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Rookies Impressing in the NFL Preseason: AFC Edition

The young ones are making their names known.

Now in Week 2 of the NFL Preseason, teams are eager to see how their rookies are panning out thus far.

Although two weeks in the Preseason isn’t any indication as to how successful these players are going to be in their respective careers.

Today, we’ll analyze a rookie on every AFC team who is impressing thus far in the Preseason.

Baltimore Ravens

Tim Williams

A new era of defense is soon to arrive in Baltimore.

Taken in the third round of this year’s draft out of Alabama, outside linebacker Tim Williams recorded 2 tackles and 1 sack against Miami.

Williams had first round potential, but his inconsistent effort and off the field issues made him slide to the third round. His impressive performance on Thursday has made him a rookie to look out for this season.

Rookie linebacker Tim Williams takes down quarterback Brandon Doughty in the Ravens' 31-7 win against the Dolphins.

Buffalo Bills

Nathan Peterman

Taken in the fifth round of this year’s draft out of Pittsburgh, quarterback Nathan Peterman went 13/25 with 1 touchdown against the Vikings and 10/20 against the Eagles.

Peterman was dominant in his time with the Pittsburgh Panthers, as well as the Tennessee Volunteers in his first two years of college. In his four years, Peterman threw for 5236 yards, 47 touchdowns, 17 interceptions and had a career completion percentage of 60.1%.

His solid performances thus far show that Peterman may be more than a backup for the Buffalo Bills, since current quarterback Tyrod Taylor isn’t a bona fide starting quarterback.

Cincinnati Bengals

Josh Malone

A wide receiver not named John Ross?

Taken in the fourth round of this year’s draft out of Tennessee, wide receiver Josh Malone has been quietly impressing in his first two games in this year’s preseason.

In his first two games, Malone had 2 receptions for 12 yards and 1 touchdown against Tampa Bay, and 3 receptions for 35 yards against Kansas City.

The receiving depth chart on the Bengals roster is quite deep and many wondered if Malone could even make the roster. His play has shown that he deserves a roster spot and will make an immediate impact as a key target for Andy Dalton.

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Josh Malone celebrates with teammates in their 23-12 win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Cleveland Browns

Deshone Kizer

Could the quarterback curse be over in Cleveland?

Taken in the second round of this year’s draft, quarterback Deshone Kizer out of Notre Dame was selected by the Browns in order to become the future gun slinger of this offense under head coach Hue Jackson.

In Kizer’s first preseason game, he threw for 11/18 for 184 yards and 1 touchdown. His decision making and accuracy was put on show against the Saints. Against the Giants, Kizer went 8/13 for 74 yards.

His impressive debut shows that the quarterback position may finally be settled in the Dawg Pound.

Denver Broncos

De’Angelo Henderson

Amid the crowded Denver backfield, could De’Angelo Henderson be the dark horse candidate for a prominent role in this offense?

Taken in the sixth round of this year’s draft out of Coastal Carolina, running back De’Angelo Henderson has made a case for himself to gain a roster spot.

Against the Bears, Henderson rushed for 54 yards and 1 touchdown, averaging an impressive 7.7 yards per carry. Against the 49ers, Henderson rushed for 30 yards and averaged 5 yards per carry. Look for Henderson to compete with both C.J. Anderson and Devontae Booker.

Running back De'Angelo Henderson runs through defender in the Broncos' 24-17 win against the Chicago Bears.

 

Houston Texans 

D’Onta Foreman

Watch out, Lamar Miller.

Taken in the third round out of this year’s draft out of Texas, running back D’Onta Foreman has definitely made his presence known in Houston.

Against the Panthers, Foreman rushed for 76 yards and averaged an outstanding 8.4 yards per carry. Against the Patriots, Foreman rushed for 17 yards and recorded 1 touchdown in limited duty.

Foreman has not only solidified himself to be at least the number two running back on this depth chart, but by mid-season it would not be shocking if Foreman starts over current starting running back Lamar Miller.

Running back D'Onta Foreman has an impressive game in the Texans' 27-23 win against the Patriots.

Indianapolis Colts

JoJo Natson

Who?

Going undrafted this year because of his underwhelming size of 5’7″ and 153 lbs., wide receiver JoJo Natson out of Akron has been a surprising star in the preseason thus far.

Against the Detroit Lions, Natson showed his skills in both the receiving and return game. He recorded 5 receptions for 51 yards, as well as 3 kick returns for 68 yards and 4 punt returns for 26 yards.

Against the Cowboys, Natson recorded 3 receptions for 60 yards, had 1 kick return for 25 yards and 1 punt return for 7 yards.

Natson has flown under the radar, but his production has caught the Colts’ coaching staff’s eye and will be in contention for a roster spot.

Wide receiver JoJo Natson runs past two defenders in the Colts' 24-10 loss to the Detroit Lions.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Dede Westbrook

Is Dede Westbrook the saving grace for the struggling Blake Bortles?

Taken in the fourth round of this year’s draft out of Oklahoma, wide receiver Dede Westbrook is competing for a starting role. The former Heisman finalist has made a big impact early in the preseason.

Against the Patriots, Westbrook had 1 reception for 42 yards and 1 touchdown. Against Tampa Bay, Westbrook collected 6 receptions for 131 yards.

With quarterback Blake Bortles struggling this past season and quarterbacks Chad Henne and Brandon Allen eyeing that starting QB job, Westbrook could become a reliable target for whoever leads this offense for years to come.

Wide receiver Dede Westbrook celebrates with teammates in their 31-24 win against the New England Patriots.

Kansas City Chiefs

Patrick Mahomes II

This kid is exciting to watch.

Taken with the tenth overall pick in this year’s draft out of Texas Tech, quarterback Patrick Mahomes II is the future of the Chiefs once they move on from Alex Smith.

This quarterback situation reminds me of a poor man’s Brett Favre-Aaron Rodgers transition. Smith will play for at least half a season and at most two seasons before Mahomes takes the reigns.

In his past two games, Mahomes has made some mind-boggling throws. Against the 49ers, Mahomes went 7/9 for 49 yards and 1 touchdown. Against the Bengals, he went 10/14 for 88 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Mahomes has already been promoted to be the second string quarterback. With better decision making and a better understanding of the playbook, Mahomes is bound to lead this team in the near future.

Los Angeles Chargers

Desmond King

The Chargers may have found themselves a steal later in this year’s draft.

Taken in the fifth round of this year’s draft out of Iowa, safety Desmond King has quietly produced at an efficient pace during this preseason.

Against the Seahawks, King recorded 2 tackles, 1 assisted tackle and 1 interception. Against the Saints, he recorded 2 tackles and 1 sack.

King joins a crowded safety depth chart, but the leadership skills he honed from Iowa and his playmaking ability have made him an intriguing player to watch this season.

Safety Desmond King celebrates a pass break-up in the Chargers' 13-7 loss against the Saints.

Miami Dolphins

Cordrea Tankersley

The Dolphins’ secondary is really coming into shape.

Taken in the third round of this year’s draft out of Clemson, cornerback Cordrea Tankersley has made a solid first impression.

Against the Falcons, Tankersley racked up 5 tackles. Against the Ravens, he collected 2 tackles and 1 interception.

There’s some uncertainty at the cornerback position in South Beach. Emerging cornerback Tony Lippett is out for the season with a torn Achilles and no one has stepped up to be the number two cornerback alongside Byron Maxwell. Perhaps Tankersley will contribute early on in his career.

Cornerback Cordrea Tankersley (#30) takes down Ravens wide receiver Jeremy Maclin with the help of safety T.J. McDonald (#22) in the Dolphins 31-7 loss to the Ravens.

New England Patriots

Jacob Hollister

Amid probably the deepest tight end depth chart, rookie tight end Jacob Hollister has certainly made his case to become a member of this roster.

Going undrafted this year out of Wyoming, Hollister made a huge impact in his first game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. He piled up 7 receptions for 116 yards. Against the Texans, he recorded 1 reception for 4 yards in limited duty.

With star tight end Rob Gronkowski and the two tight ends New England acquired via trade this offseason in Dwayne Allen from Indianapolis and James O’Shaughnessy from Kansas City, the tight ends are deep. The Patriots could afford to have four tight ends this season, since Hollister is proving himself to be worthy of a roster spot.

Tight end Jacob Hollister receives a pass in the Patriots' 31-24 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

New York Jets

Jordan Leggett

It’s an open competition at tight end in the Big Apple.

Taken in the fifth round of this year’s draft out of Clemson, tight end Jordan Leggett has shown to be a decent target on a weak team.

Against the Titans, Leggett recorded 1 reception for 8 yards. Against the Lions, he had 2 receptions for 40 yards. Although these numbers aren’t wildly impressive, he has shown to be the more dominant tight end versus assumed starter Austin Seferian-Jenkins. With this bare receiving corps set to have an abysmal season, perhaps Leggett can be the shining star in this offense.

Tight end Jordan Leggett catches a pass in practice.

Oakland Raiders

Marquel Lee

The defense is only getting better in Oakland.

Taken in the fifth round of this year’s draft out of Wake Forest, linebacker Marquel Lee is making a name for himself and has the opportunity to see meaningful playing time this upcoming season.

Lee’s production has been commendable in his limited duty. Against the Cardinals, Lee amassed 5 tackles, 1 assisted tackle and 1 fumble recovery. Against the Rams, Lee had 1 tackle and 1 assisted tackle.

The lack of depth in this linebacking corps gives Lee a chance to start as early as Week 1 of the regular season if he continues to impress in the preseason.

Linebacker Marquel Lee (#55) with cornerback David Amerson (#29) stares down the the Cardinals' offense in Oakland's 20-10 loss to Arizona.

Pittsburgh Steelers

T.J. Watt

Does the Watt family have two defensive studs under their roof?

Taken late in the first round of this year’s draft out of Wisconsin, linebacker T.J. Watt, brother of star defensive end J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans, has made himself known in the Steel City.

In his first game against the New York Giants, Watt racked up 3 tackles, 2 assisted tackles and 2 sacks. In his next game against the Falcons, he collected 2 tackles and 2 assisted tackles.

Watt’s production thus far in limited snaps has Pittsburgh coaches impressed and intrigued, so look for Watt to have a big impact on this defense this upcoming year. 

Tennessee Titans

Taywan Taylor

Marcus Mariota must be a happy man.

Taken in the third round of this year’s draft out of Western Kentucky, wide receiver Taywan Taylor has impressed in the wake of first round pick Corey Davis’ injury that has held him from participating in preseason action.

In his first game against the Jets, Taylor had 4 receptions for 56 yards, while in his second game against Carolina, he had 3 receptions for 41 yards.

Although his snaps are limited, Taylor has shown he’s a reliable target; something this offense has desperately need for many years. With the addition of Taylor, Davis and free agency signee Eric Decker, formerly of the New York Jets, the Titans finally have themselves a deep receiving corps for ascending QB Marcus Mariota.

Wide receiver Taywan Taylor shows his balance in the Titans' 7-3 loss to the New York Jets.

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