NFL Power Rankings: 32 surprise players to watch this preseason

Don't look now, but the NFL regular season kicks off in less than a month. So where do teams stand now, and what has changed since our post-draft edition?

The ESPN power panel -- a group of more than 80 writers, editors and TV personalities -- evaluated how all 32 teams stack up, with a look at players who could be surprising contributors or veterans who are in danger of being left off the roster.

1. Philadelphia Eagles

2017 record: 13-3
Post-draft ranking: 1

RB Wendell Smallwood. There was some thought that the third-year back out of West Virginia was on the outside looking in entering training camp, but coach Doug Pederson has seen Smallwood flash, and, just as important for roster security, special-teams coach Dave Fipp has been utilizing him quite a bit on his units. That puts him in decent position as he competes for the fourth running back spot with the likes of Donnel Pumphrey and rookie Josh Adams. -- Tim McManus

2. New England Patriots

2017 record: 13-3
Post-draft ranking: 2

CB Jason McCourty. One of the feel-good stories of the offseason when he was acquired by the Patriots in a trade from the Browns -- to be paired with his twin brother Devin -- McCourty didn't play in the preseason opener and is fighting for a backup spot behind starters Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe and projected top nickelback Duke Dawson. The last time twins played a regular-season game on the same professional football team was 1926, when Gene and Tom Golsen were with the Louisville Colonels. Whether that happens with the McCourtys in 2018 is in question. -- Mike Reiss

3. New Orleans Saints

2017 record: 11-5
Post-draft ranking: 4

WR Tre'Quan Smith. The rookie third-round draft pick from Central Florida has made some of the flashiest plays throughout training camp and the preseason opener, showing a good combination of size and speed at 6-foot-2, 210 pounds. Coaches have still been harping on him for issues such as communication, alignment, etc. But his big-play ability should get him on the field as a third or fourth receiver. -- Mike Triplett

4. Minnesota Vikings

2017 record: 13-3
Post-draft ranking: 5

WR Kendall Wright. All signs pointed to the former first-round pick securing the No. 3 receiver job when he signed with Minnesota in free agency, but Wright just has not stood out. The sixth-year receiver has seen only limited reps with the first-team offense and hasn't been used on special teams, which coach Mike Zimmer said would be important for receivers battling for the last roster spots. Laquon Treadwell, Stacy Coley and Brandon Zylstra appear to be leading the way for the Nos. 3-5 receiver jobs. While Wright has been a constant presence in the slot with the second unit, he needs to have a breakthrough these next three weeks to show why he belongs. -- Courtney Cronin

5. Pittsburgh Steelers

2017 record: 13-3
Post-draft ranking: 3

RB Stevan Ridley. The former 1,000-yard rusher was out of football in 2017 before the Steelers called him in Week 16. Ridley added 108 yards and a touchdown in two games and is running hard in training camp this year. The Steelers have drafted running backs in consecutive drafts to back up Le'Veon Bell, which steepens Ridley's path to a solidified role. But he can still do one thing well: "In between the tackles, I can do it as good as anyone," he said. "Over four quarters, I will bang it out." -- Jeremy Fowler

6. Los Angeles Rams

2017 record: 11-5
Post-draft ranking: 6

RB John Kelly. He has a strong chance of making the 53-man roster. A sixth-round pick from Tennessee, the rookie has impressed throughout training camp despite limited opportunity in a position group that features Todd Gurley, fourth-year pro Malcolm Brown and second-year pro Justin Davis. Kelly broke off a 40-yard run in a preseason opener against the Baltimore Ravens and finished with 77 yards in 13 carries. -- Lindsey Thiry

7. Jacksonville Jaguars

2017 record: 10-6
Post-draft ranking: 7

WR Jaydon Mickens. He joined the Jaguars' practice squad last September and ended up winning the punt-return job, averaging 10.3 yards per return and taking one back for a TD. He also filled in at receiver and caught two TD passes against Houston. He's fighting for the sixth receiver spot with Rashad Greene, who also returns punts. Mickens has a burst and shiftiness that makes him hard to pin down in the open field. He needs to perform well as a receiver in the next three preseason games to nail down that roster spot. -- Mike DiRocco

8. Green Bay Packers

2017 record: 7-9
Post-draft ranking: 9

WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling. The Packers have been looking for a No. 3 receiver after they cut Jordy Nelson. While Geronimo Allison looks like the obvious candidate, rookie Valdes-Scantling threw himself into the mix with five catches for 101 yards and a touchdown in the preseason opener. The fifth-round pick looks like the most NFL-ready of the three receivers the Packers drafted this year. -- Rob Demovsky

9. Atlanta Falcons

2017 record: 10-6
Post-draft ranking: 8

LB Foye Oluokun. The rookie seventh-round pick from Yale already has drawn plenty of praise from coach Dan Quinn and special-teams coordinator Keith Armstrong. Oluokun showed up in the first exhibition game with some sure tackling. He might have a chance to earn a serious look as the third linebacker alongside Deion Jones and De'Vondre Campbell, especially if Duke Riley slips up. -- Vaughn McClure

10. Los Angeles Chargers

2017 record: 9-7
Post-draft ranking: 12

RB Detrez Newsome. An undrafted rookie out of Western Carolina, Newsome came to life in the second half against the Arizona Cardinals, scoring on a 6-yard run and doing a backflip for his touchdown celebration. He also finished with four receptions for 34 receiving yards. Newsome, who also had a 37-yard run for a score called back due to a clipping penalty, has a chance to earn a roster spot as the No. 3 running back. -- Eric D. Williams

11. Kansas City Chiefs

2017 record: 10-6
Post-draft ranking: 10

CB Tremon Smith. Sixth-round draft picks from smaller schools aren't supposed to push for playing time so quickly. But Smith, from Central Arkansas, is getting a long look as a backup, in part because the depth chart is thin. He's the fourth cornerback, and he'll get some playing time if he stays in that spot. Smith is also working as the primary kick and punt returner, though Tyreek Hill will return punts when the regular season begins. -- Adam Teicher

12. Carolina Panthers

2017 record: 11-5
Post-draft ranking: 11

WR Jarius Wright. He was signed as a free agent from Minnesota in large part because of his familiarity with Norv Turner's offense and ability to play slot receiver. He has had some big days in camp. But if the Panthers are forced to keep five receivers -- and Torrey Smith, Devin Funchess, DJ Moore and Curtis Samuel are locks -- do they go with a young, fast receiver such as Damiere Byrd, since they have others who can play the slot, including running back Christian McCaffrey? Or do they go with Wright, a proven player Turner loves? Wright made a big play in the preseason opener to set up a touchdown, so this will be one to watch. -- David Newton

13. Dallas Cowboys

2017 record: 9-7
Post-draft ranking: 14

DT Antwaun Woods. He did not sign with the Cowboys until May 30, but he has worked his way up the depth chart to find himself as their starting nose tackle. He dropped 20 pounds after signing with the Cowboys and has the quickness Rod Marinelli wants in that spot. The Cowboys have had their eye on him for a while and tried to sign him off the Tennessee Titans' practice squad last year. He might not start opening day, but he has impressed enough that he would have to be in the mix as part of the defensive line rotation. -- Todd Archer

14. Tennessee Titans

2017 record: 9-7
Post-draft ranking: 13

CB LeShaun Sims. The acquisition of Malcolm Butler has not stopped Sims from pushing for a spot in the CB rotation. The third-year corner drew praise from coach Mike Vrabel for his pass defense against the Packers in the preseason opener. All of the attention is going to Butler, Adoree' Jackson and Logan Ryan, but Sims is in the mix as well. -- Turron Davenport

15. Houston Texans

2017 record: 4-12
Post-draft ranking: 17

TE Jordan Akins. The third-round pick has impressed during camp and put that on display in the Texans' preseason opener, catching two touchdown passes from Brandon Weeden. Akins will be competing for playing time with starter Ryan Griffin and several other young tight ends on the roster, but if he continues to impress, he could be the backup and see plenty of snaps. -- Sarah Barshop

16. San Francisco 49ers

2017 record: 6-10
Post-draft ranking: 15

G Joshua Garnett. The former first-round pick worked hard to get in shape to fit better in coach Kyle Shanahan's offense and was in position to battle for a starting job at right guard. But Garnett, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, hasn't been on the field much because of another issue with the same knee. Because Garnett doesn't play any other positions, his chance of winning a roster spot could be in danger if he doesn't get back on the field and win a starting spot. -- Nick Wagoner

17. Seattle Seahawks

2017 record: 9-7
Post-draft ranking: 16

CB Tre Flowers. The Seahawks have been thrilled with how Flowers, a rookie fifth-round pick, is coming along in his conversion from college safety to the type of oversized, physical cornerback Pete Carroll's defense is known for. Injuries to veterans Byron Maxwell and Neiko Thorpe have given Flowers a chance to play with the starters both in practice and in Seattle's preseason opener. He could see the field on defense sooner than many expect. -- Brady Henderson

18. Oakland Raiders

2017 record: 6-10
Post-draft ranking: 19

RB Chris Warren III. The undrafted rookie from Texas was lambasted by coach Jon Gruden for having a high pad level as he hit the hole in a joint training practice with Detroit. Message received, because the next time Warren touched the ball, his pads were definitely lower and he absolutely leveled Lions linebacker Jarrad Davis. The massive Warren (listed at 6-foot-2, 246 pounds) was the Raiders' leading ground-gainer in their preseason opener against those same Lions, with 86 yards on 13 carries, including a 26-yard burst. The son of the former Seahawks Pro Bowl running back has been so impressive early in camp, he might push the likes of Doug Martin, DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard for a roster spot. -- Paul Gutierrez

19. Washington Redskins

2017 record: 7-9
Post-draft ranking: 18

WR Maurice Harris. Really, he's a lock at this point after entering camp as someone fighting for a roster spot. But his early play has elevated him into being the No. 4 receiver; that was the case even before fellow wideout Robert Davis was lost for the season with a knee injury. On Sunday, coach Jay Gruden referred to Harris as a great all-around receiver because he can run routes from all three positions and he's a willing blocker. He's not fast, but his strong hands and route-running have turned him into a guy now fighting for solid playing time. -- John Keim

20. Detroit Lions

2017 record: 9-7
Post-draft ranking: 20

RB Kerryon Johnson. The second-round pick was taken with the expectation he would play, and possibly play early. But for portions of training camp and in the preseason opener Friday night, Johnson looked like he might be the best running back on the roster. Midround running backs have been effective in past years (Alvin Kamara and Kareem Hunt last season; Jordan Howard in 2016), and Johnson has the tools and the opportunity to potentially make an early impact. He has shown ability both running the ball and catching out of the backfield, giving Detroit an all-around presence it hasn't had since Reggie Bush in 2013. -- Michael Rothstein

21. Baltimore Ravens

2017 record: 9-7
Post-draft ranking: 22

RB Gus Edwards. The undrafted rookie out of Rutgers received the start in the Hall of Fame game and averaged 4.8 yards per carry (58 yards on 12 attempts) in his second preseason game. Edwards stands out by how hard he runs with the ball. The Ravens are set at the top of their running back depth chart with Alex Collins and Buck Allen. But if Kenneth Dixon can't stay healthy, Edwards could win the No. 3 job. -- Jamison Hensley

22. Denver Broncos

2017 record: 5-11
Post-draft ranking: 21

RB Phillip Lindsay. The Broncos have a crowd of youth at the position -- Devontae Booker, in his third season, is the oldest player on the running back depth chart -- and Lindsay is the undrafted rookie in the mix. But he has shown explosiveness, good vision in the open field and good work as a receiver and has presented himself as a potential option as a kickoff returner. He led the team with 40 receiving yards in the preseason opener and certainly has the Broncos' attention at a spot where the decisions will be difficult. -- Jeff Legwold

23. New York Giants

2017 record: 3-13
Post-draft ranking: 26

LB Mark Herzlich. This might be the year he really doesn't stick around. Herzlich is in a fight for a roster spot and could lose out to a younger player such as Calvin Munson or Tae Davis. -- Jordan Raanan

24. Arizona Cardinals

2017 record: 8-8
Post-draft ranking: 23

WR/PR Christian Kirk. You only had to watch Kirk's first preseason touch to get a look at what he offers as a punt returner. His explosive ability in that area guarantees him a role as a rookie, and it's not out of the question that he could factor into the mix at wide receiver as well. Larry Fitzgerald's role is cemented, but there are more roles to sort out in that room among the likes of Brice Butler and J.J. Nelson. -- Dan Graziano

25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2017 record: 5-11
Post-draft ranking: 24

S Jordan Whitehead. He missed a lot of OTAs after injuring his hamstring in rookie camp, but he had two tackles and two pass breakups in the first preseason game. The Bucs love his downhill style (he was a two-way player at Pittsburgh, playing both safety and running back) and his big-hit potential, which head coach Dirk Koetter believes we'll see more of now that they're playing in actual games. He has even started getting some first-team reps when the Bucs are in big nickel with Justin Evans manning the slot. It doesn't hurt that he's a cousin of future Hall of Famer Darrelle Revis. -- Jenna Laine

26. Chicago Bears

2017 record: 5-11
Post-draft ranking: 28

RB Tarik Cohen. The diminutive Cohen averaged 8.7 touches per game as a rookie last season and showed flashes of playmaking ability. Those touches should increase in the creative system run by new Bears coach Matt Nagy, who figures to do just about everything to find ways to get the ball in his hands. Jordan Howard is the workhorse back, but Cohen will be the one to keep an eye on to see if the new regime can better utilize his tremendous natural ability and add another dimension to the offense. -- John Roberts

27. Cincinnati Bengals

2017 record: 7-9
Post-draft ranking: 29

WR Auden Tate. The seventh-round draft pick was quietly doing some nice things in camp before having a breakout moment when he scored a touchdown in the first preseason game. Keeping Tate would mean making a hard decision and cutting one of the veteran receivers. But if Tyler Eifert's status is uncertain, the 6-foot-5 Tate could be a nice complement to the team as a red zone threat. -- Katherine Terrell

28. Buffalo Bills

2017 record: 9-7
Post-draft ranking: 25

RB Marcus Murphy. His name came up before the Bills' wild-card playoff game in Jacksonville last season when LeSean McCoy's status was in doubt because of an ankle injury. Murphy did not play in that game but was efficient in the Bills' preseason opener, rushing seven times for 35 yards and one touchdown while catching four passes for 30 yards. He has a chance to earn the Bills' No. 3 running back role and potentially cut into Chris Ivory's time behind McCoy. -- Mike Rodak

29. Indianapolis Colts

2017 record: 4-12
Post-draft ranking: 32

WR K.J. Brent. The second-year receiver out of Wake Forest was already having an impressive training camp, but the unfortunate loss of rookie Deon Cain (torn ACL) makes Brent one of the favorites to be the Colts' fourth receiver behind T.Y. Hilton, Ryan Grant and Chester Rogers. Brent was on the receiving end of Andrew Luck's first long touchdown pass early in training camp. -- Mike Wells

30. New York Jets

2017 record: 5-11
Post-draft ranking: 27

CB Rashard Robinson. His roster spot is in jeopardy, which didn't seem possible last fall. The Jets made a deadline deal for Robinson, trading a fifth-round pick to the 49ers. They now regret the deal. He hasn't panned out on the field, and he didn't help his case with an offseason marijuana arrest that resulted in a four-game suspension. -- Rich Cimini

31. Cleveland Browns

2017 record: 0-16
Post-draft ranking: 31

WR Antonio Callaway. The fourth-round rookie has already made some not-so-good headlines, but assuming he can keep the focus on the field, he has the opportunity for a fairly significant role in the offense. The Browns don't know exactly when they'll see Josh Gordon. They just traded former first-round pick Corey Coleman. Jarvis Landry is the No. 1 wide receiver, and this should be a run-heavy offense, but they need something at wide receiver, and they hope Callaway can turn into a draft-day steal. -- Dan Graziano

32. Miami Dolphins

2017 record: 6-10
Post-draft ranking: 30

TE A.J. Derby. Derby has spent a good bit of time running with starters this offseason, but his recent injuries have allowed rookies Mike Gesicki and Durham Smythe to get more reps. Those two are locks to make the roster and are likely to secure a good bit of playing time. That leaves Derby likely competing with blocking TE MarQueis Gray for a third spot, and losing that battle could make Derby a surprise roster cut. -- Cameron Wolfe