in early in the next preseason game against better defenses. The sky could be the limit for this athletic young man.
7. DeMarcus Ware, DE, Denver Broncos
When a veteran player changes teams later in his career, they are often written off as unable to produce. The Denver Broncos must be feeling like they got a bargain with defensive end DeMarcus Ware.
Ware’s performance in the preseason isn’t something the box score is going to show you. He did sack Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson once, but other than that he was quiet statistically.
However, after reviewing the game, I have to conclude that Ware had an excellent performance. He was quick off the snap and created pressure on multiple plays. Unfortunately, when it comes to plays like that, if you don’t get to the quarterback, people may not think much about it.
Overall, Ware looks like a great fit in the Broncos defense. Assuming he can stay healthy, he should continue to improve as he gets more comfortable with the system.
6. Dri Archer, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
It didn't take very long for the Pittsburgh Steelers to put the league on notice that their offense is going to be explosive this season. Just two plays into the preseason, the Steelers got the football to rookie running back Dri Archer on a short screen and he did the rest.
Multiple New York Giants players had angles on Archer ruined by his speed and change of direction. His natural physical gifts turned what was likely a 10-yard gain into a 46-yard scamper in the blink of an eye.
It will be interesting to see going forward how much Pittsburgh continues to weave Archer into the offense. He got only two carries as a true running back in his first game, so that could be one area in which we see an increased workload for the rookie speedster.
5. Brandin Cooks, WR, New Orleans Saints
If there ever was a better rookie receiver-NFL offense pairing than Brandin Cooks and the New Orleans Saints, I’m not sure what it is. Cooks showed the same explosive playmaking ability he displayed at Oregon State right out of the gate for his new team.
Cooks finished with five catches for 55 yards and a touchdown. Cooks was so fluid in his route-running and didn’t seem at all overwhelmed by being on such a big stage. On his 25-yard touchdown catch, the rookie took the ball, headed to the sideline, made one big pivot back inside and just outran the St. Louis Rams defense as if it was standing still.
You can count on the Saints and quarterback Drew Brees slinging it all over the field in 2014. If Cooks can keep playing like this, there will be plenty of balls thrown his way.
4. Quinton Dial, DE, San Francisco 49ers
It isn’t often that a nose tackle is among the top performers, but San Francisco 49ers nose tackle Quinton Dial certainly deserves consideration.
In the Niners preseason opener against the Baltimore Ravens, Dial was a monster. His game is predicated on raw power and leverage. When his pad level stays low, he is simply overpowering. Against the Ravens, Dial went off for 10 tackles and two forced fumbles.
Dial is trying to win back that starting nose tackle spot, and Thursday’s action was a huge step in the right direction. If you are an old-school football fan, go back and watch this game. Dial gets the nod here, but defensive end Tank Carradine and defensive tackle Mike Purcell both had dominant performances as well.
3. Mark Ingram, RB, New Orleans Saints
It’s a return to the New Orleans Saints for the next player on this list. Running back Mark Ingram has been a patient man. After bring drafted in the first round of the 2011 NFL draft, Ingram has been relegated to reserve duty in an offense that never seemed suited to his skills.
However, Ingram looks to finally be getting his shot. He rushed eight times for 83 yards and a touchdown against the St. Louis Rams in the preseason opener and showed a lot of the skills that made him a first-round pick in the first place.
In particular, his touchdown run was a thing of beauty. Ingram demonstrates great power on the play, accelerating quickly and pushing through arm tackles before getting to the end zone in a hurry.
There might never be a place for a feature running back in the Saints offense, but Ingram should be very productive this year.
2. John Brown, WR Arizona Cardinals
Coming in at No. 2 on the list is Arizona Cardinals rookie wide receiver John Brown. Brown entered the league as a third-round pick on the strength of his physical tools. Coming from Division II Pittsburg State University, the film on Brown was limited.
However, the Cardinals look at his elite speed and quickness and see a near-ideal slot receiver prospect. Against the Houston Texans, Brown made a real statement against serious competition.
Brown came out against starters and backups and hauled in five catches for 87 yards in a half of work. Brown was the victim of poor throws on at least two more potential catches, one of which was an easy touchdown where he beat the Texans cornerback to the inside.
Brown seemed to be able to get open at will against the Texans secondary with elite acceleration and razor-sharp routes. With Arizona’s big outside wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Mike Floyd, Brown will be able to navigate the middle of the field at will.
1. Blake Bortles, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles checks in at the top of this list. Of all the rookie quarterbacks who are vying for playing time this year, Bortles certainly looks like the one that is most NFL-ready at this early juncture.
All Bortles did was come in to replace Chad Henne and complete 7 of 11 attempts for 117 yards against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Oh, and of the four incompletions, at least two of them were drops.
Bortles looked poised and sharp in the pocket. His footwork was good, and he kept his eyes downfield, making his reads. There were plenty of rookie quarterbacks who made their debuts this past weekend, but Bortles seemed to be the most poised and prepared of any of them.
It will be very interesting to see if Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley takes what Bortles did against the Buccaneers and moves him up to starter for the next preseason game.