NFL Preseason 2014: Standout Players from Early Exhibition Games

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NFL Preseason 2014: Standout Players from Early Exhibition Games
Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

The NFL preseason largely serves as a time-killer, paving a track from summer to full-fledged football in the fall. Most players are blowing off the dust, but others are turning heads by smoking the competition.

Sure, these stats won't mean a thing once Week 1 of the regular season rolls around. We also have to be careful about not reading too much into gaudy numbers amassed against inferior opponents. After all, some guys on the other side inevitably won't make the final cut.

Yet these young players all received attention before rising to the occasion in recent practice slates. One player in particular has already been relegated to the bench to start the season, but efforts like the ones seen in August will soon propel him to a starting role.

Let's take a closer look at three preseason standouts.

Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Minnesota Vikings

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But guys, what about that pro day? Teddy Bridgewater can't possibly succeed in the NFL without an amazing pro day, right?

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In his final season at Louisville, the highly touted quarterback completed a dazzling 71 percent of his passes, tossing 31 passing touchdowns to just four interceptions. Yet he somehow fell from top-pick candidate to the very end of the first round after his draft stock took an odd tumble.

The very early signs point to the Minnesota Vikings stealing a future franchise quarterback at pick No. 32. Through three preseason games, the rookie has completed 26 of 40 pass attempts with four touchdowns and no picks.

He especially astonished against the Arizona Cardinals, going 16-of-20 for 177 passing yards and two touchdown strikes.

It wasn't enough, however, to wrestle the starting spot away from Matt Cassel, who has also enjoyed a successful preseason. Fox Sports' Jay Glazer announced that the Vikings made up their mind on Monday.

Bridgewater took the news well, realizing his time will eventually come. Per the Star Tribune's Mark Craig:

"As I stated once I got drafted, I felt like this was the perfect situation for me,” Bridgewater said. “Right now, I’m just able to learn, sit back and continue to learn, but also learn and prepare myself as a starter because as a backup you’re one play away from being out there on the gridiron with the guys.”

If Cassel falters, that time could come within the opening half of the season. Unless the veteran reforms the Vikings into a playoff contender, expect the rookie to emerge under center sometime this year.

Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City Chiefs

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Last year, Jordan Cameron foreshadowed his breakout by wreaking havoc during the preseason. This time around, Travis Kelce could be the tight end spoiling his upcoming coming-out party in August.

The second-year pro still needs to pass Anthony Fasano on the Kansas City Chiefs' depth chart, but it's getting harder and harder for Andy Reid to ignore the blossoming playmaker he has in Kelce. The 24-year-old has reeled in 10 receptions for 185 yards and two touchdowns, a 43-yard score and a 69-yard trip to the end zone.

Per the team's official website, Reid is impressed with the early results, but he's still looking for more from him as a blocker.

He did a nice job on that route too. So, no I do like what he’s doing. He’s just got to keep coming with it and there’s more than just the route running. You got to be able to run block and then you got to detail all your work there. But, you sure got to give him credit for the effort that he’s giving in the pass game and he sure has a nice skill level.

Even if he's not yet a finished product, Kelce's deep-play capabilities are a major boon to an offense that relied almost exclusively on Jamaal Charles to move the chains. For Alex Smith's sake—and for savvy fantasy drafters who gambled on him with a late pick—Reid must find a way to regularly involve the young tight end this season.

Damontre Moore, DE, New York Giants

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Opposing quarterbacks used to tremble in their cleats when lining up against the New York Giants' thunderous defensive line. That changed last year when they recorded just 34 sacks, placing them in a three-way tie at No. 25.

Along with the return of Jason Pierre-Paul, the G-Men hope to have discovered another weapon to energize their pass rush in Damontre Moore, a 21-year-old selected in the third round last year.

After getting little playing time during his rookie season, Moore is making a case for a bigger role in 2014. He's tied with the Green Bay Packers' Jay Elliot for the preseason lead with four sacks, two of which he tallied in his last game against the New York Jets.

Reviewing the Giants vs. Jets preseason showdown, Pro Football Focus' Khaled Elsayed praised Moore as one of the game's breakout performers.

Starring in preseason again, Moore has a knack for making plays that catch the attention of anyone watching the game. Two more sacks and a fumble recovery, but showing he might be ready for a bigger part of the rotation, it was actually his work in the run game that earned the highest mark.

The New York Post's Paul Schwartz takes us into the mind of Moore, who has also recorded 11 tackles thus far.

He still has some maturing to do, as Tom Coughlin kicked him out of Monday's practice, but Moore is a young defender on the rise worth watching this year.

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