Bold Roster Predictions for Every NFL Team
Right before the season, every team has a general expectation as to how their rosters will shape out over the course of the season.
However, things rarely go as planned in a league that is as unpredictable as the NFL. Between injuries and unexpected performances, it is nearly impossible to predict who will be the next Miles Austin or Arian Foster.
That doesn't mean we are not going to try.
Here are bold roster predictions for every team heading into 2012.
New York Giants: D.J. Ware Will Retain His Backup RB Spot
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Despite the fact that David Wilson was drafted in the first round to give the Giants a one-two punch at the running back position, there is a chance that Wilson may not even usurp D.J. Ware as the primary backup to Ahmad Bradshaw.
Wilson's struggles to hold off D.J. Ware for backup duties stems from his struggles in protection.
While Wilson is almost as talented as any back in the 2011 draft, there are definite concerns about his ability as a pass protector coming out of Virginia Tech. On a Tom Coughlin-coached team, lacking in the details of the game is an easy way to stay on the bench.
Giants fans should not overreact to Wilson's demotion, as rookies often struggle in this area. However, if Wilson does not see a promotion at some point during the season, there may be legitimate concerns as to whether or not Wilson can handle the mental aspects of the NFL game.
Philadelphia Eagles: O.J. Atogwe Becomes a Starter in Training Camp
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The Eagles may intend to start Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman at safety to start the season, but they will soon realize that Atogwe is the best player they have at the position.
Not only is Atogwe in the rarer mold of being a coverage-first safety, he is also only a few years removed from being one of the more sought-after free agents on the market.
While a series of injuries have pushed him to the bottom of free agent wish-lists, if he can stay healthy, he can thrive in the Eagles defense that should take a lot of pressure off their secondary with their pass-rushers.
Danny Coale Wins the Slot Receiver Job
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The roster battle at Cowboys camp appears to be at the slot receiver position, where Kevin Ogletree and rookie Danny Coale will duke it out to see who replaces Laurent Robinson.
While a lot of people are down on Coale's odds because he suffered a broken foot in training camp, to me, he is the superior player to Ogletree. Coale has ideal hands, quickness, and toughness for the position. While he will never be a terrific perimeter weapon, the Virginia Tech product was meant for the slot.
Coale will overcome his injury and win the job before the start of the regular season.
Washington Redskins: Roy Helu Replaces Tim Hightower
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According to OurLads.com, Tim Hightower is ahead of Roy Helu on the depth chart, which to me comes as a bit of a surprise.
When Hightower suffered a season-ending ACL tear in mid-October, the Nebraska product got his chance to shine, and he capitalized. While he is not nearly the pass-protector Hightower is (few runners on the planet block as well as Hightower), he looked more explosive and was also a threat in the passing game.
With time, Helu can learn the protection schemes well enough to convince coaches that it makes more sense to play the more effective back. Meanwhile, Hightower can put his protection skills to good use on third downs, which is when they are needed the most.
New England Patriots: Dont'a Hightower Plays Defensive End
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To me, the selection of Dont'a Hightower makes little sense. As bad as the Pats' D was last year, it was hardly the fault of the linebackers. In fact, it was probably the strength of the entire unit.
With Chandler Jones at one defensive end spot, the other spot is wide open...for Hightower to move into.
While he played linebacker at Alabama, he often put his hand in the dirt as a pass-rusher on third downs. We saw Rob Ninkovich play a quality amount of defensive end for the Patriots last year, despite being a linebacker, so such a move would not be unprecedented for a Bill Belichick defense.
New York Jets: Tim Tebow Will Not Start a Single Game
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That's right, Tebowmaniacs. Sanchez is not going anywhere, no matter how much you clamor for Tebow next year.
The truth is, Sanchez is an extraordinarily better passer than Tebow, as I noted in my minicamp report. In this league, you have to pass to win, even if the Jets are a run-first team.
Even if Sanchez does struggle, the coaches, not the players, have control over the roster. Rex will only start Tebow if he is actually the better, which he is not.
If you want to use the baseless defense of calling Tebow a "winner", I urge you to compare playoff victories between the two quarterbacks. In New York, going 8-8 and losing in the first round of the playoffs is not acceptable.
Miami Dolphins: Matt Moore Wins Starting QB Job
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While David Garrard may look more comfortable and appears to be the favorite to win the starting job, I believe that Matt Moore is the superior player and will eventually find himself at the top of the ladder.
With Matt Moore under center, the Dolphins were a much better team than with Chad Henne, finishing with a respectable 87.1 rating.
While Garrard may look more comfortable now in Miami's new offense, Moore just needs some time to make the adjustments to the new offense. By the third week of training camp, Moore will surpass Garrard to be the starter once again in Miami.
Buffalo Bills: Cordy Glenn Wins Starting LT Job
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Coming into this offseason, the Bills anticipated having Chris Hairston replace Demetress Bell as their starting left tackle.
What they did not anticipate was Cordy Glenn falling to them in the second round.
While Hairston may have long arms and could be suitable as a left tackle, Glenn is the superior talent, particularly as a run-blocker.
While Hairston is currently listed as the Bills' starter, Glenn's talent will eventually win out.
Houston Texans: Darryl Sharpton Will Start over Bradie James
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However, according to OurLads.com, Sharpton is currently ahead of Bradie James on the depth chart. At 24 years old, Sharpton has loads more upside and brings more speed and athleticism to the position. On the other hand, Bradie James is older and is nothing more than a two-down player at this point of his career.
Because offenses are passing more and more in earlier downs, it only makes more sense to feature the younger, faster player in Sharpton as opposed to playing a declining player in Bradie James.
Assuming that he does not fall on his face in training camp, Sharpton will be the full-time heir to DeMeco Ryans sooner than later.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Chad Henne Replaces Blaine Gabbert
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Blaine Gabbert was a tough watch last year, as he continually folded under pressure and simply did not look the part of an NFL quarterback.
However, Gabbert has plenty of arm talent, which he did flash at times last season, and it has been on full display at minicamp. According to Jaguars.com's John Oehser, Gabbert looks "like a different player off the field—more confidence and a bit more maturity."
While this is certainly a promising sign, as we saw from Gabbert last year, all of his great talents go out the window when the pads are put on. He has had a tendency to flinch under pressure and force throws when he did not have to.
Meanwhile, as inconsistent and unspectacular as Chad Henne has been, he has proven that he can at least take hits and win some games. Gabbert may have more arm talent, but Henne is the superior player when there are bodies flying around him.
Tennessee Titans: Matt Hasselbeck Retains His Starting Job
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This quarterback competition is about as difficult to predict as any, but the Titans seemed to be ready to enter another season with Hasselbeck as their starter and appear to be in no rush to start Jake Locker.
In a lot of ways, their reasoning is sound. While Locker has a superior arm, an inexperienced quarterback leading a team that was inches away from a playoff berth last year could kill their chances at making a run this year.
The Titans could also be looking at their AFC South rivals in Jacksonville and see what happens when they put an unpolished quarterback into the fray too quickly.
In the end, coaches view Hasselbeck as a much safer option, and for coaches, "safe" options are popular choices.
Indianapolis Colts: Delone Carter Becomes the Starter
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It has a nice ring to it.
Donald Brown has been underwhelming for most of his career, despite a mid-season surge last year in which he averaged 4.8 yards per carry.
However, Carter is a much more physical back that is better-suited to what the Colts will want to do on offense. This is no longer Peyton Manning's team with finesse running plays sprinkled into a pass-first offense; the Colts are going to be more balanced than they have ever been in this century, which requires a bell-cow back.
As a more finesse player, Donald Brown is more suited to be Carter's compliment than the other way around.
New Orleans Saints: Mark Ingram Replaces Pierre Thomas
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The truth is, both of these players can start for most of the teams in the NFL, but the Saints' incredible depth at the position is holding Mark Ingram back from being the player he can be.
Sooner than later, the Saints are going to realize that Ingram is the more talented runner and give him more snaps than Thomas.
NFL Films guru Greg Cosell told the Shutdown Corner podcast how much he likes Ingram as a runner:
I love Mark Ingram, more so than I did when he came out ... He can be a true foundation back.. but the Saints don't run that kind of offense...The only thing holding Ingram back is Sean Payton.
As solid as Pierre Thomas is, Ingram's talent will eventually win out.
Atlanta Falcons: Akeem Dent Replaces Lofa Tatupu at Middle Linebacker
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While Lofa Tatupu is a recognizable name and would seem like a viable replacement to Curtis Lofton, Akeem Dent is going to push Tatupu hard for the starting middle linebacker job.
Dent, a second-year player out of Georgia, has plenty of ability as a third-round selection. Meanwhile, Tatupu has battled injuries, specifically concussions, throughout his career.
This camp battle will be close, but I would wager on the young, upcoming player to win out over the veteran who can't seem to stay on he field.
Carolina Panthers: Jonathan Stewart Becomes the Primary Back
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While there was never a clear-cut starter amongst the "smash and dash" running back duo, the younger Jonathan Stewart has always seen fewer snaps than Williams, despite the fact that he was the superior runner throughout 2011.
Williams' bloated contract is the only real justification the Panthers have for keeping him at the top of the depth chart, but they can no longer ignore the fact that Stewart is a better player than Williams at this point in his career.
Both players will see plenty of carries this season, but it is time to let Stewart take on more of a lead role, ignoring the amount of money both players are making.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Ronde Barber Returns to Cornerback
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It is common for older corners to make a move to safety to hide their speed deficiencies, as players like Rod Woodson and Deion Sanders had great success making a similar move. However, Barber is not a good fit for the position.
While he certainly has good instincts and extensive experience playing zone, he was, according to Pro Football Focus, the worst tackler in the NFL last year.
If Barber continues to miss tackles as the last defender on the field, it is going to be difficult to keep him on the field. Better him get beat for a few more completions than miss tackles in the open field that lead to long touchdowns.
Denver Broncos: Knowshon Moreno Is Released in Training Camp
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As soon as the Broncos drafted Ronnie Hillman in April's draft, Moreno was immediately put on the hot seat after three disappointing seasons in Denver.
Getting nailed for a DUI (in hilarious fashion) in February could have been the last straw that drove the Broncos to look for new runners in the draft.
In addition, this current regime of Elway/Fox was not in place when Moreno was picked in the first round of the 2012 draft, so they will not soil their reputation by parting ways with Moreno.
Unless he has a terrific training camp to convince coaches otherwise, I would expect the Broncos to try as hard as they can to trade Moreno before eventually releasing him.
Kansas City Chiefs: Peyton Hillis Becomes the Lead Running Back
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When fully healthy, Jamaal Charles is one of the top backs in the NFL. However, coming off a torn ACL injury that sidelined him for the vast majority of the 2011 season, the Chiefs may want to bring him along slowly. Those who suffer ACL injuries typically take an additional season after recovery to become the same players they were before.
Which is where Hillis comes in.
While Hillis had a disappointing 2011 season from a PR standpoint, he was still an effective runner when he was in the game and playing at 100 percent.
If he can assume the starting role, the Chiefs can use Charles in the complimentary role he had in 2010 when he emerged as one of the most efficient runners, which will allow him to come back from his injury more slowly.
Oakland Raiders: Juron Criner Becomes a Starter
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With a new regime in place in Oakland, players like Darius Heyward-Bey are no longer guaranteed starting jobs because of their draft status.
Meanwhile, fifth-round pick Juron Criner had a terrific mini-camp that impressed his teammates, which immediately put Louis Murphy on notice that there will be serious competition for the fourth receiver spot in training camp.
However, I believe that Criner is talented enough to push DHB for the starting job opposite Denarius Moore. Criner has similar size and speed attributes that will create a lot of competition in training camp.
San Diego Chargers: Ronnie Brown Is Released in Camp
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While Ronnie Brown is a big name being a former first-round pick, his time as an NFL runner has run out. There is a reason why he was not a sought-after free agent in 2012, and the fact that the Eagles tried to trade him in the middle of the season was telling.
With Ryan Mathews, LeRon McClain and Jacob Hester on the roster, the Chargers have enough firepower at running back/fullback to get the job done. Since he does not contribute much on special teams, it makes little sense for the Chargers to use a roster spot on an aging runner.
Arizona Cardinals: Ryan Williams Becomes the Starting Running Back
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While Beanie Wells has done an adequate job as a workhorse back, Williams, a second-round pick out of Virginia Tech in 2011, is a more explosive and powerful runner who is also more effective as a receiver.
Now that he seems primed to return from a torn patella injury, Williams, a more talented and complete runner, should be able to usurp Beanie Wells as the primary runner in Arizona.
Both players will see quality amounts of playing time this year, but with some time, Ryan's talent will win out, and he will become the lead back for the Cardinals.
St. Louis Rams: Brian Quick Becomes a Starter
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While he is not currently listed as a starter, Quick is dripping with talent and should earn one of the starting jobs in training camp.
If they plan to "lean heavily" on the Appalachian State product this year, he will need to assume a starting role. It makes sense to move Danny Amendola, who is a shorter, quicker receiver, into the slot. Quick can than assume the role as a starter opposite Brandon Gibson with his great athleticism and leaping ability.
Quick is immediately the most talented receiver on the roster; it only makes sense to play him as soon as possible.
San Franscisco 49ers: Brandon Jacobs Is a Camp Casualty
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It was going to be difficult for Jacobs to make the 49ers with Frank Gore, Anthony Dixon, and Kendall Hunter already on the team.
After drafting LaMichael James, Jacobs has virtually no chance to secure a spot on the 49ers' roster.
Not only is Jacobs a shell of his former self as a runner, he also does not do anything to contribute on special teams. Past the prime of his career, Jacobs has no upside as a player and is going to decline from this point on.
The 49ers are better off using the roster spot on a player that will contribute on special teams or provide depth on a position that needs it than keeping an aging running back hanging around.
Seattle Seahawks: Tavaris Jackson Remains as the Starting QB
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Contrary to what everyone thought would happen by now, Matt Flynn has yet to usurp Tavaris Jackson as the Seahawks' starting quarterback.
While a lot can change between now and the start of the season, the fact that Flynn has yet to be named the starter does not bode well for his chances of proving that he is more than just the product of an excellent Packers offense.
If Flynn was truly the player we saw pick apart the Lions' defense in Week 17, he would have been named the starter by now.
Minnesota Vikings: Greg Childs Starts over Michael Jenkins
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While Michael Jenkins is a proven veteran and is easier to trust, Greg Childs has a chance to be a steal of the draft.
Hampered by injuries throughout his career at Arkansas, Childs has a ton of talent and is a starting-caliber wide receiver in the NFL—if he can stay healthy.
With Jerome Simpson suspended at the start of the season, the window is open for Childs to prove that he is the second-most talented receiver on the Vikings' roster in training camp.
Green Bay Packers: Randall Cobb Replaces Donald Driver as the Slot Receiver
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While Donald Driver may want two more seasons to get himself another title, he may have to spend a lot of those seasons riding the bench.
Randall Cobb showed a ton of promise last year, both as a receiver and as a kick returner. While Driver has been a reliable target in Green Bay for quite some time, he is simply not nearly as explosive as the Kentucky product.
The fact that the Packers brought back Driver was a bit of a head-scracthing move in itself. With three terrific receivers to work with, why bring back an aging veteran to take away precious snaps from a developing player? If they brought him back for depth, they already have James Jones as their fourth receiver, and Driver does not do anything on special teams.
Either way, it would be foolish for the Packers to keep such a talented player on the bench in favor of a veteran, simply because of his name.
Chicago Bears: Shea McClellin Beats out Isreal Idonije as Starting DE
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While Israel Idonije is a solid player in his own right, the Bears wanted to add an element of speed and athleticism to their front with the selection of Shea McClellin.
So far, the Bears are pleased with the Boise State product, according to Neil Hayes of the Chicago Sun-Times:
We'll find out more about first-round pick Shea McClellin when training camp starts, but defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli likes what he's seen so far. 'He's got really good speed. He's got nice range. His size is fine. He's a real hungry guy and he's very smart.'
It is always wise to take everything reported in minicamp with a grain of salt, but Shea appears to be everything the Bears were looking for when they drafted him. Both players will see playing time, but in this day and age of pass-first offenses, youth and athleticism tend to win out more often than not.
Detroit Lions: Riley Reiff Starts at Right Tackle
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While the Lions have battle-tested vets on both edges of their offensive line in Jeff Backus and Gosder Cherlius, Riley Reiff should push both players for a starting job in camp.
No matter where he has played, Reiff has shined in minicamps and OTAs.
It will be difficult for the coaches to trust a rookie to protect Stafford's blindside. It will be easier to move Reiff into the right tackle position, which is where he is more suited to play with his shorter arms.
Depending on how well he fares, he could eventually make a move over to the left side, but Reiff is too talented to leave on the bench.
Baltimore Ravens: Tommy Streeter Beats out Jacoby Jones for Third WR Spot
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So far, Tommy Streeter has been impressive in minicamp and OTAs. In particular, he has shown off his ability to make leaping grabs in the red-zone, which has boosted his roster stock immensely in the eyes of coaches.
On the other hand, while Jacoby Jones is a solid player who has flashed potential as a Texan, he is nothing more than a mediocre number two receiver at this point, perhaps even a number three.
As the Ravens' offense looks to get more explosive, they my want to turn to the younger player with more natural ability in Streeter over the veteran Jones.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Antonio Brown Becomes #1 Reciver
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While Mike Wallace is now a well-known commodity amongst fantasy owners, Brown is loaded with as much, if not more ability than Wallace.
Last year, his teammates voted him as the team MVP, beating out the likes of Big Ben and Mike Wallace. When the people that you practice with every day vote you as the most valuable player on the team, it speaks volumes about his ability.
Since this may be Mike Wallace's last year in Pittsburgh, the Steelers may want to start to get used to Brown being the top target as soon as possible.
Cleveland Browns: Josh Gordon Becomes an Immediate Starter
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Whenever a team uses a second-round pick in the supplemental draft, it indicates that they think the player can become a star in the NFL sooner than later.
While he is behind everyone else on the roster because he has found his way onto a team so late, given the lack of depth the Browns have at receiver, he will get every opportunity to start.
The battle will come down to Gordon and the incumbent Mohamed Massaquoi, who has yet to turn into the number one receiver the Browns thought he would be.
Gordon is the superior talent, and despite being at a disadvantage in terms of knowing the Browns' playbook, he should win the starting job before the season starts.
Cincinnati Bengals: Nate Clements Retains Starting Job
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This may be the most compelling camp battle of all the first-round picks.
While Kirkpatrick's raw talent is enticing, the incumbent Nate Clements does not plan on giving up his starting job any time soon.
So far, Kirkpatrick has had a bit of a rough go, as he is just learning how to backpedal for the first time.
It makes more sense for the Bengals to start Clements on the outside and move Kirkpatrick to the slot. Kirkpatrick is an excellent tackler, making him an ideal candidate for the position. He would also spend less time backpedaling as he deals with receivers who usually run shorter routes.