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.
With the preseason now complete, the Green Bay Packers have to make some difficult professional (and in many cases, personal) decisions regarding their roster. The team employs 75 players as of Thursday. It must trim that number to 53 by Sept. 3. Inevitably, the Packers will part with some good players as the result of this numbers game.
While the preseason finale can only affect Green Bay's decision making so much, some players appears to help their cause.
Jared Abbrederis may create the most debate among the Packers' decision makers. In a vacuum, the third-year wideout has performed well enough to earn a roster spot as a receiver, displaying consistency in his route running and a knack for creating separation from defenders. He can also return punts and kickoffs. On Thursday, he led the team in both receiving, including a diving 41-yard haul in the second quarter.
However, the Packers simply have too many quality receivers to guarantee Abbrederis safe passage to the 53-man roster. Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Davante Adams and Ty Montgomery all rank ahead of him, putting Abbrederis on similar footing with rookie Trevor Davis and playoff hero and special-teams maven Jeff Janis.
On the one hand, Abbrederis has shown more as a receiver than either Davis or Janis during training camp and the preseason. However, the Packers have worked the rookie with the first-team kickoff return unit and covet his deep speed. The team also just drafted Davis in the fifth round. Unless the shoulder injury he suffered Thursday removes him from the equation, he appears to have a roster spot. As for Janis, basic skills like route running remain an adventure, but he provides elite-level play on coverage units as a gunner, perhaps Green Bay's best player in that role.
And the other receivers make much of what Abbrederis provides somewhat redundant. Though the Packers have split Abbrederis out wide on occasion, his role remains predominantly in the slot, the role otherwise occupied by Cobb or Montgomery. Abbrederis doesn't distinguish himself on punt returns, either. Without a 42-yard return against the Kansas City Chiefs' third- and fourth-stingers inflating his numbers, Abbrederis average falls to just 6.1 yards per punt return. That figure doesn't look demonstrably different than Micah Hyde's disappointing 5.8 average from 2015.
And when making the final roster decisions, the Packers have to plan for any number of scenarios. On the one hand, Abbrederis offers more consistency as a receiver than Davis, Janis or the surprisingly productive Geronimo Allison. But what if Nelson suffers another serious injury? As last season demonstrated, the inability to stretch the field can reduce the offense to a below-average unit. Accordingly, general manager Ted Thompson may opt for the speed and potential of Davis and Janis rather than the more physically limited Abbrederis.
The Packers could keep seven receivers, but they have only once entered the season with as many as six under Thompson's watch. If six proves to be the ceiling and health doesn't reduce the pool of candidates, the forecast for Abbrederis suddenly looks cloudier.
He has played well enough to earn a spot, but that doesn't mean the Packers will ultimately have one for him.
For all the attention given to the position battle between Tim Masthay and Peter Mortell, neither ended up making it until the final cutdown. The Packers instead opted to claim former Tampa Bay Buccaneers punter Jake Schum, who had what amounts to a one-game showcase on Thursday.
It looks like Schum passed the audition.
The raw numbers along look very impressive. Schum averaged 45.5 yards per punt, landed three inside the 20, and committed only one touchback (and barely at that). Beyond the box score, Schum's punts featured plenty of hang time, with several traveling through the air for over five seconds.
In the eyes of the coaching staff, Schum might still have more to prove. He punted in beautiful conditions in Kansas City, something he may not often enjoy in Green Bay in the coming months. Still, he did enough to lock down the job for Week 1.
In his first game back from a hamstring injury, Jake Ryan looked more than a little rusty. Though his place on the team remains secure, it appears increasingly likely that rookie Blake Martinez and veteran Sam Barrington will receive the lion's share of the work at inside linebacker come the regular season.
Ryan found himself in coverage often during the Chiefs early possessions. Backup quarterback Tyler Bray targeted Ryan multiple times, and Ryan failed to make a play on the ball in each instance. Granted, coverage isn't considered one of his strengths, but the Green Bay cannot always avoid putting him in those situations.
More damningly, Ryan struggled against the run as well. In one instance, Kansas City ran directly at him and he struggled to discharge blockers. With the lighter Martinez expected to take on a significant number of snaps this season, Ryan has to exhibit power when playing alongside him. At least on Thursday, he couldn't do it.
Still, one preseason game coming off an injury shouldn't affect how the Packers think about Ryan. He looked impressive near the end of his rookie season, and has room to grow into a reliable presence in the middle of the defense. That just may take some more time than previously anticipated.