Every year we are taken aback by the preseason performance by a multitude of fringe players who we have never heard of before. Who has the best chance to make a surprise play for a roster spot this year? Here are my favorite names to watch at each position.
The former Seahawk finds himself on the roster bubble due to injuries (21 regular season games over past two seasons) and ineffectiveness (3.0 yards per carry over past two seasons) throughout his second and third NFL seasons, but he has showcased some very high upside in the league. In his rookie year of 2015, Rawls averaged 5.65 yards per carry on 147 attempts. That remains the highest yards per carry average by a player with at least as many attempts in a single season over the past five years, and the fifth most efficient season over the past decade. He has also showcased really good ball security (2 fumbles across 384 career regular season/playoff touches).
Rawls now has a wider opening towards a Week 1 roster spot as Elijah McGuire faces an estimated 3-6 week recovery from a foot injury. Rawls is a classic early down thumper who has gotten 60% of his career attempts on first down and 63% of them with 10 or more yards to go - while only having 6% of his carries coming on third down. While opposite in style to the now-missing McGuire, Rawls’ youth (still just 25) and known high ceiling give him a good shot of suiting up in Detroit, even if he might not last past McGuire’s return.
I don’t think Roberts will find himself any passing targets this year, but I think his experience gives him a good shot at earning either a punt or kick return role. Roberts had 2 punt return touchdowns for the Lions in 2016 and one kick return touchdown for the Redskins in 2015 - making him one of only two players (along with Tyreek Hill) in the entire league with 2+ punt return scores and at least one kick return score over the past three years.
His career return averages are only average at best (23.4 yards per kick return, 8.1 yards per punt return), but the breakaway upside he has shown coupled with his experience should give him an edge on a team that has lacked offensive special teams playmaking for more than half of a decade.
Sterling has turned some heads early in camp, picking up where he left off with the season closer in New England. He had 5 catches for 72 yards and 4 first downs, more receiving yards than Austin Seferian-Jenkins had in any game for the Jets and the most by a Jets tight end since Jeff Cumberland hung 79 yards on the Falcons in 2013 (man, that’s rough.)
The 26-year old New Jersey native has a good size/speed combination at 6’4, 257, and though in a small sample size he has turned 11 of his 26 career targets into first downs, a very strong 42% rate (equal to Travis Kelce’s 2017 rate, for comparison). Can he expand his tiny sample size of impressive practice and game performance over an extended period of time to beat out the Jets’ young and unproven tight end group?
Garcia is a physically gifted tackle, with above-75th percentile performance in the 40, broad jump, and vertical jump at 6’6, 302. The Patriots made him the 85th overall pick in the third round of the 2017 draft, before cutting him this May due to an unfortunate blood clot issue in his lungs that caused him to lose over 40 pounds.
He came out as a high-upside but raw prospect coming from Troy’s air-raid offense that helped him play in easier pass protecting situations with large splits. Now coming off of a major health issue, he is even more of a longshot, but this is a player who was a third round pick only one year ago and is still just 24 years old. If he can somehow return to the same player he was physically, he should have the talent to push for playing time on an otherwise unimpressive offensive line.
I am a big fan of the Jets’ undrafted free agent signing out of Oklahoma, the 6’2, 247 pound fullback Dimitri Flowers. Flowers was not necessarily a pure fullback but more of an H-back who shifted through a variety of roles, but that only adds to his versatile potential. Many were surprised at Flowers going undrafted - which seemed to be due to his playing of a decomposing position and lack of athleticism (4.83 forty time and below-10th percentile 3-cone and 20-yard shuttle times). However, the Jets did make use of the fullback last year, with the majority of those snaps going to a converted defensive tackle in Lawrence Thomas.
I wasn’t very impressed with Thomas’ blocking and he did not add anything as a weapon (1 first down across 7 targets and 2 rushing attempts), though the team must be impressed with his physical potential at the position.
If the Jets plan on valuing fullback again, Flowers should have a great shot at standing out with his versatility and fundamental ability.
It seems most likely that Bridgewater ends up traded, due to the inevitability of Sam Darnold taking over, the team’s strong appreciation of Josh McCown, McCown’s early winning of training camp, and the possibility of the Jets getting a draft asset for what is basically no charge. However, the more time Darnold sits at home, the more opportunity Bridgewater gets to outshine a 39-year old journeyman.
Bridgewater was not much more than an average game manager in his early Vikings career. That’s not a bad thing at all, as an average player at the most important position in the game with a winning percentage above .600 in his first two seasons (at 23 years old) is absolutely on the path to potential greatness.
Now, it’s possible and even likely that Bridgewater’s upward progress that he began from 2014 to 2015 and into the future has been stunted, and that he might never recapture that potential, but the fact is that this is a player who was a very promising and valuable commodity only two offseasons ago. If he has fully recovered athletically and can regain his groove as camp rolls on, the possibility remains he can wow the team and win the Week 1 starting job.
Though he may be the third wheel in the race, Bridgewater would be my choice as the quarterback that gives the Jets the highest ceiling in 2018 alone among the three competitors. When comparing him to a rookie and a veteran who has never won more than 6 games as a starter, Bridgewater’s most appealing claim to starting Week 1 is the potential he’d give the current team off the bat - coupled with the trade value he could build along the way.
Which of these players has the best shot at a Week 1 roster spot?
This poll is closed