The best of the best come out to play when NFL teams square off each week.
It’s a shame that with the way some teams are built, great players occasionally find themselves stacked in the depth chart behind other, more seasoned starters.
With the 2012 free-agency period is about to start, it’s a chance for some of those great young players to find their chance to start elsewhere.
Which young backups could earn a starting spot elsewhere in the new season? Keep clicking to find out.
With the lights-out show that Matt Flynn put on against the Detroit Lions in the last game of the 2011 regular season, it’s no surprise that he’s set to be a big commodity on the free-agent market.
When the Green Bay Packers allowed the Monday deadline for using the franchise tag to elapse without using it on Flynn, it became clear that they were willing to let him go gracefully.
It’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that Flynn will find a new team to start with for the 2012 season. As far as free-agent quarterbacks go, it looks like he’ll be overshadowed only by Peyton Manning.
Ben Tate was just a few yards shy of putting together a 1,000-yard rushing season during his rookie year with the Houston Texans.
That’s even more impressive considering that he started behind Arian Foster in the depth chart.
The odds of Ben Tate ending up with another team in 2012 are small since he’s still on his rookie contract, but in a trade scenario, he would be an instant starter on any team in need of a better running game.
With 79 receptions for 910 yards and seven touchdowns in the 2011 season, tight end Aaron Hernandez had quite the year.
Too bad that from a depth chart perspective—and a performance perspective—Hernandez was overshadowed by teammate Rob Gronkowski.
Like Tate, the odds of Hernandez actually departing from his current team without being traded are slim. He’s clearly the best man for the second slot on the roster, and Bill Belichick isn’t exactly one to let such talent go—particularly not while it’s still secured on a rookie contract.
Quarterback Brady Quinn hasn’t had a lot of opportunities in the NFL aside from a single season where he spent the majority of games starting for the Cleveland Browns.
His quarterback rating wasn’t spectacular in that year, but his numbers are actually relatively similar to those of Kevin Kolb before he was traded to the Arizona Cardinals.
Quinn won’t be a team’s first choice, or even their second choice for a starting quarterback, but expect him to test the free-agent market again to see if he can’t land a starting job somewhere around the league.
The Seattle Seahawks need to take care of a little bit of business. With starting running back Marshawn Lynch perhaps rightfully expecting to secure a big payday, backup Justin Forsett might find himself lost in the rubble.
After showing promise in 2009 by averaging 5.4 yards per carry, Forsett has slowly withered as a backup on the Seattle bench.
He’s definitely got what it takes to start for a team whose running game is in need of a boost. Unlike Ben Tate, he’s likely to be available.
James Jones has had a truly frustrating career with the Green Bay Packers.
On any other team, his athleticism and talent with the ball would have probably earned him a starting spot.
Stuck on the talent-rich Packers depth chart behind Greg Jennings, Donald Driver and now Jordy Nelson, Jones knows that he will never work his way up to starter.
That’s why he’ll probably try to leave in free agency for the second year in a row. There will be a rich market for wide receivers in this offseason, but since there will be less disruption than there was last year with the lockout, he might find better offers.
Like James Jones, Jacoby Jones has found himself buried on a depth chart behind more established talent. In Jacoby’s case, he’s occupied the No. 3 slot on the Houston Texans.
Despite a good opportunity to start thanks to an injury to Andre Johnson, Jones isn’t clicking well with the Houston offense. He clearly has the raw athletic talent to be better than his numbers, though.
It might be for the best if he and the Texans part ways this offseason so that Jones can offer his services to a team in need of a No. 1 or 2 starting receiver.
Andre Caldwell hasn’t quite had the breakout season that he seems poised for, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen in 2012.
With his rookie contract expiring, other teams who may not want to spend the money to bring in a big name from the free-agent market may look carefully at Caldwell.
He has a lot of potential, but over the last few seasons he hasn’t been able to make the most of his chances. If he goes to a team with a weak wide receiver corps, however, he can realistically expect to snag a No. 2 starting receiver spot.
Laurent Robinson is another talented wide receiver who could be a big difference maker on a team in need of talent at that position.
Robinson had a breakout 2011 season with the Dallas Cowboys, which will give him the opportunity to shop his talents around the free-agent market. As a speed receiver, he could be a good fit on a team that is lacking a deep threat.