NFL Players Thriving In New Situations Early In 2022 Preseason

Ian Wharton@@NFLFilmStudyFeatured Columnist IVAugust 17, 2022

NFL Players Thriving In New Situations Early In 2022 Preseason

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    Success in the NFL is often dictated by situation. Players sometimes need a change of scenery for their careers to take off.

    Some players have already started thriving on their new teams after a busy offseason. They'll solidify their standing over the next two weeks as franchises have to make cuts down to their final 53-man roster.

    Based on reports out of training camp and the first week of preseason action, we've identified five NFL players who are maximizing their opportunities with their new team.

Baker Mayfield, QB, Carolina Panthers

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    In early July, the Cleveland Browns traded quarterback Baker Mayfield to the Carolina Panthers for a conditional 2024 fourth- or fifth-round pick. It didn't take long for Mayfield to supplant incumbent signal-caller Sam Darnold as Carolina's presumptive favorite to start under center this season.

    Even with his penchant for risky throws, Mayfield is more accurate and creates more scoring opportunities for the offense than Darnold. The fifth-year veteran played well in his limited time on the field against the Washington Commanders in Week 1 of the preseason, as he went 4-of-7 for 45 yards and led the offense to a field goal.

    Mayfield's two completions on three third-down attempts stood out most considering the Panthers finished 29th in third-down conversions last year, per TeamRankings.

    The Panthers have yet to name a starter for their second preseason game, but Mayfield already has the job all but locked up. They don't appear interested in giving Darnold another chance after he went 4-7 as a starter last year while completing only 59.9 percent of his passing attempts for 2,527 yards, nine touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

    Look for Mayfield to officially win the starting job sooner than later.

Nick Mullens, QB, Las Vegas Raiders

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    After spending three seasons in San Francisco and one in Cleveland, Nick Mullens might have found himself a long-term home in Las Vegas with Josh McDaniels.

    The fifth-year veteran has gone 15-of-20 for 166 yards and one touchdown over two preseason games. He has the second-highest passer rating (115.8) of any passer with more than 17 attempts.

    Most notably, Mullens is showing more aggressiveness in attacking tight passing windows and avoiding turnover-worthy throws. He's been haunted by bad interceptions since entering the NFL in 2018.

    It's unclear whether that'll be enough to unseat Jarrett Stidham, whom the Raiders acquired from the New England Patriots in May. McDaniels spent the last three years coaching Stidham, so he has more history with him than with Mullens.

    Mullens has produced well for an undrafted free agent. He's completed 64.6 percent of his passes for 4,861 yards, 26 touchdowns and 22 interceptions across his four-year career.

    If the Raiders opt to carry only two quarterbacks, Mullens is at least showing that he's a capable backup for a contender needing an upgrade behind its starter.

Lil'Jordan Humphrey, WR, New England Patriots

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    The NFL has shifted to favoring quicker receivers who create separation within seconds. They help alleviate pressure on the quarterback as pass-rushers approach.

    There's value in having tall, powerful receivers if the quarterback will utilize them, though.

    Lil'Jordan Humphrey is a 6'4", 225-pound wideout who played 18 games with the New Orleans Saints over the past three seasons. He appeared to be only a training camp body after signing a one-year, $965,000 deal with the New England Patriots in mid-June, but that might be changing.

    The Patriots have possession receivers in DeVante Parker, Jakobi Meyers and Kendrick Bourne and two speedsters in Tyquan Thornton and Nelson Agholor. They might want to move off Agholor's bloated $14.8 million cap hit after he caught only 37 passes for 473 yards and three touchdowns last season, though.

    The Patriots could save $4.9 million against the cap by waiving Agholor or $9.9 million by trading him. Either way, moving him would open the door for Humphrey to make the final roster.

    With six catches for 62 yards and one touchdown in his first preseason game, Humphrey is making a loud statement that he belongs over his competition. He brings something unique to the table that no one else on the Patriots can replicate.

Arden Key, Edge, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    AP Photo/David Richard

    The Las Vegas Raiders drafted edge-rusher Arden Key with a third-round pick in 2018, but they released him last April after he racked up only 3.0 sacks across 37 games over his first three seasons. He then signed a one-year, $1.0 million deal with the San Francisco 49ers and proceeded to rack up a career-high 6.5 sacks despite being a rotational player.

    This offseason, Key signed a one-year, $4 million deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars shortly after free agency began. Alongside Josh Allen and 2022 No. 1 overall pick Travon Walker, he should be able to replicate his role from last season as a third pass-rusher.

    The Jaguars were tied for 27th in sacks last year despite having Allen and 2020 first-rounder K'Lavon Chaisson. The additions of Walker and Key should help bolster the unit.

    Thus far in the preseason, Key has made his case to beat out Chaisson for snaps. He notched two sacks in the Hall of Fame Game against the Las Vegas Raiders, showing great speed and surprising power.

    Key could prove to be one of the best value signings of the offseason.

Zach Pascal, WR, Philadelphia Eagles

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    The Philadelphia Eagles had to improve their passing game to reach their ceiling in 2022. Adding star wideout A.J. Brown was big for third-year quarterback Jalen Hurts, but the depth on the offense is underrated.

    Third-year wideout Jalen Reagor is having a solid training camp thus far, according to Bo Wulf of The Athletic, while veteran Zach Pascal is also emerging as a legitimate target.

    Pascal caught two passes for 41 yards, including a 32-yarder, in his preseason debut. Dave Spadaro of the team website called the 27-year-old "everything the Eagles hoped for and more" after they signed him this offseason to be a "do-everything, tough, physical, catch-in-traffic receiver who would be depth and leadership to a young wide receiver corps while also aiding on special teams."

    With a career 58.1 percent catch rate, 1,888 yards and 15 scores on 150 receptions, Pascal is far from a game-breaker. But since the Eagles' young receiving corps might be susceptible to inconsistent play, having Pascal in their back pocket is an underappreciated luxury.

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