During the National Football League preseason, each team’s fans are often most excited about seeing their team’s new players and how those new players can contribute to the team in the upcoming season.
While the preseason is still in its early stages, with many teams still having yet to complete their second preseason game, these six newcomers have stood out for their teams thus far.
Considering Andrew Luck may have been the most-hyped quarterback to go through the NFL draft since Peyton Manning in 1998, the odds were against him actually living up to expectations in his first preseason game with the Indianapolis Colts. On Sunday versus the St. Louis Rams, he actually succeeded in doing so.
The first pass Luck ever threw in an NFL uniform was a 63-yard touchdown. That statistic is actually deceiving, as it was a result of Donald Brown running through a weak run defense off of a shovel pass, but Luck continued to look much more impressive throughout the game.
Luck’s second touchdown was a result of his own great work. He already looks like a seasoned veteran when it comes to looking off his intended receivers and making quick reads, and it worked for him on this throw, as he turned to a wide-open Austin Collie and complete a precisely accurate 23-yard throw to the end zone.
Luck’s first game also included a perfect 32-yard throw over the middle to Quan Cosby, which brought the Colts to the one-yard line. Overall, Luck looks poised to lead the Colts’ offense to new heights as he completed throws with strength and accuracy.
The first preseason game may not be a fair indicator of how good Andrew Luck will be, but he certainly graded well in his first NFL test, and raised his expectations even higher as the No. 1 overall pick.
It should be no surprise if Luke Kuechly is productive right away in the National Football League, considering he was among the NCAA’s top-two tacklers in each of his first three seasons. In his first NFL preseason game, he certainly looked ready to do so.
Kuechly had a string of three consecutive tackles on the game’s first series, then forced a fumble on the first play of the next series. Kuechly has tremendous instincts, and has a knack for being in the right place at the right time to make tackles, or at least to be involved in the play.
Kuechly can play any of the three linebacker spots, but he lined up primarily as an outside linebacker in the game versus the Houston Texans. He appears primed to be a leader and impact player on the Panthers’ defense right away, if his preseason opener was any indication.
With three tackles and a pass deflection, Kuechly continued to be productive in his second game, versus the Miami Dolphins.
With an explosive burst off the line of scrimmage and a tremendous frame for an NFL defensive end, Chandler Jones has huge upside, but he was expected to be a raw project as a rookie. Instead, he looks ready to make a big impact right away.
At the four Patriots' training camp practices I attended, Jones made significant progress each time, and established himself as the Patriots’ most talented defensive end and a player who can bring pressure off the edge and cause problems for opposing offensive lines.
Jones continued his good run in the Patriots’ first preseason game versus the New Orleans Saints. On multiple occasions, Jones beat Saints left tackle Jermon Bushrod, a Pro Bowler last season, to bring pressure against Saints' quarterback Drew Brees.
By getting it done against one of the NFL’s top left tackles, and making one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks uncomfortable, Jones showed glimpses of how good he actually can be right away. Jones has received more reps than any other defensive end in Patriots' camp, and he appears in line for major playing-time and to contribute right away in Foxborough.
Chandler Jones was not the only defensive player to make a big impact in the Patriots-Saints preseason opener. The other was middle linebacker Curtis Lofton, who is entering his first season with the Saints after playing the first four years of his career with the Atlanta Falcons.
Lofton is entering a very important role with the Saints, as he will fill in for Jonathan Vilma, who is suspended for the entire season, as the team’s starting middle linebacker. Lofton certainly looks ready to take on the role.
In his first game against the Patriots, Lofton had six total tackles and a fumble recovery, and only played early in the game. Lofton showed his instincts, was always around the football, and appeared to have taken on the leadership role already that they need him to take.
Lofton had another strong performance in limited action in his second game versus the Jacksonville Jaguars, finishing up with five total tackles.
Another rookie pass-rusher who got off to a very good start in his first preseason game was Melvin Ingram, who looked immediately to be a natural fit to play the outside linebacker position in the Chargers’ 3-4 defense, after having been a defensive end in college at South Carolina.
Ingram’s big play of his first preseason game, against the Green Bay Packers, came when he ran a perfect circle pass rush right around Packers backup left tackle Herb Taylor to hit quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The hit forced Rodgers’ throw to hang up in the air and end up in the middle of the field, straight to Chargers defensive back Antoine Cason for an interception.
Throughout the game, Ingram looked natural moving laterally as a linebacker must, as well as with dropping into coverage. While the transition to outside linebacker may present tougher challenges when the regular season begins, he appears well on his way to making a big impact as a rookie.
The “Madden Curse” struck again last season. Peyton Hillis, then a running back for the Cleveland Browns and featured on the cover of Madden NFL 12, had a disappointing year, playing only 10 games and managing only 587 yards, a significant drop-off from the 1,177 yards he gained in 2010.
Hillis got off to a good start in limited action in his first preseason game, versus the Arizona Cardinals, running for 41 yards on just four carries, while also gaining 11 yards on a pass reception. The highlight of his game came on a 28-yard run up the right side, where Hillis showed the speed he had in the 2010 season rather than his disappointing form last season.
When Hillis is at his best, he is a hard-running power back with deceptive speed, and is a very solid receiver out of the backfield. While limited action in the preseason opener is not a strong indicator of how he will perform in the regular season, he looks to be back to the 2010 form that made him a player worth putting on the Madden cover.
Dan Hope is an NFL draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Hope.