Who's Hot, Who's Not After NFL Preseason Week 3?
Three weeks into the preseason, and we've already seen the "hype train" leave the station for some players. Of course, it didn't even take three weeks for others.
It is just the preseason, after all. Remember when the Detroit Lions went 4-0 in the 2008 preseason only to finish the regular season 0-16? Still, it's worth noting when players thrive or struggle.
Who has been heating up the last few weeks, and who has fallen apart? Let's take a look at a few from "Column A" and a few from "Column B."
Hot: Terrelle Pryor, Quarterback, Oakland Raiders
His first game against the Dallas Cowboys was just the opening act. He went 6-of-10 for 88 yards and an interception, adding 31 yards on three rushes on the ground.
Against the New Orleans Saints in the second game, Pryor took a step back passing (1-of-5, nine yards), but he still added 15 yards on four runs.
It was his third game, alluded to above, where he really made his mark. In stark contrast to Flynn, who we will get to shortly, Pryor went 7-of-9 for 93 yards and a touchdown, along with 37 yards rushing on four carries with a touchdown on the ground.
In a season where Oakland figures to struggle, starting Pryor at QB would make sense. After all, he's still only 24 years old.
Not: Matt Flynn, Quarterback, Oakland Raiders
Last year, Matt Flynn lost out on the Seattle Seahawks starting quarterback job to rookie sensation Russell Wilson. It could be more of the same this year, though this time it won't be a rookie taking his job.
In addition to not having the mobility Pryor possesses, Flynn's arm has been shaky in the preseason.
He went 4-of-5 for 37 yards against the Dallas Cowboys, 12-of-16 for 124 yards and a touchdown versus the New Orleans Saints, and 3-of-6 for 19 yards and two interceptions against the Chicago Bears.
Now, according to Jerry McDonald of the Jan Jose Mercury News, Flynn will miss the final preseason game against the Seahawks with tendinitis in his throwing arm. With the position a toss-up, this injury could tip things in favor of Pryor.
Hot: Ryan Spadola, Wide Receiver, New York Jets
Things are looking bleak on offense for the New York Jets.
Geno Smith, who is battling with Sanchez for the starting spot at QB, hasn't impressed thus far in the preseason. Against the Giants, he went 16-of-30 for 199 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.
Then again, it's not easy to make plays when the running game isn't making an impact (39 total yards vs. Giants) and Stephen Hill is the No. 1 wideout.
Enter undrafted rookie Ryan Spadola out of Lehigh University.
He has been the Jets' top contributor at wide receiver, recording seven catches, 169 yards and a touchdown in three preseason games. His best game came in the last one versus the Giants: three catches, 110 yards, one touchdown.
Not: Ronnie Hillman, Running Back, Denver Broncos
Through three preseason games, Denver Broncos running back Ronnie Hillman has fumbled three times, two of which were recovered by the opposition.
In the Broncos' third preseason game against the St. Louis Rams, Hillman fumbled in the second quarter. The ensuing play was brought back for a touchdown, giving St. Louis a 17-7 lead at the time.
Prior to that, Hillman fumbled near the end zone against the Seattle Seahawks, and that too was returned for a score (the Broncos went on to lose that game 40-10).
It won't matter what kind of numbers Hillman puts up if he can't hold onto the ball. Head coach John Fox will not allow Peyton Manning, Wes Welker, Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas to sit on the sidelines because of offensive turnovers.
Montee Ball and Knowshon Moreno are no slouches, and either would be a capable starter in Denver.
Hot: Christine Michael, Running Back, Seattle Seahawks
Though Christine Michael has Marshawn Lynch in front of him on the Seattle Seahawks depth chart and is competing with Robert Turbin for snaps as his backup, the 22-year-old rookie out of Texas A&M has been very impressive during the preseason.
Against the San Diego Chargers in the first week, he led the team in carries and yards (16 and 89, respectively). After missing the second game against the Denver Broncos with back spasms, he tore it up against the Green Bay Packers in the third preseason game.
In a 17-10 win at Green Bay, Michael registered 97 yards on 11 carries and a touchdown on the ground. He also added 25 receiving yards for good measure.
Should Lynch miss any time this season, Michael should be the go-to option at running back. He needs to work on his pass protection, but it's evident that he's a more effective runner than Turbin.
Not: Carson Palmer, Quarterback, Arizona Cardinals
We already knew that being the starting quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals was a rough gig, but Carson Palmer doesn't look capable of leading this team to anything other than a fourth-place finish in the brutal NFC West.
The 33-year-old journeyman went 4-of-6 for 77 yards and one touchdown against the Green Bay Packers in the first week, followed that up with a 7-of-15, 66-yard effort against the Dallas Cowboys, and finished the third game against the San Diego Chargers with a 12-of-23, 122-yard, one-touchdown showing.
As we know, Palmer offers just about nothing as a runner, so he needs to be able to beat teams with his arm. He hasn't proven himself capable thus far.
To make matters worse, Cardinals left guard Jonathan Cooper is out indefinitely after breaking his left leg against the Chargers. Losing the rookie out of North Carolina, taken No. 7 overall in the 2013 draft, will be a big blow for Palmer and the team.
Hot: Kenbrell Thompkins, Wide Receiver, New England Patriots
Be honest—have you ever heard of Kenbrell Thompkins before the third game of the preseason?
The New England Patriots wide receiver, 25 years old and undrafted out of the University of Cincinnati, had a game to remember against the Detroit Lions in the third preseason game.
Of course, New England lost that game 40-9, but that wasn't because of Thompkins' play. He led the team with eight receptions and 116 yards. He was also targeted a game-high 12 times.
With Wes Welker out of town, Aaron Hernandez out of the picture, Brandon Lloyd still without a team and Rob Gronkowski not certain to be back for Week 1, Tom Brady is going to need targets to throw to. Perhaps Thompkins can continue his inspired play into the regular season.
Not: Greg Jennings, Wide Receiver, Minnesota Vikings
Perhaps we are just looking too much into the preseason with listing seven-year veteran Greg Jennings in the "not" section. The Minnesota Vikings, who made the playoffs last season, are 0-3 and have been outscored 81-43 thus far.
After missing the first game against the Houston Texans, Jennings recorded one catch for five yards against the Buffalo Bills and two receptions for 24 yards against the San Francisco 49ers.
He is coming off his least productive season as a pro, one in which he missed half the season with injuries. It remains to be seen if the former Pro Bowler will be able to get back to the 1,000-yard-plus level he used to enjoy with the rival Green Bay Packers.
One thing is for sure: Going from Aaron Rodgers to Christian Ponder is certainly an adjustment.
Hot: Jared Cook, Tight End, St. Louis Rams
Though the St. Louis Rams are 0-3 in the preseason, tight end Jared Cook should be a big asset for Sam Bradford in the passing game this season.
Acquired in the offseason from the Tennessee Titans, the 26-year-old has made an impact thus far in preseason action. In his most recent game against the Denver Broncos, Cook had four receptions for 50 yards and a touchdown.
After losing Danny Amendola in free agency, St. Louis is going to need its new addition at tight end to be a presence in the passing game, especially in the red zone. At 6'5'', 248 pounds, Cook could be in line for a breakout year in a new system.
Not: Bernard Pierce, Running Back, Baltimore Ravens
The prevailing thought is that Bernard Pierce is a very capable backup to Ray Rice for the Baltimore Ravens. In fact, if he was playing for a team that didn't feature such a well-rounded back, perhaps he'd even be a starter.
Aside from a 20-yard run in his first game of the preseason against the Tamp Bay Buccaneers, Pierce has struggled to produce. He missed the second game against the Atlanta Falcons with a left knee sprain, and maybe that was affecting him versus the Carolina Panthers.
He totaled just seven yards on 10 carries and also lost a fumble.
He will still be Rice's backup in the regular season, and the Ravens will be hoping he can show something in the final preseason game against the St. Louis Rams.
Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at Footballguys.com and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.