There’s no better time to get one’s mojo going during the NFL preseason than in Week 3, which is the dress rehearsal for the regular season.
Many teams won’t even play their starters in Week 4, and if they do it’ll be for a short period of time. With cuts looming, next week is the time to get one last look at players on the roster bubble.
There are still games left on the schedule this weekend, but we wanted to highlight some excellent performances from Thursday and Friday night.
We’re not going to be focusing on some of the big-name guys who showed up well like Russell Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown. These stars are expected to play well and have already proven themselves as impressive players in the NFL.
Instead, we’re going to highlight up-and-coming players and guys who still have something to prove.
These were the most impressive performances from the early action in Week 3 of the NFL preseason.
1. Ezekiel Elliott, running back, Dallas Cowboys
Cowboys fans anxiously awaiting Elliott’s first action after he missed two games with a minor hamstring issue weren’t disappointed by what they saw in Week 3.
The first-round rookie looked like the second coming of Beast Mode running behind Dallas’ monstrosity of an offensive line. Powering through some huge holes, he made defenders pay for trying to tackle him, as All-Pro safety Kam Chancellor found out the hard way.
After the game, Chancellor said he was “a little surprised” that Elliott came at him as strong as he did.
Defenders, take note: This is going to be a common theme the rest of the season.
All told, Elliott rushed for 48 yards on seven carries in what was an eye-opening performance that bodes well for the future of Dallas’ offense.
2. Christine Michael, running back, Seattle Seahawks
After being cast off by the team that drafted him, Michael is back in Seattle once again and appears poised for a career resurrection.
The Seahawks traded Michael to the Cowboys right before the beginning of last season. After he failed to make an impact in Dallas, he was released and picked up by Washington, where he was placed on the practice squad. Injuries to Marshawn Lynch and Thomas Rawls paved the way for the Seahawks to bring him back, and things have been different ever since.
Michael has been electric this preseason. On Thursday night he rushed for 58 yards on seven carries.
Attention Fantasy owners…
Christine Michael says, "Draft me!"
— NFL (@NFL) August 26, 2016
Through three games, he’s averaged 6.5 yards and has a bounce in his step that had previously been missing.
Head coach Pete Carroll has called Michael’s resurgence a “beautiful turnaround.” We agree it’s a thing of beauty and cannot wait to see how he performs this season.
3. Dak Prescott, quarterback, Dallas Cowboys
At this point, it’s clear the hype surrounding Prescott isn’t just hot air. Coming in for Tony Romo, who played just one series due to an injury scare, the rookie dazzled against Seattle’s first-string defense in much the same way he impressed during the first two games.
Prescott finished with 116 yards on 17-of-23 passing with a touchdown and no turnovers. He also added 12 yards on two carries and was not fazed by playing in Seattle.
It’s worth noting that his touchdown to Jason Witten wasn’t well thrown, but he did show confidence and poise in the face of some heavy pressure on more than one occasion.
Prescott didn’t go off for 300 with three touchdowns, but he continued to show a level of maturity and a certain “been there before” air playing at one of the toughest venues in the NFL.
Romo’s health continues to be a point of concern going forward for the Cowboys. But at this point it looks like a solid backup plan is in place, should the veteran miss time again this season.
4. Kirk Cousins, quarterback, Washington
Was Cousins sharp? Not overall. But he was darn impressive.
Overcoming a bad start to the game against the Buffalo Bills Friday night, Cousins bounced back and had himself quite a nice game.
Completing 12-of-23 passes for 188 yards with three touchdowns and one interception, which occurred early in the game. It’s also worth mentioning that a few of the incompletions were no fault of Cousins, as receivers simply dropped the ball.
Here’s a look at his gorgeous third touchdown.
.@KirkCousins8's 3rd TD pass of the half!
— NFL (@NFL) August 27, 2016
Resilience is an invaluable trait for NFL quarterbacks. Mistakes and poor starts are inevitable. It’s how you respond that matters most.
While it’s true the Bills didn’t trot out their starters on Friday night, seeing Cousins bounce back the way he did was mighty impressive.
5. Jacquies Smith, defensive end, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Smith isn’t listed as a starter for Tampa Bay, but he’s going to be hard to keep off the field if he continues to apply regular pressure.
After logging a sack in Week 1 against the Philadelphia Eagles, Smith was held in check last week. But he came back with a vengeance against the Cleveland Browns Friday night, logging four tackles and two sacks of Robert Griffin III in the first half.
Playing with a heavy heart after losing a relative to cancer this week, Smith showed speed and quickness off the edge. In addition to the two sacks he registered, he forced a couple of holding penalties on plays in which he likely was going to get to RG3.
If he can stay healthy this year, there’s no reason Smith can’t become the first Bucs defender to log double-digit sacks since Simeon Rice back in 2005.
6. Josh Gordon, wide receiver, Cleveland Browns
If Robert Griffin III can stay healthy this year, and if Gordon can stay on the field, the Browns are going to be terrifying.
We’ve already seen Terrelle Pryor meshing well with RG3 on deep passes. Now that Gordon is back in the mix, he’s showing the same thing.
In the first quarter Friday night, Gordon caught a deep bomb on his first target since being suspended for the entire 2015 season (watch here).
Then right as the first half was winding down against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he struck again on a 43-yard touchdown grab.
— NFL (@NFL) August 27, 2016
The most impressive thing you see here is that Gordon’s body control and ball pursuit are still at elite levels. He had to maneuver his big body around the defender to get a pass that wasn’t really thrown well.
The crazy thing is that he isn’t really even in game shape yet after coming off an injury. Imagine how good Gordon will be once he’s back in the swing of things.
7. Mike Evans, wide receiver, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Entering his third year, Evans needed to establish some scoring chemistry with second-year quarterback Jameis Winston. After scoring 12 touchdowns as a rookie, he only managed three last year in Winston’s rookie campaign.
In the past two games, playing for less than a full game’s worth of time, he already has given fans reason to hope for a monstrous season. He caught a short red-zone touchdown last week and then went bonkers Friday night against the Cleveland Browns.
Evans caught all five of the passes that came his way, going off for 115 yards and a gorgeous 34-yard touchdown.
This touchdown pass came after another bomb down the right sideline that went for 47 yards.
Oh my, @Jaboowins.
— NFL (@NFL) August 27, 2016
Cleveland’s defense isn’t the best at defending the pass, but this was a tremendous performance by Evans, who didn’t even play in the second half.
8. Landry Jones, quarterback, Pittsburgh Steelers
After last week’s debacle against the Philadelphia Eagles, we had to double take the final stat line put together by Jones on Friday against the New Orleans Saints.
Finishing with 206 yards on 19-of-22 passing with one touchdown and no interceptions, Jones progressed by leaps and bounds this week after tossing four picks in Week 2.
Another young Steelers player who is trying to make his mark benefited from Jones’ big night. Sammie Coates hauled in a 58-yard pass and an eight-yard touchdown on a perfectly thrown ball to the back right corner of the end zone.
Pittsburgh desperately needs Jones to continue progressing in a positive manner. He’s all they really have right now behind Ben Roethlisberger, who was also hot to open the game. Given Big Ben’s injury history, it won’t be shocking whatsoever if the Steelers have to call on Jones this year.