2021 NFL Roster Cuts: Predicting the Biggest Names That Could Hit the Market
By Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET, all 32 teams must finalize a 53-man roster. Among the last round of cuts, respected veterans and recent early draft picks will have to look for jobs elsewhere.
Several notable players sit on a delicate bubble headed toward the deadline. While some have struggled through training camp and the preseason, others haven't done enough to beat out their competition.
Some of the biggest names will generate buzz on the way to the free-agent market because of their draft pedigree, overall resume or career longevity.
We'll project eight cuts that will stir up some discussion in the next 24 hours or so.
Peyton Barber, RB, Washington Football Team
Antonio Gibson and J.D. McKissic should serve as the featured and primary pass-catching running backs in the Washington Football Team's backfield. Peyton Barber, who logged the second-most carries on the team last year, could lose his position in the rotation to undrafted rookie Jaret Patterson.
In Washington's first exhibition game against the New England Patriots, Paterson recorded 70 yards from scrimmage and then had 96 total yards and a touchdown the following week in a matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Patterson had two early drops in Saturday's game with the Baltimore Ravens, but he's shown more burst than Barber, who logged 13 carries for 34 yards and a touchdown for the preseason.
During the offseason, Barber shed some pounds, but that might not help him keep his roster spot because of Patterson's production. The former has seen a drop in yards per carry every season from 2016 (4.1) to 2020 (2.7).
Miles Boykin, WR, Baltimore Ravens
"Wide receivers Marquise 'Hollywood' Brown and Miles Boykin appear to be making progress in their rehab from hamstring injuries as they run on the adjacent field to practice," Mink wrote.
While Brown would likely slide back into a starting role, Boykin's time away from the field could adversely impact his chance at a roster spot.
This offseason, the Ravens added three wideouts who should make the roster in rookie first-rounder Rashod Bateman, rookie fourth-rounder Tylan Wallace and Sammy Watkins. Though Bateman underwent groin surgery, head coach John Harbaugh expects his top draft pick to return "sometime in September."
Last season, Devin Duvernay and James Proche II served as the primary kick and punt returners, respectively. They'll likely hold on to those roles on special teams.
Boykin needed a strong offseason in a crowded wide receiver room. He didn't play in any preseason games, and the third-year veteran struggled before his hamstring issue sidelined him, per The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec.
"As other receivers have shined, Boykin has had a quiet start to training camp," Zrebiec wrote. "He's had a few drops and he's just not been consistently involved like he was the previous two training camps."
In 2020, Boykin started in 13 out of 16 contests. This week, he may become a free agent.
Taven Bryan, DT, Jacksonville Jaguars
We could all see this move coming from a mile away.
First, the Jacksonville Jaguars overhauled their defensive line, signing Roy Robertson-Harris, trading for Malcom Brown and selecting Jay Tufele in the fourth round of this year's draft.
With the additions, the Jaguars sent a clear message to Taven Bryan, who's logged 71 tackles, 11 for loss and 3.5 sacks through three underwhelming campaigns. For a late-round draft pick, that's solid production, but he's a first-rounder from the 2018 class.
Jacksonville declined to exercise Bryan's fifth-year option, which underscored the fourth-year pro's need to prove himself.
This offseason, Bryan landed on the non-football injury list and the reserve/COVID-19 list. He appeared in the Jaguars' second exhibition game against the New Orleans Saints and logged one quarterback hit.
Defensive coordinator Joe Cullen left the door open for Bryan, saying "we'll find a place for him" if he continues to improve.
However, Bryan has to dig himself out of a deep hole. After several absences at camp and a quiet preseason, he'll miss the cut.
Devonta Freeman, RB, New Orleans Saints
In the first week of training camp, the New Orleans Saints signed Devonta Freeman. Head coach Sean Payton can use the running back's pass-catching ability while wideout Michael Thomas recovers from ankle surgery. Freeman has caught 264 passes for 2,073 yards and 11 touchdowns through seven seasons.
With that said, Freeman struggled in two preseason contests. In addition to five receptions for 18 yards, he logged 13 carries for 24 yards and a fumble. The two-time Pro Bowler may lose a battle with Latavius Murray for a spot in the rotation behind Alvin Kamara, per The Athletic's Larry Holder.
"The duo combined for only 12 yards on 11 carries," Holder wrote. "Murray missed a block on a blitz pickup in the first quarter. Both players lost a fumble. Murray and Freeman could be battling each other for a roster spot, even though I assume Murray will make the team."
Despite Murray's preseason miscues, he has two years of experience in Payton's offense, so he'll likely get the benefit of the doubt.
Though Tony Jones Jr. lost a fumble in the Saints' first exhibition outing, the second-year running back ran for 82 yards and a touchdown in an overall solid performance. He could claim a roster spot after suiting up for just one game with the team last season.
Dwayne Washington has a solid role on special teams, while Freeman hasn't covered kicks or punts since his rookie year in 2014. Expect the Saints to cut the latter.
N'Keal Harry, WR, New England Patriots
In his first two seasons, N'Keal Harry hasn't played up to first-round expectations. He's caught 45 passes for 414 yards and four touchdowns with a 55.6 percent catch rate.
In July, Harry requested a trade through his agent, Jamal Tooson (h/t NFL Network's Mike Garafolo). Despite dissatisfaction with his current situation, the 2019 32nd overall pick had a solid start at camp, per CLNS Media Network's Evan Lazar.
"Take this with a training-camp-sized grain of salt, but I’ve covered all three of Harry’s camps, and this is the best he has looked in practice by a wide margin," Lazar wrote.
In Week 2 of the preseason against the Philadelphia Eagles, Harry attempted to track a deep ball but couldn't haul it in and landed hard on his shoulder. According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, he's expected to miss four weeks of action, which hurts the Patriots' ability to trade him.
New England can keep Harry on the 53-man roster, move him to injured reserve and attempt to pull off a trade in a month or so, but the third-year wideout hasn't done much to increase his value. In two preseason outings, he caught two passes for 23 yards. The Patriots may just release him if they're not able to find a suitor before final cuts.
Jordan Hicks, LB, Arizona Cardinals
Last year, the Arizona Cardinals designated Jordan Hicks as a team captain. This offseason, they found his replacement.
The Cardinals selected Zaven Collins in the first round of this year's draft. Weeks later, the team granted Hicks permission to find a trade partner, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.
Still on the roster, Hicks may have to wait until he's released in order to move on with a new team. With Collins and Isaiah Simmons locked into the starting inside linebacker positions, don't expect the 29-year-old back in the desert for the 2021 season.
The New Orleans Saints canceled Saturday's game with the Cardinals as Hurricane Ida approached the Gulf Coast. So, Hicks will finish the preseason healthy, logging two tackles in two outings.
Unless a team wants to fill a hole at inside linebacker because of an injury or the Cardinals sat on an offer for Hicks up until this point, expect him to hit the open market.
John Brown, WR, Las Vegas Raiders
The Las Vegas Raiders lost Nelson Agholor and added John Brown along with Willie Snead IV in free agency. Nonetheless, the club needs Henry Ruggs III and Bryan Edwards to take big steps in development as probable starters. They will line up alongside Hunter Renfrow in three-wide-receiver sets.
Head coach Jon Gruden spoke highly of wideout Zay Jones, who hauled in all three of his targets for 57 yards against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 1 of the preseason. He'll likely make the final 53-man roster, which potentially leaves two slots at the position.
Brown and Snead may contend for one spot if the Raiders want to keep a wide receiver who's a capable kick returner. As Vic Tafur of The Athletic tweeted, the former played in Sunday's preseason finale, which "is not a good sign for him." Meanwhile, the latter suited up for emergency only. Brown finished the game with one catch for two yards.
Remember, running back Jalen Richard served as the primary kick returner last season. He's out indefinitely with a foot injury.
Vegas could keep undrafted rookie wideout DJ Turner, who returned 14 kicks for 311 yards in 2020 at Pittsburgh. Brown and Snead have returned a total of five kickoffs in their 13 pro years combined.
Typically, bottom-of-the-depth-chart wide receivers play major roles on special teams even if they're not returners. Brown hasn't taken a snap on special teams since the 2016 season.
Though the Raiders would have to swallow $3.2 million in dead cap, per Over the Cap, they may cut Brown to keep Turner or Dillon Stoner as a kick returner in place of Richard.
Jahlani Tavai, LB, Detroit Lions
When a new coaching staff takes over, underachieving early-round draft picks should feel some pressure to impress the new regime. Jahlani Tavai did the complete opposite in Week 2 against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
According to MLive.com's Kyle Meinke, Tavai made some glaring mistakes that led to chunk yardage and a score for the Steelers:
"Tavai blew an assignment in the opener that led to a wide-open touchdown pass, then had yet more issues in pass coverage in Pittsburgh. He missed a tackle on a check-down to Najee Harris that turned a 3-yard pass into a 46-yard chunk play. He also appeared to be following the wrong man multiple times in coverage, leaving two Lions players covering one man while another ran wide open."
Against the Indianapolis Colts on Friday, Tavai had a quiet outing, logging one tackle.
Former Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia, who built his resume as a defensive coordinator, used Tavai in a starting role in 16 out of 31 contests over the last two campaigns.
Based on preseason performance alone, Tavai may have sealed his fate. He hasn't done much to boost his standing with the team while on the roster bubble.
Preseason statistics courtesy of ESPN.