0 out of 5
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The 2022 NFL preseason is officially underway after Thursday night’s Hall of Fame game.
Although the results of these games do not count in the rankings, there will be plenty of meaningful information to discern from the action to come.
Some of the most important revelations from these exhibition contests and training camps involve players who have something to prove.
Whether it’s because they’re engaged in contested positional battles, want to prove they were worth their draft position, or are in a contract year with money on the line, these players will use the pre-season to prove their worth and gain the trust of their team.
With that in mind, here are five players – listed in alphabetical order – with the most to prove in the 2022 pre-season.
1 out of 5
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The Baltimore Ravens receiving corps is going to be very different this year. With Marquise Brown — their outgoing No.
Rashod Bateman will assume the role vacated by Brown, but the pecking order behind the team’s 2021 first-round pick is still unclear.
Devin Duvernay is one of the leading candidates to work as Baltimore’s No. 2 WR. The 24-year-old earned an All-Pro nod as a comeback last year, but he’s yet to really cut his teeth as an NFL wide receiver, chipping in just 53 receptions for 473 yards and a pair of touchdowns in his first two pro seasons.
That should change in 2022 after the Ravens opted out of making any major WR additions. Duvernay will compete with James Proche II, Tylan Wallace, Jaylon Moore and Binjimen Victor for targets behind Bateman and star tight end Mark Andrews.
Due to the proven lack of talent among WR2 candidates, Duvernay — a 2020 third-round pick — has the inside lane to be the team’s third option in the passing game. He possesses blistering speed and quickness that will allow him to burn through slower defenders, but he has yet to show he can win contested balls and execute precise routes.
If Duvernay struggles, the Ravens could be in trouble. The club are already fielding one of the heaviest attacks and could be forced to rely even more on the ground game to succeed if they cannot unearth a regular gap to support Bateman and Andrews in pre-season.
2 out of 5
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Baker Mayfield is running out of opportunities to show he can be a franchise quarterback in the NFL.
After falling out of favor with the Cleveland Browns, who showed a lack of faith in the signalman by trading for Deshaun Watson, Mayfield languished on the roster for months. The Carolina Panthers eventually emerged as a business partner, offering the disgruntled QB a chance to rehabilitate his career with a change of scenery.
However, Mayfield is not guaranteed a starting position with the Panthers. The organization has only given up a conditional Day 3 pick and is paying less than $5 million in final season wages on the 27-year-old’s contract.
Considering Mayfield is coming off the worst campaign of his professional career, one in which he was badly injured but pushed to the detriment of himself and the Browns. He must also beat Sam Darnold, another top pick of the Class of 2018 who landed in Carolina after blazing with his original franchise.
With Mayfield and Darnold battling not just for a starting job, but also for the right to change their respective careers, the Panthers could be hosting the fiercest positional battle of the preseason.
Mayfield had slightly more individual success than Darnold in their first four years in the NFL. He’s just one season away from leading the Browns to an 11-5 record and their first playoff victory since 1994.
Darnold has yet to make the playoffs, and his best performance was a 7-6 record as a starter with the New York Jets in 2019. The 25-year-old went just 4-7 l last year – his first campaign with the Panthers – before going down with a shoulder injury.
If Mayfield can show he’s back to his 2020 form in the preseason, the Panthers’ job should be his to lose. Otherwise, Darnold will likely start the 2022 campaign as Carolina’s QB1.
3 out of 5
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Bernhard Raimann was widely regarded as one of the top offensive tackle prospects in the 2022 class. the Indianapolis Colts didn’t stop his fall.
Part of the reason for Raimann’s drastic drop on draft day is his relatively raw skill set. The Austria native started his college career as a tight end before moving to left tackle in 2020, gaining just six games of experience in a shortened campaign.
Despite recording 12 starts before being named to the All-MAC first team last year, Raimann has yet to prove he’s ready to take on top-tier defenders. That could be tough with veteran Matt Pryor eager to earn Indy’s left tackle gig in a contract year.
Pryor worked with the first team during training camp despite being inexperienced in the role. SI.com’s Jake Arthur noted that the 2018 sixth-round pick recorded just 172 of his 1,294 career offensive snaps at left tackle.
While Pryor is currently atop the depth chart at LT, Raimann has reportedly impressed the Colts brass with his early progress while practicing at several offensive line positions.
The 6’6″, 303-pound rookie has the physical tools to become a franchise left tackle for an offensive line that desperately needs to find a mainstay there. Indianapolis threw the tires on Eric Fisher last year with mixed results, but still hasn’t found stability following the retirement of Anthony Castonzo after the 2020 season.
If Raimann can put together a strong preseason and show he’s their left tackle of the future, the Colts might just get him into the starting lineup quickly as a rookie.
4 out of 5
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The Cincinnati Bengals may have just won a Super Bowl, but the franchise still has several question marks in key positions as it seeks to defend its AFC crown.
One of the spots undergoing a noticeable change from last year is the tight end. Cincinnati opted to let veteran CJ Uzomah walk into free agency after seven years with the club.
With the titular TE1 out of the picture, the pressure will be on Drew Sample to perform this season. The Bengals clearly trust the fourth-year veteran to become the tight end after Uzomah’s departure.
Sample has been an intriguing talent since being ranked No. 52 overall in 2019. He showed flashes in his sophomore year when he had a career-best 40 receptions for 349 yards, but he was eliminated from offense last year and caught just 11 passes for 81 yards.
The Washington product’s offensive workload dropped from 868 snaps in 2020 to just 459 last year despite appearing in another game in 2021.
Sample, whose rookie contract is coming to an end after the next campaign, now has his best chance to prove himself, but the 26-year-old will still have to beat Hayden Hurst for snaps. Hurst, a 2018 first-round pick who fell short of expectations for the Baltimore Ravens and Atlanta Falcons, is also struggling to get his career on track.
A scary training camp leg injury
could set Sample back in his quest to become the starter – he was already working with the second-string offense before the injury – but there should be plenty of opportunities for Sample to usurp Hurst atop the pre-season depth chart. season if he can stay healthy.
5 out of 5
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Michael Thomas may have been nearly unstoppable in 2019, but the New Orleans Saints superstar receiver has been virtually invisible in the wake of his record-breaking season.
Thomas has only appeared in seven games since racking up 149 receptions for 1,725 yards and nine touchdowns in 2019, recording just 345 offensive snaps in seven games in 2020 and missing all of last year as he recovered from nagging ankle injury.
The Saints’ aerial offense has struggled without Thomas in the roster – they had the league’s worst passing offense in 2021 – but the club looks set to turn a corner with or without the three-time Pro Bowler in the lineup. alignment.
There are plenty of mouths to feed in the Big Easy now, a competition that could reduce Thomas’ workload if he’s not at his best.
Not only was fellow Pro Bowler Jarvis Landry picked in free agency, but the Saints also landed prized rookie Chris Olave with the No. 11 pick. They also locked down Taysom Hill as a pass-catching tight end instead. to flirt with the QB position.
Jameis Winston, who set up elite efficiency numbers last year before a torn ACL cut short his season, he returned to the fold on a two-year deal, ending New Orleans’ uncertainty under center.
Thomas turned 29 in March, and it’s far from certain he’ll return to All-Pro form even with an impeccable bill of health. He’s caught just 40 passes for 438 yards and zero touchdowns in 2020 and has plenty of rust to shed after being sidelined for so long.
At his best, the wide will represent a massive upgrade for the Saints’ receiving corps. In the run-up to the 2022 season, the team will be hoping he can showcase the skills that made him one of the game’s best in his position, but Thomas still has a long way to go to prove that he is still that player.