One of the great things about the NFL is that nobody’s job is completely safe. Even the game’s top stars could lose their starting job to a lesser known player. Coaches and general managers don’t have the luxury to play the loyalty game.
This article looks at several players who face a strong possibility of losing their starting job at some point during the season.
Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller have been sharing carries for the past few years, but Jackson was always seen as the starter. Things should change this year as Spiller finally lived up to his potential last season.
His six yards per carry were tied for tops in the league (among running backs) and spoke to the type of explosiveness in his game. Jackson will still be a part of the offense, but look for Spiller to see his touches continue to increase throughout the season.
The Buffalo Bills need to get the ball into the hands of their best playmakers and Spiller is arguably the best on the team. He can expect the offensive game plan to feature designed plays to get him the ball in both the passing and running game.
Look for Mark Sanchez to begin the season as the starter but for Geno Smith to take over at some point. The New York Jets don’t feature enough overall talent to compete for a playoff spot this year, which means turning things over to Smith makes sense.
New York would be wise to allow the season to get out of control before they give Smith a chance to start. They don’t want to rush him into the lineup and risk hurting his development. Waiting would also allow him to become more comfortable with the playbook and his teammates.
The fact New York drafted Smith shows they don’t have much long-term confidence in Sanchez. It’ll take a dramatic turnaround for the Jets to consider keeping Sanchez in the mix for the entire season.
The Washington Redskins drafted two intriguing young safeties in Phillip Thomas and Bacarri Rambo during this past year’s draft. Both of these players have tremendous physical talents and a ton of upside. There’s a strong chance that one of these two unseats Brandon Meriweather in the starting lineup before the start of the regular season.
Meriweather’s career has been on a bit of a tailspin lately. He was let go by the New England Patriots, failed to stick with the Chicago Bears and had an up-and-down performance last year in Washington. His biggest issues are his tendencies to give up big plays and frequently get called for illegal hit penalties.
Look for the Redskins to hold open competition at the safety position and for at least one of the rookies to open the season as a starter.
As referenced here by The Baltimore Sun’s Aaron Wilson, Terrence Cody had the worst season of his career in 2012. His job is to hold at the point of attack, eat up blockers and stuff the run. However, Cody struggled in each one of these areas.
This is likely one of the main reasons the Baltimore Ravens drafted Brandon Williams in the third round of this past year’s draft. Williams faces the challenge of transitioning from the lesser competition he faced at small-school Missouri Southern to much better competition in the NFL.
However, he showed during this time at the Senior Bowl that he’s talented enough to quickly adjust. Williams does a great job using his strength and leverage to occupy blockers. He also boasts the quickness to get off the line and penetrate the pocket. It shouldn’t take long for the Ravens to notice that Williams offers more versatility than Cody.
The combination of Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman didn’t provide the Pittsburgh Steelers’ running game with enough consistency last year. This is likely one of the reasons why Pittsburgh drafted Michigan State’s Le’Veon Bell in the second round of the draft.
Bell is a big-bodied back who loves to work between the tackles. During his college career, he showed the ability to move the pile and remain fresh despite receiving the bulk of the carries.
Dwyer and Redman might open the season as the top two running backs, but as Bell becomes more familiar with the pass-blocking concepts, he’ll see more touches. Because of the loss of Mike Wallace and injury issues for Heath Miller, the Steelers need the running game to pick up some of the slack.
In today’s NFL, it’s important to have more than two capable cornerbacks on the roster. However, there’s still a distinction between a starter and backup player. Sam Shields narrowly held onto the starting job last year as rookie, but Casey Hayward quickly showed he could make an impact.
Hayward will be given every chance to secure a starting role during training camp. The Green Bay Packers defense likes players who can generate turnovers. Hayward finished last year tied for fifth in the league with six interceptions.
While the interceptions had a major impact, Hayward also offered excellent all-around coverage. Shields had some mental mistakes that led to big plays for the opposing offense. This will be one of the more interesting camp battles to watch for the Packers.
The Oakland Raiders made several veteran free-agent additions to make sure the team wasn’t completely overmatched. One of those moves was signing linebacker Kevin Burnett. However, Burnett’s spot in the starting lineup will quickly be challenged by rookie Sio Moore.
Moore is an explosive athlete who possesses the versatility to contribute in many ways. He has the ability to set the edge against the run, the balance to hold up in coverage and quickness to generate pressure off the edge.
Inserting Moore in the lineup ahead of Burnett will instantly make the Raiders defense quicker. This team needs to think about the future and give all their younger players opportunities to learn the game and develop.
Eric Wright’s first season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was a complete disaster. First, he was suspended for violating the league’s substance abuse policy and then struggled to live up to his contract on the field.
Wright and the Buccaneers were able to rework his contract to keep him on the roster. However, Wright’s status as a starter was put in jeopardy when Tampa Bay drafted Mississippi State’s Johnthan Banks in the second round of this year’s draft.
Banks is a physical defender who has a knack for locating the football. His style of play is a perfect fit for how Greg Schiano wants to run his defense.
The additions of guards Andy Levitre and Chance Warmack have received most of the fanfare, but the mid-round selection of Brian Schwenke is also noteworthy. Schwenke has a good combination of athleticism and raw power.
He will give Fernando Velasco a good fight for the starting center job. The Tennessee Titans went into this offseason looking to make significant changes to the interior of the offensive line and accomplished that goal with three potential long-term starters.
Schwenke’s physical abilities are just part of what he brings to the table. He’s also a very smart player who appears more than capable of making adjustments and calls at the line of scrimmage. Don’t be surprised if Schwenke wins the starting center job by the start of the regular season.
Last week, the Chicago Bears signed defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis to provide some depth along the defensive line. However, this move may have much more of an impact than most expect. Ellis is slated as the backup for Stephen Paea, but don’t be surprised if the roles are reversed.
Paea has a ton of talent and has shown flashes of promise. However, he hasn’t been able to stay healthy and has missed six games in just two seasons. Chicago is looking to make a playoff run and can’t rely on unreliable players.
Ellis never lived up to his billing as the seventh overall pick, but he brings the ability to occupy blockers and stuff the run. This is exactly what Chicago needs as they have Henry Melton to generate pressure from the other defensive tackle spot.