It is the time of year when rosters for all teams are starting to take shape for the 2012 season. Training camp battles are in the midst of being fought. Rookies are doing their best to earn roster spots, while veterans a working to get back into football shape.
By the time the 90-man rosters are whittled down to their eventual 53-man forms, in theory they will be populated by the best available players at each position.
Even among the best, however, there can still be a lot of variation in the talent and effort that each man brings to the field.
There will always be a player or two on each team who seems to be almost useless whenever they take the field or who never really gets there at all. These are the players who cause fans to scratch their heads and wonder how they made the final cut, or why they are starting, or why they are making so much money to do such a poor job.
Who will those players be for each team in 2012?
When the Arizona Cardinals signed unproved quarterback Kevin Kolb to a six-year, $65-million contract in 2011, their expectations were sky-high. After all, who wouldn’t be able to find success on the field with wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald to throw to and a decent ground game to back him up?
Kolb still managed to fail.
After a strong start in Week 1 against the Carolina Panthers, Kolb ended up leading the Cardinals to a 2-6 record (you can’t really count the game he started against San Francisco in his favor). He bowed out the remaining eight games of the year due to a laundry list of injuries.
With backup quarterback John Skelton nipping at Kolb’s heels for the starting position in training camp this summer, Kolb is approaching do-or-die time. If it turns out that he isn’t up to the task, he may become the best-paid bench-warmer in the NFL and certainly the most useless player on the Cardinals roster.
2012 will mark Peria Jerry’s fourth year in the NFL since he was picked in the first round by the Atlanta Falcons. It could be his last season with the Falcons if he does not show dramatic improvement from where he ended the 2011 season.
After three years of play, Jerry remains on the slow side for a defensive tackle. His lack of speed hurts his game badly, hampering his footwork and making him a liability on the field against the run. He has made up for some of his shortcomings through athleticism, but after four years, he seems to have no experience to show for it.
Granted, Jerry has had limited opportunity on the field, but he has not been able to make the most of what he has thus far. Perhaps he will approach the 2012 season with a new attitude given his upgraded training camps status, but under previous similar circumstances, he has failed to live up to expectations.
A wide receiver buried deep within the depth chart for the Baltimore Ravens, LaQuan Williams was tried out in a few different areas of need in 2011.
He put in his time on special teams and was occasionally called upon for return duties, but he didn’t stick a kick returner or a punt returner. In fact, he lost a pair of fumbles on special teams.
In his very limited time on the field as a wide receiver, he did not seem to click well with Joe Flacco. In 12 games on the active roster, Williams caught just four passes with the longest coming in at only 15 yards.
Williams is reportedly working on his timing with Flacco this offseason to try to find a solution to his shortcomings on the field, but the fact remains that he is surrounded by talent that has proved itself better than him offensively.
If he drops the ball again on special teams, Williams may find himself spending a lot of time warming the bench.
Initially drafted by the Buffalo Bills when they were still running a 3-4 defense, Alex Carrington may be a victim of circumstance as the Buffalo Bills defense moves to a 4-3 approach.
Carrington played well enough to earn an increased workload in 2011 (490 snaps), but he did not succeed well enough to move up from the third string during this season’s OTAs.
Carrington’s usefulness might come down to whether or not he is able to find a way to integrate himself into the Bills' new defensive structure. He has been moved over to defensive tackle this offseason as the Bills attempt to find a way to work with him to make something positive happen, but if that transition does not go smoothly, Carrington may see his playing time take a hit.
According to Pro Football Focus, in 2011, CB Captain Munnerlyn allowed an NFL-high 73.8 percent completion rate when his assigned man was the target.
With a statistic like that and two physical corners in Brandon Hogan and Josh Norman waiting in the wings, Munnerlyn might lose his starting position and be thrown back into the mix as an alternate defender for nickel and dime packages.
If Munnerlyn does end up as a second-string player, his potential to contribute to the team will be dramatically reduced. He will have to step it up even more on special teams to avoid letting his slide from last season carry on into 2012.
According to Football Outsiders, the Chicago Bears' offensive line struggled to find success in 2011. They allowed the defense to sack the quarterback roughly 9.8% of the time and were poor at opening up holes for the running game.
Anchoring the offensive line for the Bears is veteran center Roberto Garza. His smallish size puts him at a disadvantage, and he is not able to consistently compensate for either run or pass plays. He seems to have particular trouble picking up blitzes, which is a huge liability in the NFC North.
You can’t lay all of the shortcomings of the Chicago offensive line at Garza’s feet, but he has certainly contributed to the problem in the past and is probably past the point of making marked future improvements at this point in his career.
Even if he is replaced as a starter, he will still be retained as a backup.
The Cincinnati Bengals are a young team that brings a ton of talent and energy to the field. After a surprising playoff run in 2011, it seems that the sky is the limit for this Bengals squad.
One area where the team could use an upgrade, but will almost certainly stick with the status quo, is at punter.
Last season, Kevin Huber ranked near the bottom of the league in most quantifiable punting metrics. His hang time was low (just five seconds on average), and he had struggled with both distance and accuracy inside the 20-yard line.
Since there are currently no other punters on the Bengals roster to compete with Huber, it seems likely that he will take the field again to help drag down the team’s otherwise passable special teams unit.
Once a starting tight end for the New England Patriots, Ben Watson has not found much success in Cleveland.
His pass-blocking is excellent and is probably a large contributing factor to his presence on the team, but his receiving skills leave something to be desired. He isn’t fast enough to earn good separation from the defense, and when he is targeted, he has a tendency to drop passes.
The Browns' offense does not rely too heavily on the tight end position, so Watson will likely continue to see time on the field as a pass-blocker without being targeted frequently in 2012.
There’s a lot of upheaval on the Dallas defense, but not all of the players on the roster will reap the benefits.
Scandrick survived the broad roster cuts to his position, but Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne will likely start with Mike Jenkins serving as the No. 3 slot. Formerly the No. 3 cornerback for the Cowboys, Scandrick has been downgraded to No. 4 on the depth chart despite his continued efforts toward self-improvement.
Prior to the 2011 season Orlando Scandrick penned a big contract extension with an associated pay bump. As the No. 4 cornerback, he certainly will not earn that pay increase, making him a liability to the team.
Spending less time on the field means that Scandrick’s overall stats will obviously take a big hit. Unless he is called upon to move up on the depth chart, he will spend the 2012 season moving in the wrong direction for a five-year veteran.
After missing the lion’s share of the last two seasons due to injury, defensive linesman Ty Warren is looking forward to taking the field again in Denver. He is motivated, showing up at team workouts and even agreeing to take a pay cut in order to remain part of the team.
Motivation won’t be the only positive trait that he needs to succeed in Denver, though.
Expected to be part of a rotation of defensive tackles, Warren will have a lesser workload than a full starter, but he will still be expected to do his share on the field. If he cannot pull his weight, as he might struggle to do after so much time off the field, there will be two convenient options to soak up his playing time right there in the rotation.
Singling out Gosder Cherilus as the most useless player on the Detroit Lions' team in 2012 is conditional on the expected success of rookie Riley Reiff as the preseason progresses. If Reiff lives up to expectations, though, the Lions could find themselves in an interesting position regarding Cherilus.
Reiff will likely be able to challenge starting tackles Jeff Backus and Cherilus for their formerly-secure starting positions. Although Backus is the elder player, Cherilus is the weaker player and the more logical of the two to be benched.
The problem is that Cherilus earns a guaranteed salary in 2012, so the Lions will still pay for him even if they cut him. Leaving him on the bench is also a waste, since he will still earn a starter’s salary and really isn’t a bad player.
Either way, it’s a lose-lose situation for Cherilus, who is in a contract year to boot. If he finds himself out of a starting position or in a situation where he needs to shift to a different spot on the offensive line in order to accommodate Reiff, he will struggle to succeed in the upcoming season.
Stuck behind Jermichael Finley on the Green Bay Packers' depth chart, Andrew Quarless is in a situation where he must make every single opportunity count.
Thus far, he has failed to live up to that demand.
He has choked when the team has turned to him in key situations of crucial games. On a team with such enormous depth on the receiving end of the ball, that isn’t good enough.
Quarless may be relieved for the first part of the season by being placed on the physically unable to perform list, but he will likely be called up to the 53-man roster once his knee has had a chance to fully heal. He will be at the bottom of the receiving depth chart, but he remains better than other backup tight end alternatives.
The Houston Texans two tight end formations the field very regularly, so when Joel Dreessen left in free agency it looked like things might open up for young Garrett Graham to finally have a chance at proving himself as a backup to Owen Daniels.
Instead, the Texans turned elsewhere in his own depth chart and announced the promotion of teammate John Casey to starting fullback and starting tight end if two are needed.
That was a big blow for Daniels, who saw limited playing time and only caught one pass for 27 yards in 2011. He will occupy a roster slot as a backup, but he probably won't see much time on the field for a second year in a row.
Although not the worst offensive linesman in the league in 2011, Jeff Linkenbach definitely fell from grace in Indianapolis. Part of his struggles may have been related to his positional issues between the two tackle positions, but that is an excuse that can only go so far.
As part of the offseason restructuring underway in Indianapolis, plenty of veteran blood has been brought in through free agency to give the struggling line a jump start.
It is looking very likely that Linkenbach will lose his starting position to Winston Justice, which means that he will spend most of his contract year sitting on the bench.
The Jacksonville Jaguars have been slowly putting together a team that can compete in their division, but one of the places they have continuously had trouble has been at wide receiver.
The team must be hopeful this year after signing Laurent Robinson from the Dallas Cowboys and drafting the widely-coveted Justin Blackmon. For additional depth at wide receiver, the team will likely turn to Cecil Shorts III as one of their backups.
Shorts III showed some promise during his extremely limited playing time in his rookie season, and he’ll certainly look to take the field more in 2012. His speed will definitely help him out, although his raw receiving and route-running skills are still in need of a lot of work.
His limited time on the field has helped to mask some of his flaws thus far, but if the Jaguars decide to give him a chance, they may find him largely disappointing.
Rookie free agent Alex Tanney went undrafted last year, but since then, he has become a viral sensation as a “Trick Shot Quarterback.”
He’s clearly got the arm and the accuracy to be something special, but whether or not he can actually play in the NFL still remains to be seen. The Kansas City Chiefs have decided to be the host of that experiment.
Tanney shouldn’t face any unrealistic expectations, and he will obviously be buried on the depth chart behind Matt Cassel and a No. 2 quarterback. But if his skills are half as good as what he’s shown on YouTube (and on the field at college), then he’ll probably slide into the No. 3 slot.
From there, it’s just a matter of time and circumstance to see whether he will be able to live up to the hype he has managed to generate in the NFL. Since the odds are low that he can keep up his incredible accuracy under the circumstances he’ll face in the professional league, he is setting himself up to be a disappointment.
The Dolphins finished the 2011 season with a 6-10 record, but often lost in that statistic is the fact that they ended strong, going 6-3 in their last nine games. If they can work around their lack of a true No. 1 receiver (which many other teams have successfully done) and find consistency on their offensive line to protect whoever is under center, they may be able to continue to find success in 2012.
Finding consistency on the offensive line will be a big key this season.
After being given every opportunity to succeed at OG as a rookie starter in 2010, John Jerry was eventually pulled from the starting lineup. He was too inconsistent and too frequently overpowered by the opposition.
He may have made some progress in 2011 when he was given some limited opportunity towards the end of the season to reestablish himself. The team did relatively well offensively while he was on the field, so he was able to end on a positive note.
His performance at that point has potentially earned him back the starting position to begin 2012 as the Dolphins try again to get him established on the field. This year is his chance to prove that he can play consistently for more than a few games at a time, a feat he was not able to accomplish two years ago. If he regresses back to his 2010 form, however, he will return to the bench.
After struggling mightily in 2012, the Vikings have begun to rebuild their offense in earnest. The tight end position was not spared.
Aging tight end Visanthe Shiancoe was allowed to leave in free agency, and aging backup Jim Kleinsasser retired, leaving the Vikings with the opportunity to essentially start with essentially a fresh slate. Second-year player Kyle Rudolph is not firmly entrenched in the position yet, so the Vikings had the freedom to go shopping.
They chose to agree to a deal for $25 million over five years with John Carlson.
Carlson has never been a remarkable tight end with the Seattle Seahawks, failing to stand out after three years of relatively consistent play. He missed all of the 2011 season with a shoulder injury, so there is also the question of how ready he will be to take the field again.
The free agent market for tight ends was admittedly stingy this year, but Carlson probably won’t be raising eyebrows in Minnesota any more than he was doing in Seattle. For the price, the Vikings could have done better.
In 2011, the New England Patriots managed to make a Super Bowl run in spite of their defense—not because of it. One of the worst culprits to take the field was cornerback Devin McCourty.
McCourty was a one-hit wonder during his rookie year in 2010, when he intercepted seven passes and made it to the Pro Bowl. He failed to surpass or even match his breakout rookie season last year, settling for just two interceptions and allowing 1,115 receiving yards—at the bottom of the league.
The Patriots will give McCourty another chance, probably because some of his poor play can be attributed to a separated shoulder. He will have to return to his rookie form for the entire season if he doesn’t want 2012 to be another bust.
Michael Higgins has come into the New Orleans Saints' training camp penciled in at the No. 3 slot, and it appears that it is his to lose. Barring a preseason upset, he should make the final cut.
Once he makes the team, though, there won’t be much for him to do.
With tight end Jimmy Graham smashing single-season tight end records in his rookie year, there is no question who the darling of the Saints' receiving corps is.
Buried beneath Graham and probably David Thomas on the depth chart, Higgins will see extremely limited time on the field and will likely be used almost exclusively as a blocker. This could be problematic, as blocking is not the best skill Higgins brings to the table.
With Hakeem Nicks sidelined for the time being due to a broken foot and Mario Manningham departed in free agency, some of the receivers for the New York Giants who have been overshadowed by their peers have a chance to step up.
Ramses Barden, an unremarkable fixture on the Giants' squad for the past three years, is one of those receivers whose chance to make an impact has come.
After three years of inconsistency, Barden finally has the chance to show that he was worth the third round draft that the Giants traded up to use on him. He should make the roster, although he will continue to battle for playing time with the rest of the talent surrounding him.
In a contract year, however, Barden faces do-or-die time with the Giants and possibly his career in the NFL. If he can’t make the most out of his limited opportunities in 2012, then there is no reason to expect that he will ever make good on the promise of his physical talent.
Quarterback Tim Tebow is a lot of things, but a good quarterback by the standards of the NFL isn’t one of them.
There’s a lot to be said for the way that he led the Denver Broncos to an unlikely playoff run and even a first-round upset over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
That being said, Denver resorted to running a trick offense that put Tebow in the position of scrambling as often as some running backs. It also must be mentioned that many of the players around Tebow truly rose to the occasion, stepping up their play at crucial times in the season.
Statistically speaking, Tebow is a below-average quarterback at best. He’s an inspiring figure, but that can only take a team so far.
Now he finds himself in New York in easily the most divided locker room in the league. As a polarizing figure himself, Tebow’s very presence could be distracting and possibly destructive to the team.
Even if he is called upon to replace Mark Sanchez, there is no indication that he will be able to rise to actually perform as a quarterback any more effectively in 2012 than he did in his previous two seasons.
The Oakland Raiders are in the midst of their first offseason under new management after Al Davis’s reign, which means there has been plenty of change in the air.
One thing that hasn’t changed—yet—is that Khalif Barnes is penciled in as the starting right tackle after signing a one-year deal that could be worth up to $2 million. That’s not much of a deal for an aging quarterback who was listed as the worst player on the Raiders' offensive line by ProFootballFocus.com.
Now, Barnes will face competition in training camp from young offensive linemen who would love to have his take his job. Joseph Barksdale, Kevin Haslam and Ed Wang are all options to replace him, and all of them are younger and cheaper. What they lack in experience they may be able to pick up on the job.
Even if Barnes does manage to stave them off at the beginning of the season, he might find himself shifted to the bench in favor of one of the younger players in the mix if his play does not improve.
Dion Lewis spent his rookie year serving as the No. 3 running back for the Eagles. He also returned kicks for part of the season.
Although he showed some promise as a backup running back to LeSean McCoy, Lewis failed to establish himself as a return threat. In 2012, he will probably be bumped up to the No. 2 slot in the depth chart for running back, but he is unlikely to be given return duties for a second year.
That all adds up to potentially less time on the field for Lewis than he had during the 2011 campaign. The Eagles used McCoy as a workhorse last year, passing off very few running plays to established backup Ronnie Brown. There is no reason to anticipate that Lewis will see any more touches this year, even as the No. 2 back.
There is also the possibility that he will be surpassed on the depth chart by Chris Polk, perhaps the most highly regarded undrafted free agent out of this year's class. If Polk comes into training camp and outperforms Lewis, he may find himself once again occupying the No. 3 slot, this time without the return duties to at least get him off the bench once in a while.
Barring a major upset in the preseason by undrafted free-agent kicker Danny Hrapmann, Shaun Suisham will once again be the kicker for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Although Suisham is not a bad kicker when the field is short, his accuracy drops pretty severely for an NFL kicker as the distance increases. He hit just 76.6 percent of his kicks in 2011, missing five of 12 attempts from 40-49 yards.
With numbers like that to consider, the Steelers find themselves under pressure in fourth-down situations where they don’t know that they can trust their kicker to come through for them. Instead of putting points on the board, Suisham’s inconsistency forces short punts or puts the Steelers at risk of giving up the ball to the opponent with excellent field position.
The San Diego Chargers struggled to find offensive consistency in 2011, and a large part of the problem was the offensive line. The picture of health amidst an offensive line that suffered from too many injuries, Clary should have been an anchor.
Instead, he was more like a sieve.
He failed to reliably block pressure against Philip Rivers, allowing enough sacks and hits on his quarterback to place him near the bottom of the league’s offensive linesmen. From a rookie, that would have been embarrassing.
But from a veteran player like Clary, that performance is unacceptable.
Since his contract was extended prior to the 2011 season, it doesn’t seem that Clary will be going anywhere in the upcoming season, leaving him free to leak pressure through for 2012.
It was a sign of desperation for the San Francisco 49ers to sign Randy Moss, an aging wide receiver who has not played in a live NFL game in almost two seasons due to injury.
While Moss has adamantly claimed that he is back in shape to compete in the NFL again, concerns about his health and the potential for bringing distraction to the locker room are both legitimate. He has long been known to love the spotlight, as evidenced by his many stints on television.
The 49ers are looking at Moss with hope that he can help lead a corps of wide receivers that have struggled to come into their own. So far, Moss is playing the part well. Whether that will continue into the 2012 season or translate into good production on the field remains suspect.
What had started as a two-man race between Matt Flynn and incumbent Tarvaris Jackson for the job of starting quarterback in Seattle has become a three-man competition.
With the serious addition of Russell Wilson to the mix, it seems likely that Tarvaris Jackson might find himself the odd man out. There is already talk floating around that Jackson may be asked to renegotiate his contract, which is already small compared to the deal that Flynn landed with the Seahawks.
Since he is the only one of the three quarterbacks with experience as a Seahawk, Jackson is in the interesting position of being unlikely to be cut from the team. There is too much uncertainty about how well Flynn or Wilson would transition to the starting position, whereas Jackson has been there before.
If Flynn does take over the starting spot, however, Jackson will find himself back on the bench for the third time in his career, a setback from which he may never recover.
Why Kellen Clemens is still on any roster in the NFL is a bit of a mystery. He has been a bit of a nomad around the league as of the last few years. He finished a five-year stint with the New York Jets with an average passer rating in the 50s.
After sitting out an entire season in 2010, Clemens was called upon to start in St. Louis for the injured Sam Bradford. He failed to make good on that opportunity as well, scoring just three touchdowns and throwing an interception in three games.
The Rams will probably keep Clemens on as a No. 2 option behind Bradford again, if only because they lack any other options heading into the preseason. Clemens isn’t so much useless as he is a liability to the team; in his case, the Rams would be better off cutting him and signing a veteran quarterback as a backup.
Another offensive tackle who couldn’t hold back the tide, Jeremy Trueblood was outclassed almost every step of the way by the opposition. The penetration that he allowed was among the worst in the league.
At this point in his career, it must be considered that Trueblood is simply not starting tackle material for the NFL.
He struggles with tackles, footwork, his pads and blocking. Given that those are core elements of the job he is supposed to do, there is a disconnect here that the Bucs must find a way to address.
Tennessee is facing a case where a higher-paid starting quarterback faces serious competition from a much cheaper and younger option in Jake Locker.
As a backup in 2011, Locker put in a series of solid performances. Combine that with his efforts in training camp and heads are turning in Locker’s direction. Shifting him to the starting position in favor of Hasselbeck has the feel of moving towards the future of the Titans.
But where does that leave Hasselbeck?
An aging veteran in his 14th season, Hasselbeck has never been the most effective quarterback in the league. At best, he has been adequate.
He is set to earn $9 million guaranteed this year, so if Locker does win the starting position or take snaps away, Hasselbeck will become another overpaid bench warmer.
Lorenzo Alexander has spent years with the Washington Redskins, watching his career going nowhere fast.
Despite having the opportunity to start for the majority of the season in 2010, he was not able to make good use of the opportunity to stand out at linebacker. In 2011, he was once again bumped down to backup status and was nearly invisible on the field.
Now he is preparing to start taking a few snaps here and there as a tight end in an effort to find a place on a Redskins team that has never really seemed to need him.
While bringing in defensive players for offensive plays is not unheard of, it typically does not result in the rekindling of a career. Alexander will continue to occupy a roster slot while making relatively few plays, having a low impact and now acting as a novelty on the other side of the ball.