Every year around the beginning of August, football fans start to get this feeling they can't really explain. Like when you step outside on a clear day and somehow just know it is going to rain.
You sit in your favorite spot with a cold beer beside you, a position you plan to be in a whole lot over the next five months. The game kicks off, and you excitedly watch the first quarter with the thought "football is back" repeatedly going through your mind. Then it inevitably happens. About halfway through the second quarter you realize you don't know a single player, the commentators are lost, and both teams haven't had a good play all game.
You shamefully change the channel to the news while thinking "football isn't really back".
Nobody other than fringe roster players, their families, or the most degenerate of gamblers really care about the preseason, but, luckily we are only a mere two days away from football actually being back.
Just like a tree still makes noise falling in an empty forest, backups still secure meaningful playing time in an empty stadium. Let's take a look at what unknown players made the most of their opportunity and earned themselves a roster spot.
Isaiah Likely, Baltimore Ravens
Isaiah Likely is one of six fourth-round picks the Ravens had in the 2022 NFL Draft. In the Ravens second preseason game, Likely caught all eight passes thrown his way for a total of 100 yards and a touchdown. That is a stat line you expect from Likely's teammate Mark Andrews, not a fourth rounder out of Coastal Carolina.
The Ravens traded away Marquise Brown in the offseason, which means there are 146 targets up for grabs on offense. Likely's combination of size, speed, and run after the catch ability make him the perfect new weapon for Lamar Jackson and the Ravens. After a strong preseason, the rookie TE hopes to carry the momentum into the regular season and be a part of the most dangerous two tight end offense since the 2013 New England Patriots.
Dameon Pierce, Houston Texans
The Texans have not had a great running back since Arian Foster rushed for 1,616 yards in 2010, but there is optimism around the team that fourth-round draft pick Dameon Pierce is the answer. At the start of training camp, most assumed Marlon Mack would be the first string back after they signed him in the offseason. However, after the first preseason game, that was far from the case.
Pierce carried the ball in dominant fashion during the preseason, while the other Texan running backs failed to do anything productive with their opportunities. Pierce did not play a single snap in the Texans' second preseason game which is a testament to the confidence Houston's new head coach Lovie Smith has in his young running back.
The Texans decided to have Pierce suit back up for their dress rehearsal game against the 49ers, where he played alongside most of the offensive starters. Pierce found success again, rushing six times for 37 yards and finding the endzone for the first time in his NFL career. Keep an eye on Dameon Pierce, he just might be the next big star in the NFL.
KaVontae Turpin, Dallas Cowboys
There are some NFL players so electric with the ball in their hands that they can turn any play into a race down the sideline. KaVontae Turpin only had to touch the ball twice in the Cowboys preseason game against the Chargers to showcase that he is one of those special players.
Midway through the first quarter, Turpin returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown and made it look so easy you would think he could do it every play. Lo and behold, he did when he returned a punt 86 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. Needless to say, he had the attention of every Cowboys fan in Dallas.
The Former TCU standout and reigning USFL MVP clearly showed the coaches all he needed to in the first half because he came out in the second half without his pads on. Turpin might be the first player to go from undrafted to an NFL starting job in only two plays. The Cowboys hope Turpin can recreate his success in the regular season as they have only had two kickoff returns for touchdowns in the last 10 years.
Desmond Ridder, Atlanta Falcons
This is the first year the Falcons have had a question mark at the quarterback spot since Matt Ryan was drafted third overall in 2008. With Ryan now on the Colts, the Falcons had a hole at quarterback and planned on covering with a Marcus Mariota-sized piece of duct tape. Despite Mariota being the suspected starter, the Falcons might have found a more permanent fix to their QB problem in the third round of the draft when they picked Desmond Ridder out of Cincinnati.
Ironically enough, in preseason games Ridder has looked like what everyone thought Mariota would look like when the Titans first drafted him. Ridder had 103 yards and two passing touchdowns, including a game winning touchdown pass of 37 yards on fourth down against the Lions in his first preseason game. The next week, Ridder did not slow down, accurately completing 10 of 13 passes for 143 yards against the Jets. Ridder's 4.52 40 speed was by far the fastest of any quarterback in the draft, and he hopes to use it to run away with the QB competition and become the starter down the line this season.
Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh Steelers
Kenny Pickett is another quarterback who came into training camp as the presumed backup, but he made the QB competition much closer than expected due to his great preseason. In his first two preseason games, Pickett completed an incredible 19 of 23 passes for 171 yards and three touchdowns. Those were extremely impressive stats from a quarterback whose last name is the exact opposite of what you want the defense to do anytime you throw the ball.
Pickett has shown great poise and accuracy in his limited NFL action and even delivered a game-winning touchdown pass with only three seconds left in the preseason game against the Seahawks. The first-round pick had hoped to defeat Mitchell Trubisky for the starting job and many Steelers fans felt the same way. But now he'll have to hold onto a clipboard while Trubisky attempts to hold onto the top spot on the depth chart in Steeltown.