One of the most pleasurable aspects of Training Camps & Pre-Season Games has to be the emergence of a number of players around the League who shine in their efforts to make an NFL roster. With the final cuts coming up over the next weekend I want to give you my short list of players who just “have-to” make an NFL 53-man roster next week.
KaVontae TURPIN WR/RS 5’9/155 Cowboys I prefer to refer to him as Little Big Man, ala the famous movie role played by Dustin Hoffman decades ago. This little guy has been a big sensation this year starting with a League Offensive MVP performance in the fledgling USFL this past Spring. As NFL Camps opened the Cowboys signed him to an NFL contract. His quickness and speed are elite as demonstrated last weekend leading the Cowboys to victory over the Chargers by returning a Kick-off 98 yards to begin the fire works for Dallas. Just for good measure he later returned a Punt for 72 yards and another TD. I would also expect that the Cowboys will design plays to feature his talents on jet sweeps, and other gadget plays. To me he has already been the biggest surprise discovery of 2022 in pro football circles.
JARED BERNHARDT WR 6’1/195 Falcons The roster rebuild is in full bloom down in Flowery Branch, Georgia. And BERNHARDT has emerged as a legit candidate for 1 of the 6 likely WR slots on the Falcons roster. He is getting separation, and making catches every day and the coaching staff is delighted. He is also another great story as an All-American LaCrosse player during his college undergraduate days. After winning LaCrosse’s version of the Heisman Trophy he transferred to Ferris State (in Michigan) and emerged immediately as that school’s starting QB. Expect him to see a lot of action as a Special Teamer, but I could see him developing a role as Receiver 3 or 4 as the season progresses. Sounds eerily similar to a guy named CHRIS HOGAN who carved out a solid NFL career after an All-American LaCrosse career.
Lil’JORDAN HUMPHREY WR 6’4/225 Patriots This will likely be HUMPHREY’s 4th season in the NFL, his first with New England. He was a good, but erratic player at Texas leading him to go undrafted, but was signed as a CFA by the Saints. Let’s just say that he hung around in the Big Easy, while the coaching staff tried to figure out how to light a fire under him, during an uneven tenure with the team. He was cut this off-season and the PATS snatched him up. He has been an emerging star for them this pre-season. He has earned playing time and after 2 weeks led the team with 11 receptions in 2 games. He is also playing on Special Teams units, and had a highlight play tipping a punt out of the air, in the end zone, to be downed inside the 5-yard line by teammates. He’s a tweener, size-wise between WR and H-B. If he can continue to contribute every week he could carve out a couple of roles in New England. He clearly should make the retooling PATS roster for my money.
JULIUS CHESTNUT RB 5’11/228 Sacred Heart College DERRICK HENRY is the man who makes the TITANS Offense click. And Head Coach MIKE VRABEL would rather run the ball, more so than pass it. When HENRY was hurt last season the team still pounded the rock but it took a whole hand-full of RB to fill HENRY’s over-large shoes. So the team has rebuilt the RB room. It started with 4th Round Draft Pick HASSAN HASKINS, who has looked good in Training Camp. But the small school star CHESTNUT has also run hard and looked like a solid fit for the TITANS offense. Chestnut topped off a solid small college career with a Hula Bowl appearance, but was still not drafted. Now he looks like yet another CFA who belongs in pro football. There are no guarantees in pro football for players like Chestnut, but the cutting of VFA RB Jordan Wilkins this week might be an indicator that Chestnut makes the Titans roster.
CADE YORK PK 6’1/205 Browns YORK became known as the biggest leg in college football last season, specializing in long distance (50+ yards) field goals. Count me in as one of those guys who was so focussed on the plethora of elite Punting prospects (ARAIZA/CAMARDA/STOUT) in the 2022 Draft Class, that I pretty much overlooked YORK as anything other than the only PK who “might” be drafted late. The Browns gave him a lot more luv than I did with a Pick in Round 4. There has been no competition for the PK during Browns Camp. YORK is on is way.
JAYLEN WARREN RB 5’8/215 Steelers I have been a critic at times of head man MIKE TOMLIN during his regime in charge of the Steelers. I feel he tends to red-shirt Rookies and does not substitute enough during games. Heading into Summer Camp I wondered who would be top backup to NAJEE HARRIS, and how many touches would NAJEE get per game this upcoming season. Undrafted Rookie WARREN may have answered both of those concerns based on his play in the first two pre-season games for the Steelers. He has a been a quick-twitch, elusive runner, who also packs some power to punish tacklers, if they can even locate his short, but powerful, frame. He has also shown soft hands catching throws out of the backfield. He was much traveled during his college career, but really found a home last season at Oklahoma State, rushing for 1216 yards, at 4.8 ypc, including 11 TD. He also caught 25 balls, 3rd most on the team, which was 12-2 lest you forget. He has served as solid RB2 in Camp to my eyes.
It will surely be a banner year for emerging young players in the NFL this season. Including, I believe, the emergence of several Rookie QB in the second half of the season.