Preseason winners & losers: Christine Michael for real?

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"Christine Michael's Awakening" is the 2016 preseason. Christine Michael is every season.

The Seahawks running back is now part of a football hipster's shorthand. He is your failed hype bunny. He is hope unrealized. He is a reminder that May, June, July and August are often NFL months better left ignored. How you react to Michael's buzzy month and impressive preseason effort against Kansas City is a Rorschach Test for your football fandom.

Do you believe that players, teams and coaches can truly change?

Cam Newton wasn't considered a top-12 quarterback at this time a year ago. Doug Martin was thought to be expendable last offseason. Thomas Davis was once an injury-prone safety.

There is no scientific method for figuring out which camp stories will stick. Your best hope is to find a player who impressed at every stage of the offseason (OTAs, camp, preseason) and trust your eyes. Michael ran downhill on Saturday like someone who saw the light after being confronted with his NFL mortality. (He was jettisoned by three teams last year.) Michael showed his usual lateral quickness and refused to go down at first contact. His encouraging play for Seattle down the stretch last season -- particularly the 100-yard game in Week 17 -- provides key context.

The pounding drumbeat from Michael's coaches and teammates and the beat writers covering him is too loud to ignore now. The opportunity to help replace Marshawn Lynch on the Seahawks' run-first offense is too obvious to overlook, especially with Thomas Rawls coming off injury. I choose to believe dramatic change is possible because it happens every year. Because the craziest stories we never imagined will come to life in a month. I believe in The Awakening.

Other buzzy running backs made good

So many of this offseason's most talked about players backed it up over the weekend. This was especially true among running backs, a position worth watching closer than others in August. Some of my favorites:

1) Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans: The consensus draft analysis about Henry bemoaned his inability to make defenders miss. The jokes about his slow feet continued into the pros. That supposed weakness was nowhere to be seen vs. San Diego.

The Chargers' backup linebackers had an embarrassing time setting the edge against Tennessee, yet Henry's smooth running was unmistakable. His lateral movement was far better than advertised, and his ability to finish runs while breaking tackles was impressive. Yes, the Titans kept their starting offensive line in against backups. It will hurt when Mike Mularkey can't rely on genius fans for play calls. Henry still showed us what Titans beat writers have been watching for weeks. He has a chance to cut into DeMarco Murray's carries.

2) Melvin Gordon, San Diego Chargers: After a misunderstood rookie season and an offseason hampered by injury, Gordon has his burst back. It was no mistake that Chargers coach Mike McCoy gave Gordon the ball five times on the team's opening drive Saturday, including on a 44-yard touchdown catch. McCoy wanted to see if Gordon's impressive practices would carry over to game action. Unlike last August, Gordon didn't hesitate when given the chance.

3) Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers: It's not about his size. Lacy doesn't look that different, and guessing a man's weight is high on the Unsavory Beat Writer Activities Power Rankings. The difference in Lacy's limited work last Friday night: He ran angry, leaving defenders on the ground behind him.

4) DeAndre Washington, Oakland Raiders: Washington played mostly against backups. He has starter-level quickness and made some Cardinals defenders question their career choices with his jukes in the open field. General manager Reggie McKenzie gambled by not drafting a backup for Latavius Murray until the fifth round. Like many recent McKenzie gambles, this one could pay off.

5) Terrance West, Baltimore Ravens: You have to see some things before you believe them. Terrance West as a difference-making running back is one of those things. The yardage stats from Thursday (25 yards on nine carries) don't tell the story. West ran with a lot of juice and light feet for his size. Oh, and he also scored a pair of touchdowns.

Potential value picks from April's draft

It's never too early to look at which Day 2 and 3 picks -- those made beyond the first round -- are set to make a big impact in Year 1.

1) Noah Spence, DE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Spence fell to No. 39 because of multiple off-field problems. He immediately has looked more versatile as a pass rusher than expected. He's got moves. The Bucs might finally be able to pressure the three pillars of NFC South quarterbacking (Cam Newton, Matt Ryan and Drew Brees) with a trio of their own: Spence, Gerald McCoy and Robert Ayers.

2) Tyler Boyd, WR, Cincinnati Bengals: Cincinnati impresario Duke Tobin had to hit on this pick. The Bengals needed to draft someone to play right away, and Boyd hasn't disappointed. The second-round selection was expected to be a pure slot receiver, and that's where he should play many snaps once the season starts. Boyd makes this list because he's also making an impact on the outside.

Boyd was targeted deep down the field twice in the preseason opener, hauling in a 40-yarder. Bengals quarterback AJ McCarron said he looks deep to Boyd often, because the Pitt product is so good at tracking long passes. He's made a lot of vertical plays in camp -- a big development, especially considering the news of a hand injury for veteran pickup Brandon LaFell.

3-4) Tyler Higbee, TE, Los Angeles Rams and Hunter Henry, TE, San Diego Chargers: Taken in the fourth round, Higbee looks like a find. Rams coach Jeff Fisher said he could play "very, very early" for the Rams, which might just mean starting in Week 1. Five catches and 49 yards in the first half of the team's return to Los Angeles helped confirm all the praise Higbee has received throughout camp.

Henry was the first tight end drafted, taken No. 35 overall. His athleticism doesn't leap off the screen like Higbee's, but Henry has a reputation as a strong blocker, and that showed up in Saturday's preseason opener. He can also go up the seam; he caught three passes for 43 yards. The Chargers wanted to keep Ladarius Green as a free agent, but they might have lucked out by letting him go to Pittsburgh and replacing him with Henry. Look for the Chargers to use a lot of two-tight end sets with Antonio Gates and his new understudy.

5-6) De'Vondre Campbell and Deion Jones, LB, Atlanta Falcons: Dan Quinn was coaching someone else's team last year. It had too much DNA left over from the Mike Smith era. This year's influx of rookie defenders, especially at linebacker, makes this Quinn's team. Campbell and Jones add a speed element to a defense that lacked sizzle.

Rude beginnings for top rookie quarterbacks

Sanctioned professional football games can make all that NFL draft overanalysis feel silly. Take a rookie quarterback and strip away the signing bonus, the press coverage and the slot where he was selected -- you're left with a young adult trying not to look overwhelmed in a highly specialized field of grown men.

That creates a level playing field in which Carson Wentz, the No. 2 overall draft pick, can be the third quarterback off the bench for the Philadelphia Eagles, while Joe Callahan, an undrafted rookie from Wesley College, can start a game for the Green Bay Packers.

The No. 1 overall pick, Jared Goff, couldn't see his second NFL pass getting intercepted because he was on the ground after getting planted by a blitz. On the same field, Cowboys rookie Dak Prescott was looking off safeties and throwing back-shoulder fades like an eight-year veteran. Prescott was drafted 134 picks after the Rams took Goff.

This is not to say that Prescott will have a better season -- much less a better career -- than Goff. It is a reminder that nothing is guaranteed with any draft pick. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, like the rest of America, now wants to see what Prescott can do in the coming weeks. Who needs Josh McCown?

It is far more typical for a rookie quarterback to lose his bearings, like Browns third-round pick Cody Kessler did when he went Full Orlovsky. Denver's first-round pick, Paxton Lynch, once expected to challenge for the starting job, wowed with his tools while leading the Broncos offense to no points in two quarters of action. Jets second-round pick Christian Hackenberg can't even get in the game, while Raiders fourth-rounder Connor Cook has virtually no chance to pass preseason legend Matt McGloin on the depth chart.

Goff's brief outing (two drives) wasn't disastrous. He was hurt by drops and the Cowboys caught him on a blitz. Goff will play more with the starting Rams unit this week, although he is running out of time to earn the Week 1 starting job over Case Keenum. Wentz flashed impressive traits but rarely stayed in the pocket and was inaccurate before he fractured his ribs. Wentz's injury will cost him valuable experience and hurt his chances of overtaking Sam Bradford this season. As this weekend proved, there is no substitute for game action. You never know what you're going to get.

It was a rough weekend for ...

1) The Miami Dolphins' offense: After mentioning Miami's struggle to pick up first downs in their team scrimmage last week, it's only fair to follow up. The Dolphins didn't pick up a first down in their first five series against the Giants on Friday night, with Ryan Tannehill hit on nearly every dropback during his two series of work.

It's too early to panic, but it makes sense that Dolphins offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen wants everything to speed up in Miami. There are a few teams each season that are obviously out of sorts all August and stay out of sorts early in the regular season. Miami has a few weeks to pull itself out of its doldrums.

2) Chip Kelly diehards: I still believe in Chip Kelly, offensive difference maker. With the right support, he has a chance to develop into a top-tier NFL coach. Still, those left in Camp Kelly have to worry that this 49ers roster is unsalvageable. Colin Kaepernick is struggling with injuries. Blaine Gabbert led a touchdown drive but also started the preseason with the yips. Rookie Jeff Driskel threw for 20 yards on 12 attempts. This 49ers offense must learn a lot in a short amount of time, without much NFL experience to fall back on. Kelly will need help from unproven defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil, because O'Neil's unit is where most of the Niners' best players reside.

3) The New Orleans Saints' defense: There are many reasons to believe the Saints' defense will be better this year, but they can't catch a break. Their top defensive picks from the last two drafts (defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, linebacker Stephone Anthony, linebacker Hau'oli Kikaha) keep going down to injury. The Saints had the right idea to maximize Nick Fairley's snaps by bringing him off the bench behind Rankins. They might not have that luxury anymore.

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