NFL preseason preview: 16 players to watch in the AFC

By The Sports Xchange

Reporters covering every AFC camp and every practice for The Sports Xchange each selected a Player to Watch during the preseason. They are presented here as fans prepare to take a look for themselves at this week's games.



Running back Terrance West: The Baltimore native is on track to resurrect his career with the Ravens after being signed to the team's practice squad in November. West lowered his weight to about 215 pounds, which is about five pounds lighter than he was in college. He has also shown explosiveness when hitting holes and catching balls out of the backfield. West could unseat Justin Forsett as the starter with a strong showing in the preseason games. "I feel good," West said. "I feel powerful - more explosive. I can hit more big runs."


Wide receiver Marquise Goodwin: When the diminutive, injury-prone Goodwin skipped all of the offseason program while attempting to make the U.S. Olympic team as a long jumper, it appeared like his NFL career was in jeopardy. During his first three years in the NFL, Goodwin had missed 24 of 48 games due to injury, and with so many receivers in camp, it was thought to be a tough task for Goodwin to rejoin the team late in the preseason and make the team. Well, he didn't qualify for the Olympics, and he's been in camp since Day 1 looking like a rejuvenated player who has positioned himself near the top of the depth chart behind starters Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods.



Wide receiver Tyler Boyd: One of the big storylines entering camp has been the young receivers and who would emerge to help fill a void left by the departures of free agents Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones. Veterans A.J. Green and Brandon LaFell are the anchors, but Boyd might be playing his way into a starting role with sensational play after sensational play. Boyd now just needs to establish some consistency and translate his practice performances to the playing field. "So good to see," offensive coordinator Ken Zampese told the Cincinnati Enquirer. "He's been doing a nice job. He's been coming on. We need more urgency on a consistent basis from him. We just need him to bring it all the time."


Tackle Spencer Drango: Drango can play left or right tackle, but with nine-time Pro-Bowl player Joe Thomas firmly entrenched on the left side, Drango has been seeing time with the first unit on the right side. He has a feisty mentality and once he gets in front of the defender the fifth-round draft pick from Baylor doesn't give in. Drango is battling Alvin Bailey, Shon Coleman and Austin Pasztor for playing time. Drango is listed as the starter for the preseason opener in Green Bay. Ultimately, the job might go to Pasztor because of experience, but even if that does happen, Drango is showing he can back up both tackle spots.



Offensive lineman Michael Schofield: He struggled at times working at right tackle last year, particularly in a Week 14 loss to Oakland when he allowed four of the five sacks racked up by Khalil Mack. But he has shown improvement this offseason and through training camp, and is on track to be at least the top backup offensive lineman. Schofield is listed as a co-No. 1 right guard along with the injured Ty Sambrailo, but will start Thursday at left tackle in place of Russell Okung, who is being eased back from a shoulder injury. A strong performance could give him confidence that he could apply to his bid to be the starting right guard.


Running back Tyler Ervin: Ervin bears watching as a versatile third-down back. He doubles as a dangerous kick returner. The fourth-round pick from San Jose State could figure into the Texans' plans as a valuable reserve behind starter Lamar Miller. The Texans like his elusiveness and quickness.


Guard/tackle Joe Haeg: The Colts' fifth-round draft pick last spring, Haeg has caught the attention of the coaching staff. Haeg played tackle last season as a senior at FCS power North Dakota State, but has done a nice job of moving inside to guard during OTAs and minicamp work. His progress at guard has continued during training camp and he has seen work at both left and right guard slots. With the injury last week to starting right tackle Joe Reitz, the 6-foot-6, 304-pound Haeg was slated to start in his place in last Sunday night's cancelled Hall of Fame Game.



Defensive end Yannick Ngakoue: The rookie from Maryland has been a standout in training camp thus far. He's had the upper hand in one-on-one battles with Jaguars tackles. In Monday's practice, he was a perfect 4-0 in one-on-one pass rushing drills, twice beating Luke Joeckel and twice getting by Josh Wells. Joeckel and Wells were alternating as the starting left tackle. "He's been impressive. His motor is the big part of it," Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley said about Ngakoue, a third-round draft pick earlier this year. "The question with him out of the draft was how he was going to play the run. We have been pleasantly surprised with how he has been doing in that aspect. He is playing with a certain level of maturity as a rusher." Ngakoue figures to get plenty of playing time against the New York Jets on Thursday in his backup role at defensive end. With the starters likely limited to just the first quarter, Ngakoue will see a lot of time in the second and third quarters.


Linebacker Justin March: Listed at 6-foot, 222 pounds, the first-year linebacker from the University of Akron is on the small side, especially for a player that works the inside in a 3-4 defense. Signed last year as an undrafted free agent, March made a big impression in training camp, but then sustained a knee injury in a preseason game that required surgery and he did not get back on the field. He's picked up this August right where he left off last year. "Justin is a very instinctive player," said defensive coordinator Bob Sutton. "He's got some of that natural feel for the ball and that's a great trait to have, particularly as an inside player. You can't tell where the ball is going all the time -- whether it's staying inside or bouncing back out. He's always had that sense of nature since he's been here. He's got great energy, he plays really hard and he gets his hands on a lot of footballs. If he just keeps coming, he's going to be a real plus for us."



Wide receiver/punt returner Jakeem Grant: This 5-foot-6 ball of energy has made everyone ooh and ahh with his slick moves in 1-on-1 drills and punt and kickoff returns. But Grant, the sixth-round pick from Texas Tech, has to show his hands and routes are NFL-worthy. That could happen Friday at the New York Giants. Expect Grant to get a good look on special teams and some snaps at slot receiver. If they get him in space, and he runs a good route and actually catches the ball, he could be dangerous. And a lot of fun.


Running back Tyler Gaffney: After two years on injured reserve to open his NFL career, former Stanford star Gaffney is looking to take advantage of his reps in a pretty open running back battle this summer. The big back has shown nice burst and elusiveness in practice -- including intra-squad scrimmages and joint sessions with the Saints. But there is a big difference between practice rushing yards and those that come in live game competition and Gaffney will be looking to take the next step in his drive toward a potential roster spot in the preseason opener against New Orleans on Thursday.



Wide receiver Kyle Williams: The Jets have having a wide-open competition in search of a kickoff and punt returner, and head coach Todd Bowles said he would like to see a handful of candidates audition Thursday during the preseason opener against the Jaguars. Williams, who missed the last two seasons with shoulder and Achilles injuries, averaged 24 yards per kickoff return and 8.1 yards per punt return from 2010 through 2013 with the San Francisco 49ers and Denver Broncos. He could vault onto the radar Thursday.


Running back Jalen Richard: An undrafted free agent out of Southern Mississippi, Richard has been breaking off some big runs during camp and opening eyes. At 5-foot-8, 207 pounds, Richard has fallen under the radar behind fifth-round pick DeAndre Washington but has been nearly as effective during practice. The Raiders are seeking complementary backs for Latavius Murray -- as quarterback Derek Carr was their second-leading rusher las season -- and Richard stands a chance at making the 53-man roster. The Raiders will open the season down one back, as Marcel Reece will be on the suspended list for the first three games for violating the NFL's policy on performance enhancing drugs.



Linebacker Tyler Matakevich: A rookie seventh-round pick from Temple, Matakevich is having a strong camp, but he plays a position where the Steelers have lots of depth. If the Steelers keep five inside linebackers, it will be between Matakevich and L.J. Fort, who also has been a standout early in camp. Against the Lions Friday night, Matakevich will have a chance to show he can do in the NFL what he did in college - make lots of tackles. He's done that in practice, but he'll have to prove he can do it in game if he wants to earn a roster spot.


Wide receiver Tyrell Williams: With Malcom Floyd's retirement and the serious camp knee injury suffered by Stevie Johnson, Williams has been able to be on the field more. He hasn't disappointed with his reliable hands and a quick connection he's forming with Philip Rivers. Among his three touchdown catches in Monday's practice was a fade to the back corner, with him and Rivers clicking beautifully. Williams can continue his solid camp with a good showing on Saturday against the Titans. Williams is listed behind Travis Benjamin on the depth chart.



Nose tackle Antwaun Woods: The Titans needed help behind starter Al Woods at nose tackle. So they drafted Austin Johnson with a second-round pick. However, the Titans have a surprise in the race for the backup nose tackle spot, as undrafted Antwaun Woods of Southern Cal has moved past Johnson for now on the depth chart. Woods, 6-foot-1, 318, plays with good leverage and has such a big body that offensive linemen have had trouble getting their hands on him and moving him out of the way.

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