Though the preseason games represent just one part of the evaluation process, they provide the biggest and best stage for those working towards a bigger role or even just a roster spot. The competition for jobs creates a game-like atmosphere, and teams can test the mettle of unproven players.
Now three games into the exhibition season, the Green Bay Packers approach the two big cutdown dates. On Sept. 1, the team must trim the roster to 75. Four days later, Green Bay has to get down to the 53 players with which it intends to star the season.
That leaves little time for players jockeying for a bigger role to make their case or for those on the bubble to push their way onto the roster.
Jared Cook's early success in training camp understandably produced skepticism. This, of course, was the tight end that struggled with drops his entire career and never developed into much of a blocker, leading two teams to move on from him during his prime years. The Packers took a shot on Cook in part because of the low price -- his contract pays him just $2.75 million and he did not cost the team a compensatory pick -- and due to the complete lack of field-stretching tight ends on the roster. The desperation for a Jermichael Finley replacement grew so large that Green Bay even worked out the long-retired Kellen Winslow Jr.
That skepticism made sense at the time. Now, it has begun to give way to a guarded optimism.
Cook received his first live action with Aaron Rodgers under center, and the results surely left general manager Ted Thompson with a grin on his face. On the third down during the Packers' opening possession, Cook utilized his speed and athleticism to beat his man down the middle of the field. Rodgers hit him in stride, and the tight end galloped for 19 total yards. Though that would prove to be their only connection, Cook went on to catch four of his five targets for 54 yards.
Those plays can keep drives alive, and the Packers struggled to produce them often during the 2015 season. Cook can't change their fortunes single handedly, but he can damage defenses when utilized correctly.
Nick Perry and Datone Jones
Since the Packers selected Nick Perry and Datone Jones in back-to-back first rounds, the two pass rushers have dealt with numerous injuries and bouts of inconsistency. The duo has produced just one 16-game season between them and no more than four sacks in a single year.
Though their volume numbers may not look much different this season, their preseason performance suggests that their efficiency could improve considerably.
Jones spent the first half in the backfield, hurrying Kaepernick and even tackling him behind the line of scrimmage for a 3-yard loss. Perry generated his share of pressure, but also managed to bat down two passes. Each looked alert and explosive throughout their runs.
With the Packers planning to give Julius Peppers more rest during the season and Clay Matthews potentially moving inside from time to time when the situation calls for it, Perry and Jones can expect to play significant roles in 2016.
Last week, Peter Mortell made the "stock up" portion of our game breakdown. Now, Tim Masthay takes his place on the list.
In terms of typical box-score numbers, Masthay's average from Friday (43.0 yards per punt) and punts inside the 20-yard line (two) didn't significantly overshadow the figures for Mortell (40.0 average and one punt inside the 20). However, the two continue to differ in hang time, with Masthay holding a slight but significant advantage.
When Masthay kicks, the Packers' gunners usually have time to surround the opposing returner and force a fair catch call. Mortell meanwhile doesn't always manage to do so, leading to some less-than-ideal returns.
Ultimately, this contest remains unresolved. It should go down into the final week of the preseason, perhaps even until the final punt.
Honorable mentions: Geronimo Allison, Brandon Burks
Davante Adams' third preseason game mirrored much of his disappointing 2015 season: impressive moments interspersed between long stretches of inactivity and costly mistakes.
The third-year wide receiver actually started the night off well, catching a pass off a quick hitch and turning it into a 48-yard gain (though a flag for an illegal block canceled out the play). Still, Adams looked like he had regained the quickness and tackle-breaking ability that convinced the Packers to invest a second-round pick on him back in 2014.
Yet, according to the usual Adams script, he turned that momentum into frustration when he dropped a catchable 38-yard pass from Joe Callahan that would have put points on the board. That seemed to end any positive discussion of Adams. However, he later made a difficult, contested catch on third down to keep a drive alive.
The problem for Adams isn't that he can't make the big play, rather that the wideout doesn't do so often enough for the team to trust him. Green Bay doesn't appear likely to sever ties with Adams, but it can play other wideouts ahead of him come the regular season.
After entering camp as a near-lock to make the 53-man roster, Jayrone Elliott has managed to sink backwards onto the roster bubble with poor showings in practice and the preseason games. Making matters worse for the third-year pass rusher, a hamstring injury forced him to onto the sidelines during the first quarter and kept him there for the remainder of the contest.
While Elliott watched from afar, free-agent signing Lerentee McCray displayed some impressive burst on a sack and near sack in back-to-back plays during the second half. With those two likely in competition for the same spot, it appears Elliott has found himself on the wrong side of the roster bubble after two solid seasons of work.
Dishonorable mentions: Marquise Williams, Kyle Murphy