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Making the Call on 12 of the NFL's Biggest Roster Decisions

Alessandro MiglioFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 23, 2017

Making the Call on 12 of the NFL's Biggest Roster Decisions

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The NFL preseason is winding down, and with it comes big roster decisions.

    Roster cutdowns have already begun as teams get down to 75 players. As we traverse the final week of the preseason, teams will be cutting down rosters from 75 all the way to 53, getting down to the nitty-gritty and making things difficult for some squads.

    Whether a team will have a tough call on veterans who can still play, have to deal with injury risks or are simply loaded at a position, getting down to 53 guys is going to involve plenty of reflection and evaluation.

    Here are 12 of the toughest decisions coming down the pipe for some NFL teams and a prediction on what that decision will be.

Stephen Hill, WR, New York Jets

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    Tom Uhlman/Associated Press

    It has been a long few years for the New York Jets offense, which finally seems to be coming out of the NFL doldrums thanks largely to improved personnel.

    One player who seemingly hasn't improved is receiver Stephen Hill, however. The speedy wideout has failed to live up to potential since the Jets drafted him in the second round of the 2012 draft, and this preseason has been no different.

    Hill has a total of 45 receptions for 594 yards and four touchdowns in two seasons. While he has dealt with the likes of Mark Sanchez and inconsistent rookie Geno Smith, Hill has done little to help himself or his offense since joining the Jets.

    Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com recently wrote the Jets should trade Hill. While that seems like a fine idea, what team is going to take a disappointing receiver who has trouble catching the ball? At 6'4", 215 pounds, Hill possesses great size and speed for the position, but it seems unlikely any team would want to send a draft pick over for his services.

    Roster Verdict: Cut

Terrence Cody, DT, Baltimore Ravens

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Injury has hobbled Baltimore Ravens defensive lineman Terrence Cody. Will it hobble his chances to stick with the team?

    Cody has been sidelined ever since having offseason hip surgery, per The Baltimore Sun's Aaron Wilson. 

    Fortunately for Cody, he was eligible for the physically unable to perform list this preseason. That means the Ravens can defer their decision on his roster spot until he gets healthier by placing him on the PUP/reserve list to start the season.

    That would keep him off the 53-man roster for the first six weeks of the season, and it makes the most sense for a team that might need Cody's services in the event of an injury.

    Roster Verdict: PUP/reserve

Josh Norman, CB, Carolina Panthers

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    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    Josh Norman has had a bit of a tumultuous career with the Carolina Panthers thus far.

    The third-year cornerback out of Coastal Carolina has flashed ability, to be sure, but uneven play and questionable decision-making haven't endeared him to head coach Ron Rivera, per The Charlotte Observer's Joseph Person:

    The topic came up again this week when he was yanked from Sunday’s exhibition after getting in the face of Kansas City receiver Dwayne Bowe after Norman broke up a pass. A clearly agitated Thomas Davis pulled Norman away from Bowe and had some words for him.

    The moment symbolized Norman’s first two seasons – a nice play followed by a head-scratching decision.

    His tendency to freelance has often left him out of position and on the outs with the coaching staff, but Rivera and defensive coordinator Sean McDermott are pleased with Norman’s development as he begins his third season.

    The truth of the matter is the Panthers may need him, inconsistency and all. They lost their top two cornerbacks this past offseason, and Norman is still serviceable at the thin position.

    Roster Verdict: Safe

Kapri Bibbs, RB, Denver Broncos

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    Joe Mahoney/Associated Press

    Denver Broncos running back Kapri Bibbs has made an impression during his short tenure with the team.

    The undrafted free agent out of Colorado State has worked hard to make that impression with the Broncos, regularly studying the playbook when he joined the team, per The Denver Post's Troy E. Renck.

    The problem is that Denver has a crowded backfield. Montee Ball leads the way, followed by Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson.

    That leaves Bibbs fighting for a spot with fellow undrafted rookie Juwan Thompson after the most recent roster cuts.

    Bibbs and Thompson will duke it out in Denver's final preseason game this week. Unfortunately for Bibbs, he has a bigger hill to climb with Thompson ahead on the depth chart and outperforming him thus far.

    Thompson is averaging 6.4 yards per carry to Bibbs' 4.3, after all.

    Roster Verdict: Cut

Chris Polk, RB, Philadelphia Eagles

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    Matt Rourke/Associated Press

    The Philadelphia Eagles have made some moves at running back this year.

    It started when they traded for Darren Sproles, bolstering the pass-catching ability out of the backfield. That made Bryce Brown expendable, and the Bills traded him to the Buffalo Bills for a fourth-round draft pick.

    Chris Polk sat through this all, seemingly assured of his spot on the depth chart. An injury kept him out of the preseason, which led the Eagles to make yet another move—trading for Carolina's Kenjon Barner, the former Oregon Ducks star under Chip Kelly.

    With LeSean McCoy, that puts three running backs ahead of Polk, at least as long as the latter can't stay healthy. But does that mean Polk's job is in jeopardy?

    Barner is a newcomer who, despite his history with Kelly, shouldn't have many guarantees. He hasn't been able to gain any traction in the NFL thus far, though there may be a bit more space for him right now in Philadelphia.

    More importantly, the Eagles can probably afford to keep Polk on the roster as the fourth running back while he gets back to form.

    Roster Verdict: Safe

Mikel Leshoure, RB, Detroit Lions

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    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    What was once a promising start to his career has careened into a roster-bubble decision for Mikel Leshoure and the Detroit Lions.

    The bruising running back is fighting for his roster life behind Reggie Bush, Joique Bell and Theo Riddick. He is embroiled in a roster-bubble battle with Montell Owens and special teams ace George Winn.

    The latter has made a particular impact this preseason, ascending to a starting role on special teams, per Tim Twentyman of DetroitLions.com. That may be what propels him past Leshoure, who will need to be more than a short-yardage back to stick on the roster.

    Both will have to stave off Owens, who has been pretty good on special teams as well. 

    Roster Verdict: Cut

Duke Ihenacho, S, Denver Broncos

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    Ed Andrieski/Associated Press

    A year ago he was the starting strong safety for the Denver Broncos. Now he is on the roster bubble.

    Duke Ihenacho has taken quite the tumble since thento the point where he may not even make the 53-man roster for 2014. The Broncos signed T.J. Ward to take over as the starter at the position.

    The Broncos saw a big need to upgrade at the position after Ihenacho's poor 2013 season. He was one of the worst safeties in the league, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Per Bleacher Report's Cecil Lammey, Ihenacho may be on thin ice heading into the final week of the preseason:

    We’ve seen the safety position get even more cramped with a healthy Quinton Carter back in action. Carter can start—and star—at both free and strong safety for the Broncos. He’s missed most of the last two seasons due to a knee injury that required microfracture surgery.

    If the Broncos are going to keep an extra linebacker or defensive lineman, then perhaps they would only keep four safeties total. Ward and Rahim Moore are locked in as the starters for the Broncos. David Bruton is a special teams ace, and he’s a virtual lock to make the squad. Carter is a superior (and more versatile) talent to Ihenacho, and he’s looking good in training camp.

    Lammey goes on to predict Ihenacho will be released as part of the 53-man cutdown, which is where he lands here as well.

    Roster Verdict: Cut

Rishard Matthews, WR, Miami Dolphins

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    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    It wasn't too long ago that the Miami Dolphins were hurting for wide receivers.

    They may not have an embarrassment of riches at the position, but things have improved over the past year-plus. The Dolphins signed Mike Wallace and Brandon Gibson a year ago, then drafted Jarvis Landry in the second round of this year's draft.

    Rishard Matthews, meanwhile, sweats out his roster status after stepping up and making some big plays last season. Gibson went down with an injury in 2013, leaving the No. 3 receiver spot wide open. 

    Matthews wound up with 41 receptions for 448 yards and a pair of scores, and he seemed primed for a bigger role heading into 2014. 

    It's likely Matthews will stick on the roster as the fifth receiver, but he needs to finish the preseason strong to hold off Armon Binns and possibly return specialist Marcus Thigpen.

    Roster Verdict: Safe

Terrelle Pryor, QB, Seattle Seahawks

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    Steve Dykes/Getty Images

    My, what a difference moving to Seattle makes.

    Terrelle Pryor floundered through his tenure with the Oakland Raiders, with one flash of brilliance followed by mediocrity.

    He landed with the Seahawks this past offseason, where he has regained his footing. Pryor has been good at times this preseason, but inconsistency continues to plague him. He is a dynamic runner at quarterback, but his passing still needs plenty of polish.

    The problem with Pryor sticking on the roster? The Seahawks already have stud starter Russell Wilson and an excellent backup in Tarvaris Jackson. Of course, having a quality third quarterback isn't a bad thing, but the Seahawks may opt to use that roster spot elsewhere rather than carry three quarterbacks.

    For now, though, Pryor seems safe. He will be the first man off the bench behind Wilson in the preseason finale against his old team, and he still possesses big-time potential that can be cultivated in Seattle's fertile developmental environment.

    Roster Verdict: Safe

Ryan Broyles, WR, Detroit Lions

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Wide receiver Ryan Broyles oozed potential coming out of college. He also exuded injury concerns, having torn his ACL the fall before heading to the NFL.

    Two incomplete seasons due to injury later and Broyles finds himself on the roster bubble for the Detroit Lions, who have simply not gotten what they bargained for when they took him in the second round of the 2012 draft. 

    He has battled big injuries throughout his NFL career, which have put him behind the eight ball heading into this preseason. Broyles is making his case loud and clear, though, leading the team in receiving yards through the first three games.

    Of course, that amounts to just 113 yards, but a strong finish could make for a difficult decision. Unfortunately for Broyles, it may be too little and too late. The injury risk is simply too great.

    Roster Verdict: Cut

Da'Quan Bowers, DT, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Da'Quan Bowers was a risky draft pick for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers back in 2011.

    The talented defensive lineman was recovering from knee surgery, falling from surefire first-round status all the way to the 51st overall pick.

    The former Clemson star had great potential despite his injury concerns, which is why the Buccaneers took a chance on him in the second round to begin with. Unfortunately, he has been unable to tap into that potential as a pro.

    Bowers has been dogged by injuries throughout his NFL career; unable to play a full season in the past two years, he has been generally disappointing during his tenure in Tampa Bay. Head coach Lovie Smith couldn't even bring himself to give Bowers a vote of confidence, per Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times.

    Smith said Wednesday he believes Bowers has the ability to play in the NFL, but he stopped short of guaranteeing it would be with the Bucs.

    "I think every day you don't practice you're hurting your chances (of making the team)," Smith said. "We've seen enough to like Da'Quan a lot. But all the reps that he's not getting, someone else is getting them. The best way to beat your competition sometimes is just to stay on the field. You can't get Wally Pipped. Da'Quan is trying to get back. Again, I think he has a future in the league, whether it be as a defensive end outside or more of a third down rush guy inside."

    It looks like this might be the end of the road for Bowers in Tampa Bay.

    Roster Verdict: Cut

Stevan Ridley, RB, New England Patriots

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    Surprised that Stevan Ridley is even on this list?

    He is here because of speculation from ESPN.com's Mike Reiss, who posited that Ridley may not make the Patriots 53-man roster. This would come as a surprise, given Ridley has been the starter in New England, albeit by de facto to a degree.

    Ridley is a talented back who suffers from fumbleitis—a professional malady. His propensity to put the ball on the ground has been a source of frustration for head coach Bill Belichick. But is it enough to get Ridley cut?

    Then there is the fact the Patriots drafted James White, who has created some hype this preseason. The rookie out of Wisconsin has not matched that hype in preseason games, however, averaging 2.8 yards per carry and generally looking ineffective.

    In truth, why would the Patriots cut Ridley? Even if White is primed to take a larger role and Belichick is sick of fumbles, there is little reason to simply cut bait.

    Ridley is in the final year of his rookie contract, meaning the Patriots have little to gain in terms of cap space by cutting him. Moreover, cutting him would actually leave the team thin at the position. 

    That is, of course, unless you feel that the underwhelming White, brittle Shane Vereen, a continuously hobbled Brandon Bolden and rookie return specialist Roy Finch make for a strong backfield.

    Roster Verdict: Safe

     


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