NFL Veterans Who Could Find Themselves on the Roster Bubble in Training Camps
The competition to keep a job in this league never ends.
Every year, the NFL adds a draft class of more than 250 players, veterans find new homes via free agency and hundreds of prospects attempt to secure a roster spot despite not hearing their names called in the selection process.
One player's opportunity could mean the end of another's tenure with a team. Some veterans stand on a delicate roster bubble ready to burst because of subpar production, an influx of talent at their position or an extensive injury history.
A high draft status doesn't provide immunity. Last year, the Baltimore Ravens cut wide receiver Breshad Perriman, a 2015 first-round draft pick. The Buffalo Bills released wideout Corey Coleman, who tried to gain traction with his second team after the Cleveland Browns traded him to the AFC East squad last August.
Let's take a look at eight players who should be mindful of their uncertain futures with their current teams.
RB Rex Burkhead, New England Patriots
The New England Patriots selected running back Damien Harris in the third round of this year's draft. Immediately, Rex Burkhead should've felt the pressure. He's a rotational ball-carrier whose production took a hit largely because of neck, knee and rib injuries over the last two years. The 29-year-old has missed 14 games over the last two seasons.
Burkhead can catch and run out of the backfield; he also served as a reliable goal-line option during the 2017 campaign with four of his five rushing touchdowns from the three-yard line or closer. However, the six-year tailback seems replaceable.
In 2018, Sony Michel handled the majority of carries in New England's backfield, averaging 16.1 rush attempts per contest. James White put a stronghold on the primary pass-catching role with a team-leading 87 receptions.
Harris can duplicate Burkhead's dual-threat versatility. He caught 22 passes for 204 yards last year at Alabama. The rookie also has a sturdy 5'10" 216-pound frame to handle goal-line touches.
Burkhead doesn't have a specialty that separates himself from the pack among the Patriots running backs. As a result, he'll sit on the bubble this summer.
RB C.J. Prosise, Seattle Seahawks
C.J. Prosise has battled injuries throughout his three-year career, limiting him to just 16 games. On a positive note, head coach Pete Carroll praised him for his workload during OTAs at a media press conference.
"It has been great to see him healthy," Carroll said. "He has been fit throughout, he's really strong, worked out really hard in the offseason to get his strength right, and his weight is up, but he's fit and has really been able to do a little bit of everything."
Unfortunately for Prosise, a couple of days later, he felt tightness in his hamstring, per Carroll (h/t Gregg Bell of the News Tribune).
Prosise cannot afford to miss time during training camp. Despite running back Mike Davis' departure to the Chicago Bears in free agency, the Seahawks still have a viable one-two punch in the backfield featuring Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny.
In competition with Prosise, J.D. McKissic and rookie sixth-rounder Travis Homer will battle for a back-end spot on the depth chart. Don't count out the latter because he's a Day 3 selection; the Seahawks acquired Carson in the seventh round of the 2017 draft, and he ranked fifth in rushing yards (1,151) last year.
NFL.com's Lance Zierlein listed pass protection as one of Homer's strengths, which is a major plus for a rookie running back. If he clearly earns a spot on the 53-man roster, the coaching staff must decide on whether to keep an oft-injured Prosise as a fourth tailback.
WR Laquon Treadwell, Minnesota Vikings
As a 2016 first-rounder, Laquon Treadwell has underwhelmed and wears the bust label.
The Minnesota Vikings haven't seen the player who led Ole Miss in catches (82), receiving yards (1,153) and touchdowns (11) in 2015. Instead, they see a wide receiver who's become an afterthought in the offense. In 40 games, Treadwell registered 56 catches for 517 yards and a touchdown.
The Vikings have declined to exercise Treadwell's fifth-year option. According to ESPN.com's Courtney Cronin, the team may part ways with him if a couple of under-the-radar wide receivers have strong impressions at training camp.
"The Vikings will give Treadwell every opportunity to contend for the No. 3 receiver position in training camp, but unlike last spring, he didn't do much to separate himself from the competition during OTAs and minicamp. Treadwell is in danger of not making the 53-man roster if the likes of Chad Beebe, Jordan Taylor and a handful of rookie receivers beat him out for the role he hasn't been able to grasp since he arrived in Minnesota."
Without question, Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs lead the group, but the Vikings still need a playmaker to claim the No. 3 spot. Treadwell's inability to establish himself in three years signals uncertainty for his future with the team because of the competition behind him.
WR Chad Williams, Arizona Cardinals
The Arizona Cardinals loaded up their wide receiver corps during this year's draft, ensuring quarterback Kyler Murray has a multi-faceted group of assets to target on the perimeter. The influx of talent spells bad news for Chad Williams.
Andy Isabella brings speed and quickness on inside and outside routes. At 6'5", 227 pounds, Hakeem Butler can win battles for contested catches, pull down the jump-ball opportunities and high point his receptions with tremendous reach. KeeSean Johnson could serve as a chain-moving possession receiver.
Along with the three aforementioned rookie wideouts, the Cardinals have Larry Fitzgerald returning for his 16th season. Christian Kirk showed flashes during his rookie term, recording 43 catches for 590 yards and three touchdowns in 12 contests before landing on injured reserve with a broken foot.
The Cardinals probably have four wideouts locked into roster spots. Johnson, a late-round pick, will battle Williams and 2015 first-rounder Kevin White for a back-end spot.
Williams hasn't come close to making a significant impact since coming into the league as a third-rounder out of Grambling State in 2017. He's logged a pedestrian 20 receptions for 202 yards and a touchdown in two seasons.
DT Eddie Vanderdoes, Oakland Raiders
The Oakland Raiders have tremendous depth on the interior of the defensive line. The front office selected P.J. Hall and Maurice Hurst in the second and fifth rounds of the 2018 draft, respectively, and re-signed Johnathan Hankins to a two-year deal in March. Justin Ellis, who missed 10 games with sprained ligaments in his foot, returns to the group. He signed a three-year extension last year.
By count, that's four interior tackles who should have decent roles on the front line. Any addition to the unit would have slim pickings for snaps, making it difficult to justify holding on to a marginal talent.
The previous front-office regime, with former general manager Reggie McKenzie, selected Eddie Vanderdoes in the third round of the 2017 draft. He logged 18 total tackles, two for loss, but went through a nondescript rookie term, providing minimal impact.
In the 2017 season finale, Vanderdoes tore his ACL for the second time in a two-year span. He's been unable to show head coach Jon Gruden and his coaching staff anything because of the injury. Since he's been out of sight and out of mind within a crowded group of veterans mixed with young talent, the 24-year-old looks like a long shot to claim a roster spot.
LB Paul Worrilow, Philadelphia Eagles
Last offseason, the Philadelphia Eagles signed Paul Worrilow to bolster the depth at linebacker. Following the team's decision to release Mychal Kendricks, the 29-year-old could've played a major role at the position, but he suffered a torn ACL in May of 2018.
The Eagles have some transition at linebacker, which gives Worrilow another shot at significant snaps in the upcoming campaign, but he'll face stiff competition.
Linebacker Jordan Hicks tested the free-agent market and inked a deal with the Cardinals. The Eagles added two veterans at the position, signing Zach Brown and L.J. Fort. Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer listed undrafted rookie T.J. Edwards as a surprise keeper for the 53-man depth chart.
"Of the Eagles' undrafted rookies, he may be the best bet to make the 53-man roster," McLane wrote. "But he still has a lot to prove."
If Edwards sticks to the final roster, he'll likely play special teams in addition to a reserve role at linebacker, which would put Worrilow, coming off a significant knee injury, on the chopping block.
CB Artie Burns, Pittsburgh Steelers
The Pittsburgh Steelers don't have to wait for cornerback Artie Burns to show more consistency; the front office signed Steven Nelson and selected Justin Layne in the third round of this year's draft to address the present and future of the position.
Nelson will likely line up opposite cornerback Joe Haden on the perimeter. Mike Hilton has served as the primary slot defender over the last two years. Layne will eventually have a shot to play significant snaps. Burns seems like the odd man out, and he's feeling the pressure, per ESPN.com's Jeremy Fowler.
"With an $800,000 roster bonus due July 28, Burns has worked overtime during OTAs and minicamp to regain his footing after a 2018 benching," Fowler wrote. "He has logged extra film work with coaches. Head coach Mike Tomlin said Burns understands the 'urgency of his circumstance' and is acting appropriately."
Burns had an awful 2018 showing, losing his starting job, playing 29.50 percent of the defensive snaps and logging one pass breakup. He could become one of the bigger names among final cuts because of the Steelers' solid starters and rookie potential at cornerback.
S Su'a Cravens, Denver Broncos
The Denver Broncos acquired safety Su'a Cravens last offseason after he took a year off from football. In 2018, he appeared in five games, logging 18 total tackles. Despite his hybrid capabilities, new head coach Vic Fangio has narrowed his focus to the safety position, which is a change of pace for him, per Andrew Mason of the team's official website.
"This is the most safety since I've played since my time at Washington. I don't really even play inside," Cravens said. "They have me at safety probably 95 percent of the time. I'm getting a lot of [back]pedal work, a lot of one-on-one work, a lot of work against the wide receivers—stuff I wasn't getting last year."
At safety, the Broncos will likely start Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson in the base formation. The latter could play in the slot for nickel packages, which puts William Parks in position to take on a solid role with five defensive backs on the field. Mason points out Cravens must battle for his spot with other roster hopefuls.
"Realistically, Cravens is in a fight for a roster spot. ... Cravens is in a scrum with four other players who were on the roster last year: Jamal Carter (who was on injured reserve in 2018 because of a torn hamstring), Trey Marshall, Dymonte Thomas and Shamarko Thomas," Mason wrote.
As a 2016 second-rounder, Cravens came into the league with the most potential out of that group, but a poor showing at training camp could force him to search for a third team in four years.