7 NFL Backups Who Won't Relinquish Their Jobs Once Starters Return to Action
The Wally Pipp story is more overblown than the cropped wallpaper of Jennifer Lopez on my laptop. It is a story that has been written and rewritten countless times in the history of the professional sports world. For those of you who have joined the doomsday conspirators in the mountains of Utah, let me give you a rundown of what this story entails.
Player A performed up to expectations, but the sports gods failed to heed his call towards ultimate health. Meanwhile, a lesser-known individual steps right up and outperforms his predecessor, taking the job completely away from the original starter.
While we haven't seen this a great deal in recent NFL history, it is definitely part of the game. Trent Green, anyone?
Today's article is going to focus on seven backups that are going to make it extremely hard for the original starter to earn their job back.
Lets take a gander, shall we?
Billy Winn, Defensive Tackle, Cleveland Browns
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Replacing: Phil Taylor
I was huge on Billy Winn coming out of Boise State in April's draft, and I was absolutely shocked that he fell all the way to the Cleveland Browns in the sixth round. They got an absolute steal.
The rookie defensive tackle has started the first two games of the 2012 season and been better than advertised. He looked especially good last week, stuffing BenJarvus Green-Ellis of the Cincinnati Bengals a couple times in the trenches.
In short, Winn could be that stout force along the interior of the defensive line that Cleveland has been looking to acquire for quite some time.
Phil Taylor, on the other hand, was pretty good as a rookie for Cleveland last season. He recorded nearly 60 tackles and four sacks in 16 starts.
Numbers don't lie, though. Cleveland ranked 30th in the NFL against the rush last season, giving up an average of 147.4 yards per game. Through two games this season with Taylor on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, Cleveland has yielded just 115 an outing, ranking them in the middle of the pack. While this doesn't seem like a huge difference, it does equate to about 520 yards over the course of a season.
Could Winn be a primary reason for this?
Cedric Benson, Running Back, Green Bay Packers
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Replacing: James Starks
Cedric Benson failed to perform up to task against the San Francisco 49ers in the season opener, but that is to be expected considering how good the 49ers are against the run.
He did, however, return to form against the Chicago Bears last Thursday, tallying 116 total yards on 24 touches.
For what it is worth, Starks didn't set the world on fire during training camp and wasn't guaranteed to be the starter heading into the season prior to his toe injury. So, a case could be made that Benson was already slated to start once he signed during the late stages of training camp.
Either way, it appears that Benson will be the Packers' primary running back for the remainder of the season.
Note: Starks is questionable for Monday night against the Seattle Seahawks.
Bradie James, Linebacker, Houston Texas
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Replacing: Darryl Sharpton
The Houston Texans brought Bradie James in to be a veteran reinforcement after they traded DeMeco Ryans to the Philadelphia Eagles in the offseason.
James, who had five 100-tackle seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, was slated to back up former fourth-round pick Darryl Sharpton as the right inside linebacker next to Brian Cushing. This was before Sharpton went down with a hip injury and was placed on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list.
Houston's defense has not lost a step with James in the lineup. They rank first in the NFL in points against, eighth in rush yards against and first in total defense.
Why mess up a good thing? After all, Sharpton's job will be there waiting for him once James finally hits the end of the road in the not-so-distant future.
Donnie Avery, Wide Receiver, Indianapolis Colts
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Replacing: Austin Collie
Not necessarily a replacement in the starting lineup here. Rather, it would appear that Donnie Avery could end up taking over as Andrew Luck's second favorite receiving option behind Reggie Wayne for the Indianapolis Colts.
Collie, who has a history of concussions, has sat out the initial two games of the 2012 season. Meanwhile, Avery has stepped it up big time.
The veteran receiver has recorded 12 receptions for 148 yards and one score through two games. He is also coming off his best single-game performance since he was a member of the St. Louis Rams in 2008.
When you have a young quarterback attempting to make the transition from the collegiate level to the NFL, it is important you surround him with receivers he is comfortable with.
After Avery put up 111 yards against the Minnesota Vikings last Monday, we can easily make the assumption that Luck is damn comfortable with him.
Miles Burris, Linebacker, Oakland Raiders
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Replacing: Aaron Curry
Once again, we are talking about semantics here. The Oakland Raiders could easily move Curry to the middle linebacker position to replace Rolando McClain while keeping Miles Burris at the weak side.
Either way, I don't envision a scenario where Burris, a rookie fourth-round pick from San Diego State, relinquishes his starting linebacker job.
The talented youngster has recorded 11 tackles and a pass defended in two starts thus far this season. More importantly, he is starting to grow into his role and can fly to the ball sideline-to-sideline.
As a team in a clear rebuilding mode, it makes no sense for Oakland to sit young players in lieu of marginal veteran performers. Whether it is Curry or McClain getting the boot from the starting lineup, Burris has to believe his job is safe here.
Dejon Gomes, Safety, Washington Redskins
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Replacing: Brandon Meriweather
I guess it could be stated that anyone with just a little bit of coverage skills would be an upgrade over the enigmatic Meriweather, who just isn't that good of a safety in the National Football League.
While the former first-round pick from Miami did impress the Washington Redskins in training camp, he is nowhere near the long-term answer at either safety position.
Meanwhile, Dejon Gomes has impressed through two games. The athletic safety from Nebraska has recorded 12 tackles and two passes defended, and he intercepted Drew Brees in the Redskins' season-opening win.
Why not go with the player that possesses more upside and already boosts your ability to cover on the back end of the defense? Of course, Washington is going to have to think long and hard after their secondary was shredded by Sam Bradford and the St. Louis Rams last week.
I just can't envision them coming up with a plan for recovery that includes Meriweather.
C.J. Spiller, Running Back, Buffalo Bills
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Replacing: Fred Jackson
We already know what Jackson will give you on a weekly basis when the talented running back is healthy. The major issue with him is the fact that he has not been able to stay on the field over the course of the last calendar year.
Adding fuel to the fire is the tremendous play of former first-round pick C.J. Spiller in his stead.
The Clemson product has accumulated an NFL-best 364 total yards and scored two touchdowns in the first two weeks of the season. Since being inserted into Buffalo's starting lineup in November 2011, Spiller has averaged over 110 yards per game and scored eight touchdowns in just as many outings.
Those are starting running back numbers right there.
It also seems that Spiller fits well into what Buffalo is attempting to build schematically on the offensive side of the ball. They are giving him the ball in space—often on the outside, where he is most comfortable.
Once Jackson does return, it seems that Buffalo would allow the two to share the duties in the backfield. However, I just cannot see them stripping Spiller of the necessary carries to make an impact. After all, he is averaging 10 yards per rush this season.