Breakout Players to Keep an Eye on for Rest of NFL Preseason
The first week of the 2015 NFL preseason provided the ideal stage for a number of young, breakout stars.
The second week will tell us if those performances were real or fool's gold.
In the following slides, we will look back at some of the surprises from Week 1 that need monitoring during the second round of preseason games. These players either made a big splash in their NFL debuts or looked like improved players for 2015. Can they keep the momentum rolling in Week 2 and through the rest of the preseason?
WR Fred Williams, Kansas City Chiefs: Will a splash opener (82 yards, touchdown) result in a bigger role for the young receiver?
RB Zach Zenner, Detroit Lions: The former FCS star looked like he belonged against the New York Jets.
OLB Dezman Moses, Kansas City Chiefs: He may have been the most destructive defensive player during the first week of preseason.
ILB Ben Heeney, Oakland Raiders: The rookie inside linebacker was all over the field (eight tackles, one sack) against the St. Louis Rams.
OT Cyrus Kouandjio, Buffalo Bills: He can earn a starting spot with more strong showings this preseason.
OL La'el Collins, Dallas Cowboys
La'el Collins, who signed with the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted free agent, is not to be trifled with.
San Diego Chargers linebacker Chi Chi Ariguzo found out the hard way during the first preseason week. This Vine from Mike Leslie of WFAA-TV highlighted the destruction.
The rest of Collins' performance was equally as impressive. According to Pro Football Focus, Collins finished the first preseason week with the second-highest grade among guards. He allowed two quarterback hurries over 51 snaps, but he was dominant in run blocking.
In fact, Collins has some thinking he could be destined for the first-team line.
"So far, Ron Leary has been taking all the first-team reps at left guard and hasn’t done anything to lose his starting job," wrote Brandon George of the Dallas Morning News. "But Collins was so dominant at times against the Chargers that you wonder if the Cowboys will start to give him some of Leary’s first-team reps to see how he looks in team drills against the Cowboys' defensive starters."
CB Quinten Rollins, Green Bay Packers
The former college point guard looks right at home on the gridiron.
Rollins—a second-round pick of the Green Bay Packers and former four-year starter on the Miami (Ohio) University basketball team—used his NFL debut against the New England Patriots to show he's more than capable of holding his own on a football field. After entering the contest in the second quarter, Rollins disrupted a back-shoulder attempt, nearly intercepted two deep throws, blew up running back James White in the flat and knifed through to help wreck a receiver screen.
He wasn't impressed.
"I did what I was supposed to do," Rollins said, per Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com. "We've been out here doing this the whole OTAs and then training camp. We're supposed to cover; that's what we did.”
Rollins may now have an opportunity to win more snaps with the Packers first-team defense. Sam Shields is locked in at one starting spot, but Casey Hayward (quad) and Damarious Randall (groin) have both been bothered by injuries.
Rollins should see plenty of snaps Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Another standout performance will help inch him closer to a major role on the Packers defense.
WR Greg Salas, Detroit Lions
Greg Salas is no stranger to catching passes.
A former fourth-round pick of the Rams back in 2011, Salas once caught 225 passes over his final two collegiate seasons at Hawaii. Those production levels have never translated to the NFL level, but his eye-catching stat line in the Lions preseason opener isn't being discounted.
According to Justin Rogers of MLive.com, the Lions are giving Salas some work with the first-team offense after he caught five passes for 92 yards and a score against the Jets last Thursday. Detroit may be set at the first two receiver spots—Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate aren't going anywhere—but more big games this preseason could give Salas a chance to win snaps as the offense's No. 3 receiver.
Corey Fuller, Jeremy Ross and Lance Moore are far from invincible. Salas knows the preseason provides the stage for winning jobs.
"It’s super important," Salas said, via Tim Twentyman of the team's official site. "Practice makes perfect, but you have to get out there and do it on the stage, and you’ve got to be able to perform in games."
RB Josh Robinson, Indianapolis Colts
Strap on your bowling shoes, because Indianapolis Colts rookie running back Josh Robinson has never met a pin (or would-be tackler) he doesn't think he can run over.
During his NFL debut, Robinson bowled over a few Philadelphia Eagles defenders on his way to 44 rushing yards and a score.
"I was just out there trying to be J-Rob," Robinson told reporters, via Stephen Holder of the Indianapolis Star. "I was just doing what the bowling ball do."
The bowling ball remains an apt nickname for the 5'8", 217-pound rookie. At Mississippi State, Robinson was one of the most difficult running backs in the nation to get on the ground. While he wasn't facing the starting defense of the Eagles, it certainly looks like his best trait—staying upright—will translate to the NFL level.
According to Pro Football Focus, Robinson forced four missed tackles and averaged 2.6 yards after contact in Philadelphia. As an added bonus, he also caught one pass for 11 yards and looked confident in pass protection.
If Robinson can bowl through the Chicago Bears defense Saturday, the Colts will have to think long and hard about making him Frank Gore's primary backup.
S Ed Reynolds, Philadelphia Eagles
For the Eagles, the emergence of a young player could help fill a gaping void within Chip Kelly's defense.
Safety Ed Reynolds, who spent last season on Philadelphia's practice squad, intercepted two passes and made a big hit on special teams during the Eagles' win over the Colts in the preseason opener. The 2014 fifth-round pick has positioned himself to win a job for a position group lacking many concrete answers.
“I thought he showed up today,” Kelly said, via Phil Sheridan of ESPN.com. “He showed up, not only two interceptions but had a big tackle on the kickoff return after that touchdown late in the game. I think he's a guy that's pushing to make the 53-man roster and I'm happy for him right now."
According to Pro Football Focus, no safety graded out better in Week 1 than Reynolds.
The breakout should give Reynolds an opportunity to play more meaningful snaps this preseason. Can he continue making plays when facing a quarterback other than Colts rookie Bryan Bennett?
LB Frank Clark, Seattle Seahawks
It didn't take long for Seattle Seahawks rookie Frank Clark to make his mark in an NFL game. In fact, he needed just one snap.
On his first play from scrimmage, Clark knifed through the Denver Broncos offensive line and corralled running back C.J. Anderson for a loss. The football also squirted loose for a fumble, although the Broncos recovered.
The rest of Clark's performance followed the same script.
According to Pro Football Focus, Clark finished with one quarterback hit and two hurries as a pass-rusher, while also turning in five "stops," or tackles constituting an offensive failure.
Danny Kelly of Field Gulls had a thorough breakdown of Clark's impressive debut. The rookie made splash play after splash play. He also impressed his head coach.
"And what (Pete) Carroll pointed out was how much 'variety' Clark had in his production: He was quick off the edge, chased down running backs from the back side, forced a fumble, was laterally quick to get to running plays inside and rushed from both outside and inside," wrote Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times.
The Seahawks take on the Kansas City Chiefs on Friday. Keep an eye out for No. 55.
WR Tyler Lockett, Seattle Seahawks
Pete Carroll must be thrilled with his club's first two picks in the 2015 draft.
While second-rounder Frank Clark blew up the Broncos offense, third-round pick Tyler Lockett made a similar grand entrance.
Lockett didn't get a target as a receiver, but he did use his special teams opportunity to help show why Seattle moved up to take the 182-pound playmaker with the 69th overall pick. Lockett returned four kicks for 186 yards, including a 46-yard burst in the first quarter and a 103-yard score late in the first half. He also made a deft move to avoid a hoard of defenders on an 18-yard punt return.
"He lit it up in kickoff return, punt return," head coach Pete Carroll said, via Brady Henderson of ESPN.com. "It was great to see that. We all know that's exactly what we were hoping to see. He looked very special tonight."
Seattle appears to have fixed its issues in the return game, as Lockett may already be one of the NFL's best returners. Now the questions is if the Seahawks unleash the third-round pick as a receiver Friday against the Chiefs.
QB Brock Osweiler, Denver Broncos
A glimpse at life after Peyton Manning wasn't so bad for the Denver Broncos.
Backup Brock Osweiler—a potential replacement for Manning once the future Hall of Famer retires—started against the Seahawks in the preseason opener and completed 15 of his 20 passes for 151 yards and one touchdown.
The Broncos second-round pick in 2012 led five straight scoring drives in the first half.
"I was really impressed," head coach Gary Kubiak said, via Troy Renck of the Denver Post. "We tried to settle him down the first couple of series. Then we let him go and throw it around a little bit. Once he did that he got in rhythm. I thought he made some really nice plays. He made good decisions all night long."
Osweiler's lone touchdown pass capped off an 81-yard drive in the two-minute drill. The 17-yard score to tight end Virgil Green was his last throw of the night.
Osweiler won't be unseating Manning as the starter in 2015, but No. 18 won't be around in Denver forever. Maybe this preseason will be the setting for Osweiler to prove he can take over for the Broncos once Manning is gone. His next test comes Saturday against the Houston Texans.
DT Carl Davis, Baltimore Ravens
Injuries along the defensive line allowed the Baltimore Ravens to get a good, long look at third-round pick Carl Davis in the preseason opener.
The rookie didn't disappoint.
Davis muscled his way to three stops, one quarterback hit and a batted pass in his NFL debut against the New Orleans Saints, per Pro Football Focus. He played 41 snaps and finished as Baltimore's second-highest-graded defensive player.
“He played a bunch of snaps, played them all hard,” head coach John Harbaugh said, per Garrett Downing of the team's official site. “Basically, we played him until he cramped up at the end, and we finally dragged him off the field and let someone else go in and play.”
Despite losing Haloti Ngata in the offseason, the Ravens defensive line could still be a good one in 2015. Davis and fellow youngsters Timmy Jernigan and Brandon Williams look like a strong core. The group will take on the Eagles Saturday.
RB Ameer Abdullah, Detroit Lions
We saved the best for last.
Hype met reality during the Lions' preseason opening win over the Jets, which served as a showcase debut for rookie running back Ameer Abdullah. The Jets had all kinds of problems handling the second-round pick, who rushed for 67 yards on seven carries.
Afterward, Jets head coach Todd Bowles offered the rookie back the ultimate compliment.
"He's quick as a cat," Bowles said, via Kyle Meinke of MLive.com. "He's about as quick as Barry Sanders. I'm not saying he is Barry, but he's a good running back. He made us miss today."
Abdullah's highlight play came when he juked Jets linebacker Demario Davis and burst through an open space for a 45-yard scamper. The agility and explosion in the play was awe-inspiring. Still, the Lions are going to make him earn playing time.
According to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, Abdullah is still listed as the No. 2 back on the Lions depth chart behind Theo Riddick. Veteran Joique Bell will also compete for carries once he returns from injury.
Another electrifying performance from Abdullah against Washington on Thursday night and the depth chart won't matter much.