In a span of four weeks, Ravens rookie running back Taquan Mizzell has lived out his dreams.
He ran out of the tunnel in an NFL stadium before a game. He scored a touchdown against an NFL opponent. And he got to share a field with the Buffalo Bills' LeSean McCoy, after whom he modeled his own game.
But those moments will pale in comparison to the joy the 23-year-old Mizzell will experience if he makes the Ravens' 53-man active roster as an undrafted free agent. That determination will not be made until Saturday — two days after the preseason finale against the New Orleans Saints — and Mizzell is not exactly sure where he stands with the team's decision makers.
"I think I've made the best of my opportunities," he said after Monday's practice. "Whatever they gave to me, I feel like I did all I could. So I feel comfortable about that, but obviously, that's not my decision. I feel like I've made the best of my opportunities, and hopefully that's enough."
The 5-foot-10, 192-pound Mizzell has perhaps exceeded pre-training camp expectations. He leads the team in most rushing and receiving categories. His 31 carries for 103 yards are team highs, as are his nine catches for 81 yards.
Then again, there have been several players who have paced the Ravens on offense in the preseason that did not make the active roster. In the 2015 preseason, Terrence Magee paced the team in rushing and Jeremy Butler was the standout receiver. Neither made the team.
But coach John Harbaugh said he has been impressed thus far with Mizzell's prowess as a dual-threat running back.
"He was an electric guy at Virginia," Harbaugh said Tuesday. "The tape showed it, the stats showed it. But to take it and transfer here to preseason games is what you look for. He's done a good job of that, and he'll get another chance to do it on Thursday night, and we'll see how he looks again."
Mizzell's football roots began in recreational leagues in Norfolk and Virginia Beach, and he has idolized running backs such as the San Diego Chargers' LaDainian Tomlinson and McCoy. As a freshman at Bayside High School in Virginia Beach, Mizzell was bestowed the nickname "Smoke" for evading older and larger members of the varsity team's defense.
The nickname delighted nearly everyone who heard it — except Mizzell's mother, Dyshell Gardner.
"Even when I was a 10th grader starting on varsity, they weren't saying 'Taquan Mizzell.' They were saying 'Smoke Mizzell,'" Mizzell recalled, adding that he is known as "Quan" by family members. "She was like, 'Who is Smoke?' But it just grew on her because it started spreading around the area."
Mizzell had a stellar career with the Cavaliers, becoming the only player in Atlantic Coast Conference history to reach 1,500 career yards in both rushing and receiving. But the NFL draft came and went without his name being called among the 253 picks, and that snub frustrated him.
"I felt like I should have gotten drafted because then there would be a lot of things I wouldn't have to go through right now," he said. "I wouldn't have to worry. … But I let God take control. Whatever His plan is, that's what I'll go with."
Through the first two games of the preseason, Mizzell was the fourth or fifth option at running back. But the day before Saturday's game against the Bills, coaches informed Mizzell to be prepared to play with the starting offense.
On the offense's second series of the game, Mizzell caught a slant pass from quarterback Ryan Mallett for 16 yards and a first down. His second touch was an 11-yard reception, good for another first down.
By game's end, he had caught all six passes thrown in his direction for 54 yards and reached the end zone on a 15-yard connection with backup quarterback Josh Woodrum for the team's only touchdown.
"I'm used to sometimes being in there late in the second quarter or even in the second half," Mizzell said. "So going out there with the starting offensive line and the first quarterback right now and the starting receivers, that made me feel good."
Rookie defensive end Patrick Ricard, who said he has not yet had a chance to try to tackle Mizzell, was impressed with the rookie's speed on a kick return.
"I know one time, I had to block for him on a kickoff return, and he was just flying on the kickoff," Ricard said. "It was hard to block for him. … I just almost didn't even see him. I was like, 'Oh man, that's him.'"
Mizzell called leading the team in both rushing and receiving "crazy." But he acknowledged that his objective has been to showcase his talent to the coaching staff.
"There are a lot of guys that can go out there and run for 100 yards a game," he said. "But what's going to separate me from those guys is, I'm not the biggest guy and I'm not the fastest, but I want to go out there and be versatile and be able to do what they do and more at the same time."
With Terrance West (Towson University, Northwestern High School) and Buck Allen unlikely to play Thursday and Danny Woodhead sidelined by a hamstring injury, Mizzell is poised to start in New Orleans. Mizzell is looking forward to extended playing time.
"I've got a chip on my shoulder," he said. "I didn't get drafted, and nothing is guaranteed for me around here. So tomorrow is another day, and the next day is another day, and Thursday is another opportunity for me to grab the attention of somebody."