Here we are in Week 3 of the NFL preseason. Yup, it's go time!
Teams use this week as the dress rehearsal for the regular season. Of course, every team has things to iron out before the show opens. Major questions remain, especially when it comes to certain players.
Here are nine guys carrying substantial question marks into the preseason's most important game:
1) Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos
That was Peyton Manning, speaking to The MMQB's Peter King and explaining that he hasn't had feeling in his fingertips since the series of neck surgeries that caused him to miss the entire 2011 season. Pretty jarring stuff. Now, he has thrown 131 touchdown passes in the three seasons since, but this speaks to a larger concern for Manning: the corroding health of his 39-year-old body.
Let's get one thing straight: Manning is an all-time great quarterback. There's clearly no disputing this. But 17 seasons deep, his body is betraying him. He wasn't healthy down the stretch last season, as a quad injury drastically impacted his play -- and led to Denver's playoff one-and-done, via a strikingly underwhelming home loss to Indianapolis. Can we really expect Manning's body to hold up through another long NFL season? Oh, and did I mention that the Broncos' offensive line is chock full o' inexperience? In Week 2 of the preseason, Denver started two rookies on the left side (tackle Ty Sambrailo and guard Max Garcia) and a center who spent last year on the practice squad (Matt Paradis). Now, on Wednesday, the Broncos wisely signed veteran Evan Mathis, who will take over for Garcia at left guard. That's a major upgrade. But Manning still has a lot of feeling out to do with all of the new faces on his O-line.
And just in case that wasn't a big enough list of concerns ... Peyton is learning a new offense, with Gary Kubiak taking over as head coach. And his first trial run in live action -- last Saturday's game against the Houston Texans -- certainly left something to be desired. Manning completed eight of his 14 passes for just 52 yards (a paltry 3.7 yards per attempt). Most importantly, all four Manning-led drives in the game ended in punts. It appears there's going to be a learning curve for everyone to grasp Kubiak's offense, and for Peyton to get comfortable performing all of his checks at the line. It will be very interesting to see where everyone's at in Saturday night's game against the San Francisco 49ers.
2) Devin McCourty, DB, New England Patriots
"I hope it's not permanent," McCourty said, per CSN New England. "As a player, that's out of your control.
"It didn't feel great, and I don't think it looked great, so we'll see."
With Darrelle Revis gone to the Jets and Brandon Browner in New Orleans, Bill Belichick is taking a look at all of the different possibilities in his secondary. McCourty moved back to safety in Tuesday's practice, so maybe that was just a one-game trial. Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler and Tarell Brown appear poised to start as the top two cornerbacks, with a battle still raging for the nickel spot.
The Patriots' upside in 2015: to win another Lombardi Trophy. That said, with some ambiguity in the defensive backfield -- not to mention at quarterback -- there's notable uncertainty about the defending champs.
This Friday's game against the Kelvin Benjamin-less Panthers might not be the most imposing test for the secondary, but it will still be interesting to see how Belichick deploys his troops.
3) Brandon Scherff, OG, Washington Redskins
Yes, Robert Griffin III's poor play and complete lack of pocket awareness is discouraging, but let's be honest: The Redskins' offensive line was atrocious in last Thursday's game against Detroit. It was particularly alarming seeing the fifth overall pick resemble a fifth-round selection. Scherff got completely worked over at right guard. Just look at how forcefully he's driven back by Lions DT Tyrunn Walker on this sack. Can't imagine that was fun for Scherff to relive in the film room.
As I wrote in the Schein Nine recap immediately following the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft, Scherff was a big-time reach at the No. 5 overall spot. (Still can't believe the 'Skins took him with Leonard Williams just dangling there for the picking.) Scherff needs to shore up his play. And fast. On Saturday, Scherff and Co. travel to Baltimore to face the Ravens' stout defensive front. How will the rookie guard perform against the imposing interior duo of Brandon Williams and Timmy Jernigan?
4) Darren McFadden, RB, Dallas Cowboys
He's been injured in the preseason, which can't be a surprise. After all, McFadden's logged 16 games in just one of his seven NFL seasons. He did play in this past Sunday's game against the 49ers, though, logging 4 yards on three carries. All in all, head coach Jason Garrett was not happy with the ground game after that contest.
"It was good to see those guys out there," Garrett said, via The Dallas Morning News, alluding to the fact that Dallas' backfield has been quite banged up, "but we obviously didn't run the ball real well."
No real surprise, if you ask me. With reigning Offensive Player of the Year DeMarco Murray gone to Philly, the Cowboys' RB depth chart includes the likes of Joseph Randle, Lance Dunbar, Gus Johnson and McFadden. I never would've signed McFadden in the first place, given his extensive injury history. Is he in jeopardy of not making the team? It'd certainly be nice to see him do something against the Vikings this Saturday ...
5) Devin Funchess, WR, Carolina Panthers
Kelvin Benjamin is out for the year, and that's just a brutal loss for Carolina. I liked Funchess as a second banana to Benjamin, but is he ready to take over as the team's WR1? I have my doubts, that's for sure. And it certainly doesn't help that Funchess has been limited by a hamstring injury (though he did return to practice in a limited role on Tuesday).
Hopefully, the second-round pick is able to play in Friday's game against New England, because -- fair or unfair -- he needs to prove he can be an instant-impact target for Cam Newton. There is a ton of pressure on this kid in the wake of Benjamin's injury. He needs all the preseason reps he can get.
6) Jarryd Hayne, RB/PR, San Francisco 49ers
What a story this is, with the Australian rugby star making an immediate impact on the Niners, particularly on special teams. It's highly entertaining to watch -- check out the Willie Mays impression on this 27-yard punt return. Right now, he's averaging 21.6 yards per punt return. Oh, and he's also rushed 13 times for 117 yards.
But is Hayne a lock to make the team?
I think he's a front-runner, but he's not quite there yet. A guy like Hayne doesn't have any margin for error and needs to keep proving he belongs. I hope it continues to happen Saturday night in Denver. This is just a fun guy to have in the league.
7) Davante Adams, WR, Green Bay Packers
I believe he is. Mike McCarthy gushed about Adams in recent months, calling him the offseason MVP. We saw him flash plenty of talent as a rookie -- see: his dominant performance in the playoff win over Dallas -- and I think he catches 80 passes this year.
8) Doug Martin, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
9) Blair Walsh, K, Minnesota Vikings
That has to end, right? Imagine Mike Zimmer would like to see his kicker boot a few balls through the uprights in Dallas this Saturday.