With the 2021 preseason starting its second week on Thursday, lots of questions will be answered on the field.
With only three weeks of preseason after the new Collective Bargaining Agreement came into effect in March, this will be the most important game for the 32 teams. Starters will get the most reps and bubble players will have their most vital chance to prove that they belong on a 53-man roster.
On that note, let’s have a look at 5 players who have everything to prove as we approach the new season.
#1 N’Keal Harry, WR, New England Patriots
It’s another year where Harry has an excellent camp but it seems that his practice production doesn’t translate to the field for some reason. The reviews of his performances in August are always glaring, but when he’s going against real competition, he fails to make an impact.
Harry is on the roster bubble as the Patriots spent a lot of money in Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith during free agency. New England is not short of pass catchers now, and if he doesn’t prove that he deserves another chance, his stint in Foxborough might be over.
#2 Drew Lock, QB, Denver Broncos
Lock is fighting for the starting quarterback job with Teddy Bridgewater, and their duel seems to be very tight since training camp started, even during preseason week 1 against the Minnesota Vikings.
There’s no denying that Lock has the biggest upside of the two passers. What he should prove during the preseason is that his mental processing of the game has evolved for the third season and that he won’t commit the same mistakes he made in 2020, especially being turnover-prone and taking risks.
#3 Andre Dillard, OT, Philadelphia Eagles
Dillard was supposed to take over the left tackle job following Jason Peters’ retirement, but he failed to live up to expectations as a first-round pick.
Now in his third year in the league, he’s facing stiff competition – and losing – to Jordan Mailata for the left tackle spot in the Eagles. Dillard must prove in the preseason that his talent didn’t go away suddenly and that he still has the potential to be a starting lineman in the league.
#4 Andy Dalton, QB, Chicago Bears
Everybody’s still saying that Dalton is the QB1 for the Bears, but Justin Fields is making a hard push for the job since camp started. While Dalton couldn’t do much against the first-team Miami Dolphins defense during preseason week 1, Fields lit up the field with an electric performance after he got past his first two drives in the league.
Dalton has to impress over the remaining two games, because the rookie is making his case to start and he’s doing it well.
#5 Jaylon Smith, LB, Dallas Cowboys
Since signing his contract extension, Smith has been nothing less than a disappointment for the Cowboys, and the patience of the team is running out. They signed Keanu Neal in free agency to compete with Smith for the weakside linebacker job and Neal has history with new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, so he’s accustomed to the system.
Smith has to play well in the preseason to show Quinn that he’s up to the task. If not, and considering his high salary, his time in Dallas will be over.