Predicting Every NFL Team's Most Important Roster Move of 2012

Scott Carasik@ScottCarasikContributor IIJuly 13, 2012

Predicting Every NFL Team's Most Important Roster Move of 2012

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    The offseason is winding down, but that doesn't mean roster moves won't still happen. Every NFL team continues its roster moves well into the season, and some of the best moves still haven't even happened yet.

    There are quite a few moves that could make sense for a team. One of them could be choosing to start a player over another, or even making a complete roster shift. Another move that is made, though unfortunate, is having to cut a player despite his promise.

    Then, of course, there is the obvious note of signing someone right before the season starts to take a roster spot. There is also the rare occurrence where players get traded right at the beginning of the season, too.

    The importance of these moves cannot be understated, as these could be the kinds of moves that shape a champion this year.

AFC East

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    Buffalo Bills: Starting Shawne Merriman over Mark Anderson

    Shawne Merriman is finally healthy. If he can look like the Merriman of old, he should easily be the starter over Anderson.

    Adding Mario Williams and Anderson to the defensive end rotation were good moves. But the best will be having Merriman start and turn into the player the Bills thought they got when they claimed him off waivers from San Diego.

    Miami Dolphins: Signing Mike Sims-Walker last minute to play the slot

    Miami has the worst wide receivers in the NFL. Chad Ochocinco is a shell of what he once was, and Legedu Naanee is their second-best wide receiver.

    Signing Sims-Walker would give the Dolphins a one-year stopgap for their slot receiver, and if he performs, he could actually be a long-term option. How he isn't on a roster is very confusing, because he has talent.

    New England Patriots: Cutting Donte Stallworth and Jabar Gaffney

    Donte Stallworth and Jabar Gaffney have had solid careers, but at this point, they aren't valuable as end-of-roster wide receivers. End-of-roster receivers need to play special teams as well.

    Matt Slater and Julian Edelman have excellent versatility and fit the Patriot way. The Patriots sticking with their younger, more versatile players is the right plan of action for 2012.

    New York Jets: Starting Josh Bush and Antonio Allen as their starting safeties

    LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell sound like starting-caliber safeties...if this was 2009.

    It's 2012. These guys aren't the same caliber that they once were.

    Antonio Allen will fit in well, as the strong safety role in Rex Ryan's defense is similar to the role he played for South Carolina. Josh Bush is ideal for the scheme as well.

    While they weren't higher picks, they are great fits for the scheme and will be steals.

AFC North

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    Baltimore Ravens: Tommy Streeter earning the third wide receiver role

    Baltimore should change how it uses Torrey Smith.

    He's a very good wide receiver, but having him play in the slot and using the taller, longer Streeter at outside receiver will open up more things for Flacco in the passing game.

    Having Streeter earn the third wideout spot would be perfect for the Ravens, as not just Smith, but Boldin could play in the slot.

    Cincinnati Bengals: Starting Dre Kirkpatrick over Nate Clements

    Dre Kirkpatrick is a better corner at this point in his career than Nate Clements is, and Kirkpatrick hasn't played in the NFL yet. But he's a first-round pick from a team that runs a very NFL-similar scheme.

    Clements was just bad last season in coverage and was burned for six touchdowns. He should be replaced early by Kirkpatrick.

    Cleveland Browns: Cutting Colt McCoy

    This sounds crazy to cut the guy who started at quarterback in 2011, but if the team wants to keep a level locker room behind the rookie, it only makes sense to cut McCoy.

    He will be able to latch on elsewhere and could even fit in well with the Saints' offense. But Weeden needs to have full confidence shown to him, and this move would do that.

    Pittsburgh Steelers: Having Mike Adams and David DeCastro start

    Going with the offensive line configuration of Mike Adams, Willie Colon, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro and Marcus Gilbert will yield excellent results for the Steelers in 2012.

    It's got size, power and talent. Three things that the Steelers have lacked in their offensive line recently.

    Now they get back to what made the Steelers who they were, a power run game with a line that will grow up together.

AFC South

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    Houston Texans: Start Brooks Reed and Connor Barwin at OLB

    Continuing to have Brooks Reed and Connor Barwin as the starting outside linebackers in 2012 is the right move long-term.

    While Whitney Mercilus was a first-round pick, he shouldn't start this year. He is better off as a rotational pass-rusher early and should sit while he learns the scheme from Wade Phillips and the veterans ahead of him.

    Indianapolis Colts: Benching Winston Justice

    Winston Justice may start initially at right tackle, but that will only lead to problems and a frustrated starting quarterback in rookie Andrew Luck.

    The Colts would be wise to bench Justice and have last year's second-round pick Ben Ijalana start in his place. Ijalana is a good fit for a right tackle and is a franchise guy at the position.

    Jacksonville Jaguars: Sticking with Blaine Gabbert at starting QB through the entire season.

    Gabbert is going to have growing pains, especially in his second offense in just two years. However, if there was ever a coach to help him take his ideal quarterback skills and mold him into an NFL quarterback, it's Mike Mularkey.

    Mularkey will be relying heavily on Maurice Jones-Drew to carry the team, much like he had Turner do early in his Atlanta tenure, and this will help Gabbert get back on track.

    Tennessee Titans: Starting Jake Locker at quarterback

    Locker is the best quarterback on the Titans roster. He should be the starter long-term, and after his first year behind Matt Hasselbeck, he looks ready to go as the starter.

    They gave him another new weapon in slot-style receiver Kendall Wright. Kenny Britt coming back from injury will only help his development as the starting quarterback.

AFC West

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    Denver Broncos: Starting Philip Blake over J.D. Walton at center

    J.D. Walton was among the worst centers in the league in 2011, both by the eyeball test and by Pro Football Focus metrics.

    Many don't put a lot of stock into their rankings, but when a player is a full 10 points worse than the second-worst center in the league (h/t ProFootballFocus Premium Stats), he needs to be replaced.

    Philip Blake was ironically Walton's backup in college, but he should be the starter now that they are pros.

    Kansas City Chiefs: Cutting Ryan Lilja in favor of Jeff Allen

    Jeff Allen is a younger, quicker player, and Lilja could be cut. It doesn't make sense in today's NFL to keep players on the bench who have only been successful in their career at just one position.

    For the Chiefs, that's Lilja. If he loses his starting spot at left guard, he is useless elsewhere on the line. It's pointless to keep him on the roster when Allen beats him out.

    Oakland Raiders: Having Juron Criner and Darrius Heyward-Bey start

    Criner and Heyward-Bey look like a good pair that should start for Carson Palmer to begin the regular season.

    Criner is that T.J. Houshmandzadeh-style possession receiver, and Heyward-Bey has the talent to be a deep threat like Chad Johnson was when he was younger.

    With Denarius Moore in the slot, this Raiders receiving corps has a lot of talent in it.

    San Diego Chargers: Starting Cam Thomas over Antonio Garay at Nose Tackle

    Cam Thomas is the ideal 3-4 nose tackle with his girth and quickness off the line. He performed better than Garay in 2011 when he was in.

    He was very good as a pass-rusher with four sacks in just 228 pass rushes. However, he was even better as a run-stuffer. In 166 snaps, he had 14 tackles either at the line of scrimmage or behind it and was a true plugger in the run game.

NFC East

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    Dallas Cowboys: Starting Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne at corner

    This sounds like a no-brainer, but it's the one move that could be threatened with a good camp from Mike Jenkins. The issue there is that Jenkins was bad as a starting corner.

    Outside of Atlanta's trio, the Cowboys have the top trio of corners in the NFL. Carr is a proven player who will lock down the right side, while Claiborne is best fit for the left.

    New York Giants: Starting Adrien Robinson at tight end

    Call this a bold prediction if you will, but Robinson isn't as raw as some made him out to be. He has the size and blocking ability to be a factor early on.

    The Giants don't use their tight end in the passing game as much and tend to spread defenses out instead with wide receivers. Robinson should be a good fit for their scheme and will develop into that all-around tight end they need.

    Philadelphia Eagles: Cutting Darryl Tapp

    How many times have the Eagles done this by now? They take a defensive lineman and cut their big acquisition from a year or two prior that has been solid but unspectacular.

    Tapp fits into that same category and should be cut if Vinny Curry is better than he is. Teams don't take a guy in the second round with the intention of cutting him in training camp that year.

    Washington Redskins: Starting Adam Carriker at defensive end

    Stephen Bowen isn't a starting-caliber defensive end in the NFL. However, Carriker wasn't great there either.

    The big difference is that Carriker can turn it around and has the natural talent that got him drafted early in the first place. He should be able to lock down the edge this year as a starter and fit in better as the right-side end, as he loses his spot at left end to Jarvis Jenkins.

NFC North

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    Chicago Bears: Offensive line competition

    Having a wide-open competition on the offensive line is the thing Chicago needs most. It has some solid talent on the line, but it feels like the Bears' absolute worst players start.

    If the competition was done right and players were thrown out there into whatever spot to see who would fit best, it would be for the better.

    Gabe Carimi at left tackle, Edwin Williams at left guard, Chris Spencer at center, Chris Williams at right guard and J'Marcus Webb at right tackle would be the best alignment for their talent. 

    Detroit Lions: Suspending Nick Fairley

    Suspending Nick Fairley for the first four games of the season would be an extremely bold move, but it would be the best thing the Lions could do. They would save their season by putting their proverbial foot down.

    This Lions team could use a wake-up call, and forcing a player to sit and taking his game checks for a quarter of the season would say that Detroit means business.

    Green Bay Packers: Moving Charles Woodson to free safety

    Moving Charles Woodson to a role where he starts at free safety and drops down into the nickel corner role sounds very similar to what he does already.

    However, with the acquisition of Casey Hayward, the Packers have a cornerback who can play the left side of the field and allow Tramon Williams to get more comfortable at right corner.

    Minnesota Vikings: Rookie defensive backfield

    Starting three rookies in the secondary in Josh Robinson, Robert Blanton and Harrison Smith is a risky move. However, Robinson has the talent to be a first-round corner but decided to leave a year early.

    Blanton is a great FS/nickel CB prospect who should win the job at free safety over Mistral Raymond. Harrison Smith will be the glue for that secondary, and it will grow and learn together in 2012.

NFC South

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    Atlanta Falcons: Harry Douglas returning punts, Franks returning kicks

    Harry Douglas winning the punt return job and Dominique Franks winning the kick return job would be the best thing for the Falcons return game.

    Both players have explosive speed and agility. Douglas even has a punt return for a touchdown in his rookie year. Franks returned punts and kicks in college and could be the dark horse to win both jobs in 2012.

    Carolina Panthers: Bruce Campbell earning a roster spot

    Giving Bruce Campbell a chance to earn a roster spot is going to pay dividends for the Panthers. He's a guy who will be able to learn and grow behind Jordan Gross.

    He should then be able to take over as the starting left tackle and provide Cam Newton with a guy who can protect his blind side just as well, if not better than Gross.

    New Orleans Saints: Nick Toon playing slot

    Nick Toon earning a role in the top three wide receivers would be a surprise, but it makes sense. He's fast, has good hands and is the son of NFL legend Al Toon.

    Nick has to improve on his hands in clutch situations and tough-to-catch balls, but with Brees throwing it to him, he should be fine. Brees is one of the best players in the league when it comes to ball placement.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jeremy Zuttah's switch to center

    Moving Zuttah to center will pay off in both the team's long-term plans and short-term plans. He's a smart, strong player who will benefit from having the best guard in the league to his left and a solid guard to his right.

    Zuttah will be able to help make sure that pressure doesn't come through the middle of the line, but for the edges, he may have to ask for more protection help, as both Donald Penn and Jeremy Trueblood are sorry pass-protectors.

NFC West

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    Arizona Cardinals: Andre Roberts playing slot

    Andre Roberts moving to slot receiver and Michael Floyd winning the No. 2 role will open up the Cardinals offense tremendously.

    Kevin Kolb may not win the job at quarterback, but it doesn't really matter when there is Larry Fitzgerald, Roberts and now Floyd to throw to. The Cardinals will do well to have the scrappy third-year receiver take underneath routes and play the same role Steve Breaston did.

    San Francisco 49ers: Cutting Brandon Jacobs

    Cutting Brandon Jacobs to allow Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James and Anthony Dixon to stay on the roster is a smart move.

    Jacobs doesn't really offer much as far as a change of pace. He also doesn't offer much as far as a pounding back anymore.

    He really is just another guy at this point, and unfortunately, it doesn't matter how good he once was. He is not a better all-around option than Hunter, James or Dixon.

    Seattle Seahawks: Starting Bruce Irvin

    Starting Chris Clemons at left end and Bruce Irvin at right end/OLB in their more hybridized system is a smart move. This would also allow Red Bryant to play the three technique and give the Seahawks a better fit for their run and pass defense.

    The Seahawks will run more of a hybridized scheme with the addition of Irvin as a DE/OLB type and should flip between 4-3 and 3-4 looks.

    St. Louis Rams: Starting Danario Alexander and Brian Quick at WR

    Starting Danario Alexander and Brian Quick out wide and having Danny Amendola play slot is the plan the Rams should follow for their receivers.

    Alexander at 6'5" and Quick at 6'3" would give Sam Bradford a pair of big, quick targets to both go over the middle and try to stretch defenses. Add in little Amendola and Chris Givens off the bench, and the Rams have a very solid receiver corps.

    Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist and Trends and Traffic Writer for Bleacher Report. As a Featured Columnist, he covers the Atlanta Falcons, NFL and NFL draft. He is also the Falcons analyst at Drafttek, runs the NFL draft website and is the host of Kvetching Draftniks Radio.