In debating the merits of the NFL's preseason, I like to point out that it does give us the opportunity to see which rookies might have the best chance to take the league by storm. Several teams are following Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan's blueprint from last August, slow-playing the rest of the NFL by keeping their true offense under wraps.
You won't find Tavon Austin on our list because the St. Louis Rams have joined the Philadelphia Eagles, Kansas City Chiefs and Carolina Panthers in trotting out bland versions of the offenses they will spring on supposedly unsuspecting defenses once the whistle blows. Some promising rookies such as Tyler Eifert of the Cincinnati Bengals have been kept under wraps while others such as Barkevious Mingo of the Cleveland Browns have been sidetracked by injury.
The list below represents the rookies that have impressed me the most on film for the past three weeks.
1. Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers running back
The Packers never could sustain a ground attack last season with their top three running backs averaging a combined 3.49 yards on 277 carries. That won't be the case this year. A quick-footed Lacy has shown the ability to make the first defender miss in the backfield before breaking a series of tackles in the box. He reminds us of a young Steven Jackson.
2. Kyle Long and Jon Bostic, Chicago Bears right guard/middle linebacker
Long and fifth-round draft pick Jordan Mills have transformed the Bears' traditionally beleaguered offensive line, paving the way for Matt Forte's renaissance. One of the NFL's most athletic guards, Long might be Pro Bowl-caliber right out of the gate. If Bostic continues to lower the boom, he's going to be an upgrade on last year's version of Brian Urlacher.
3. Cordarrelle Patterson and Sharrif Floyd, Minnesota Vikings wide receiver/defensive tackle
Patterson's first preseason touch went for 50 yards on an explosive kickoff return. By halftime of the same game, he was showing after-the-catch ability reminiscent of Julio Jones. Before he went under the knife for a minor knee surgery last week, Floyd showed enough to suggest he will be a worthy successor to All Pro three-technique tackle Kevin Williams.
4. Tyrann Mathieu, Arizona Cardinals defensive back
5. Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short, Carolina Panthers defensive tackles
The Super Bowl champions thought they had a strong offensive line until Ron Rivera's rookie duo put clown suits on their guards in the third preseason game. Lotulelei has been a monster against the run while Short is showing the potential that could make him one of the game's best interior pass rushers. This might be the NFL's most underrated front seven.
6. Kenbrell Thompkins and Zach Sudfeld, New England Patriots wide receiver/tight end
Danny Amendola is the Patriots' No. 1 receiver, but Thompkins proved capable of carrying the passing game with a game-high eight catches and 116 yards versus the Lionslast week. The undrafted rookie showed an uncanny knack for beating the jam, burning rookie Darius Slay for 27 yards and veteran Chris Houston for 37 -- as the video to the right shows. Sudfeld capped off a strong training camp with a highlight-reel touchdown and two-point conversion in the second preseason game. He will enter the season as Tom Brady's No. 1 "flex" tight end.
7. Alec Ogletree, St. Louis Rams linebacker
The No. 30 overall pick is going to give up big plays as a rookie because he too often gets caught out of place, but it's easy to see why the Rams are in love with his potential. The highly athletic former safety was all over the field against the Broncoslast week , stripping Ronnie Hillman for a fumble-return touchdown, picking off Peyton Manning and nearly intercepting another pass.
8. Damontre Moore, New York Giants defensive end
A shoulder injury has sidelined the third-round gem for nearly three weeks. "DaMonster" makes this list because his preseason debut was one of the most impressive performances of the month. The Giants are grooming Moore to succeed Mathias Kiwanuka in the hybrid stand-up outside linebacker and down defensive end role.
9. Christine Michael, Seattle Seahawks running back
A favorite of NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock, Michael is as physically gifted as any running back in the 2013 NFL Draft class. Plowing through defenders like a speedier Marshawn Lynch clone, Michael is leading the NFL in preseason rushing yards despite missing the second game with back spasms.
10. Brice Butler, Oakland Raiders wide receiver
This is what the preseason is all about. Boasting an intriguing size/speed package, Butler fell to the seventh round due to a lack of production at San Diego State. One beat writer's pick as the offensive player of training camp, Butler has flashed big-play ability down the field and after the catch in preseason action.