We at PFF have taken great pleasure in grading the preseason for the first time. Although some fans write these games off as meaningless, for many players competing for jobs they can mean the difference between fulfilling a life-long dream and being unemployed. As of 6pm ET on Saturday, about 700 players had received news of their release. Some of these players have put in outstanding performances this preseason, and deserve a hard look from teams still trying to fill holes.
The following list considers only performance during the preseason of this year as a basis for inclusion. Therefore, you won’t necessarily find a lot of big-name players whose reputations precede them. Disclaimer: Certain positions tend to yield higher grades than others, which is why this list is not solely based on the raw overall grade for each player.
Here are some recently cut players (and some honorable mentions) who could potentially help a team willing to give them another shot.
Matt Willis, WR – Detroit (Preseason Team)
How he impressed: Willis hauled in 9 of his 12 targets for 129 yards and a touchdown. He also offers quality special teams play, and has a reputation as a hard worker. We could see him catch on as an injury replacement or special teamer with a former team or any other team in need of receiver depth.
Possible Fits: Denver, Baltimore
A.J. Francis, DL – Miami
How he impressed: Across his five preseason games, A.J. Francis showed well in both run defense (+2.5) and pass rushing (+2.6). He played with a good motor, didn’t make mental mistakes, and did everything asked of him. A team in need of a 4-3 defensive tackle could find themselves a productive all-around player if they bring him aboard.
Possible Fits: Jacksonville, Oakland
Chase Minnifield, CB – Washington
How he impressed: Much like his father (former Cleveland Brown star cornerback Frank Minnifield), Chase packs a solid punch for his size. He provided good run support, and played with physicality in press coverage. Teams looking to utilize a lot of press cover-2 could give Minnifield some consideration.
Possible Fits: Buffalo, Cleveland
Kevin Matthews, C – Washington
How he impressed: Apparently +4.0 grades don’t foreshadow a future in Washington (don’t read too much into that). Another product of NFL bloodlines, Matthews graded in the green for both run and pass blocking this preseason. He allowed just one hurry and no other pressure during his 99 snaps in pass protection. The son of Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews may be able to add some depth to an NFL team this season.
Possible Fits: Buffalo, Tampa Bay
Ogemdi Nwagbuo/Andre Fluellen, DT – Detroit
How they impressed: We’ve included these players together since they both played the same position for the same team at similar levels. Nwagbuo earned his spot on this list largely on the strength of his pass rushing. He finished behind only Geno Atkins in our preseason pass rushing grades and Pass Rush Productivity among defensive tackles. He could bolster a team’s interior line in the nickel package.
Fluellen has been rather hit or miss thus far in his NFL career, and so has bounced around quite a bit. This preseason however, has been all hit. Perhaps playing behind the best defensive tackle tandem in the league helped him improve, as he performed well in all facets. Like his counterpart, he may benefit a team in need of a pass rushing presence on the inside.
Possible Fits: Denver, Tampa Bay
Crezdon Butler, CB – Buffalo
How he impressed: Coverage. Butler used his outstanding athleticism to shadow receivers all over the field when given the opportunity. In the preseason, he allowed just 5 of 15 passes to be completed into his coverage, giving up only 67 yards. His main lapse occurred when Matt Willis (also on this list) beat him deep for a 39-yard gain. The knock on Butler has been his lack of physicality, but he has the potential to thrive in a cover 1/3 scheme if a defensive coordinator can find a way to play to his strengths.
Possible Fits: San Diego, Washington
Jarron Gilbert, DE – Buffalo
How he impressed: Until recently, he impressed more by jumping out of a pool on youtube than he did on the football field. This preseason, he used all that athleticism to harass quarterbacks and control the point of attack in the run game. He still has potential, and somebody may want to take a gamble on him as a 3-4 defensive end.
Possible Fits: New Orleans, Indianapolis
Bobby Rainey, RB – Baltimore
How he impressed: Rushing for less than 4 yards per carry during the preseason, Rainey’s surface numbers don’t jump off the page. What does, however, is that Rainey forced 11 missed tackles in just 26 total touches, and did not fumble. The young running back possesses a build and style similar to Maurice Jones-Drew, and he served as a workhorse in college at Western Kentucky. Don’t be shocked to see Rainey make his way onto a team in need of a quality backup running back. He may even be able to start in this league at some point.
Possible Fits: Cleveland, Oakland
Everette Brown, OLB – Philadelphia
How he impressed: Brown was an absolute beast of a pass rusher, racking up four sacks, a hit, and five hurries in just 35 pass rushes. He finally hit his stride, appearing ready to deliver on his potential with outstanding performances in his last two preseason games.. With such a premium placed on getting pressure on quarterbacks, Brown appears ready to resurrect his career with a team in need of an edge rusher.
Possible Fits: San Diego, Atlanta
Tony Pashos, OT – Washington
How he impressed: By bulldozing through defenders, Pashos earned a run blocking grade of +4.4. He also posted a respectable 95.4 Pass Blocking Efficiency. It’s quite surprising that Pashos not only lost out on the starting job to Tyler Polumbus, but was not even kept on the roster. Polumbus last year ranked 65th out of 72 offensive tackles with his 91.3 PBE. If his preseason is any indication, Pashos could a handful of teams not only as depth, but as a full-time starter.
Possible Fits: Green Bay, Houston
Jerome Long, DL – Dallas
Grade: +5.3 Snaps: 161
A bit of a tweener, the versatile Long played well at both DE and DT for Dallas, registering 11 pressures and six stops. He may be better suited as a 3-4 defensive end.
John Conner, FB – Cincinnati
Grade: +3.7 Snaps: 54
Earned a +4.0 run blocking grade in the final preseason game, paving the way for a Cincinnati rushing attack that piled up 191 yards.
Orie Lemon, ILB – Kansas City
Grade: +3.3 Snaps: 71
Led all inside linebackers in Run Stop Percentage. Did not miss any tackles.
Alan Baxter, OLB – Pittsburgh
Grade: +3.1 Snaps: 105
Showed off his ability to get after the quarterback in the final two preseason games with eight pressures in his last 33 pass rushes.
Matthew Tucker, RB – Philadelphia
Grade: +2.8 Snaps: 80
Showed some elusiveness by forcing three missed tackles on his three receptions and allowed zero pressure as a pass blocker.
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