NFL1000: The 5 Worst Players at Every Position
When you scout every player at every position in every game, as the NFL1000 scouting team does, you're often left gobsmacked by the abilities and proficiencies of the league's best players. There's also the thrill of watching young players develop and make their mark in the NFL.
On the other hand, there are those instances when we have to call it like we see it regarding the NFL's least effective players. Whether a player is simply physically or mentally overmatched, or in a system or with a coaching staff that prevents development, there are those players who just can't hit the level professional teams need.
And that's when the "worst players" lists come in. It's never pleasant to make these designations; most NFL players work as hard as they possibly can to be great...or, at the very least, pretty good. But it doesn't always work out.
So, here are the players we've seen doing the least with the most at every skill position, evaluated by the NFL1000 scouting staff.
Our team of scouts:
Lead scout: Doug Farrar
Quarterbacks: Mark Schofield
Running backs/fullbacks: Mark Bullock
Receivers/tight ends: Marcus Mosher
Offensive linemen: Ethan Young
Defensive linemen: Justis Mosqueda
Linebackers: Derrik Klassen
Secondary: Ian Wharton
5. Trevor Siemian, Denver Broncos
4. Blaine Gabbert, Arizona Cardinals
3. Mike Glennon, Chicago Bears
2. Nathan Peterman, Buffalo Bills
1. DeShone Kizer, Cleveland Browns
It goes with the territory. When things go well, a quarterback will get the lion's share of the credit. However, if things go south, they can expect more than their fair share of the blame. For these five passers, there was plenty of blame to go around, but in the end, they find themselves on this frightful list.
For Trevor Siemian, a year that began with promise showed danger signs early, particularly during a dreadful performance on the road against the Buffalo Bills. Siemian threw two awkward interceptions that pointed toward a potential ceiling for the Broncos with him under center, and they met that ceiling with Siemian as the starter. Denver might need to address the quarterback position yet again this offseason.
Gabbert and Peterman were two quarterbacks put into difficult spots when they were called upon, albeit for different reasons. Arizona turned to Gabbert after injuries to starter Carson Palmer and backup Drew Stanton, and while the former first-round pick showed flashes, he struggled with turnovers and in the face of pressure, and was sent back to the bench this week. Peterman was thrust into the lineup in an awkward spot, in place of a very capable starter in Tyrod Taylor, and his debut came on the road against a fearsome pass rush from the Los Angeles Chargers. Five interceptions were the result.
Mike Glennon was signed to a surprising contract this offseason, when there were other potential free-agent options available for a lesser expense. The move was viewed as questionable at the time, even more so when the Bears traded up for Mitchell Trubisky (albeit one spot, but still) in the first round. Glennon's struggles forced the organization to make the move to the rookie, perhaps sooner than they hoped.
That brings us to Kizer, who is making the same mistakes here in Week 15 that he was back in Week 1. If you look at his first interception of the year, in Week 1 against the Steelers, Kizer started down a route and made a poor throw. Fast forward to his first of two interceptions against the Ravens in Week 15, and what do you see? Kizer staring down a route and making a poor throw. If there is hope for Kizer, it's this: Jared Goff had a rough rookie season, but under Sean McVay, he looks like a quarterback reborn. Hopefully Kizer gets the same opportunity, and the same tutelage, in his second season.
—Mark Schofield, NFL1000 quarterbacks scout
5. Alfred Blue, Houston Texans
4. Robert Turbin, Indianapolis Colts
3. Terrance West, Baltimore Ravens
2. Chris Johnson, Arizona Cardinals
1. Eddie Lacy, Seattle Seahawks
The stories of Alfred Blue and Robert Turbin's seasons are rather similar. Both were backups to better backs in 2016, both saw their teams draft a running back in the middle of the draft, and both were relegated to third on the depth chart at some point this season.
In the case of Blue, Lamar Miller is the established starting back in Houston, while rookie D'Onta Foreman took the backup job in Week 2. Blue saw his role expanded when Foreman tore his Achilles in Week 11, but he's only managed 3.1 yards per carry. Turbin, meanwhile, was overtaken by rookie Marlon Mack, who has been far more explosive as both a runner and a receiver out of the backfield. Turbin has seen just 23 carries for 53 yards and one touchdown so far this season.
The Ravens' running back job was wide open entering this season, with Terrance West the favorite to nail down the starting role. But he failed to impress and was quickly displaced by Javorius Allen and then Alex Collins. Collins has made the Ravens run game a threat each week, averaging five yards per carry in a multiple and diverse run scheme. West, meanwhile, has looked poor, with just 138 yards from his 39 carries this season.
Chris Johnson was initially released by the Cardinals at the start of the season after a poor training camp, but he was soon re-signed after David Johnson went down injured. However, Johnson isn't the back he used to be, lacking the explosion and quickness he once had that enabled him to run away from defenders. He averaged 2.5 yards per carry before being released after the Cardinals traded for Adrian Peterson.
Like West, Lacy had a big opportunity entering the season. The Seahawks had no clear resolution to their running back depth chart, and Lacy was the first back given a chance to stake his claim. But he failed to impress, and his snap counts have been sporadic as the Seahawks have given a number of other backs an opportunity to take his playing time. Lacy has averaged just 2.6 yards per carry and offered little as a receiving threat out of the backfield. They've had more production out of promoted practice squad players than what Lacy has given them so far.
—Mark Bullock, NFL1000 running backs scout
5. Markus Wheaton, Chicago Bears
4. Zay Jones, Buffalo Bills
3. Terrelle Pryor, Washington Redskins
2. Breshad Perriman, Baltimore Ravens
1. Ricardo Louis, Cleveland Browns
One of the biggest free-agent busts of the offseason was the signing of Markus Wheaton for the Chicago Bears. Wheaton was signed to solidify one of the outside receiver positions and give the Bears another option in the slot. However, Wheaton hasn't been able to stay on the field, and even when he has played, he has been a major disappointment. Wheaton has exceptional quickness, but he just doesn't play with any sort of toughness or physicality. Too often, he fails to finish catches through contact. Even when he does create separation and make a play on the ball, rarely does he make a play after the catch. Wheaton is likely to be a one-and-done player in Chicago.
Despite big expectations as a rookie, Buffalo Bills receiver Zay Jones has been a bust this season. He was further behind the learning curve than anyone could have expected and has struggled mightily to create consistent separation. Jones has size and athleticism to win on the outside, but his skill set might be best suited for the slot in 2018. There is still time for improvement, but he will need to take big steps forward next season if he wants to return as a starter.
Terrelle Pryor broke out in 2016 with the Cleveland Browns, but he was never able to regain that dominant form in 2017. Injuries certainly have played a part in his poor season, but Pryor no longer can get away with merely being a great athlete. He is just too raw of a route-runner to be a starting X-receiver. He's a gifted athlete but hasn't been able to put it all together. It has been a rough year for the former Ohio State quarterback.
Breshad Perriman has always had talent, but like Pryor, injuries have severely taken a toll on him. He is a player who has won with great speed, but the numerous lower body injuries over the past few seasons have robbed him of his greatest strength. He has lost all confidence in his ability to win at the catch point and now is struggling to even run the most basic of routes. After being drafted in the first round of the 2015 draft, Perriman has just 41 career catches. 2018 might be Perriman's last chance in the NFL.
The worst receiver currently in the league in 2017 is another AFC North player in Ricardo Louis of the Cleveland Browns. Louis just doesn't do any one thing particularly well despite playing over 500 snaps this season. He is a big receiver who doesn't play to his size at all and can get boxed out by much smaller defenders. He struggles coming out of his breaks, and his hands are inconsistent at best. Louis shouldn't be on an NFL roster, let alone in a starting role.
—Marcus Mosher, NFL1000 receivers/tight ends scout
5. Julius Thomas, Miami Dolphins
4. Jesse James, Pittsburgh Steelers
3. Virgil Green, Denver Broncos
2. Troy Niklas, Arizona Cardinals
1. Jonnu Smith, Tennessee Titans
At one point in time, Julius Thomas was in the conversation for being one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the NFL, especially in the red zone. But since Thomas left Denver, he hasn't been able to replicate the success he had with Peyton Manning. Over the past three seasons, he's averaged under 10 yards per catch and has a total of just 12 touchdowns. He's one of the worst run-blocking tight ends in the league and a major liability in the Dolphins' passing attacks. Thomas could be out of a job sooner rather than later.
Jesse James' name has been in the news lately, but not for the right reasons. His "non-catch" against the New England Patriots is a perfect example of how James' career has gone so far. He is a talented receiver who just can't seem to put all of his athleticism together to be a consistent asset in the passing game. James can create separation and win when the ball is above his head, but his lack of physicality in the middle of the field limits his effectiveness on certain routes. James struggles as a blocker and can be easily moved off of the line of scrimmage in the run game. James is an adequate second or third tight end, but he shouldn't be a starter in the NFL.
The player who was supposed to replace Julius Thomas in Denver was Virgil Green, but he hasn't lived up to his potential. Despite endless amounts of athleticism, Green just isn't a reliable receiver. He can be dangerous at times when the ball is in his hands, but there are few routes that he runs consistently well. He can be usable as an H-back when blocking on the move, but he is useless at the point of attack. Green is one of the biggest teases in the NFL at the tight end position.
Second on this list is Troy Niklas, who was drafted to be a do-it-all player for the Arizona Cardinals. However, that certainly hasn't been the case through the first four years of his career. Niklas is one of the worst blocking receivers in the entire NFL despite his massive 6'6", 269-pound frame. He has improved slightly as a receiver, but he has only has 19 career catches. Niklas is a free agent after the season and isn't a lock to be on an NFL roster at this time next year.
The worst tight end in the NFL this season is none other than rookie Jonnu Smith from the Tennessee Titans. Smith is an undersized tight end who wins with athleticism and has flashed that at times this year, but he can not function as a blocker in the NFL. He doesn't play with any kind of power, and all of his receiving ability is canceled out by how big of a liability he is on rushing downs. Smith is a raw player coming from a small school (Florida International University), so his struggles were expected. He should be able to improve significantly over the next several years, but he has been the worst tight end in the NFL this season.
—Marcus Mosher, NFL1000 receivers/tight ends scout
5. Matt Kalil, Carolina Panthers
4. Spencer Drango, Cleveland Browns
3. Cedric Ogbuehi, Cincinnati Bengals
2. Bobby Hart, New York Giants
1. Breno Giacomini, Houston Texans
Matt Kalil is a player we have discussed a lot this year, and regular readers are likely not surprised to see him on this list. Kalil has always been a player who relied on his physical traits in pass protection, and all the wear and tear he has accumulated over the years has caught up with him in that regard and only made his technical woes more visceral. He has been an absolute zero in the run game this season, and he has been a key reason why the Panthers struggled to run the ball, especially early in the year.
Spencer Drango has been pressed into duty in relief of Joe Thomas, and the results have not been pretty. After showcasing toughness in fighting to win dirty reps and a decent anchor in pass protection at guard last season, Drango's inability to grapple or reset his feet has been exposed this season. A great example of his problems is the sack he gave up to Anthony Zettel in Week 10, in which Zettel swiped Drango's initial leverage attempt at the point of attack clean, and then he ran right around him as Drango stumbled to re-align his feet and get back in his path.
This was a defining year for Cedric Ogbuehi, and the former first-round pick has failed to put up many positive reps on tape this season. Ogbuehi's lack of technique is only matched by his apathy, as no player gives up more often mid rep than him. I hate to make character assessments on film, but it just seems like there is no fight in him. It is rare to see a player get beat across his face as often as Ogbuehi does, as he lets defenders get right into his frame and completely dictate what is going to happen all the time.
Inactive hands are a consistent issue among struggling linemen, and Bobby Hart may have more pronounced struggles in that area than anyone else. Hart carries his hands way too low, and he is consistently late in hand-positioning battles as a result. His footwork and set timing are also a mess, and at times he doesn't even have a firm base down when meeting defenders.
The worst tackle in the league this year has been Breno Giacomini, whose heavy feet, horrible set angles that leave the gate wide open and long swinging arms that never seem to actually make it on a defender's body have resulted in him getting whipped up on consistently this season. Somehow Giacomini continues to be thrown on the field by Houston, and in fact, he is the only Texans player to not miss a snap this season. Somehow this team has continued to throw a 32-year-old washed-up player it signed off the street right before the year on the field every single play without batting an eye. Houston's lack of depth is clearly an issue, but you have to think it's worth giving any other option you can find a chance the last couple weeks.
—Ethan Young, NFL1000 offensive linemen scout
5. Brian Winters, New York Jets
4. Luke Joeckel, Seattle Seahawks
3. Kenny Wiggins, Los Angeles Chargers
2. Xavier Su'a-Filo, Houston Texans
1. Jeremy Vujnovich, Indianapolis Colts
Like I did with the tackles, in order to keep things relevant, I built my guard list based on players who are both active and starting right now. Players like Earl Watford and Oday Aboushi are hard to leave off given their performances this year, but doing it this way makes the exercise more informative going forward.
Brian Winters is not a good player, and unfortunately, Jets fans will have to deal with him for awhile after signing him to a big extension that helped reset the offensive line market last winter. Between Winters' inability to clear out any sort of space in the running game and horrible processing skills, his deficiencies are clear. There is a reason why opposing defenses can utilize diverse fronts, stunts, and throw unique blitz packages at this Jets team to easily create pressure: They are easy to confuse and their lack of physicality up front doesn't scare you enough to play the run consistently. And Winters' issues are a big part of that.
I had a hard time choosing which Seahawks guard to include on this list, as the trio of Aboushi, Luke Joeckel and Ethan Pocic has been among the worst in football this year. Joeckel has hurt this team more this season in my eyes, though, as his inability to create push is part of the reason why this offense is so one dimensional. Joeckel was hyped as a low-risk, high-upside signing coming into the year, but those who had seen his tape at guard knew that giving him a second chance was not worth the effort. While he is actually stepping back far enough when pulling now and not tripping over his teammates' feet like he did last season, Joeckel still routinely gets overpowered by stout bull-rushers and completely taken for rides by technically sound players who win the hand battle to create efficient leverage. Frankly, Joeckel just doesn't have the base traits to play guard in this league with his current body composition.
Kenny Wiggins has been forced into the starting lineup in wake of Forrest Lamp's injury this year, and while he certainly works, he just doesn't have a lot of natural tools or a base level of play strength to pull from. The effort he puts in to win reps is ugly at times but commendable, but he's an absolute zero in the ground game and can't win hat-on-hat against most NFL interior players.
Xavier Su'a Filo has some nice play strength he flashes every once in awhile, but his hand technique is so bad at this point that it doesn't really make a difference. While he doesn't have much help around him, as the Texans almost had three OL in these lists with Jeff Allen being an honorable mention among worst guards, defenders are able to get inside his body and neutralize any power advantage he has with ease at this point. He has gotten more tight hipped as the season has gone on, and quick one-gap penetrators have beaten him faster and faster.
I'm sure Jeremy Vujnovich is a great guy, but he has no business being on an NFL field at this point, and it's frankly a joke that he has started every game up front for the Colts. He has no awareness of what is going on, and no concept of keeping his head on a swivel. Vujnovich is completely blindsided by defenders, oftentimes by his direct assignments, and he ends up on the ground a lot as a result. His feet look like they are chained down to the turf at times, and he has no ability to reset or mirror a defender's movements because most of the time he's not able to process what they are doing before they beat him. The game is just way too fast for him right now, and until he shows signs that it's slowing down, I am not sure he deserves to be given all these reps.
—Ethan Young, NFL1000 offensive linemen scout
5. J.C. Tretter, Cleveland Browns
4. Spencer Pulley, Los Angeles Chargers
3. Nick Martin, Houston Texans
2. A.Q. Shipley, Arizona Cardinals
1. Russell Bodine, Cincinnati Bengals
The Browns gave Tretter a three-year, $16.75 million deal in March, hoping that he'd expand on his efforts with the Packers. So far, that hasn't really happened. It's hard to be an offensive lineman on a team with a rookie quarterback who struggles with field recognition and holds onto the ball too long too often, so we're inclined to give Tretter a pass there. But the extent to which he can get bull-rushed one-on-one by tackles is a major concern, and his agility in the open field in the run game doesn't make up for the fact that he can be seen chasing defenders who get past him too often in the passing game. Tretter needs more core strength before he can turn himself into a great all-around center.
A second-year undrafted free agent, Pulley is OK when he's asked to double with a guard, but when he's got a defensive tackle straight over his head or shoulder, it's a problem unless the tackle comes straight at him with a minimum of hand movement. He's highly vulnerable to swim and rip moves over the top, and he doesn't follow well at all when a defender peels off to either side. Pulley has become a better blocker as the season has gone on, but there's still a lot of work to do here.
Like his older brother Zack, the outstanding right guard for the Dallas Cowboys, Martin is a scrappy, ornery blocker in the run game. He has the temperament to mix it up, but his play strength doesn't always translate. He can get pushed aside by more powerful defensive tackles even in zone slides, and you don't see a lot of plays where he dominates the action at the line of scrimmage. As a pass-blocker, Martin is more problematic. Not only does he allow himself to get bull-rushed far too often, he will look lost at times in A-gap blitzes, and he loses defenders to either side.
At 6'1" and 307 pounds, Shipley of the Cardinals is built like a bowling ball. While he has a natural stance that gives him a low pad level in the run game, his short arms and relative lack of mobility are major liabilities. Shipley can be bull-rushed too often, he loses defenders if they're not coming straight at him, and without guard help, he's far too leaky as a pass-blocker.
Bodine looks like the model of a power-blocking center, but his technique hasn't caught up. He doesn't generate power when he latches onto defenders because he comes off the ball too high to get leverage, and he should never be pushed back as easily as he is. This is an example of play strength being totally negated by poor fundamentals. In addition, Bodine is probably the heaviest-footed center in the league, which means that he finds it very difficult to mirror and adjust on stunts and games, and defenders can shoot through his gaps to either side far too easily. This position has been an issue for the Bengals as long as he's been the starter.
—Doug Farrar, NFL1000 lead scout
5. Jihad Ward, Oakland Raiders
4. Evander Hood, Washington Redskins
3. Sylvester Williams, Tennessee Titans
2. Cedric Thornton, Buffalo Bills
1. Rodney Gunter, Arizona Cardinals
It's very hard to come up with a list of the worst defensive linemen in the sport, as it's likely the deepest position in the NFL over the last few years. For the most part, if you're not a factor, you don't get many looks in 2017. With that being said, we can look at talents on the relative scale of how much the team has invested in players, which is probably our best option at making a "worst" list.
Fifth on our list is Jihad Ward, who wasn't considered a top-100 pick until a show-out week at the Senior Bowl in 2016. After being drafted 44th overall, he's recorded zero sacks or tackles for a loss in 2017. He's only played about 7.5 percent of Oakland's snaps this year, so it's hard to not say he's on the path of a bust.
Evander Hood has played 601 snaps for the Washington Redskins this season. Despite that, he's only made two tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage all season. The loss of Chris Baker this free-agency period combined with the average-at-best signings of Stacy McGee and Terrell McClain have forced Hood into a bad position. Hood signed a two-year, $2.7 million deal this offseason. Expectations were that the two free-agent signings and first-round pick Jonathan Allen, who is injured, would have to shoulder the load.
In the AFC, Sylvester Williams and Cedric Thornton are two linemen who once were considered well above average who have just dwindled with time. Williams, after underperforming at the end of his Denver tenure, somehow managed to sign a $16.5 million deal with the Tennessee Titans this offseason.
He's only playing on 31 percent of the team's defensive snaps. In terms of tackles at or behind the line, Williams is ninth on the Titans defense, including fourth on the Tennessee interior defensive line alone.
After spending time in the NFC East, Thornton found a landing spot in Buffalo this season. Unfortunately, the New Orleans Saints found him, too. If you go back and watch the Saints' 24-straight runs against Buffalo, Thornton was clearly a marked man on the Bills defense. Defensive tackle is going to be a big need in Buffalo this draft season, no matter if Kyle Williams returns.
The top player on this list is just one of the bolder draft misevaluations in recent seasons. The Arizona Cardinals are very unpredictable on draft day, often taking character risks or outside-the-box selections like top-100 pick Brandon Williams, a former blue-chip running back recruit who played for Texas A&M before moving to cornerback in his senior season.
The fourth-round selection of Rodney Gunter, who played at Delaware State, surprised many people during the early periods of the third day of the 2015 draft. Almost at the end of Year 3, Gunter has one tackle at or behind the line of scrimmage this season, three fewer than rookie defensive back Budda Baker, who only recently started seeing significant playing time on defense.
—Justis Mosqueda, NFL1000 defensive linemen scout
5. Robert Nkemdiche, Arizona Cardinals
4. Tank Carradine, San Francisco 49ers
3. Benson Mayowa, Dallas Cowboys
2. Ryan Davis, Buffalo Bills
1. William Gholston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
As mentioned with the defensive tackle rankings, it's very hard to find NFL defensive linemen who don't belong on the field on Sundays in 2017. The lack of tight end and offensive line depth goes hand-in-hand with the depth at pass-rusher and the interior defensive line. These are simply where the athletes are choosing to play, but we can still measure players by investment value.
Robert Nkemdiche of the Arizona Cardinals is not a bad talent. The former first-round pick flashes when he's on the field, but whatever he did to get on head coach Bruce Arians' bad side is why he made this list. He has all of the potential in the world, and at 23 years old has plenty of time left in his career, but he's played the fewest snaps of any defensive lineman in Arizona this year, despite being their first-round pick just one year ago.
Like Nkemdiche, Tank Carradine was once thought of as a potentially elite college pass-rushing prospect. After tearing his ACL at the end of his senior season with Florida State, he fell out of the first round and landed with San Francisco, which at the time was drafting more injured players than any other franchise, at No. 40 overall in the 2013 draft. Now in Year 5 of his career, at 28 years old, he still only has 5.5 sacks to his name.
It may not be Carradine's fault that he was never able to recover from that injury, but it seems more and more like his playing time has been solely dictated based off of his draft position. Unlike Carradine, Dallas' Benson Mayowa was a virtual unknown coming out of college. After spending his first three years as a Seattle Seahawk and Oakland Raider, the athletic Mayowa signed a $8.25 million deal with the Cowboys.
He's still athletic and shows upside, but he lost a starting job at the start of the season and could get lost in the shuffle at defensive end if Randy Gregory plays in 2018. Flashy only gets you so far, and being a forgotten man in Dallas, which desperately needs another pass-rushing threat opposite of the breakout DeMarcus Lawrence, is not a great destination.
In Buffalo, the story at defensive end has been Shaq Lawson, a 2016 first-round pick. Lawson, who transitioned from 3-4 outside linebacker his rookie season, has missed time for four different injuries and is quickly becoming a hard projection. With that being said, one of his backups, Ryan Davis, may have been No. 1 on this list a few weeks ago.
In the first three months of the season, despite now playing in 39.5 percent of the Buffalo Bills' defensive snaps, Davis recorded just one sack on the year. Finding someone to play across from Jerry Hughes is going to be a premium for Buffalo in 2018.
The final name on this list is William Gholston of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who up until the New York Jets game were on a horrible sack pace this season. Despite never recording more than three sacks a season in his career, the Buccaneers gave Gholston a $27.5 million deal this offseason. In 2017, he has recorded as many sacks as you, the reader. In terms of bang for your buck, Gholston has to top anyone's list.
—Justis Mosqueda, NFL1000 defensive linemen scout
5. Kyle Van Noy, New England Patriots
4. Manti Te'o, New Orleans Saints
3. B.J. Goodson, New York Giants
2. Paul Worrilow, Detroit Lions
1. Nicholas Morrow, Oakland Raiders
Struggling at 4-3 linebacker tends to come down to one thing: lack of speed. That's because 4-3 linebackers have to process the field quickly and react with enough speed to get to their landmark on time. Whether it's trying to make a run fit or drop into a zone, linebackers will be dead to rights if they cannot operate fast enough.
Kyle Van Noy put his speed, or lack thereof, on display in Week 1 versus the Chiefs when Kareem Hunt dusted him to the boundary. Through the rest of the season, Van Noy has provided similar scenes, getting worked over in space by superior athletes again and again.
Manti Te'o and Paul Worrilow fall into the same category. Te'o and Worrilow each flash for a hair-on-fire tackle for loss on occasion, but their film catalog is filled with losing in space. Te'o's issue is he does not redirect himself well. He is a downhill player who does not provide value outside the tackles or in coverage. Worrilow, on the other hand, is little more than a volume tackler. A former Falcon, Worrilow was known for padding his box score with tackles eight yards down the field after having been slow to his initial run fit. Those issues have plagued him just the same in Detroit.
B.J. Goodson and Nicholas Morrow fall into a different, more understandable category. Neither player should have been expected by their team to play significant snaps, but poor roster construction and injuries forced them into the lineup. Goodson has struggled with injuries in a depleted Giants linebacker corps. Morrow is an undrafted rookie who should not have been forced into the lineup. An injury to Cory James on top of poor linebacker depth in Oakland led to Morrow being cast into a role he was not ready to take on.
—Derrik Klassen, NFL1000 linebackers scout
5. Antonio Morrison, Indianapolis Colts (ILB)
4. Frank Zombo, Kansas City Chiefs (OLB)
3. Jake Ryan, Green Bay Packers (ILB)
2. Josh Martin, New York Jets (OLB)
1. Kareem Martin, Arizona Cardinals (OLB)
The 3-4 designation creates two separate classifications of linebacker. In a 3-4 defense, outside linebackers are primarily pass-rushers and edge defenders, while inside linebackers are off-ball players. Three outside linebackers made the list.
Frank Zombo was forced to play early and often this season as the Chiefs were plagued by injuries at outside linebacker. Tamba Hali missed the first half of the year, and Dee Ford has not played since Week 8. Zombo has been filling in for those two as well as serving as a third option to little avail. The career backup does not provide much as a pass-rusher and too often loses contain in the running game.
Josh Martin and Kareem Martin were also thrust into starting gigs because of injuries. Josh Martin struggled to earn playing time among a lackluster outside linebacker group in New York. When forced into action, he has not shown any prowess as a pass-rusher and is only able to generate pressure late on already broken plays. Kareem Martin, on the other hand, is being phased out of his role, even as a player who was already a bench option. He stepped in for Markus Golden early in the year, but with each passing week, the Cardinals have tried to minimize his snaps by putting Haason Reddick in his spot as a pass-rusher. Martin was not getting any push as a pass-rusher and did not provide any value as a run defender.
As for inside linebackers, Antonio Morrison and Jake Ryan made the cut, though for entirely different reasons. Morrison, a former standout at the University of Florida who had off-field question marks, is a reckless player. A 3-4 inside linebacker should be able to display patience and control, showing the ability to slide into run fits on time. Instead, Morrison either attacks the line of scrimmage at full speed without a real plan or sits on his heels, waiting too long for a play to develop. Conversely, Jake Ryan is always one or two steps behind the play. He may follow the right process in seeing a play develop, but it does not register quickly enough for him to consistently make an impact. Ryan is constantly a nonfactor for an otherwise quality Packers run defense.
—Derrik Klassen, NFL1000 linebackers scout
5. Brice McCain, Tennessee Titans
4. Juston Burris, New York Jets
3. Ryan Smith, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2. Josh Hawkins, Green Bay Packers
1. Brandon Dixon, New York Giants
The NFL is loaded with high-end cornerbacks this season, so those who are liabilities for their defense stick out the most, as they're constantly targeted. All cornerbacks lose, but the worst players at the position are as likely to be found several yards out of position as they are to be near the ball.
The two worst cornerbacks in the league were forced into action because of injuries. The Giants' Brandon Dixon was originally a practice squad player but had to play over 60 snaps in Weeks 13 and 14 as drama and injuries caused the team's depth to disappear. Dez Bryant has struggled to create separation all year, yet Dixon's inability to stay close to Bryant made it look like it was 2014 again.
Josh Hawkins is similarly overmatched physically and also struggles anticipating routes. The Packers run a zone-heavy scheme, and it's helped protect Hawkins. Injuries have yanked him in and out of the lineup, but he looks every part the fifth cornerback that he was supposed to be at the start of the year.
At least with Hawkins and Juston Burris, their coaches have done what they can to limit their playing time despite a lack of available depth. The Buccaneers and Titans have fed Ryan Smith and Brice McCain playing time even though they've blown their assignments because of a lack of instincts, technique and route recognition. It's notable for the Titans especially since they don't have to play McCain at all and could instead choose to give the superior LeShaun Sims more snaps.
—Ian Wharton, NFL1000 defensive backs scout
5. Jabrill Peppers, Cleveland Browns
4. Chris Conte, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
3. Will Parks, Denver Broncos
2. Marcus Gilchrist, Houston Texans
1. T.J. Green, Indianapolis Colts
It's not fair to put rookie Jabrill Peppers on this list as a bottom-five talent at the safety position, as the defensive scheme he's in doesn't give him many opportunities to produce. Playing 20 yards off the ball is far from his strength, and a different defensive coordinator wouldn't leave him in such a bad situation. Nevertheless, Peppers has struggled to produce, consistently takes poor pursuit angles and has not disrupted receivers.
Veteran Chris Conte has been part of a unit that has crumbled after an encouraging finish to the 2016 season. Conte's somehow continued to get the lion's share of snaps at safety even though Keith Tandy has outplayed him and T.J. Ward signed for $4 million this offseason. Conte's not one of the worst players at the position, but like Peppers, his inability to impact games is a negative for others in the Tampa Bay secondary.
Speaking of Ward, his former team the Broncos has tried to use second-year safeties Justin Simmons and Will Parks for its dime packages. Simmons has been decent, but Parks has been picked on and taken advantage of. The 2016 sixth-round pick is stiff in coverage but also lacks the hitting ability to play with strength in the box.
Another journeyman at the position who is struggling this year is Marcus Gilchrist. The Texans have failed to field a competent second safety since Glover Quin was on their roster, and Gilchrist was a desperation move after his horrible stint with the New York Jets. He's not solely responsible for the Texans secondary deteriorating from an above-average unit to a bad one in just one year, but he hasn't made much of a positive impact this year.
Finally, a 2016 second-round pick has been the worst safety in the NFL this year. T.J. Green has played because of injuries to Malik Hooker and Clayton Geathers, but he's still only amassed 298 snaps this year. He's been bad enough to get placed here, however, looking completely out of place as a straight-line runner who lacks any feel for the position. If it weren't for his draft status and contract, he'd likely be on the practice squad.
—Ian Wharton, NFL1000 defensive backs scout
Snap counts courtesy of Football Outsiders and Pro Football Reference.