The NFL preseason concluded on Sunday, and now teams have made the tough choices and cut their respective rosters to 53 players.
Every year, there are plenty of surprise cuts and an equal number of under-the-radar players who defy the odds and make an NFL roster. This year was no different, especially at the quarterback position.
While the majority of attention on rookie quarterbacks this preseason was paid to the first-round picks of Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud and Anthony Richardson — along with second-rounder Will Levis — a few later-round picks stole the show and ended up making the cut.
Here are four overlooked rookie quarterbacks who quietly did big things this Summer.
Sean Clifford, Green Bay Packers
The Packers surprised a lot of people when they selected Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford in the fifth round of the draft. A six-year player, the consensus was that Clifford would go undrafted. With Aaron Rodgers traded to the Jets, Jordan Love was the only other quarterback on the roster prior to the draft. That meant Clifford was quickly given a chance to earn the backup job, and he did just that.
Seeing action in all three preseason games, Clifford completed 72% of his passes for 391 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. The two turnovers are obviously a concern; but other than that, he was nearly perfect. Packers head coach Matt LaFleur confirmed after the preseason finale that Clifford made the roster as Love's backup. A player who was expected to go undrafted is now firmly on an NFL roster.
Aidan O'Connell, Las Vegas Raiders
Another sixth-year college player who didn't seem to have much of an NFL future was Purdue standout Aidan O'Connell. Drafted in the fourth round, O'Connell was also given an opportunity to make the Raiders roster with Derek Carr leaving the organization and Jimmy Garoppolo brought in to be the starter. In three preseason games, O'Connell completed 69.4% of his passes for 482 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. His quarterback rating of 108.4 was among the best for all quarterbacks this preseason.
With Garoppolo's extensive injury history, the Raiders need a backup they can trust. While veteran Brian Hoyer is competing with O'Connell for the backup job, the rookie has done enough to at least hang around on the practice squad or be an interesting trade piece for a quarterback-needy team.
Dorian Thompson-Robinson, Cleveland Browns
A fifth-round pick from UCLA, Dorian Thompson-Robinson was one of the most exciting quarterbacks in college football, and that seemingly translated to the NFL this preseason. Thompson-Robinson completed 63.8% of his passes this preseason for 440 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. His quarterback rating of 98.3 was third best among rookie quarterbacks this preseason.
The Browns were so impressed with Thompson-Robinson's play that they traded veteran backup Josh Dobbs to the Cardinals last week. The move secured Thompson-Robinson's spot as the backup quarterback on the Cleveland roster. With the extensive off-field issues that starter Deshaun Watson has dealt with, the Browns trusting a rookie to be their plan B says a lot about Thompson-Robinson.
Clayton Tune, Arizona Cardinals
Speaking of Dobbs and the Cardinals, with Kyler Murray still recovering from an ACL injury, the Cards need a starter for at least the first four games of the season. The thought was that longtime journeyman backup Colt McCoy would be the guy, but he was released last week in one of the more surprising moves this preseason.
Competing with Dobbs will be fifth-round pick Clayton Tune from Houston. Tune was one of the more productive quarterbacks in college football last season, passing for over 4,000 yards with 40 touchdowns to just 10 interceptions. This preseason, Tune completed 57.6% of his passes for 353 yards with a touchdown and an interception. While these are not exactly eye-popping numbers, they were was enough for the Cardinals to consider him for their starting job to begin the 2023 season.
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