Current NFL Players Who Could Lose Their Starting Role on Draft Night

Tyler Brooke@TylerDBrookeSenior Analyst IIApril 24, 2019

Current NFL Players Who Could Lose Their Starting Role on Draft Night

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    With the 2019 NFL draft starting Thursday, there are a number of current players who may soon get demoted.

    Just last season, a handful of established veteran quarterbacks, including Joe Flacco, lost their jobs to rookies. QBs are on thing, but aging and underperforming players at any position on soon-to-be-expiring contracts are also at risk.

    We'll take a look at eight such guys here.

Josh Rosen, QB, Arizona Cardinals

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    Few players have had a tougher offseason than Josh Rosen.

    A year after the Arizona Cardinals took the UCLA star with the No. 10 overall pick, the team is likely still considering taking Heisman winner Kyler Murray No. 1 overall. Rosen's rookie season was less than stellar, but he was thrust into a tough situation where he was throwing under constant pressure in the pocket.

    Rosen deserves an opportunity to prove himself, but new Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury is considering starting his NFL coaching career with "his guy" taking snaps under center.

    Murray's 5'10" stature makes some scouts nervous, but his electric play for the Oklahoma Sooners resulted in a season where he racked up over 5,300 total yards and 54 total touchdowns. The fact that Murray also hired the same agent as Kingsbury adds smoke to the fire.

    To make things even more complicated, Pete Prisco from CBS Sports reported the Cardinals aren't planning on taking Murray No. 1 at this point. However, the week before the draft is known for producing a lot of smoke and mirrors to keep teams' intentions hidden. 

    Credit Rosen for how he's been handling the situation, and regardless of what happens, he should start somewhere.

Jimmy Graham, TE, Green Bay Packers

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    To say that Jimmy Graham was a disappointment in his first season with the Green Bay Packers would be an understatement.

    Although Graham, 32, hauled in 55 passes for 636 yards, he had just two touchdowns despite plenty of opportunities. He caught one of five passes inside the 10-yard line last season for a three-yard score, according to Pro Football Reference, and dropped a couple of deep passes from Aaron Rodgers throughout the year.

    New head coach Matt LaFleur's offensive scheme could help create more opportunities for Graham in 2019, and the team is reportedly intending on keeping him under contract this year. Cutting Graham this year would result in over $12 million in dead cap space, so it's understandable why the Packers are likely to give him another shot.

    Still, they have two first-round picks (Nos. 12 and 30). Given the top-tier talent at the position, they may want to think about adding someone in Round 1.

    Both Iowa tight ends, T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant, are first-round talents. Hockenson should be far more intriguing for Packers fans, as he showcases some terrific technique and willingness as a blocker. He is also a great athlete who can create space as a route runner.

    A player like that could see the field in far more situations than Graham, but there are other names who the Packers could look at on Day 2, including Alabama's Irv Smith Jr. or Texas A&M's Jace Sternberger.

Marlon Mack, RB, Indianapolis Colts

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    Most teams stick with a by-committee approach at running back, and the Indianapolis Colts would benefit from finding someone to split carries with Marlon Mack.

    Mack isn't a bad running back by any stretch. The 23-year-old ran for 908 yards and nine touchdowns while averaging 4.7 yards per attempt. His burst and top-end speed allow him to break off some big chunks of yardage.

    However, the Colts have a lot of draft picks to work with, including in the first couple of rounds (three), and general manager Chris Ballard has made it clear that the best overall player is going to be more important than reaching for someone at a position of need.

    One name to keep an eye on is Josh Jacobs, who has made a strong case to be the first running back taken in this year's draft. The Colts have already brought Jacobs in for a visit, and his versatile skill set would be a great complement to Mack's explosiveness.

    Jake Arthur from Colts.com mentioned Oklahoma running back Rodney Anderson as an option on Day 3. Anderson was a star in 2017 who suffered a knee injury this past season. Matt Miller noted that Anderson could be a top-five back in this class and compared him to Jay Ajayi. While running back may not be a position of need for the Colts, Ballard has made it clear he's not trying to reach for players.

    "You can't force anything," he told reporters. "If you have a glaring need going in, you can't force it, and I think that's where teams make mistakes. ... If there's a spread, and we have one rated at 10, and the other rated at 35, you're gonna take the higher-ranked player."

    Mack would be losing his starting job, but he'd also be taking less punishment and playing for what could potentially be one of the more exciting offenses in the NFL next season. Not only that, but with another strong draft class, the Colts could make a Super Bowl run.

    That seems like a fair trade-off.

Jeff Heath, S, Dallas Cowboys

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    For someone who went undrafted, Dallas Cowboys safety Jeff Heath has carved out a successful career. However, the safety position is one the Cowboys could be looking to upgrade in the draft despite not having a first-round selection.

    The box-score stats show a career year for Heath: 85 total tackles, a forced fumble, an interception and five pass breakups. However, there were some serious struggles on the tape, especially versus ball-carriers.

    According to Pro Football Focus, Heath had 19 missed tackles in 2018, the second-most among safeties.

    There could be a few talented safeties available near the end of the second round (58th overall), and two names to keep an eye on will be Mississippi State's Johnathan Abram and Virginia's Juan Thornhill. Calvin Watkins from The Athletic had the Cowboys snagging Abram in the second round of his latest mock draft.

    Both Abram and Thornhill are capable of playing inside the tackle box and are willing tacklers who could be upgrades over Heath.

Solomon Thomas, EDGE, San Francisco 49ers

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    The San Francisco 49ers were high on Stanford product Solomon Thomas in the 2017 draft. However, he hasn't panned out so far, and his starting role may be in jeopardy.

    A versatile defender with the Cardinal, Thomas hasn't found a natural home in the NFL. According to Pro Football Focus, only two edge-rushers last season had played more snaps with fewer QB pressures.

    According to Jennifer Lee Chan from NBC Sports, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh told the media that new defensive line coach Kris Kocurek will be evaluating Thomas.

    "We all want to see what [Kocurek] says and how he views [Thomas]," Saleh said. "From there as an organization, we'll do what's best for the organization and put Solly in the best position to be successful."

    The 49ers also just brought in talented edge-rusher Dee Ford and have the No. 2 overall pick in this year's draft. There's a good chance that GM John Lynch will want another defensive playmaker, so a guy like Ohio State edge-rusher Nick Bosa or Alabama defensive lineman Quinnen Williams could be in play.

    Even though Thomas can move around a defensive front, the front seven for the 49ers is starting to become a bit too crowded. That could mean Thomas' time in San Francisco will be coming to an end soon if he doesn't improve upon a rough first two seasons in the league.

Phillip Dorsett, WR, New England Patriots

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    Even as reigning Super Bowl champions, the New England Patriots have questions on their roster, such as who Tom Brady will be throwing to in 2019.

    With Rob Gronkowski's retirement, Josh Gordon's suspension and Chris Hogan's departure, the depth chart at wide receiver and tight end isn't a strength. Even bringing in Demaryius Thomas likely won't be enough.

    Former Colts first-round pick Phillip Dorsett could be in line for a bigger role, but the Patriots should be looking to upgrade after re-signing him to a one-year deal.

    Dorsett saw a good chunk of action last season but showed limited production with just 32 receptions for 290 yards and three touchdowns. He was also a non-factor in the Super Bowl, being targeted zero times against the Los Angeles Rams.

    The Patriots could take a more dynamic playmaker with the No. 32 or No. 56 pick, and a versatile and explosive weapon like Ohio State's Parris Campbell could be in play.

    Dorsett may be a starter on the depth chart for now, but if Bill Belichick finds a weapon that he's in love with in this draft, Dorsett may find himself in a limited role once again.

Gerald McCoy, DT, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    At the time of his massive extension, Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive lineman Gerald McCoy had earned every penny. However, his play has started to take a dip, and the Buccaneers will be facing a tough decision at the position soon enough.

    While the six-time Pro Bowler has been a dominant force, he hasn't made a first-team All-Pro team since 2014 and is coming off one of his more inconsistent seasons as a pro.

    In fact, ESPN's Jenna Laine reported back in January the Buccaneers were considering releasing McCoy. While that hasn't happened yet, the fact that the Buccaneers could release him with zero dollars in dead cap space makes things much more interesting in Tampa.

    With the No. 5 overall pick, there are two prospects the Buccaneers should consider. Alabama's Quinnen Williams showed enough this past season to be arguably the best prospect in this draft class, while Houston's Ed Oliver has been on the radar of NFL scouts since high school.

    If the Buccaneers land either, there's a good chance McCoy could be on his way out.

Eli Manning, QB, New York Giants

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    At some point, Eli Manning's time as the starter will end.

    The 38-year-old is coming off a decent season, throwing for 4,299 yards, 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. However, he'll be throwing to receivers not named Odell Beckham Jr. in 2019.

    The Giants are in rebuild mode, and that likely means the team is going to push for a young quarterback to build around with one of its two first-round picks.

    General manager Dave Gettleman is on record saying he thinks Manning proved he has plenty left in the tank, according to NJ.com's Matt Lombardo. However, this is also coming from the same GM who claimed the Giants didn't sign Beckham just to trade him.

    There are a handful of QB prospects the Giants could go after, but the two most likely are Ohio State's Dwayne Haskins and Duke's Daniel Jones.

    Gettleman may want to have Manning remain the starter, but the media and fans could put enough pressure on the front office and coaching staff that a first-round rookie could steal the job before Week 1.

    If that doesn't happen and Manning struggles the first couple of weeks, we'll be seeing a younger quarterback out there at some point in 2019.