5 NFL Players Who Should Consider Switching Positions in 2020May 31, 2020
5 NFL Players Who Should Consider Switching Positions in 2020
Switching positions in the NFL is one of those things that sounds a lot easier than it actually is. It seems like a tackle switching to guard or a wide receiver making the move to cornerback would be no big deal. But that's not the case.
Many NFL players have been focused on a single position since high school. They have learned innumerable behaviors that enable them to react without thinking. Changing spots means starting over to an extent—sometimes from scratch.
That isn't to say it doesn't happen. Incoming rookies on the offensive line are often transitioned into different positions. It happens in the secondary with some regularity, too. And whether it's on offense with Darren Waller of the Raiders or defense with Devin McCourty of the Patriots, we've seen players not only adopt a new position in the NFL but thrive after doing it.
The five players listed here should all consider making a similar transition. For some, it's a matter of finding a fit that will keep them in the starting lineup. Or finding the spot where they can best help the team. For others, it's a matter of being miscast in their current role. And for at least one, it's a matter of continuing his career and finding work.
Whatever the reason, these players need to seriously think about trying something new in 2020.
Riley Reiff, OT, Minnesota Vikings
There's no more common position change in the NFL than offensive tackles kicking inside to guard. It happens all the time—to youngsters and veterans alike. There will be multiple rookies this year that played tackle in college who will make a living on the inside because of a perceived lack of length or quickness.
Riley Reiff of the Minnesota Vikings is something of a different story. Reiff entered the NFL in 2012 as a highly coveted tackle prospect from the University of Iowa. After being selected 23rd overall by the Detroit Lions, Reiff made 69 starts at both left and right tackle for them before inking a five-year, $58.8 million megadeal with the Vikes. Reiff might not have been a great tackle, but he was a very good one.
Reiff remains at least an average left tackle, but his play slipped in 2019—he gave up five sacks, committed eight penalties and struggled in pass protection against quicker edge-rushers. The offseason dawned with more than a little speculation about Reiff's future in the Twin Cities, and Minnesota added a tackle in Boise State's Ezra Cleveland in the second round of the 2020 draft.
Kicking Reiff inside is a move that makes sense more for the team than the player, and it comes with the caveat that Cleveland would need to be a quick study. But if he is, Reiff would appear to offer a quick and easy upgrade at guard over Pat Elflein for a run-first Vikings team that heads into the 2020 campaign with aspirations of playing in Tampa in February.
Chris Hubbard, OT, Cleveland Browns
OK, one more tackle-to-guard switch, and then we'll move on.
Over six years in the NFL, Chris Hubbard has started 70 games for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns. The 6'4", 295-pounder played well enough in four years with the former to earn a five-year, $36.5 million contract with the latter in 2018.
But it would be an understatement to say the move hasn't worked out. Over the past two seasons, Hubbard has averaged a half-dozen sacks allowed according to PFF. Last year he also added eight penalties, and Hubbard had to take a massive pay cut in the offseason just to salvage his roster spot.
That spot may be at least tentatively safe, but if Hubbard is going to come anywhere close to a fourth straight season with over 750 snaps, he's going to have to change things up. Barring a disaster, rookie Jedrick Wills Jr. is going to be the starter at left tackle, and the Browns didn't give right tackle Jack Conklin a truck filled with money so he could watch.
Cleveland also has entrenched starters at left guard (Joel Bitonio) and center (JC Tretter). But there is a gap at right guard, and that gap presents Hubbard an opportunity to get on the field.
Hubbard is admittedly a little undersized weight-wise to play on the interior. But Cleveland's new offense favors smaller, quicker linemen, so that's not necessarily an issue. He'd also be "protected" by being flanked by Conklin and Tretter.
Takkarist McKinley, Edge, Atlanta Falcons
Let's get this out of the way right off the get—Takkarist McKinley will probably not be changing positions for the Atlanta Falcons in 2020. Just as he has for his first three seasons, McKinley will play defensive end in Dan Quinn's 4-3 "Under" front.
That's too bad because after already declining the fifth-year option for the 26th overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft, the Falcons will probably move on from McKinley after the 2020 season.
By just about any objective measure, McKinley has been a massive disappointment in Atlanta. He was at least serviceable rushing the passer over his first two seasons, tallying six sacks as a rookie and seven in 2018. But last year he took a major step backward, managing just 3.5 sacks and getting blown up at the point of attack with some regularity.
Those issues at the line of scrimmage only serve to underscore McKinley's biggest issue these past few years—he shouldn't be playing at the line of scrimmage.
At 265 pounds, McKinley has added some 15-plus pounds since entering the NFL. That added weight has sapped some of the quickness that made McKinley so formidable at UCLA. And it's not like the added weight has done wonders for his run defense.
Some edge-rushers can transition from standing up in the 3-4 to playing with a hand in the dirt in the 4-3 without missing a beat. From all indications, McKinley isn't one of them. Unless the Falcons change how they use McKinley, his best bet at reviving his NFL fortunes may be dropping some weight and finding a home where he can play back off the line and use his athleticism more.
Shawn Williams, S, Cincinnati Bengals
This position change is an exception among the ones listed here—in that it already happened.
Due in part to injuries and in part to just flat-out rotten play from the team's linebackers, strong safety Shawn Williams saw over 500 snaps in 2019 in the box for the Cincinnati Bengals according to Chris Roling of Bengals Wire. From a strictly statistical standpoint, Williams did fine—he set career highs in both total tackles (114) and tackles for loss (five). However, watch the film and you'll see that all too often Williams was swallowed up in the running game.
Still, that was an instance in which a player was "thrown into the fire," cast into an unfamiliar spot suddenly. Given time to work on a new position, it's not out of the realm of reason to think that Williams could improve as a WILL linebacker. And undersized players at the position with superior coverage skills have become a coveted commodity in today's NFL.
It's a move that could also mean big things for Williams' career—in that it may be the only way to keep him on the field.
With the addition of free agent Vonn Bell, the Bengals appear set at safety—Bell in the box and Jessie Bates III deep. The team also made a number of moves at linebacker, adding veteran Josh Bynes and rookies Logan Wilson and Akeem Davis-Gaither. Davis-Gaither and holdovers Germaine Pratt and Jordan Evans are all candidates to start on the weak side, but none are sure bets by any stretch.
The best thing for all parties involved might be a continuation of last year's transition.
Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Free Agent
This has been one of the oddest offseasons in NFL history, with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing teams to close facilities. Not only has that put the status of OTAs and minicamps in jeopardy, but it has also put the kibash on in-person free-agent visits.
That, in turn, has left a number of big names still looking for work, including 2015 NFL MVP Cam Newton and a 2014 No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney.
Dre Kirkpatrick isn't the biggest name among the available free agents, but he is a former first-round pick and eight-year NFL veteran who started 67 games over his tenure with the Cincinnati Bengals.
However, while Kirkpatrick had his moments in Cincinnati, he was never the player the Bengals hoped they were getting with the 17th overall pick—at least not consistently. He struggled in coverage in an injury-shortened 2019 season, allowing over 63 percent of the passes thrown in his direction to be completed and surrendering a passer rating against of 122.5.
Much of Kirkpatrick's struggles can be traced to his size. At 6'2", Kirkpatrick is tall for a corner, and that length can lead to problems with quick transitions from backpedaling to running.
Dating all the way back to before Kirkpatrick even entered the NFL, there has been speculation that he could be better suited to play free safety in the pros. More than a few corners have made the switch to safety later in their careers (Kareem Jackson and Devin McCourty are just two names on a long list), and showing added versatility would only help Kirkpatrick both find work and extend his NFL career.