Winners and Losers of the 2013 NFL Preseason
You can't win the preseason, right?
Preseason records don't mean anything, but there's still plenty to watch out for when it comes to the games that don't matter. Individual matchups are the name of the game, and it's far easier to lose a job than it is to win one.
So, while the franchises may not actually care what their records are at the end of the four-game slate, it's more than possible to pick out the positives and negatives from the on-the-field play. Most importantly, the teams that come out healthiest at the end of preseason are set up for a much easier transition into the games that do matter.
WINNER: Nnamdi Asomugha
San Francisco 49ers fans, meet your new nickelback—Nnamdi Asomugha (According to the San Francisco Chronicle).
Now, if someone uttered that sentence a few years ago, cartwheels would have been executed all over Candlestick. Asomugha was one of the premier cornerbacks in the entire league for a number of years. Oakland Raiders fans will still claim his best seasons were better than Tampa Bay Buccaneers corner Darrelle Revis' (Note: They're wrong).
Sadly, that isn't who Asomugha is any longer, as he returns to the Bay Area. This was a true battle, and Tramaine Brock didn't give up easily. Of course, the only reason Asomugha is even in the position to take this role is the injury to Chris Culliver.
Hopefully, for both Asomugha and the 49ers, he'll regain some of his former magic and not resemble anything like the player who spent the last couple of years in Philadelphia.
LOSER: Arizona Cardinals Offensive Line
Remember that line in the intro slide about staying healthy?
Yeah, not so much for the Arizona Cardinals offensive line that lost first-round pick Jonathan Cooper for most, if not all, of the season with a broken fibula. He was slated to play left guard, which leaves a massive hole next to left tackle Levi Brown who needs all the help he can get.
On top of that injury, the line has underperformed to even the lowest of standards. Right tackle Eric Winston doesn't look comfortable (yet), and young players, like Nate Potter and Bobby Massie, haven't improved.
Maybe the real loser in this situation is wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Think what you will about quarterback Carson Palmer, but he's a much better option under center than anything Fitzgerald has had throwing to him in recent years. Now, the plans for a vertical offense might be stymied, as Palmer is going to get decked early and often in the tough NFC West.
WINNER: Eddie Lacy
Like Asomugha in San Francisco, Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy is getting an opportunity under rough circumstances, as DuJuan Harris was slated to be the team's lead running back. Harris' exit leaves the door wide-open for Lacy who should be able to take the door off the frame with his tough running style and bruising physique.
Lacy also benefits from the lackluster showing from Johnathan Franklin whom many (myself included) had pegged as the runner who might make the most immediate impact for the Packers. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has even wondered if Franklin's roster spot is secure.
Lacy, for his part, has had an up-and-down preseason with 35 yards on 16 carries (paid link), but offensive guard Josh Sitton (via ESPN's Rob Demovsky) thinks Lacy will be an important part of the Packers' 1-2 punch moving forward.
Look, defenses aren't crowding the box against quarterback Aaron Rodgers and that Packers receiving corps. It just isn't going to happen. So, Lacy should have more wide-open running lanes than he's every had before when the regular season begins. At that point, it's up to him to further shut out Franklin, Alex Green and James Starks and prove he's worthy of all the carries Green Bay can give him.
LOSER: Ryan Tannehill
I just feel sorry for Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
This is a talented passer on a team that floundered (get it?! see what I did there?!) last season. In year two, Tannehill should be taking steps forward, but it's hard to move forward at all, as one's offensive line is getting driven back like a team of sled dogs in reverse.
To add injury to insult, tight end Dustin Keller is out for the season after being slated for a role as both Tannehill's security blanket and the one guy who could draw coverage down the seam. That is happening no longer.
The running game also seems to be behind the eight ball a little bit, as Lamar Miller has established himself as the lead back, but it hasn't overwhelmed anyone. Meanwhile, Daniel Thomas and Mike Gillislee have been disappointments.
Without those tools, the addition of wide receiver Mike Wallace isn't going to amount to much improvement for Tannehill. He needs more, more that general manager Jeff Ireland wasn't able to give him through misspent picks and lack of focus. The Keller injury could be the straw that breaks the camel's back.
WINNER: Terrelle Pryor
Oakland Raiders (starting?) quarterback Terrelle Pryor is well on his way to proving me wrong with a fantastic preseason performance which outshone expectations for the young signal-caller—even though he had a bumpy Week 4 appearance.
Pryor finishes the preseason with a 59.5 passer rating, 221 yards passing, one touchdown and two interceptions. However, he also had 131 yards rushing. (via NFL.com)
Coming out of Ohio State, Pryor was as great an athlete, but as unpolished a passer as one could ask for outside of maybe Tim Tebow. He's still not going to make anyone think he's the next coming of Peyton Manning, but he does have a legitimate shot at beating out Matt Flynn in Oakland.
Think of it this way: By all estimation, the long-term starting quarterback for the Raiders probably isn't on the roster this year. Maybe it's Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Maybe it's a free-agent possibility like Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler. Either way, as of right now, it's not any of these guys.
But, if we're talking chances, Pryor has infinitely more physical tools than Flynn. That means there's, at least, a light at the end of the tunnel for him. It also means that the team is accomplishing something by starting him—even if the team's record is pure futility.
I've been one of Pryor's harshest critics in the NFL, but he should be the starter this season. He's earned it this preseason.
LOSER: The Rest of the Oakland Raiders
Yeah, about that whole "light at the end of the tunnel" thing...it's a pinhole, maybe.
The Raiders might be one of the least talented teams that has taken the field in our generation. To make matters worse, they've overhauled so much of the defense that the only chemistry this team will have is if they watch Breaking Bad together each week.
Offensive tackle Jared Veldheer getting hurt wasn't exactly ideal either. He's probably the Raiders' best player not named Darren McFadden, and he was going to help the latter put up big yardage in a new power-blocking scheme this season.
Now, the Raiders probably won't be able to run very well...or pass...or defend. So, their kicking and punter should still be pretty good. You know, exactly like just about every other Raiders team we've seen for the past decade—only worse.
WINNER: Kyle Long
Kyle Long wasn't supposed to be a first-round pick, but the Chicago Bears took that chance on the offensive-line prospect, and it's paying dividends.
So far, Long has been the Bears' best offensive lineman. He's overpowering in the run game and athletic enough to handle speed pass-rushers. Quarterback Jay Cutler has a lot of issues in protection still, but Long is a much-needed bright spot.
He's not only the best Bears offensive lineman, but he's been the highest-rated offensive lineman in the entire NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. That's quite the response to everyone (this columnist included) who thought Long was overdrafted.
LOSER: Rex Ryan
Rex Ryan is not an NFL head coach.
I mean, technically he is, but he's so clearly in over his head that it's clear he's on borrowed time. Ryan may be one of the best defensive coordinators of our generation, but the extra things it takes to lead a team elude him. Yes, he spent a lot of time heading to playoff games, but when the chips have been down, he's embarrassed himself with his usual aplomb.
The decision to throw quarterback Mark Sanchez back into harm's way was stupid, but it won't "get him fired" in the way many think it should. It's the preseason, people, c'mon now. However, it is more evidence added to the pile that Ryan thinks more with his diminished gut than he does with the space between his ears. It also is yet another example of that tactic backfiring horribly on him.
Ryan, by all rights, deserves to lead this team to its eventual 6-10 (ish) record. Then, mercifully, he needs to be gone.
WINNER: Kenbrell Thompkins and Zach Sudfeld
These guys just come out of the woodwork for quarterback Tom Brady, don't they?
Maybe, instead, the statement should be that Brady is able to do quite a lot with whatever flotsam he's handed at the skill positions.
Draftniks had tight end Zach Sudfeld painted as a possible contributor, but I don't think they expected such a large immediate role in the New England Patriots offense. He's not just a one-dimensional red-zone threat. No, he's playing the mini-Gronkowski role, and when the two are together, special things could happen. He's picked up over 100 yards receiving in the preseason, and that trend should continue in the weeks to come.
Wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins, on the other hand, came out of nowhere. After being undrafted out of Cincinnati, He's outshone some bigger names in the Patriots' receiving unit, has gained the trust of the Patriots quarterbacks with 166 yards receiving in the preseason, and should end up as a heavily targeted piece of the Patriots offense, even as a rookie.
All those people betting on doom and gloom for the Patriots this season need to learn not to bet against Brady, head coach Bill Belichick and their ability to make the most out of what they have.
WINNER: Michael Vick
Yes, just about every preseason roundup needs to include the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback battle.
Nick Foles had a chance. In the words of Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront, "He coulda been a contender." Instead, the team eventually had to move on from practices to games and Michael Vick did what he does best. No, not "get injured," although he's good enough at that negative facet to his game to make one believe that Foles will still play some important minutes this season.
Vick is energized. He's clearly bought in to head coach Chip Kelly's offense and tempo. He's passed for 383 yards and rushed for 73 more this preseason. Vick is tailor-made for the scheme and still has enough athleticism to pressure defenses with his feet. Even if he doesn't put up huge yards on the ground, he can make defenders think, and that opens up bigger passes down the field.
The Eagles are not going to win a ton of games this season, but if Vick can stay healthy, they'll be a tougher out than many of us thought heading into the preseason.
Michael Schottey is the NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff at The Go Route.