The NFL's Most Improbable Success Stories to Make Rosters in 2022

Alex KayContributor IAugust 31, 2022

The NFL's Most Improbable Success Stories to Make Rosters in 2022

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    Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    NFL teams were required to submit their finals cuts on Tuesday, and there was no shortage of drama surrounding the deadline.

    While cut days are generally not for celebrating—ESPN's Adam Schefter noted that many of the 864 players that were released will not get another opportunity to play professional football—there are some great stories surrounding a few of the players who did make a 53-man roster.

    Some lesser-known talents managed to defy the odds by making a club's final roster. Many of these players weren't expected to amount to much more than camp bodies—players who fill out the 90-man roster for a few weeks before turning in their playbooks during one of the earlier cut rounds.

    With that in mind, here are some of the most improbable success stories of the 2022 NFL offseason.

Micah Abernathy, S, Green Bay Packers

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    Micah Abernathy #46 of the Green Bay Packers in action against the New Orleans Saints in the second half during a preseason game at Lambeau Field on August 19, 2022 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

    It's not often a player successfully makes the transition from the USFL to the NFL, but Micah Abernathy was one of the two players—along with KaVontae Turpin—to accomplish the feat this offseason.

    The Green Bay Packers brought Abernathy in on August 10 to fill out their depleted secondary in training camp. The odds were stacked against the 25-year-old to do anything more than provide a camp body for a few weeks, but Abernathy defied them to reach the 53-man roster.

    The Tennessee product recently told reporters how fortunate he was to get a real opportunity to shine in Titletown.

    "You don't want any guys to get hurt. That's not what you're hoping for," he said. "But you just try to make the most of your opportunities. I was able to play a lot more tonight because of injuries. Just try to make the most of it."

    Abernathy undoubtedly earned his spot on the team. He was one of Green Bay's most impressive playmakers in the preseason and had several highlight-worthy moments, including this incredible interception against the New Orleans Saints:

    Eli Berkovits @BookOfEli_NFL

    One of the best stories of the offseason, former USFL player Micah Abernathy has made the <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Packers?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Packers</a>' initial 53-man roster.<br><br>The way he played this preseason, he deserved that spot. <a href="https://t.co/8ylXXFoEBr">pic.twitter.com/8ylXXFoEBr</a>

    The safety will start his career as a depth option and special teams player behind starters Darnell Savage and Adrian Amos. If either player goes down, Abernathy could see some meaningful regular-season snaps.

    Regardless of how much he plays as a rookie, Abernathy showed he belongs in the NFL. It now remains to be seen if he can parlay his long-shot roster spot into a fruitful professional career.

Jared Bernhardt, WR, Atlanta Falcons

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    Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    No player may have a better story this offseason than Jared Bernhardt.

    After winning the Tewaaraton Award—given to the best collegiate lacrosse player in the country—with Maryland in 2021, Bernhardt transferred to play quarterback at Ferris State last season. With Bernhardt under center, the Bulldogs went undefeated on their way to the Division II title.

    Bernhardt then tried out for the Atlanta Falcons and just made the 53-man roster as a wide receiver, a position he only began playing in May.

    Despite the unfamiliarity, Bernhardt immediately looked like a natural fit at the wideout spot. He caught five passes for 102 yards and a touchdown during the preseason and made a lasting impression for his efforts during training camp.

    TLN 🥍 @LacrosseNetwork

    JARED BERNHARDT SCORES A TOUCHDOWN FOR THE <a href="https://twitter.com/AtlantaFalcons?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@ATLANTAFALCONS</a><br><br> (via <a href="https://twitter.com/nflnetwork?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@nflnetwork</a>)<br> <a href="https://t.co/UiCH9uK0Kd">pic.twitter.com/UiCH9uK0Kd</a>

    Bernhardt spoke about the challenge of going against NFL competition after playing lacrosse and quarterback in a lower tier of the college football ranks.

    "It's very difficult. You're at the top of the sports world, the elite of the elite. That's kind of what brought me to it, competing against the best," he told reporters. "I'm just trying to come out here and give it my all. That's all I can really ask for."

    While Bernhardt isn't projected to be a focal point for the Falcons right away, he could get some opportunities to showcase his versatile talents early on.

    The club has little in the way of depth behind first-round pick Drake London and veteran Bryan Edwards, one of the only proven talents in this razor-thin receiving corps. If Olamide Zaccheaus, Damiere Byrd and KhaDarel Hodge disappoint, Bernhardt could quickly step in as the team's No. 3 receiver.

Luke Masterson, LB, Las Vegas Raiders

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    Luke Masterson #59 of the Las Vegas Raiders looks on during a preseason NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium on August 20, 2022 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images)

    The Las Vegas Raiders needed to bolster their thin linebacking corps this offseason and found a way to accomplish that goal in a rather unlikely way. The team has some depth at the position now that Luke Masterson—an undrafted free agent—has officially made Vegas' 53-man roster.

    The rookie out of Wake Forest arrived at training camp earlier in the summer with little fanfare. While he made 31 starts and played in 48 games for the Demon Deacons since 2017, the converted safety only had one collegiate interception.

    He already matched that number during the preseason, picking off Mac Jones when the Raiders faced the New England Patriots last week.

    NFL @NFL

    Raiders rookie LB <a href="https://twitter.com/LukeMasterson12?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@LukeMasterson12</a> intercepts the pass 🙌<br><br>📱: Stream <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NEvsLV?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NEvsLV</a> Tonight (8:15pm ET) on NFL+ <a href="https://t.co/d5LYQkaShD">https://t.co/d5LYQkaShD</a> <a href="https://t.co/7HeKWWesvO">pic.twitter.com/7HeKWWesvO</a>

    In addition to that pick, the 24-year-old finished his first NFL preseason with 21 tackles and a pass defense.

    He displayed excellent leadership and toughness in all four of the Raiders' exhibition matchups, assets that linebackers coach Antonio Pearce praised when discussing Masterson.

    "I think what he's really embraced more anything else has been – I call it the commander in front of the defense – leading those guys. I thought what he did the other night was really impressive. He was a very active kid in the game, right away. He was throwing his body around, talking about being physical. I thought he was physical, using his hands. He did a pretty good job tackling, only one missed tackle for him. Just that constant improvement."

    While Masterson isn't likely to see too many defensive snaps in 2022, he should be a valuable special teams player. Expect him to continue developing his craft as a backup and become a bigger contributor to Las Vegas' defense in the coming years.

Isiah Pacheco, RB, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Isiah Pacheco #10 of the Kansas City Chiefs runs with the football during the first quarter of a preseason game against the Green Bay Packers at Arrowhead Stadium on August 25, 2022 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images)

    Isiah Pacheco quietly joined the Kansas City Chiefs during the 2022 draft, coming aboard as a little-known seventh-round pick out of Rutgers.

    The running back has since made his name well known among Chiefs fans and could soon establish himself as a nationally recognized entity.

    Although he's part of a crowded backfield that includes Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Jerick McKinnon and Ronald Jones, the first-year talent could eventually carve out a sizable role in this committee. Kansas City is desperate for a playmaking back and hasn't exactly received strong returns on its first-round investment into CEH two years ago.

    Pachecho performed admirably during the preseason, posting a stat line of 66 yards on 16 carries and catching three passes for 21 yards.

    Brad Henson Productions @BradHensonPro

    Isiah Pacheco is going to be a problem for other teams! 🔥 <a href="https://t.co/MMcYgZiyau">pic.twitter.com/MMcYgZiyau</a>

    He's looked like one of the more dynamic weapons on a Chiefs offense that needs all the playmakers it can get after trading superstar receiver Tyreek Hill.

    Interestingly enough, Chiefs reporter Matt McMullen noted that Pacheco had never attended an NFL game until he made his preseason debut with the team in August.

    Now that he's made the Kansas City 53-man roster, he'll be attending—and playing in—plenty more.

Josh Ross, LB, Baltimore Ravens

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    Josh Ross #46 of the Baltimore Ravens celebrates after a Washington Commanders two point conversion attempt is denied during the second half of a preseason game at M&T Bank Stadium on August 27, 2022 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

    The Baltimore Ravens picked up some high-profile rookies during the 2022 NFL draft, but none have been making waves the way one of their undrafted free agents has during the preseason.

    Josh Ross has been a standout this offseason and was rewarded for his excellent play with a spot on the team's 53-man roster.

    Since arriving at training camp, Ross has been fantastic at sniffing out plays and delivering solid, hard hits when he gets to the ball. He's not only looked like Baltimore's best rookie defender this preseason but also one of the team's top overall defensive talents.

    PFF scored Ross' first two preseason performances at 93.0, an incredibly high mark that made him the highest-graded rookie in the league at that point.

    Although it's unlikely to directly translate to regular-season production, The Baltimore Sun's Jonas Shaffer pointed out that Ross averaged a tackle every 5.7 defensive snaps in his three preseason games.

    To put that stat in perspective, Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Foyesade Oluokun led the league last year with 192 tackles while playing for the Atlanta Falcons, averaging one every 6.0 defensive snaps.

    Defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald has been heaping high praise on the young linebacker.

    "Josh is just a great human being," Macdonald said to reporters. "He's mature, serious in the right way, thoughtful, very energetic, attacks everything that he goes about. He's a true Michigan man and also a Raven."

    Ross could be earning plenty more accolades and recognition if he emerges as a key member of Baltimore's linebacking corps this year.

Ryan Stonehouse, P, Tennessee Titans

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    Ryan Stonehouse #4 of the Tennessee Titans punts the ball during a preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals at Nissan Stadium on August 27, 2022 in Nashville, Tennessee. The Titans defeated the Cardinals 26-23. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

    The Tennessee Titans will have a new punter this season for the first time since 2009.

    After releasing Brett Kern on Monday—a move reported by ESPN's Adam Schefter—the Titans cleared the way for undrafted free agent Ryan Stonehouse to assume the starting job.

    Stonehouse's emergence was a surprising development during training camp. The Colorado State product usurped a player in Kern who had made three consecutive Pro Bowls between 2017-19 but had fallen off in 2021 with his lowest punt average in a half-decade.

    The rookie had little issues translating his impressive collegiate performances to the professional level. Stonehouse holds an NCAA record after averaging a whopping 47.8 yards per punt and had 106 of his 244 punts go for 50 or more yards.

    Head coach Mike Vrabel may have been impressed with Stonehouse's big leg but said after the Week 2 preseason game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that he wants to see his new starting punter improve his ability to pin opponents inside the 20.

    "That's something that he'll continue to always work on. And I think it is a skill, to go down there and make it hit and check. You see throughout the league, some of those footballs are laying on the 5-yard line and take a violent bounce into the end zone or the other ones that sit there and die soft."

    Finances may have also played a part in Tennessee's decision. Stonehouse is set to make just $705,000 this year, well below the $2.1 million Kern was slated to earn in 2022.

    Regardless, the 23-year-old showed enough potential during the preseason to earn his roster spot. It's never easy for a rookie to take over a key special teams job from an entrenched veteran, and Stonehouse deserves to be commended for making the cut.

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