Winners and Losers from the NFL Preseason
The 2014 NFL preseason has come and gone, leaving us a scant few days before we switch to live ammunition.
With final roster cuts looming and parts of depth charts still in limbo, who are some of the biggest winners and losers of the preseason?
Whether it's great or poor performance, injury or suspension, or simply good or bad press affecting these players, here are 12 names who have been the biggest standouts or flops over the past month.
Winner: Michael Sam, DE, St. Louis Rams
The preseason is full of trials and tribulations, and few players likely saw more of those than rookie Michael Sam.
The firestorm surrounding the former Missouri star has died down a bit since his historic announcement, and Sam has been able to let his play on the field speak loudly.
Even with the misguided report from ESPN about his showering habits that hit airwaves this week, as highlighted by The Washington Post's Cindy Boren, Sam has been able to let his play do most of the talking.
Sam has more than done enough to show that he belongs on a 53-man roster at the next level, as noted by Bleacher Report's Ryan Riddle after Week 3 of the preseason:
Despite all of this, Sam has played much better than anticipated.
With three preseason games in the books, Sam has thrived on the defensive side of the ball, making several big plays in the backfield and chasing after quarterbacks.
In Week 3 against the Cleveland Browns, Sam had perhaps his most impressive play to date, one that might have put him over the edge in the battle for a roster spot.
A strong showing in a 14-13 Week 4 loss that included six tackles against the Miami Dolphins may have sealed his spot on the roster for Week 1.
Loser: Lamar Miller, RB, Miami Dolphins
Things were looking up for Lamar Miller this summer.
Knowshon Moreno, his chief challenger for the starting job, was sidelined, recovering from knee surgery after showing up to Miami's minicamp out of shape. Miller pounced, impressing in offseason workouts and looking good early in the preseason.
Unfortunately for Miller, his usurper has returned.
Moreno came back to play in Miami's most significant preseason game, showing why the Dolphins signed him by popping off for 64 yards on just 10 carries. His solid showing likely sunk Miller's chances to start or hold on to a significant share of the playing time in that backfield.
Winner: Blake Bortles, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Perception is everything. Just ask Dallas' Tony Romo, who has been one of the best statistical quarterbacks in the league over the past six seasons.
For Blake Bortles, the preseason couldn't have gone much better. He lit up opposing second-string defenses, creating a clamor for him to start over Chad Henne in the process. The Jacksonville Jaguars are sticking to their original plan to bring him along slowly, however.
Bortles appears to be fine with that plan. He told Hays Carlyon at Jacksonville.com:
“That was made clear from Day One... From the get go there was a plan, a big picture thing that they had in mind and were going to do. That was to learn from Chad, figure out things and get acclimated. That’s the plan that’s been instilled the whole time.”
That may not be what some fans want, but the strong preseason combined with his developmental benching creates a bit of a mystique for this year's No. 3 overall draft pick.
Loser: Dimitri Patterson, CB, New York Jets
The New York Jets are running thin at cornerback, and that was the case before Dimitri Patterson's recent episode.
Patterson disappeared without a trace before New York's third preseason game, surfacing later—much to the ire of the front office. He allegedly went "AWOL" for 48 hours, a charge he disputes, per ESPN.com.
General manager John Idzik immediately suspended Patterson indefinitely—a sentence that was later reduced to the remainder of the preseason. Rumors then swirled that Patterson played hooky because he was unhappy with his role on the team, per ESPN.com's Rich Cimini.
He is lucky that his team is in such dire need of cornerbacks, otherwise the Jets might have suspended him for far longer than just the preseason.
Winner: Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee Titans
If there is one starter whose stock has skyrocketed this preseason, it is wide receiver Justin Hunter.
The 6'4", 203-pound Tennessee Titans receiver has been lights out when on the field this preseason and is among the leaders in receiving at his position, with 10 receptions for 217 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
He looks like a matchup nightmare in the red zone, giving starting quarterback Jake Locker a strong one-two punch playing across from Kendall Wright.
Loser: Josh Gordon, WR, Cleveland Browns
After dangling at the mercy of NFL disciplinary decision-making for weeks, wide receiver Josh Gordon finally got his bad news.
The talented wideout saw his yearlong suspension upheld, much to his chagrin and that of his fantasy owners, not to mention the Cleveland Browns. It was a disappointing end to a drawn-out offseason saga, one that could derail a promising career.
Much has been made about Gordon's issues with substance abuse and the law. Losing his job for a year could be the wake-up call he needed, but it could just as easily send Gordon into a tailspin.
Hopefully for his sake, the year off will give him a chance to straighten out and come back stronger. For now, Gordon is perhaps the biggest loser of the preseason.
Winner: Jace Amaro, TE, New York Jets
Not a month ago, things weren't looking good for tight end Jace Amaro.
The New York Jets rookie looked lost, the criticism flowing all around him on and off the team. It got to the point where Idzik had to hold a pep talk with his second-round draft pick, per ESPN.com's Rich Cimini.
It seems that pep talk may have worked, because Amaro has turned things around rather quickly. The Jets gave him the starting nod in Game 3 of the preseason, and he delivered with the first team.
Amaro snagged four passes for 37 yards and a touchdown, showing why the Jets took him in the second round of this year's draft. If that game was any indication, Amaro will indeed be a big part of the offense as a rookie, which did not look likely just a few weeks ago.
Loser: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Atlanta Falcons
And the annual Hard Knocks loser award goes to Ra'Shede Hageman.
Defensive line coach Bryan Cox lit into the rookie defensive tackle on the popular HBO show. Former Atlanta Falcon Brian Finneran tweeted not-nice things about Hageman shortly after the show ran, too—a tweet that was later deleted.
Of course, what we see on the show isn't necessarily reality—Hageman has shown plenty of promise this preseason, per ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure. But that is getting far less publicity than a television show.
Hageman is a promising rookie, but he hasn't exactly been portrayed that way this preseason.
Winner: Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City Chiefs
Microfracture surgery cut Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce's rookie season short, and the status of his return was a bit murky before the preseason. Until the preseason hit, Kelce was doing little more than running with the team.
He looks just fine now.
Kelce has had a strong preseason highlighted by two long touchdown receptions (69 and 43 yards). He is showing why the Kansas City Chiefs took him in the third round of the 2013 draft.
The question is: When will he overtake Anthony Fasano as the starter?
Loser: Johnny Manziel, QB, Cleveland Browns
The preseason was supposed to be quarterback Johnny Manziel's time to shine. Instead, he tarnished.
Cleveland's quarterback of the future looked more like a failed quarterback of the past this preseason, though he did have some flashes of brilliance.
Manziel did little to convince his bosses that he should start as a rookie, ceding the job to Brian Hoyer. The latter is returning from a torn ACL.
The rookie hasn't helped himself off the field, either, ruffling feathers around his team. His antics may have been irrelevant to why he lost out on the starting gig, but Johnny Football has simply not looked good this preseason, on or off the field.
Winner: Tim Wright, TE, New England Patriots
It's a good day when the New England Patriots come calling.
At least that's what tight end Tim Wright must be thinking. The Patriots scooped up the former Tampa Bay Buccaneer along with a 2015 fourth-round pick in a trade that brought the Bucs a Pro Bowl guard in Logan Mankins.
Wright lands with a squad in dire need of depth at his position. He should also get a chance to win significant playing time in a similar role to former Patriot Aaron Hernandez.
Some of that was evident in his first action with the club, when he caught four passes for 43 yards against the New York Giants. The Hernandez role may yet be his for the taking, should the Patriots be so inclined to use it.
His immediate impact might be overblown—why would the Buccaneers have traded him away if he was that good, after all—but Wright is certainly in a better situation after the trade.
Loser: St. Louis Rams' Quarterback Situation
It was Sam Bradford's last, best chance to finally get his career off the ground. Instead, bad luck reared its head one final time—just as he was getting into the meat of his six-year, $78 million contract.
The Rams were hoping he could build on the strong start he had to the 2013 season, which was also cut short by a season-ending ACL injury. To keep him safe, they drafted offensive lineman Greg Robinson with the No. 2 pick in the 2014 draft, so things seemed to be looking up.
But then Bradford tore his ACL in Week 3 of the preseason, leaving his career with St. Louis—and even as a starter in the NFL—in doubt. His history with injuries is foreboding, and the former No. 1 pick is dangerously close to becoming a full-fledged bust. That's never an easy thing for a franchise to stomach.
For now, the Rams will look to proven backup Shaun Hill, who should be serviceable this season, but he's 34 years old. The future of the team's quarterback depth chart looks murky, to say the least.