Other than getting through the month as healthy as possible, the primary objective for NFL coaches during the preseason is getting a feel for their younger players, particularly the rookies.
This year, as always, several rookies have shined during the preseason. The following is a look at some of the top rookies who have played well based on information gleamed for talking to teams and scouts:
Ezekiel Elliott, running back, Dallas: Zeke can deliver punishment. Elliott has been slowed by a minor camp injury. And he has been in the spotlight from some off-field issues. But in Week 3 of the preseason against Seattle, Elliott showed why the Cowboys made him the No, 4 overall lick from Ohio State. Elliott is a tough runner and he repeatedly pounded into Seattle defenders. Elliott looks like he’s ready to be a featured back for the Cowboys,
Will Fuller, wide receiver, Houston: The first-round pick from Notre Dame looks like he will be ready to complement DeAndre Hopkins and help quarterback Brock Osweiler right away. Fuller has shown big-play capability in the preseason. We all knew he had a great burst and that has shown this summer, but he is also showing a nice pair of hands, which was questioned at draft time.
Derrick Henry, running back, Tennessee: Henry and Elliott may be a fun pair to watch this season. The Heisman Trophy winner from Alabama has looked very rugged in the preseason. He has established a presence between the tackles and he is very physical. He could be a perfect pair with DeMarco Murray and a great long-term tandem with second-year quarterback Marcus Mariota, who preceded him as the Heisman winner.
Tyler Higbee, tight end, Los Angeles: The fourth-round pick looks the part. Higbee is a big, bruising, athletic tight end with good hands. The Western Kentucky product has lined up outside almost as a receiver. The Rams will get creative with him. Tight ends often take time to develop, but Higbee is part of the Rams’ immediate plans.
Dak Prescott, quarterback, Dallas: Prescott has been the star of the preseason, rookie or veteran. Prescott, a fourth-round pick from Mississippi State, will get an unexpected chance to play in the regular season with Dallas starting quarterback Tony Romo out for a reported 6-10 weeks with a broken bone in his back. Prescott has a passer rating of 137.8, which is reportedly the highest quarterback rating in the preseason since 2000.
Ronnie Stanley, tackle, Baltimore: The No. 6 overall pick is a natural left tackle. He has been outstanding in the preseason and has the presence of a five-year veteran. The Notre Dame product looks like the next blindside star.
Tajae Sharpe, receiver, Tennessee: Unlike his new teammate Henry, Sharpe was a relative unknown when the Titans drafted him out of UMass in the fifth round. He has been a big-play threat and the game does not look too big for him. He may be a fantasy football sleeper and a real football producer for the Titans.
Joe Thuney, guard, New England: The left guard looks like another draft find for Bill Belichick. The North Carolina State product is a smooth, gifted player who may be a key player as a rookie for New England.
Vernon Hargreaves III, cornerback, Tampa Bay: The Buccaneers certainly had high hopes for Hargreaves when they drafted him out of Florida in the first round. But he has been a ball hawk in the preseason and he seems like he is ready for the rigors of covering NFL receivers. The future is bright in Tampa Bay and it appears Hargreaves is a big reason for it.
Chris Jones, defensive tackle, Kansas City: The Chiefs have an upper-level defense and Jones is fitting right in it. The Chiefs have been raving about Jones’ impact since early in training camp. The second-round pick from Mississippi State looks very stout and disruptive.
Yannick Ngakoue, defensive end, Jacksonville: The anchors of a strong draft in Jacksonville are the team’s first- and second round picks, cornerback Jalen Ramsey and linebacker Myles Jack. However, Ngakoue has a chance to makes this group really special if he develops. There have been signs of the third-round pick from Maryland being a good player. Though a bit undersized, Ngakoue has a nice pass-rush burst.
Jarran Reed, defensive tackle, Seattle: The Seahawks think their defense has a chance to be better than it was three years ago when it was historically good and it led the team to a Super Bowl victory. Reed is one of the reasons why Seattle thinks this unit can be better than its 2013 version. The second-round pick from Alabama is a terrific defensive tackle who has been strong against the run. He is not intimidated by his new teammates. In fact, he is enhancing them.
Jihad Ward, defensive tackle, Oakland: Many critics gave the Raiders a thumbs down for their selection of Ward in the second round. Many thought he was raw coming out of Illinois. But Ward seems like he is a perfect fit for Oakland’s multiple defensive sets. He can play both defensive tackle and defensive end. He is currently penciled in as a starter on a defense that has good potential.
Brandon Williams, cornerback, Arizona: The third-round pick from Texas A&M has been opening eyes since early in training camp. His strong camp play has translated into very impressive preseason play. He is showing good overall skills and fitting in with a strong defense. A secondary that includes Williams, Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu could be impressive for the long haul.