With six games on the schedule Friday night during the third week of preseason games, NFL fans were treated to some pretty entertaining football.
In our nation’s capital, Adrian Peterson took his first snap as a member of the Washington Redskins, and boy, did he look sharp. The top free agent of this year’s class, Kirk Cousins also had a nice game at home, and a rookie quarterback appeared to cement his status as the starter in New Jersey.
These were the most impressive players from Friday’s preseason games.
Adrian Peterson, running back, Washington Redskins
It’s impossible to know if Peterson will be able to keep up his physical health and remain an effective weapon in Washington this year. He’s 33 years old and has seen a lot of physical contact throughout his career, and is coming off yet another injury.
All that said, it was pretty remarkable to see the veteran back breaking off big gains on Friday night against the Denver Broncos. He opened the game with a couple of strong runs and just continued to churn out the yardage, finishing with 56 yards on 11 carries.
At this point, barring any unforeseen development between now and the start of the season, Peterson is going to be the starter for Washington come Week 1.
Sterling Shepard, wide receiver, New York Giants
First off, Eli Manning deserves some credit for his performance Friday night against the New York Jets. He put the ball in great spots for his receivers and even showed off his deep arm on a 54-yard completion to Cody Latimer.
That being said, New York’s offense sputtered in the red zone and Manning failed to throw a touchdown pass. So with that being said we’re highlighting Shepard’s play instead.
While Odell Beckham Jr. watched from the sideline, Shepard was Manning’s go-to receiver on this night, catching seven passes on seven targets for 78 yards, including a 30-yard reception. Manning has heaped praise on Shepard recently, noting he expects the third-year receiver to break out. It appears his praise was not unwarranted.
Emmanuel Sanders, wide receiver, Denver Broncos
Sanders was very active Friday night as the Broncos took on the Washington Redskins. Overshadowing Demaryius Thomas, he hauled in four catches for 61 yards, including a 33-yard reception in the first half.
To cap off his performance, Sanders scored on a brilliant end-around run in which he ran through some arm tackles and showed off his spectacular speed on the edge to get into the end zone (watch here).
It’s worth noting that Sanders was targeted eight times in the first half as well. This shows that he and quarterback Case Keenum still have some work to do in the chemistry department. But it also shows that Sanders is already a guy that Keenum will look to often in the passing game (take note, fantasy owners).
Christian McCaffrey, running back, Carolina Panthers
For the second Friday in a row, we had to feature McCaffrey in this group of outstanding performers. Though not quite on par with what he did last week against the Miami Dolphins, McCaffrey still showed off the full array of his extraordinary talents against New England Friday night.
Running primarily in between the tackles most of the time, McCaffrey chewed up 48 yards on 12 carries and punched in a two-yard touchdown in a beautiful goal-line play that featured the old jumbo package. He also hauled in two passes for 16 yards. All well before halftime.
Get your popcorn ready. This young man is primed to become a workhorse in Norv Turner’s system this year.
Kirk Cousins, quarterback, Minnesota Vikings
After a very rough outing against the Jacksonville Jaguars last week, Cousins came out with a gunslinger’s mentality on Friday against the Seattle Seahawks and looked much sharper.
Before being replaced by Trevor Siemian in the second half, Cousins attempted 28 passes and completed 17 of them for 182 yards. He got into a very nice groove late in the game and even got Laquon Treadwell involved. His main target was Stefon Diggs, whom he targeted eight times, connecting four times for 51 yards.
Overall it was just a very big improvement, and a necessary one, as the Vikings get ready for their season opener.
Adam Humphries, wide receiver, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Detroit Lions were trying to wrap up the first half on a positive note against the Bucs Friday evening. Matt Prater was lined up for a very long field goal attempt (63 yards) right at the end of the second quarter — either he’d make it or the half would end on his miss.
Or, at least that’s the way Lions head coach Matt Patricia drew it up.
Humphries had other ideas. The fourth-year receiver was waiting for a chance to return Prater’s kick, should he miss, and then when the kick was short he took off running from nine yards deep inside his own end zone.
He just kept on running, going 109 yards for the rare kick-six to put the Bucs up 19-6 at the half.
Sam Darnold, quarterback, New York Jets
The rookie continues to impress. He’s not as flashy as Baker Mayfield. He doesn’t have Josh Allen’s rocket arm. And on Friday night he didn’t put up stats that jump off the page. But he continues to show he’s ready, both mentally and physically, to take over as the starting quarterback for the Jets once the regular season begins.
Against the Giants, Darnold only completed half his passes, going for 86 yards on 8-of-16 passing. However, he didn’t turn the ball over, threw a nice touchdown to Terrelle Pryor, led two touchdown-scoring drives in the first half and added 13 yards on two scrambles.
His cool head under pressure really stands out as impressive. In fact, there really hasn’t been much about Darnold that hasn’t been impressive since he joined the Jets, including a very strange moment on the sideline with veteran Josh McCown on Friday night.