The NFL is nothing if not a fluid game of roster management. If fantasy sports have taught us anything, it’s that most players’ stocks rise and fall like tidal waves from season to season.
Position battles are a natural part of the game. Lightning bolts of injury strike now and then. Rookies and unheralded names come out of nowhere to supplant veterans.
Three short seasons ago, DeAngelo Williams racked up a league-leading 18 touchdowns. 2009? Seven TDs. 2010? One. Things change fast. You may be itching to grab Arian Foster this year, but would you bet serious cash that you’ll be in the same position come 2012? How about Michael Vick?
I sure wouldn’t. Outside the elite quarterbacks and a few entrenched position players, NFL rosters keep moving.
One of the few fun exercises we have at the end of an NFL season, as we figure out what to do during Sports Purgatory (my term for the Super Bowl to March Madness dead period), is to look back on rosters and say, “Ohh, that’s right…that guy was supposed to start this year.”
Let’s try to get ahead of the curve. In some cases "benched" obviously translates to "heavily demoted"…
Not to often do you see a guy with 16 interceptions in his last 27 games chosen to take a seat. But Philly clearly believes that they needed not one but two premier cornerbacks to shore up their pass defense. Landing both Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was some GMing like the NFL has not seen in some time.
Samuel hurt himself (literally) by playing banged up most of last year, though he still had seven interceptions. Even still, if the Eagles are bringing in that kind of fire power, Samuel is your new nickel corner or, more likely, a piece of trade bait.
No doubt Charles Tillman has been one of the more dependable cornerbacks in the last decade. But last year started to show off those ominous signs of a cornerback losing "it." And with any position that depends on speed and sharp athletic cuts (a cover corner) when "it" goes, "it" goes fast.
Tillman's healthy five interceptions last year mask the fact that he was targeted 84 times (not a good sign) and allowed his receivers 8.1 yards/pass (58th in NFL) and 3.6 yards after the catch (46th).
Saying Tillman will be benched is too strong, but look for Zackary Bowman to rotate in far more than he did last year.
It's likely that most die-hard Dallas fans are quietly hoping that Newman's groin injury spreads to the rest of his body. Terence Newman is just not a good cornerback, and Dallas is talking like he'll get his job back when the season starts.
The Cowboys very publicly lost out on the various cornerback sweepstakes this past free agency and the reality of Newman lining up opposite receivers must turn some stomachs.
Hopefully, Jason Garrett has more foresight than Wade Phillips and slowly gets the slow cornerback off the field. Newman gave up 9.1 yards per pass play last year (71st in the NFL) and 3.4 yards after the catch (41st).
Granted, Dallas does not have great options backing Newman up. Hopefully, Mike Jenkins can hold up his end of the bargain on the other side of the line and let Orlando Scandrick or sophomore Bryan McCann rotate in for Newman. The Cowboys need to replace him.
Garay was a nice feel-good story last year. Charger mainstay Jamal Williams bounced to division rival Denver and Garay, after seven seasons of not doing a whole lot in the NFL, stepped in and put up a pretty respectable season with 48 tackles and 5.5 sacks.
The reasoning here is less of a "pseudo-sophomore slump," which is in play, but more that Ron Rivera has moved on to the Panthers.
Rivera is an absolute genius in managing a defensive line and the linebackers that roam and fire the gaps behind them. His stifling Bears and Chargers defenses throughout the decade were a testament to that.
Without him? We'll see. I watched current D-coordinator Greg Manusky's handiwork with the line in San Francisco for the last three years and was not overly impressed. Hopefully, Garay is more than a chess piece Rivera knew how to work around the board.
Chad Henne is supposed to be your backup quarterback, not your starter.
Miami may have given their backfield an extra dimension of depth with Reggie Bush, but that's not going to be enough to shadow a very weak link under center.
Not that Matt Moore is that much better, but Miami has all the makings for a quarterback controversy, albeit one of those controversies that amounts to, "I know we've hit an iceberg but who should captain the Titanic?"
This will be a tough year for a team without a real quarterback. Maybe give Kevin O'Connell a shot. The guy spent a couple seasons with Tom Brady.
I realize that this is a little odd since he's a rookie. You can't bench a guy that hasn't played. But Gabbert won't finish the season as the Jaguars quarterback; and he won't start as it, either.
Likely, the usual scenario will play out: David Garrard takes the first five or six games and then Jack Del Rio turns over the keys to the young franchise quarterback.
The problem is that Blaine Gabbert doesn't fit in this offense. (I've said it before.) He played a big spread at Mizzou. Jacksonville's passing offense rarely extends 15 yards out. This is a smashmouth team, unsuited for a quarterback used to playing air traffic controller.
Garrard will get his job back after a handful of games where Gabbert makes it clear Jacksonville needs to do more than just draft a quarterback to improve their passing offense.
Every year (it seems) the 49ers talk themselves into Alex Smith and every year he disappoints. Simply put: he is a nice guy but a bad quarterback. Time to move on.
And the Niners are.
Drafting Colin Kaepernick was a welcome relief to most of Niner Nation (myself included). Kaepernick is like a beefy, cooler headed version of Smith (at least judging by the college reels). He has a cannon and he can move, a good raw talent to mold into a next-generation quarterback.
Though Kaepernick has yet to take a snap at the NFL level, no doubt Smith will end enough consecutive games with enraging interceptions. And Jim Harbaugh will forced to give the rookie a shot, if only for a couple games while Smith collects his head (and then comes back and does it all again).
That picture of Beck to the left is from the last season John Beck took an NFL snap: 2007. This is already a pitiful offense with strange backfield questions and they're turning over the keys to a guy who hasn't thrown an NFL pass since George W. Bush was president?
Beck is a holdover solution until some better option comes along, hopefully in next year's draft. He will take a seat to Grossman (who then may take a seat to Beck). Redskins fans may find themselves in a strange position of missing Donovan McNabb.
The Redskins are going to be bad enough in 2011 that we need two players on this list. No one had even heard of Ryan Torain at the start of 2010. He didn't take a snap in 2009. He only took 15 handoffs in 2008.
Torain came into a situation where Washington basically said, "Do you have a pulse? Can you hold onto a football reasonably well? Okay, great. You're our starter."
It's easy to point at his four touchdowns and 742 yards in eight starts and say, "That would make a pretty good year if you doubled the production and called it a full season," but that would forget that Washington had absolutely no passing offense. Handing the ball to Torain was their only move.
The Redskins picked up Tim Hightower for a reason.
Early Doucet, at present, is going to be the No. 2 receiver in an offense that, before it's played a snap together, is being billed as a big deal.
Kevin Kolb has arrived after the Eagles apparently sent Chuck Norris and Michael Corleone to negotiate a second round pick and Dominique freakin' Rodgers-Cromartie for the still-unproven quarterback.
Todd Heap has set himself up for a second take after never quite living up to big expectations in Baltimore. Beanie Wells is back and so is a guy named Larry Fitzgerald.
Doucet, however, is fixing to be the odd man out. He's just not that good of a receiver and my money is actually on Chansi Stuckey to take his job as second banana to Big Larry.
Stuckey managed 40 receptions last year in a terrible Cleveland offense, and though he has the same body type, has far stronger hands and better downfield cuts.
Eddie Royal wishes he could recapture his rookie season glory, but it just won't happen. With Brandon Lloyd at the first receiver slot, Denver will need a bigger underneath target with surer hands.
Enter Eric Decker. No matter who ends up throwing the ball, Decker provides four inches of height and 40 pounds of heft to keep defenses watching all levels of the backfield, a pseudo-tight end and receiver.
Royal has the touchdown threat, no doubt, but rarely do teams have two guys burning down the sidelines. That's Lloyd's job.