NFL Preseason Player Stock Watch Heading into Week 4
We are entering the final week of the 2014 NFL preseason, and history suggests that very few starting players will see significant action during the Week 4 slate of games.
This certainly does not mean, however, that every roster position has been solidified or that every important decision has been made.
There will be plenty of opportunities for players to make one final statement before the 2014 regular season gets underway. With that in mind, it's time for us to take a look at some of the most notable names—and their respective situations—heading into this year's last group of exhibition contests.
Each player on our list will be examined and his stock rated based on the direction of momentum heading into the fourth and final week of the preseason.
Browns QB Brian Hoyer
However, Hoyer has done very little thus far in the preseason to actually earn the right to begin the regular season under center.
Through the first three weeks of the preseason, Hoyer has gone a disappointing 18-of-36 for 192 yards with one touchdown and an interception.
"Brian knows he needs to get better, needs more live-game reps," head coach Mike Pettine said of Hoyer, via Mary Kay Cabot of The Plain Dealer. "And that's the one positive thing about having a short week, we know we didn't play well, but we can go out there Thursday and get the bad taste out of our mouths."
According to ESPN.com's Jim Trotter, the Browns starters will see some light work in the preseason finale against the Chicago Bears. This means that Hoyer will have one last chance to show improvement before taking the field against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the regular-season opener.
If he fails to do so, or if rookie Johnny Manziel manages to shine, Hoyer is likely to enter the season on a very short leash.
Bengals RB Jeremy Hill
Cincinnati Bengals running back Jeremy Hill has quietly had one of the more impressive preseason campaigns among NFL rookies.
So far, Hill has racked up 100 yards rushing on 21 carries (4.8 yards-per-carry average) and has added four receptions for 23 yards.
"He's worthy of playing with [the starters]," offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said of Hill before Cincinnati's third preseason game, per Richard Skinner of The Cincinnati Enquirer.
Hill did indeed see time with the first team on Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals, and he responded with 58 yards of total offense on 14 touches.
Hill will likely get another chance to impress on Thursday night against the Indianapolis Colts. Barring an unforeseen development, expect him to continue his impressive preseason run and ride it to a significant regular-season role behind incumbent Giovani Bernard.
Steelers RBs Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount
It has been nearly a week since Pittsburgh Steelers running backs Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount were pulled over together and arrested on marijuana charges.
While both backs did play in the Steelers' third preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles, there is still a chance that disciplinary action could be coming from the team.
"There are parts of this that are going to have to go through the legal process and the league review process," Steelers president Art Rooney II told ESPN.com's Scott Brown on Monday. "We'll just have to deal with it as that process unfolds."
Head coach Mike Tomlin benched former Steelers wideout Santonio Holmes for a game in 2008 after the receiver was arrested on similar charges. This suggests that Bell and Blount could face internal discipline even if the league decides that no such action is necessary or fails to act during the 2014 season.
Either way, it appears that the tandem has created an unneeded distraction as Pittsburgh tries to prepare for the regular season.
Redskins QB Kirk Cousins
While Washington Redskins starting quarterback Robert Griffin III has been inconsistent thus far in the preseason (13-of-20 for 141 yards with two interceptions), backup Kirk Cousins has been comparatively impressive (35-of-54 for 370 yards and four scores).
In fact, Cousins seemingly outplayed Griffin during the team's Week 3 matchup against the Baltimore Ravens to the point that commentator Joe Theismann declared that Cousins deserves to be the starter.
Via The Washington Post's Dan Steinberg, Theismann said:
Kirk Cousins has played much better at the quarterback position than Robert Griffin III has. Now, Robert is learning to work out of a pocket. He doesn’t look as smooth or as comfortable throwing the football. I mean, your eyes will tell you everything you need to know.
Now, if there was a quarterback competition, it wouldn’t be a competition. Kirk Cousins would be the man I believe he would have to go to, because of the efficiency with which he has run [the offense].
Barring the severely unexpected, Cousins won't have an opportunity to take over the starting job before the start of the regular season. That said, another impressive exhibition performance could leave a lasting impression.
Should Griffin struggle during the regular season, the front office in Washington may find it difficult not to think back to Cousins' preseason campaign and at least consider a quarterback change.
Titans RB Bishop Sankey
Tennessee Titans rookie Bishop Sankey heads into the regular season with at least relatively high expectations after being the first running back selected in this year's draft.
However, Sankey has struggled with both efficiency and consistency so far in the preseason and could need a big game in Week 4 to secure a sizable role with the offense early in the season.
Through three preseason games, Sankey has averaged just 3.2 yards per carry and has fumbled away the football once. He has also had difficulty trying to earn reps with the starting offense.
ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky believes the Titans must make it a priority to get Sankey some work against a first-team defense when facing the Minnesota Vikings on Thursday night.
The problem is that Sankey has done little to inspire confidence while going primarily against backups. He is currently ranked 136th among all running backs for the preseason, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Rams DE Michael Sam
St. Louis Rams rookie defensive end Michael Sam survived the team's first round of cuts made Monday and Tuesday.
The sheer amount of depth along the St. Louis defensive line could make it difficult for Sam to remain on the final 53-man roster at the end of the preseason. However, assuming he remains on the roster for the Rams' final preseason game against the Miami Dolphins, Sam should at least be able to find a job somewhere in the NFL this season.
With five tackles and three sacks, Sam has shown this preseason that he has the skills to compete at the professional level and that he has enough pass-rush ability to at least make a practice squad as a developmental player.
His two sacks of Cleveland quarterback Johnny Manziel in Week 3 should certainly have helped draw attention to Sam's ability for those who weren't paying attention before.
Another strong showing in the Rams' preseason finale should be enough land Sam a legitimate opportunity, even if it isn't in St. Louis.
Giants WR Odell Beckham
The New York Giants generated plenty of excitement when the team decided to select former LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. with the 12th overall pick in May's draft.
Unfortunately, Giants fans haven't really had a meaningful look at the rookie since the night he was drafted.
Beckham suffered a hamstring injury on the first day of Giants training camp and has not participated in a full practice since. Naturally, he has not appeared in any of New York's first four preseason games.
According to Giants head coach Tom Coughlin, there will not be any Beckham sightings in the preseason finale either.
"He's not going to play," Coughlin said after Monday's practice, according to ESPN.com's Dan Graziano. "Have you seen him practice? How about practicing first?"
This is surely disappointing news for fans hoping that Beckham would be able to make an immediate impact for the Giants offense in 2014.