It’s make or break time for rookies across the NFL and with the first week of preseason action in the books, coaches are already making decisions on who will and won’t be making the final cuts in just a few weeks. For the rookies that hail from FCS schools, Week 1 was productive and the following guys got off on the right foot in their new NFL homes.
Montrell Washington, WR - Denver (Samford)
Often times the best way for a rookie to land a spot on an NFL roster is via special teams and that may be exactly what Broncos receiver Montrell Washington is doing. On Saturday’s preseason game against the Cowboys, Washington returned two punts, one of which was a nice 27-yard scamper that set up Denver’s offense for its second touchdown. Washington also saw snaps on offense, catching two passes and carrying the ball once. The return game, though, is really where the fifth-round pick shined and if he continues to make those kinds of plays he will likely lock up a spot on the team’s final roster by the end of the month.
Lance McCutcheon, WR - LA Rams (Montana State)
No rookie improved their odds of making the 53-man cuts later this month more than Rams receiver Lance McCutcheon. McCutcheon, who was signed on as an undrafted free agent earlier this summer, had stellar game on Saturday night in the Rams’ victory over the Chargers. He hauled in five passes for 87 yards and two touchdowns including a deep 60-yard catch-and-run score in the second quarter. McCutcheon also caught a crucial pass on a two-point conversion in the third quarter that helped the Rams to a 29-22 victory. If LA fans didn’t know about #82 before last weekend, they certainly do now.
Seth Vernon, P - Atlanta (Portland State)
It might seem somewhat odd to see a punter on this list, especially since he only punted three times for the Falcons on Friday against Detroit, but Seth Vernon made the most of his limited time on the field. His three boots traveled a total of 134 yards, good for an average of 44.7 yards per kick. Vernon also downed two of his punts inside the Lions’ 20-yard line and did not have any touchbacks. It’s hard to see him taking the job from veteran Bradley Pinion but with two more games to go, Vernon could turn enough heads to land somewhere before the start of the season.
Dai’Jean Dixon, WR - New Orleans (Nicholls)
Dai’Jean Dixon may not have been drafted but if his performance on Saturday is any indication, that won’t matter. Dixon was targeted four times against Houston and led the Saints with 33 yards on three receptions. What was bigger than his numbers, however, was the timeliness of his catches. Dixon snagged a big 17-yard completion midway through the third quarter on a third and long to keep the New Orleans drive going. His 12-yard catch moments before came when the offense was backed up due to a penalty. Dixon still has work to do this preseason if he wants to make the cut but he’s off to a good start down in the Big Easy.
Pierre Strong Jr, RB - New England (South Dakota State)
One of the more highly-touted running backs from the FCS, Pierre Strong Jr. got his first NFL action last Thursday night for the Patriots. He toted the ball six times against the Giants and ran for 25 yards, enough to lead the team on the ground. He also caught a pass out of the backfield. Strong was picked in the fourth round of this year’s draft but will still need to prove himself throughout the preseason to get a spot. His numbers form the first week may not jump off the page, but he didn’t fumble and gave himself a good point to build off of.
Cordell Volson, OL - Cincinnati (North Dakota State)
Lineman don’t often get recognition in the box scores but Cincinnati’s fourth-round pick Cordell Volson actually did last week for what he did against the Cardinals. In the fourth quarter of Friday’s game, Bengals quarterback Jake Browning was sacked and fumbled the ball at an inopportune time. Volson was there to clean up the fumble and allowed Cincinnati to retain possession. It may not seem like much, but awareness and hands, especially on the line, are highly sought after in the NFL. Volson also played a good portion of game at left guard and looked solid doing so. If he keeps making heads up plays and continues to keep the quarterback upright, then there’s no reason he shouldn't be on the Bengals final roster.