With September’s NFL kickoff just around the corner, a productive preseason is a must for multiple NFL players facing pressure to succeed.
Roster spots are definitely on the line — especially when it comes veterans trying to salvage the last bits of their NFL careers. On the other side of things, various rookies will be competing for starting jobs this fall.
In between, a handful of players who bottomed out last year will be using the preseason to get back into their team’s good graces.
Check out the following 20 NFL players who must make the most of their preseason.
Josh Allen, quarterback, Buffalo Bills
Come regular season Week 1, the Bills will hopefully have a clear-cut starter. In the meantime, Allen will be trying to climb to the top of the depth chart ahead of A.J. McCarron and Nathan Peterman. This sounds pretty simple, right? Maybe not so much after Allen got off to a hot-and-cold training camp start. The spotlight and pressure will be on Allen to prove all of his naysayers wrong as he attempts to win the starting job in Buffalo.
Brandon Marshall, wide receiver, Seattle Seahawks
Marshall is under extreme heat to stay healthy and have a fruitful preseason. His job depends on it. Fortunately, he has been cleared to participate and we should soon see the 34-year-old veteran giving it his all catching passes from quarterback Russell Wilson. This is a quarterback who will be leaning on Marshall more than ever as No. 1 wideout Doug Baldwin will likely be out the remainder of the preseason. If Marshall makes the team’s final roster, this will mark his 13th season in the league.
Matt Breida, running back, San Francisco 49ers
All the hubbub in San Francisco surrounds new running back Jerick McKinnon. But, a guy worth watching this August is Breida. So far, Breida has received rave reviews in training camp, and one beat writer labeled him the “best running back on the team.” Fantasy football enthusiasts should definitely be tuned in. If Breida keeps trending up this preseason, he will be in line for more touches, regardless of McKinnon.
Case Keenum, quarterback, Denver Broncos
The Broncos settled on signing Keenum this past offseason, choosing to pass on a top quarterback prospect in April. So far in his new digs, Keenum is earning glowing reviews as he prepares to dazzle in his preseason opportunities. Keenum is entering 2018 after managing a 11-3 record in Minnesota. The hope for Denver is Keenum keeps up this level of play. Any signs of him reverting back to the struggling quarterback of seasons past would be concerning.
Corey Davis, wide receiver, Tennessee Titans
Davis is expected to rebound from his bummer rookie campaign that saw him tally 375 yards and zero touchdowns. His goal should be staying healthy while he tries to regain his team’s expectation that he’d evolve into a No. 1 receiver. If Davis picks up where he last left off in the playoffs when he scored two touchdowns, he will be off to a smashing start. Hopefully, the chemistry between he and quarterback Marcus Mariota picks up at that level.
Baker Mayfield, quarterback, Cleveland Browns
We can bet that Mayfield will make the most of his preseason opportunities to get his team’s attention. This starts with Mayfield reportedly playing two whole quarters against the New York Giants this Thursday. This year’s first-overall pick is expected to take a backseat to Tyrod Taylor come September, but a brilliant preseason may throw a monkey wrench into that plan. Stay tuned.
Derrius Guice, running back, Washington Redskins
The Redskins have quite the laundry list of running backs on their roster. But the bell-cow role only looks to be Guice’s to lose at this point. The LSU star will make his pro debut after being selected 59th overall after rushing for 1,251 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2017. He is definitely worth monitoring this preseason as he attempts to distance himself ahead of fellow rushers, Rob Kelley and Samaje Perine.
Calvin Ridley, wide receiver, Atlanta Falcons
Heck yeah, we want to see the first receiver selected in this year’s draft perform this preseason. The Alabama standout will be working towards earning a spot to start opposite of Julio Jones as the preseason unfolds. The Falcons took a first-round flier on Ridley after he recorded 2,781 total yards during his three years in college. Now it is time to see what kind of chemistry he develops with the highest-paid quarterback in the league.
Mitch Trubisky, quarterback, Chicago Bears
The Bears didn’t play Trubisky in the Hall of Fame game, but he should now see some preseason action. This week’s game will be the first official glance we see of Trubisky working with head coach Matt Nagy. Let’s keep an eye out for the second-year quarterback to involve new tight end Trey Burton, as well as target his new wide receiving crew. The second-year quarterback is projected to take his game to the next level in 2018.
Ronald Jones, running back, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs desperately needed to add depth beyond their current roster of running backs. Doing just that, the Buccaneers selected Jones out of USC. Last season saw Jones rush for 1,550 yards and a whopping 19 touchdowns, so it was no wonder the Buccaneers nabbed him 38th overall. Jones should emerge as the No. 1 rushing option as the preseason plays out. Earlier in summer practices, it was speculated that Jones would receive 15 to 20 touches per game come September.
Patrick Mahomes, quarterback, Kansas City Chiefs
Mahomes has had bumpy training camp, throwing eight interceptions in his first seven practice sessions. This is why all eyes will be on this young quarterback all preseason long. Mahomes has big shoes to fill taking over for one of the most accurate passers in the league, Alex Smith, whom the team recently traded. Fortunately, Mahomes inherits one of the most dynamic offenses to help him become an eventual superstar.
Nick Chubb, running back, Cleveland Browns
Beyond all the Mayfield fuss, Chubb will be looking to make a name for himself in Cleveland this August. The Browns did not draft this Georgia product 35th overall to have him sit around. With that said, Chubb’s goal will be to prove he is capable of receiving the early down carries this fall, ahead of fellow running back Carlos Hyde. Chubb arrives to Cleveland after rushing for 1,345 yards and 15 touchdowns. Will his 6.0 yards per attempt averaged last year hold up in the big-boy league?
John Ross, wide receiver, Cincinnati Bengals
Ross needs to shed the bust label after failing to live up to being a ninth-overall pick last year. It matters little heading into the preseason that Ross holds the combine record for the fastest 40. He needs to stay healthy and prove he can step into the No. 2 receiver role that has been vacated by the released Brandon LaFell. Anything but a stellar preseason from Ross could spell doom for him moving forward.
Mason Rudolph, quarterback, Pittsburgh Steelers
To minimize injury risk for veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers are going feature Rudolph quite a bit in the preseason. This is an opportunity for Rudolph to show the Steelers he has the makings of an eventual franchise quarterback. The Steelers selected Rudolph in the third round of this year’s draft after he passed for nearly 5,000 yards and 37 touchdowns last year Oklahoma State. He should be exciting to observe, and envision as Roethlisberger’s heir apparent.
Deshaun Watson, quarterback, Houston Texans
Returning from injury, Watson will use the preseason to rediscover his groove. The second-year quarterback will be under the radar to see if he looks to pick up where he left off before tearing his ACL. And whether Watson knows it or not, the young quarterback will also be auditioning to potential fantasy football drafters, who have been very high on him due his last season’s success.
Kerryon Johnson, running back, Detroit Lions
The Lions run game over the last several seasons has been completely boring and ineffective. Wisely, Detroit spent its second round pick on Johnson after he rushed for 1,391 yards and 18 touchdowns at Auburn in 2017. The preseason will present Johnson the perfect opportunity to showcase his run style as he attempts to earn the team’s three-down responsibilities. Johnson will be looking to distance himself ahead of veteran rusher, LeGarrette Blount.
Sam Darnold, quarterback, New York Jets
Darnold finally reported to training camp after ironing out some issues involving his rookie contract. Now, it is show time. Darnold is expected to open the regular season as the No. 3 quarterback, behind Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater. With that said, a stout preseason for Darnold could shift the tide for Gang Green. The Jets could be looking to trade Bridgewater, and if for some reason McCown takes a step back, Darnold could earn the start. Soon enough, Jets fans will see how this quarterback situation shakes out.
Andrew Luck, quarterback, Indianapolis Colts
Under normal circumstances, Luck would not be under pressure to knock it out of the park during the preseason. But, the seventh-year quarterback has much to prove and will be under a microscope when he takes to the field this month. It is crucial to the Colts’ success this season that Luck’s shoulder is completely healed and he is back to throwing dimes. Fortunately, Luck has not appeared to be limited in practices thus far. Fingers crossed.
DeVante Parker, wide receiver, Miami Dolphins
Parker should be feeling some heat down south as he attempts to assume the No. 1 receiver role this fall. The 25-year-old wideout has yet to have a breakout campaign in his three years playing for Miami. He last tallied 670 yards and scored only once in 2017. Fast forward to the preseason and it has been reported that Parker has been “largely ineffective” during his training camp start. He must get his act together quickly, in order to fend back a newly paid Albert Wilson.
Kirk Cousins, quarterback, Minnesota Vikings
Cousins received his gigantic contract and the Vikings expect nothing less than superior results from him. So, the soon-to-be 30-year-old signal caller might just be under a tad bit of pressure to earn his keep. This starts with a productive preseason in the allotted snaps the Vikings give him. Cousins fortunately joined a team that has a promising offense setting him up for long-term success. Soon enough, the Vikings will see if their investment pays off.