NFL Waiver Wire 2017: Underrated Role Players Who Would Boost Contenders

Chris RolingFeatured ColumnistAugust 27, 2017

CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 25:  Kony Ealy #94 of the Carolina Panthers against the Minnesota Vikings during the game at Bank of America Stadium on September 25, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Vikings won 22-10.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Grant Halverson/Getty Images

The right role player can make all the difference in the NFL.  

Fans don't have to look much further than last year's Super Bowl for proof, wherein rotational back James White scored three touchdowns for the New England Patriots. 

The third week of the preseason provides a little reinforcement in this area. Notable veterans turned role players like Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles, respectively with the New Orleans Saints and Denver Broncos, have looked good as new faces for hopeful contenders.

With releases and free agents buoying the market once again, let's take a look at a few role players contenders might consider. 

          

Dannell Ellerbe, LB

David Goldman/Associated Press

There was a time when Dannell Ellerbe was one of the NFL's biggest free-agent signings. 

He inked a $35 million deal with the Miami Dolphins in 2013, got himself traded to the Saints in the Kenny Stills move two years later and hasn't been heard from much since then. 

The blames rests on injuries more than anything else. Now 31, he has only played in 16 games dating all the way back to 2013. As NFL Network's Ian Rapoport noted, though, he received clearance and then his release: 

Ellerbe isn't the thumping enforcer he used to be. But as a rotational role player in a linebacking corps? He certainly has something to offer and wouldn't come at a hefty price tag. 

Should a contender lose a player to injury or simply doesn't like the way the middle of the defense has played in exhibitions, fans can expect Ellerbe to get a call.

              

Audie Cole, LB 

John Raoux/Associated Press

Audie Cole is quite the impressive NFL success story, even if he did just receive walking papers. 

Cole came off the board at No. 210 back in 2012 and turned the opportunity into four productive years with the Minnesota Vikings as a depth piece and contributor on special teams. 

Five months after inking a deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars this offseason, though, the team announced it had cut ties with him

Cole seemed slated for the backup gig at linebacker on the strong side, as well as his usual prowess on special teams, and a contender has a chance to scoop him up and let him perform the same function. 

This wouldn't be a signing that would turn a bunch of heads. But the importance of quality special teams often doesn't receive the hype—hence Cole not exactly being a household name in the first place.

                  

Kony Ealy, Edge

Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

There has to be a terrible stink surrounding Kony Ealy, right? 

After all, any player Bill Belichick releases well before final cuts must have a red flag of some sort. Even worse, the Patriots traded for him, dropping eight spots in this year's draft to pick him up before throwing in the towel.

Fans could be forgiven for such a line of thinking. The situation, though, doesn't sound as negative, as NFL Network's Mike Garafolo noted:

It's easy to forget that the former second-round pick could have reeled in a Super Bowl MVP trophy in 2015 if his side had won thanks to a three-sack performance against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos.

Ealy has 14 regular-season sacks to his name over three seasons. While not the most staggering number, he's a productive rusher who simply needs the right scheme. The contender who slots him in the right scheme will be rewarded with regular rotational production. 

         

Marquess Wilson, WR

Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

Another success story, Marquess Wilson is a former seventh-round pick who, from 2013, found a home on the final roster with the Chicago Bears.

It isn't hard to see why the Bears kept Wilson around for four years given his upside. He's a solid returner and his frame (6'4", 206 pounds) doesn't come around often. At his peak, Wilson turned 28 catches into 464 yards and a score over 11 games back in 2015.

But Wilson hasn't been able to stay healthy, with a foot injury ruining his chances to get on the field with the depleted Bears a year ago. Now the New York Jets turned around and released him recently.

A team like the Jets turning away offensive help would seem like a big red flag for Wilson. In hindsight, though, it could turn out to be a blessing in disguise if the right contender comes along. 

Wilson picks up major yardage in chunks when on the field. He's had a problem staying on it, but this upside in a 24-year-old wideout isn't something contenders will ignore, even if it means stashing him on the back end of a depth chart. Even situationally, he has something to offer, provided his body can hold up its end of the agreement. 

            

Stats courtesy of NFL.com.