Breaking Down the Biggest Names on the Roster Bubble
It’s the not-so-fun part of what some have called the No Fun League.
Then again, making an NFL roster could be considered a lot of fun, but it is an awful lot of hard work. And we’re getting to that time of the year when we see it all pay off.
Now that just about every team has at least three preseason games under its shoulder pads, we will take a look at who may not wind up with their current team come the start of the regular season. We have chosen eight players (and there are certainly others) we feel are in danger of losing a spot with their current clubs.
Remember, we are not announcing cuts here or insisting these eight performers are definitely on the way out. We're simply pointing out that because of various circumstances (health, performance, etc.), each player may not be guaranteed a job with their team as it stands now.
These eight players stood out more than most due to a lack of consistency this summer or how they happen to be faring in a battle for a starting job. Age and economics also factored into the selection process.
Of course, we also know just how unpredictable this league can be.
On Tuesday, Sept. 1, all 32 teams must be down to 75 players on their active roster. Could any of these pros be among the first series of cuts? Stay tuned.
EJ Manuel, QB, Buffalo Bills
On Saturday afternoon at Ralph Wilson Stadium, the Buffalo Bills rolled up 542 total yards in a 43-19 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
But did we get any more clarity in terms of whom head coach Rex Ryan plans on naming the starting quarterback for their Week 1 tilt versus the Indianapolis Colts? Nah. According to Mike Rodak of ESPN.com, Ryan plans on making his decision Sunday but will keep those thoughts to himself for now.
Four Bills quarterbacks combined to throw for 386 yards and three touchdowns without an interception, completing an astounding 30-of-33 passes against Pittsburgh. And it was hard to ignore one-time first-round pick EJ Manuel, who had seemingly fallen behind in the race with Matt Cassel and Tyrod Taylor until Saturday, when he connected on seven of his eight throws for 170 yards and a pair of scores.
“This is the ideal situation we had talked about,” said Ryan after the game. “This is exactly what I wanted, where all three guys played to their abilities. That’s all I was hoping for. I had confidence in all three of them, and they did a tremendous job.”
Does one spectacular afternoon make up for a summer of inconsistency? Manuel will find out over the next week or so.
Willie Young, OLB, Chicago Bears
We knew there would be a lot of changes on the defensive unit of the Chicago Bears in 2015. That’s what happens when you give up the third-most total yards in the league in consecutive seasons and 93 offensive touchdowns in 32 games.
We have also been speculating on just which players would be able to make adjustments from defensive end to outside linebacker in new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s 3-4. Veterans such as Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young hoped to make a successful transition and team with free-agent addition Pernell McPhee to give Chicago potent pass-rushing bookends.
So far, it hasn’t worked out for Young. According to Dan Wiederer of the Chicago Tribune, the former Detroit Lions defender is behind the aforementioned others, as well as free-agent pickup Sam Acho, in the pecking order.
“Man, I don’t give a (bleep) about no depth chart,” said Young to Wiederer. “I’m a seventh-round draft pick. I ain’t supposed to be here right now. Let’s not forget about that. So depth charts have always been irrelevant to me.”
On Saturday night, in the 21-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, Young totaled two tackles. Houston totaled the team’s only two sacks. At the very least, Young has a lot of catching up to do.
Terrelle Pyror, WR, Cleveland Browns
It’s been an interesting year for a player who wasn’t even in the league in 2014.
This offseason, the Kansas City Chiefs signed quarterback Terrelle Pryor and would eventually cut him loose. He then had a cup of coffee (or spaghetti with chili) in Cincinnati but was eventually released by the Bengals as well.
The one-time Oakland Raiders quarterback then opted for a career change and wound up with the Cleveland Browns, who have been taking a look at him at wide receiver. But injuries have hampered his progress, meaning we have yet to see him in the preseason.
That doesn’t bode well for Pryor’s chances of making the Browns roster. However, May Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com reported Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden feels that if Pryor is released, he’ll get a shot at wide receiver with another team.
While Pryor may not be a huge name in terms of his pass-catching prowess, he remains a talent teams are obviously intrigued by.
Montee Ball, RB, Denver Broncos
At the start of the 2014 season, running back Montee Ball was the main man in the Denver Broncos backfield as the team looked to replace Knowshon Moreno. Ball ran for 172 yards and a score on 55 carries before going down with an injury in Week 5 against the Arizona Cardinals.
Ronnie Hillman would pick up the slack, but eventually the ground game thrived with C.J. Anderson in the lineup. With the Broncos having found their feature back, Troy E. Renck of the Denver Post told us Ball has fallen behind Hillman on the team’s depth chart. And Denver still has Juwan Thompson, who ran for 272 yards and three scores last season.
Could the Broncos drop the Ball? We couldn’t resist the pun, but for Montee Ball, this may be no laughing matter.
Aaron Dobson, WR, New England Patriots
Remember two years ago when the New England Patriots wide receiving corps was in flux?
That’s hardly the case these days, but the defending Super Bowl champions, as well as other teams, are always looking for depth.
In 2013, the Pats used a second-round pick on wideout Aaron Dobson, who would play in 12 games as a rookie, making nine starts and catching 37 passes for 519 yards and four touchdowns. One year later, we barely saw the Marshall University product, as he played in just four games and caught three passes for 38 yards.
Adam Kurkjian of the Boston Herald feels Dobson could be the odd man out, and his up-and-down play in Friday’s preseason win at Carolina may indeed play a part in the team’s decision.
Marcus Smith, OLB, Philadelphia Eagles
It was something of a curious decision when the Philadelphia Eagles made University of Louisville edge-rusher Marcus Smith the 26th overall selection in the 2014 NFL draft. As of now, it looks like a cardinal error.
As a rookie, the 6’3”, 251-pound defender played in eight games and recorded zero tackles and zero sacks.
Eliot Shorr-Parks of NJ.com reported that it wouldn’t be a shock if it was one year and out for Smith, who played only 77 snaps during his debut season.
We have seen head honcho Chip Kelly do a lot of interesting things this offseason in terms of personnel. Cutting loose a one-time first-round pick after one year would just add to the list.
Andy Levitre, G, Tennessee Titans
It appears that the writing is on the wall for one of the bigger free-agent pickups in the league in 2013.
One-time Buffalo Bills guard Andy Levitre inked a six-year, $46.8 million deal with the Tennessee Titans two seasons ago. But his performance with the club has not lived up to that hefty price tag, and you get the sense the veteran blocker knows he is in a tenuous position.
“I am on the team, so I’d love to stay,’’ Levitre said after practice last week to Jim Wyatt of the official Titans website. “But it’s above my pay grade. [My mindset] is to do the best that I can and see how things shake out from there.”
After starting the team’s first preseason game this year at Atlanta, Levitre has given way to free-agent addition Byron Bell at left guard the last two weeks.
If he is released, a number of clubs would give Levitre a long, hard look. It will be interesting to see if the Titans pull the trigger on such a move.
DeAngelo Hall, CB, Washington Redskins
We saw veteran cornerback DeAngelo Hall in the Washington starting lineup against the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday night. He finished the game with a pair of tackles and knocked down one pass.
But will he be part of the Washington Redskins lineup in 2015? It’s been a tricky year or so for the 11-year pro, who missed 13 games in 2014 and has been dealing with various ailments this summer that have limited his availability in training camp, according to Zac Boyer of the Washington Times.
With Washington coming off a season in which it allowed a league-high 35 touchdown passes and Hall having 43 career interceptions to his name (23 with the Redskins), Jay Gruden’s team could use all the veteran savvy it can get. But can Washington count on Hall staying healthy?
All free-agent information and player signings/transactions are courtesy of Spotrac. Depth-chart information comes via Ourlads. Unless otherwise noted, all player and team statistics come from Pro Football Reference and ESPN.