NFL Depth Chart Predictions: 10 Starters Who Will Be Squeezed out of Lineups
Now that we're past the draft and most high-priority free agents have found new places to play next season, let's take a look at which NFL players could be in danger of losing their starting spots from last season.
With some positions, like wide receiver and cornerback, it's hard to differentiate starters from non-starters because it depends on the personnel package used at the time. One can look at a traditional depth chart, but that doesn't always tell the whole story. So on a few of these positions, I'm just going to talk about their roles diminishing.
I'm going to look at 10 players in the NFL that could fit into this category. Obviously it's early and rookies haven't proven anything yet, but let me know in the comments what you think about these guys and any other players out there who should be looking over their shoulder.
Green Bay Packers: Running Backs Alex Green, James Starks, DuJuan Harris
The combination of Alex Green, James Starks and DuJuan Harris picked up 876 yards on 240 carries last season for the Green Bay Packers.
That combination and their 3.65 yards per carry may have had something to do with the Packers' decision to draft former Alabama running back Eddie Lacy in the second round, and then former UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin in the fourth round.
It was a concerted, obvious attempt to create competition at a position the Packers really felt needed it.
Franklin and Lacy should be taking over the majority of the carries next season for the Packers. There's also excellent value for the Packers to add these playmakers around their pricey quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, who just signed a five-year, $110 million deal this offseason.
You have to be careful about how you spend the money you have left. Adding weapons around Rodgers for the next four years that come with a mid-round price tag—that's good value.
Oakland Raiders: Quarterback Matt Flynn
Well, it didn't take long before the local media in Oakland started talking up fourth-round pick and former Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson. Steve Corkran of the Contra Costa Times shared some thoughts from what he saw at minicamp.
Rookie quarterback Tyler Wilson looks nothing like most fourth-round picks. In other words, he looks like he belongs and that he intends to make the most of what he calls an “opportunity.”
It says here that Wilson is on track to push Matt Flynn for the starting job right away and certainly push Pryor for the backup spot held by Matt Leinart last season.
If there's anything that people love, it's a quarterback controversy. There's going to be a big one in Oakland.
Even if Matt Flynn starts the year off as the starter, the Raiders aren't going to win many games. That's going to lead to the narrative of, "Why not see what we have in Wilson?"
This isn't a slight to Wilson; he's apparently looked pretty good according to most reports out of camp. But this doesn't bode well for Flynn, who's trying to avoid having the same scenario that played out in Seattle, where he was passed by rookie and mid-round pick, Russel Wilson.
Only this time, it'll be Tyler Wilson.
Seattle Seahawks: Wide Receiver Doug Baldwin
The Seattle Seahawks trade with the Minnesota Vikings that sent over wide receiver Percy Harvin was a good thing for everyone, except for maybe Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin.
Harvin is going to provide second-year quarterback Russell Wilson a big-play threat that can take short passes and quick throws and turn them into huge gains. It takes pressure off your quarterback when your big plays aren't necessarily dependent on long throws down the field. This is the kind of game-changing ability the Seahawks needed to add on offense.
Baldwin was the No. 3 receiver for the Seahawks last year, picking up 366 yards receiving on 29 receptions in 14 games, including three touchdowns. Sidney Rice led the team with 748 yards receiving, while Golden Tate picked up 688 yards, each catching seven touchdowns.
While it's hard to predict what the Seahawks will do from a schematic point of view with the versatile Harvin, it's fair to say that he'll be taking touches away from other guys. Based on last year, it'd be a safe bet to guess Baldwin.
Kansas City Chiefs: Tight End Tony Moeaki
Tony Moeaki must be really confused about the emphasis the Kansas City Chiefs have put on the tight end position this offseason. The Chiefs needed someone to replace Kevin Boss, who was released in February after spending most of last season on IR after a concussion suffered early in the season.
So the Chiefs went out and signed free-agent tight end and former Miami Dolphin, Anthony Fasano. They gave him a four-year deal worth $16 million, which is a pretty sizeable investment to a tight end.
Then the Chiefs drafted former University of Cincinnati tight end Travis Kelce in the third round of last April's draft. Kelce was considered one of the better "value" picks in the draft. Adam Teicher of the Kansas City Star talked with Chiefs head coach Andy Reid about Kelce's role in the offense.
He’s going to go in there and compete and we’ll see how it all works out. He gives you another offensive threat, somebody that the defense will have to honor with his speed and athletic ability.
Sure, the Chiefs could run some multiple tight end sets and utilize a couple of these guys together, but the new regime in Kansas City doesn't have any ties to Moeaki, who despite missing all of 2011 with an ACL injury has been a solid contributor for the Chiefs in his three years.
In his two seasons of actual playing, Moeaki has 80 receptions and just over 1,000 yards receiving. When you look at the quarterbacks he's played with in Kansas City, those numbers look just a little bit better than they actually are.
But the Chiefs have made two pretty big commitments this offseason to players at his same position, which could be a bad sign for Moeaki.
New York Jets: Quarterback Mark Sanchez
Buckle up, folks, because people will be talking about this a lot this offseason and into next season. It's going to be that storyline that's so annoying it becomes funny.
The stage has been set for a legendary quarterback controversy that has Mark Sanchez and head coach Rex Ryan's belief in him on one side, and Rex Ryan's willingness to adapt and change with his possible future quarterback (second-round pick Geno Smith) on the other side.
There are so many layers to this story that it really is going to be interesting to see how it all plays out. To think it won't be a mess, though, would be ridiculous.
It might even take just one incompletion from Sanchez next season before the boo-birds rain down on Ryan, who, along with Sanchez, is fighting for his job in New York. It wouldn't make sense for Ryan to completely attach his wagon to Sanchez, so you can expect Ryan to go to Geno Smith early in the season.
Philadelphia Eagles: Safety Kurt Coleman
The Eagles going out and signing former New York Giants safety Kenny Phillips along with former New England Patriots safety Patrick Chung this offseason might give you an idea of how they felt about their safeties heading into next season.
That's a direct reflection on Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman.
While Phillips has been banged up recently and missed nine games last season, he's an upgrade over Coleman, who struggled badly in coverage last season for the Eagles.
A lot of these slides are talking about young players that are coming up and challenging veterans for these jobs, but in this case, it's about a banged-up veteran coming to patch a huge hole in the Eagles secondary.
Expect Phillips to be on the field and starting anytime he's healthy.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Cornerback Eric Wright
It wasn't the trade for Darrelle Revis that landed Eric Wright on this list, at least not specifically. The move to draft Mississippi State cornerback Johnthan Banks in the second round did.
Wright's four-game suspension last year voided the guaranteed money he was to receive in his five-year, $37.5 million deal he signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers prior to last season. Therefore the Buccaneers now hold all the cards in regards to Wright.
This article from Stephen F. Holder of the Tampa Bay Times explains why the Buccaneers can remain patient with Wright after his suspension.
But because it’s (money) no longer guaranteed, there is nothing substantial in Wright’s deal that would trigger his release (roster bonuses, etc). Also, base salaries aren’t paid until the regular season, so there’s no urgency in that regard.
This allows the Buccaneers time to work with Banks and get an accurate assessment of where they stand with his development, all the while having Wright there if they need him. There's a good chance that Banks just beats Wright out for the job. Wright isn't in a good position right now and has zero leverage.
Kansas City Chiefs: Safety Kendrick Lewis
There are few safeties around the NFL that are as poor at tackling as Chiefs safety Kendrick Lewis.
Before last season, which could have been considered his worst, Lewis ranked as one of the two worst tackling safeties in the NFL during his time in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus.
The Chiefs signed Husain Abdullah and Dunta Robinson, who could compete at safety as well as cornerback, to bring more competition to the defensive backfield this offseason. That's not to mention the Chiefs also signing former Miami Dolphins cornerback Sean Smith.
These moves have shown a concerted effort to improve the defensive backfield as a whole.
The Chiefs drafted former Georgia defensive back Sanders Commings in the fifth round of this past draft. Andy Reid said, via KCChiefs.com, that Commings was versatile and could play either safety or cornerback for the Chiefs.
He fits in to what we do in both spots, he’s a 4.4 40-yard dash guy, so he has size and speed at 216 pounds in that area that can move. He can help us in a couple of different spots, both at the corner and the safety spot.
There's a good chance that Commings eventually takes Lewis' spot sometime before we're too far into the 2013 season. Tackling is usually a prerequisite to play defense.
San Diego Chargers: Wide Receiver Robert Meachem
There is no debate that wide receiver Robert Meachem just hasn't worked out in San Diego. After coming over from the New Orleans Saints, Meachem just hasn't produced in San Diego and was outplayed by journeyman wide receiver Danario Alexander at the end of last season.
Meachem signed a four-year, $25.9 million deal before last season and finished 2012 with 14 receptions for 207 yards and two touchdowns.
It would cost the Chargers more money against the salary cap to cut Meachem right now than it would just to keep him on the roster, as Chris Wesseling of NFL.com points out:
Make no mistake, though, Meachem is on borrowed time in San Diego following Danario Alexander's late-season emergence. Whereas cap implications will save Meachem's bacon this year, they likely will do him in next offseason.
The Chargers luckily got a steal when Cal wide receiver Keenan Allen was still available when they picked in the third round of April's draft. Allen was seen by some as the top wide receiver in last April's draft.
Expect Allen to emerge along with Alexander and Malcom Floyd as the Chargers' main targets at wide receiver for quarterback, Philip Rivers.
Denver Broncos: Running Back Willis McGahee
Denver Broncos running back Willis McGahee missed six games in 2012 after breaking his leg and tearing his MCL in a Week 10 matchup against the San Diego Chargers.
McGahee, who turns 32 next season, carried the ball 167 times for 731 yards before his injury. The Broncos drafted former Wisconsin running back Montee Ball in the second round of last April's draft.
It's obvious that Ball was brought to Denver to replace McGahee, who will either see a reduced role if he can come back healthy, and if not, may be released before the season begins. He's due just $2.5 million in 2013, but he's just a $1 million cap hit if he's released.
The Broncos also have Knowshon Moreno and Ronnie Hillman on the roster. It's making for a crowded backfield in Denver, and executive vice president of the Broncos, John Elway, doesn't seem concerned about the amount of carries that Ball had in college.
Expect Ball to get carries early next season and for McGahee to be phased out of the Broncos offense before too long.