The 2023 NFL Preseason is in the books and teams have begun shedding players from training camp squads ahead of Tuesday’s deadline to finalize their initial 53-man rosters.
While the big names were absent or used sparingly during the preseason, there was still a mad scramble for reps and game time amongst those players on the roster bubble.
Here are five individuals who made the most of their precious opportunities in the preseason and who will be worth keeping an eye on when the new NFL season gets underway in early September.
Kansas City Chiefs went into the preseason with some gaps to fill in their receiving core and left it with a fresh line-up ready to catch passes from Patrick Mahomes.
Amongst those likely to play a bigger role for the defending NFL champions is Justin Watson, who was on the team last year but played a relatively minor role.
After four underwhelming years as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer, the 27-year-old caught 15 receptions for 315 yards and two touchdowns as a Chief last season.
He was re-signed on a two-year extension, then spent the off-season training with Mahomes before earning plenty of praise from head coach Andy Reid early in camp.
He then showed up well in preseason, catching a touchdown in Week 1, before being used sparingly thereafter in a sign Kansas City want to keep him fresh for the regular season.
Fifth-round pick Tycen Anderson spent the majority of his rookie season on injured reserve with a hamstring issue, but the safety looks set to bounce back in style in year two on a Cincinnati Bengals team that needs help in the secondary.
With Jessie Bates III and Von Bell leaving Cincinnati via free agency, the Bengals were left looking for safety help.
Nick Scott and Daxton Hill were anointed the safety successors, but Anderson’s preseason may result in him seeing the field on a regular basis.
Anderson graded out as Pro Football Focus’s top defensive player in preseason. He allowed just one catch on three targets and recorded a pair of interceptions against the Green Bay Packers, taking one back for a touchdown.
Kansas State running-back Deuce Vaughn was one of the stories of the NFL Draft after being selected by the Dallas Cowboys, the team his father works for as a scout.
But the sixth-round pick has proven himself to be more than just a feel-good story in preseason and looks likely to leapfrog Ronald Jones and Malik Davis on the Dallas depth chart to become RB2 behind Tony Pollard at some point.
The shifty 5ft 5in back averaged close to five yards per carry on 13 attempts in the preseason, while also getting in the endzone twice.
With Ezekiel Elliott now gone from Dallas, that leaves Pollard, who is coming off a broken leg, with a sizeable workload.
Look for Vaughn to claim a share of Elliott’s touches as a change of pace and pass-catching back.
Making an impact as an edge rusher on a Pittsburgh Steelers defense featuring sack machine T.J. Watt and 2022 breakout star Alex Highsmith sounds like mission impossible.
And yet, Nick Herbig has shown flashes in preseason of being able to do just that.
Herbig, who joined brother Nate as a Steeler when being drafted in the fourth round this year, saw the field regularly in preseason and registered an impressive six pressures and four sacks.
He crushed the Atlanta Falcons offensive line in Pittsburgh’s 24-0 win last week and the Steelers coaching staff are confident he can make a telling contribution in the regular season.
Ending our list with a potential third-string quarterback might seem like a strange move.
But when that quarterback is behind the injury-prone Jimmy Garoppolo and the underwhelming Brian Hoyer on the Las Vegas Raiders’ depth chart, it may be worth taking a closer look.
History tells us that at some point this season Garoppolo is likely to get hurt and Raiders coach Josh McDaniels will then have a decision to make over whether he sends in 37-year-old Hoyer or Aidan O’Connell.
Having worked with Hoyer before, McDaniels was keen to see as much of the Purdue University product O'Connell as possible in preseason, giving him plenty of reps.
And it’s hard not to have been impressed with what O’Connell did after he threw for 462 yards and three touchdowns and completed over 71 percent of his passes.
McDaniels has since said that he’s yet to make a call over who will back up Garoppolo, an important role given the newly-acquired Raider has missed 31 games over the past four years with various injuries.
O’Connell has a shot and, if he can beat out Hoyer, expect to see him in Silver and Black on the field at some point in the regular season.