Preseason standouts: What’s next?
With no stakes and limited implementation of teams’ schemes, the NFL preseason often can feel like a throwaway. But it also can serve as a stage for several of the league’s promising young stars to show what they’re capable of.
Thursday marks the end of the preseason schedule, with many teams holding their starters out of action.
Ahead of the finales, we look at 10 players who stood out in the preseason and assess what could be ahead for them once the regular season begins.
DESHONE KIZER, QB, CLEVELAND BROWNS
Two weeks after his quarterbacks coach said he wasn’t ready for the top job, the second-round pick from Notre Dame impressed head coach Hue Jackson so much that he was named the Week 1 starter. Kizer’s raw numbers (including a 6-for-18 passing performance in his third outing) weren’t impressive, but he established himself as the best playmaker for the offense.
What’s next: Kizer will become the 27th starting quarterback for the Browns since they returned to the NFL in 1999, and he should have considerable license to play through mistakes after Jackson said the rookie’s designation was permanent. He should jolt an offense that only had 15 passing touchdowns in 2016 but needs to be more consistent and make better decisions to make progress.
CHRISTIAN MCCAFFREY, RB, CAROLINA PANTHERS
Considered a front-runner for offensive rookie of the year, the No. 8 overall pick has met the immense expectations facing him this summer. He racked up 72 total yards and a touchdown in his second preseason outing and has comfortably split first-team reps with Jonathan Stewart.
What’s next: McCaffrey’s full role within the offense is likely yet to be revealed. In addition to operating in a backfield timeshare with Stewart, he should take on a more vital function in the passing game as a checkdown option for Cam Newton, who was limited earlier in training camp while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. McCaffrey will have to establish a rapport with Newton, but he could be integral to Carolina’s plan to take some of the burden off the former MVP.
DALVIN COOK, RB, MINNESOTA VIKINGS
The former Florida State standout made a smooth transition to his new surroundings, making the most of his first-team reps while Latavius Murray was out with an ankle injury. Cook also proved to be an all-purpose threat with solid work as a receiver and a pass blocker.
What’s next: Murray is back, but every indication shows that Cook has a runway to the starting job. After scoring 48 touchdowns over three years in college, Cook brings a big-play facet to a team dedicated to improving the league’s worst rushing attack in 2016.
KAREEM HUNT, RB, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
A third-round pick from Toledo, he quickly made his mark in Kansas City. He had 63 yards on 11 carries in the second preseason game.
What’s next: With Spencer Ware expected to miss the season with a knee injury, Chiefs coach Andy Reid said Hunt will take on the featured back role. Working in a solid offense, he should be in for a substantial workload and could be one of the year’s breakout players.
CHRIS CARSON, RB, SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
The seventh-round pick from Oklahoma State quickly displayed a skill set that belied his draft status. Carson has steadily earned more reps in the running back rotation, and he notched 90 total yards on 10 touches in the third preseason game.
What’s next: It’s important to keep the hype pumping out of Seattle in perspective after Christine Michael’s “awakening ” last preseason resulted in the running back being waived in November. Carson finds himself behind Eddie Lacy, Thomas Rawls and C.J. Prosise, but all three have had trouble staying healthy.
TAYWAN TAYLOR, WR, TENNESSEE TITANS
No. 5 overall pick Corey Davis was sidelined for most of August with a hamstring injury. Taylor, a third-round selection from Western Kentucky, took the opportunity to step up and give Tennessee an explosive new dimension in the passing game. He has averaged 18.1 yards per catch, and teammate Brice McCain compared him to Indianapolis Colts standout T.Y. Hilton.
What’s next: With Davis and free agent acquisition Eric Decker back at practice, Taylor likely will be pushed down the depth chart. Early opportunities probably will be limited as he operates behind the other receivers and tight end Delanie Walker in a run-heavy offense. But Taylor presents a needed big-play threat from the slot and could become a more integral piece as the season progresses.
DEVANTE PARKER, WR, MIAMI DOLPHINS
It was easy to see why the Dolphins coaching staff talked up the former first-round pick all offseason. Parker showed the ability to capitalize on big-play strikes, including a 72-yard catchand-run in his third preseason game.
What’s next: He could become the biggest beneficiary of Jay Cutler stepping in as the starting quarterback after Ryan Tannehill suffered a season-ending knee injury. Cutler called the third-year wide receiver a faster version of Alshon Jeffery, his for- mer Chicago Bears teammate. Parker has been Cutler’s favorite target, and he should thrive with more jump balls and downfield opportunities that suit his playing style.
KENNY GOLLADAY, WR, DETROIT LIONS
After building a considerable buzz in training camp, the thirdround pick from Northern Illinois roared into the preseason by making two touchdown catches in his debut.
What’s next: Despite showing plenty of promise and working with the first-team offense, Golladay might find chances difficult to come by as a rookie given the presence of Marvin Jones, Golden Tate and other established options in the passing game. Still, he should thrive as a red-zone threat and stands as a promising prospect for the near future.
DEREK BARNETT, DE, PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
As the first player in Southeastern Conference history to record 10 or more sacks in three consecutive seasons, Barnett displayed his pass-rushing prowess early by recording three sacks in his first two preseason games.
What’s next: Philadelphia’s defensive line is loaded, but coordinator Jim Schwartz intends to work plenty of players into his rotation. Barnett should have ample pass-rushing opportunities despite his likely role of working behind projected starters Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry.
REUBEN FOSTER, LB, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
After missing time in the offseason with a shoulder injury, Foster showed little rust in the preseason, which included eight tackles and several big hits in his third outing.
What’s next: The first-round pick has locked down a starting role at weakside linebacker and could be a leading contender for defensive rookie of the year. Coach Kyle Shanahan said the former Alabama star is “ahead of schedule,” though he wants to see improvement on some fundamentals.
In somewhat of a surprise, rookie DeShone Kizer is set to begin the season as the Browns’ starting quarterback.