1 Player on Every NFL Team Who Has Earned More Playing Time

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistSeptember 23, 2021

1 Player on Every NFL Team Who Has Earned More Playing Time

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    Two weeks into the NFL season, every team can make at least one tweak to its starting lineup or rotations at a position. Some players have already earned more time on the field.

    A coaching staff may ease a young player into a role rather than put too much on his plate within the first couple of weeks. That being said, every club should reevaluate its plans on a weekly basis.

    If an inexperienced linebacker makes an impact in flashes, he could become a valuable asset on every down. When a quarterback develops a connection with the third or fourth wideout on the depth chart, the offensive coordinator should use more three-wide-receiver sets to bolster the passing attack. In case of injuries, a battle-tested veteran can fill a void.

    Going into Week 3, we'll take a look at a player from each team who's done enough in the first two games to see more playing time.

Arizona Cardinals: WR Rondale Moore

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    Rondale Moore has made the best of his limited role and added the big-play element to the Arizona Cardinals offense.

    Moore has hauled in 11 of his 13 targets for 182 yards and a touchdown. He leads the Cardinals in catches and receiving yards, thanks in large part to a 77-yard touchdown catch against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 2.

    In Sunday's game, Moore nearly ran for a touchdown, but the referees ultimately ruled the play a fumble that went out of bounds with a holding penalty on wideout A.J. Green

    Regardless, head coach Kliff Kingsbury isn't shy about going into his bag of tricks to manufacture touches for Moore. Perhaps the rookie second-rounder becomes a fixture on offense as a deep threat who can also beat defenders on jet sweeps and end-arounds. He's played only 37 percent of the offensive snaps.

Atlanta Falcons: RB/WR Cordarrelle Patterson

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    The Atlanta Falcons offense needs a spark, averaging just 4.6 yards per play in two games. Head coach Arthur Smith should turn to a versatile weapon who can run and catch out of the backfield.

    Cordarrelle Patterson has scored two touchdowns, one on the ground and one as a receiver. He's averaging 4.6 yards per carry and lists third on the team in receiving yards (71).

    Running back Mike Davis hasn't been able to rip off big plays, logging 3.6 yards per rush attempt. The Falcons should consider an even split between him and Patterson for the running game.

    In Week 2, wideout Russell Gage missed some snaps because of an ankle injury. If he's well less than 100 percent against the New York Giants on Sunday, Patterson could soak up extra targets.

    As one of the best kick returners in the game, Patterson can make defenders miss in the open field. With that in mind, Smith should incorporate him in the intermediate passing game or on outside run plays to test slower defensive ends and outside linebackers.

Baltimore Ravens: RB Ty'Son Williams

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    The Baltimore Ravens lost three of their top four running backs to season-ending injuries. J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards suffered torn ACLs. Justice Hill tore his Achilles. During the offseason, Ty'Son Williams turned heads and, according to The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec, would've surpassed Hill on the depth chart.

    Williams has played only 50 percent of the offensive snaps, though. Yet he's the Ravens' second-leading ball-carrier (142 rushing yards) behind quarterback Lamar Jackson. The 2020 undrafted product out of BYU has also caught five passes for 45 yards—two going for first downs. 

    Baltimore signed Latavius Murray, Le'Veon Bell and Devonta Freeman to fill the running back room, but Williams has done enough to claim the featured role. While the Ravens have some decorated veterans who may have more gas left in the tank, they should feed the player with the freshest legs on the ground. 

    Averaging 6.5 yards per carry, Williams has shown a notable burst through holes after handoffs.

Buffalo Bills: DE Greg Rousseau

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    In this year's draft, the Buffalo Bills addressed the pass rush and selected Greg Rousseau and Boogie Basham with their first two selections, respectively. The former has already made an impact.

    After a quiet NFL debut against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Rousseau displayed his pass-rushing prowess in Week 2. He sacked Miami Dolphins quarterback Jacoby Brissett twice and logged five tackles—two for loss.

    The Bills attacked gaps to pressure quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and his replacement, Brissett. Rousseau benefitted from that attack style and stamped his arrival in the pros.

    Between Weeks 1 and 2, Rousseau saw an uptick in defensive snap count percentages, from 52 to 66 percent. Though the Bills have depth at defensive end with Jerry Hughes, Mario Addison and A.J. Epenesa, play-caller Leslie Frazier may want to field the rookie first-rounder for about three-quarters of the snaps to keep the pass rush strong going forward.

Carolina Panthers: TE Dan Arnold

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    Quarterback Sam Darnold has a solid group of pass-catchers with DJ Moore, Christian McCaffrey, Robby Anderson and rookie second-rounder Terrace Marshall Jr. as his top four targets. In Week 2, he had some help from the tight ends.

    Dan Arnold and Brandon Zylstra combined for six receptions, 99 yards and a touchdown against the New Orleans Saints. The latter hauled in a 20-yard touchdown pass.

    Based on his resume, Zylstra's involvement in the passing attack seems like an aberration. He's recorded 15 catches for 208 yards and a score in four campaigns. Last year, Arnold hauled in 31 passes for 438 yards and four touchdowns with the Arizona Cardinals. 

    Arnold has the potential to become a consistent threat in the aerial attack, but he'll need to play more than 39 percent of the offensive snaps.

Chicago Bears: QB Justin Fields

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    Why delay the inevitable any further?

    Quarterback Andy Dalton had a lackluster season-opening performance, finishing 27-of-38 passing for 206 yards and an interception. In Week 2, he exited the game with a knee injury.

    On Wednesday, Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy named Justin Fields the Week 3 starter.

    Though Fields will see more snaps in a full-time starting role Sunday, Nagy should hand the offense over to the rookie signal-caller for the remainder of the season.

    If not for Dalton's injury, the Bears would've continued to start him, which means the team's decision to go with Fields came down to health. Once the veteran quarterback recovers from a bone bruise, he'll reclaim the lead position, but that's the wrong move.

    Against the Cleveland Browns, Fields will suit up without the training wheels. He's not going to take a snap here and there; the rookie will have full control of the offense. At this point, the Bears should allow him to learn on the job and battle through the bumps in the road. He's the future of the franchise—not Dalton.

Cincinnati Bengals: DT B.J. Hill

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    Before final roster cuts, the Cincinnati Bengals acquired B.J. Hill from the New York Giants, and he's already made his presence felt on running and passing downs. 

    In his first game as a Bengal, Hill invaded the Minnesota Vikings backfield, logging three tackles, two for loss and two sacks while playing just 29 percent of the defensive snaps. Despite his standout performance, he didn't see a significant uptick in playing time (31 percent of the snaps) last week against the Chicago Bears.

    Cincinnati has started D.J. Reader and Josh Tupou alongside Larry Ogunjobi on the interior of the defensive front.

    Though the Bengals signed Reader to a four-year, $53 million contract last offseason, the coaching staff should rotate him, Hill and Ogunjobi in matchups against pass-heavy offenses. All three defensive tackles have shown the ability to push the pocket with at least one sack. 

     Hill could wreak more havoc in a bigger role.

Cleveland Browns: TE David Njoku

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    The Cleveland Browns have a banged-up wide receiver group.

    In Week 2, Jarvis Landry sprained his MCL, and head coach Kevin Stefanski labeled him "week-to-week." Odell Beckham Jr. continues to work his way back from a torn ACL and didn't play a snap in the first two weeks.

    Though Beckham could return Sunday, he's unlikely to take on a full workload in his first game back from a significant injury. With a depleted wide receiver unit, the Browns can use 12 and 13 personnel packages to feature multiple tight ends in the passing attack. David Njoku's athleticism can shine in matchups against linebackers and safeties.

    Njoku leads the Browns in receiving yards (94) desipte playing jut 59 percent of the offensive snaps through two weeks. He can do so much more for the passing attack with the green light to line up for 75 percent or more of the plays. 

    Since 2019, Njoku has missed 15 games, but he's healthy and able to contribute right now. The fifth-year pro is a capable pass-catcher with 117 receptions for 1,373 yards and 11 touchdowns for his career.

Dallas Cowboys: RB Tony Pollard

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    In a limited role, Tony Pollard has earned more touches as a ball-carrier. This season, he's shown more pop in the run game than Ezekiel Elliott. 

    Last week against the Los Angeles Chargers, Pollard recorded 13 carries for 109 yards and a touchdown. In that one game, he accumulated more yards than Elliott (104) in two outings. The latter averages 3.9 yards per carry, but he's on the books with a costly deal.

    In September of 2019, the Cowboys signed Elliott to a six-year, $90 million extension, so he'll probably play a significant role in the offense. However, the Cowboys shouldn't ignore Pollard's strong performance against the Chargers.

    As a decent pass-catcher with 50 receptions for 360 yards and two touchdowns, Pollard could become a solid dual-threat playmaker on third downs and obvious passing situations. Offensive coordinator Kellen Moore should use him for more than 28 percent of the snaps.

Denver Broncos: LB Justin Strnad

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    The Denver Broncos have to shuffle the personnel on the second level of their defense. According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, linebacker Josey Jewell will miss the remainder of the season with a torn pectoral.

    In Week 2 against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Justin Strnad filled in for Jewell, and head coach Vic Fangio seemed pleased with him.

    "He came in and did a nice job," Fangio said to reporters. "I was pleased with the way he played. He was far from perfect. There's a lot of things he could do better, but moving forward now, now that he knows he may be the guy if Josey's out, he'll get more practice and be more mentally ready for it."

    Strnad logged six tackles while on the field for 41 percent of the defensive snaps. Keep in mind he didn't play a down for the defense in the season opener against the New York Giants.

    Strnad swarmed the ball and assisted with or made multiple tackles that resulted in no gain. Coming in fresh off the sidelines, he may have carved out a role for himself.

Detroit Lions: WR Quintez Cephus

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    The Detroit Lions need a reliable receiver to complement tight end T.J. Hockenson in the passing attack. Wideout Tyrell Williams missed the previous outing with the Green Bay Packers because of a concussion, and rookie fourth-rounder Amon-Ra St. Brown hasn't made a significant impact yet.

    In Week 2 against the Packers, quarterback Jared Goff capped the Lions' first drive with a five-yard touchdown pass to Quintez Cephus.

    Cephus has scored in each of the first two games and saw his snap count rise from 35 to 89 percent. Though he played a prominent role as a starter against the Packers, the second-year pro may revert to a backup position once Williams returns to action. 

    Going forward, offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn should feature Williams and Cephus as the primary receivers with St. Brown in the slot. Kalif Raymond, a smaller receiver (5'8", 182 lbs) can shift between the inside and perimeter spots.

    With two touchdown receptions within five yards of the goal line, Cephus has likely earned Goff's trust in the red zone.

Green Bay Packers: CB Eric Stokes

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    After quarterbacks Jared Goff and Aaron Rodgers went score for score through the first 30 minutes of Monday's Week 2 matchup, the Green Bay Packers shut out the Detroit Lions in the second half. Cornerback Eric Stokes had some bright moments as the Packers clamped down on the Lions' aerial attack.

    At the end of the third quarter, Stokes shadowed wideout Quintez Cephus and made it difficult for him to haul in a pass on 4th-and-1, which forced a turnover on downs. Late in the fourth quarter, the rookie cornerback broke up a deep pass intended for wideout Trinity Benson. 

    The Athletic's Matt Schneidman believes Stokes has made a strong case for a bigger role than cornerback Kevin King, who's allowed five catches on six targets, per Pro Football Focus

    "There will be times when the Packers use three or even four cornerbacks at once," Schneidman wrote. "In those instances, it’s understandable if King and Stokes are on the field together. In times when there is a decision to use either King or Stokes, though, the evidence is mounting in favor of the latter.

    Stokes' Week 2 performance could lead to a consistent role on the perimeter opposite of Jaire Alexander.

Houston Texans: RB David Johnson

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    David Johnson went into the season with the expectation that he would play a lesser role compared to the previous campaign (h/t The Athletic's Aaron Reiss), but the Houston Texans should expand his workload going forward. 

    Mark Ingram II had a decent debut with the team, rushing for 85 yards and a score on 26 rush attempts in a win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. He ran the ball 14 times for just 41 yards last week. Meanwhile, Phillip Lindsay has averaged just 2.1 yards per carry. 

    Averaging 3.9 yards per carry, Johnson is more efficient than Ingram and Lindsay on the ground. The 30-year-old also racks up more yards per touch (5.4) than his fellow running backs. 

    The Texans can squeeze more yardage out of Johnson than Lindsay, who's been ineffective, and Ingram in his age-31 term.

Indianapolis Colts: RB Nyheim Hines

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    In Week 2, quarterback Carson Wentz sprained both of his ankles, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. Jacob Eason could take over under center for a short period. The latter has yet to start in a regular-season contest. To help him, head coach Frank Reich can feature Nyheim Hines in the short passing game.

    Clearly, the Colts believe Hines is an integral part of their offense. In September, they signed him to a three-year, $18.6 million extension.

    Even if Wentz plays through injury, Reich can protect him with a reliable target on short high-percentage throws. The Colts can complement Jonathan Taylor with a sure-handed pass-catching running back who can bolster their 19th-ranked passing attack.

    Last week, Hines ran the ball once and saw two targets while on the field for 25 offensive snaps. He's a dual-threat playmaker capable of racking up 100 scrimmage yards in any given week.  

Jacksonville Jaguars: DE Adam Gotsis

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    The Jacksonville Jaguars must find a way to strengthen their 27th-ranked pass defense. They need someone in the front seven to help edge-rusher Josh Allen pressure the pocket.

    Other than Allen, Adam Gotsis is the only other Jaguars defensive lineman with a sack. The latter didn't suit up for the season opener but had some moments where he made Denver Broncos quarterback Teddy Bridgewater uncomfortable in Week 2. The 29-year-old finished with two quarterback hits, which included one sack.

    In 2020, with the Jaguars, Gotsis started in 14 out of 16 games and contributed to the run defense, logging 37 tackles and four for loss but didn't record a sack. Under a new regime, with Joe Cullen as the defensive coordinator, the sixth-year veteran could make an impact as a pass-rusher.

    Last week, Gotsis stood out while on the field for 41 percent of the snaps. He's done enough to see an uptick in playing time going forward.

Kansas City Chiefs: DT Khalen Saunders

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    The Kansas City Chiefs need more bulk up front. They've allowed the most yards and touchdowns on the ground. 

    Coming off an embarrassing defensive performance against the Baltimore Ravens, giving up 251 rushing yards, Steve Spagnuolo should tweak his four-man front.

    Alongside defensive tackle Jarran Reed, Khalen Saunders can fill a run-stuffing role on the interior. In the previous outing, the Chiefs inserted Derrick Nnadi in that spot. Clearly, that didn't work out in their favor.

    While Nnadi doesn't deserve all the blame for Kansas City's subpar run defense, he's a replaceable defender on a front line that needs to figure out how to plug gaps. The fourth-year veteran has played 40 percent of the defensive snaps and logged three tackles.

    At 6'0", 324 pounds, Saunders is a bit more stout than Nnadi (6'1", 317 lbs). The former saw his snap count rise from 19 to 38 percent between the first two weeks and logged two tackles in the previous outing.

    In a bigger role, Saunders may show more upside than Nnadi as a run defender.

Las Vegas Raiders: DL Solomon Thomas

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    Solomon Thomas has made an early impression on the Las Vegas Raiders' much-improved defense, particularly as a pass-rusher. 

    Thomas saw an uptick in defensive snaps between Weeks 1 and 2, going up from 22 to 45 percent. Last week, against the Pittsburgh Steelers, he recorded his first two-sack performance.

    With the ability to line up on the end or as a 3-technique defensive tackle, Thomas can move across the line and apply pressure or take on lead blockers to stop the run, which makes him a valuable defender on the front line. 

    The Raiders placed defensive tackle Gerald McCoy on injured reserve with a season-ending knee injury, and defensive end Clelin Ferrell only played 12 snaps in his 2021 debut (Week 2). With a bigger role, Thomas could make a significant impact in two spots along the defensive line.

Los Angeles Chargers: RB Justin Jackson

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    Most teams use multiple running backs to preserve the lead ball-carrier or challenge opponents with players who have different skill sets. The Los Angeles Chargers can check off both objectives if they give more snaps to Justin Jackson. 

    Before the season opener, Austin Ekeler dealt with a hamstring issue. He's recorded half (24) of the Chargers' total rush attempts. As a dual-threat playmaker who can run and catch out of the backfield, the fifth-year pro will likely take a lot of hits throughout the season. Offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi can insert Jackson, a downhill rusher, to complement Ekeler. 

    In Week 2 against the Dallas Cowboys, Jackson had few decent runs, logging four carries for 21 yards.

    Though rookie sixth-rounder Larry Rountree III had an impressive showing during the preseason, Jackson looks equipped to handle eight to 10 carries as the complementary tailback. The latter has been on the field for just 18 percent of the offensive snaps.

Los Angeles Rams: RB Sony Michel

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    Last week, running back Darrell Henderson went down with a rib injury. Even if he's able to suit up for Sunday's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sony Michel should handle early-down touches. 

    Henderson has missed four games in his first two seasons because of minor injuries. Head coach Sean McVay can lessen the wear and tear on the third-year tailback's body with an even rushing split in the backfield, using Michel, whom the team acquired from the New England Patriots in August.

    Michel filled in for Henderson in the previous outing and finished with 10 carries for 46 yards. Though the fourth-year veteran has battled injuries while playing for the Patriots, he's a solid downhill ball-carrier who averages 4.3 yards per rush attempt.

    Up until Henderson's injury, McVay used Michel sparingly in the game plan. Going forward, the Rams can evenly distribution carries between their top two running backs to keep both of them fresh for most of the 2021 term.

Miami Dolphins: RB Myles Gaskin

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    Struggling to score points, the Miami Dolphins may have to use a conservative approach to establish an offensive identity.

    In Week 2, quarterback Tua Tagovailoa fractured his ribs. He won't play in Sunday's game against the Las Vegas Raiders. With Jacoby Brissett under center, the Dolphins can feature Myles Gaskin to unlock the offense.

    Gaskin averages 5.3 yards per carry. Yet the Dolphins rank 27th in rush attempts and yards on the ground. Since he's able to gain yardage in chunks, the coaching staff should feed him the ball to keep the offense on the field.

    In situations when the Dolphins play from behind through most of the game, Gaskin can become an asset in the short passing attack. He's hauled in nine of his 10 targets. Last year, the Washington product caught 41 passes for 388 yards and two touchdowns.

    With wideout DeVante Parker (56 percent) and tight end Mike Gesicki (33 percent) logging catch rates below 57 percent, the Dolphins need another efficient pass-catcher other than Jaylen Waddle (77 percent) heavily involved in the aerial attack.

Minnesota Vikings: CB Cameron Dantzler

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    In a Week 2 matchup with the Arizona Cardinals, cornerback Bashaud Breeland had a rough outing. Through two games, he's allowed a 113.1 passer rating while in coverage.

    Cameron Dantzler started over Breeland in the second half of last week's game and had a crucial third-down pass breakup.

    The Vikings have been able to generate pocket pressure with eight sacks, but they field the 26th-ranked pass defense. Head coach Mike Zimmer and his staff must tighten up coverage on the back end.

    While Breeland will likely have a chance to redeem himself, the Vikings can work Dantzler, a 2020 third-rounder, into the rotation to patch up the boundary area.

    At 0-2, Minnesota will face the Seattle Seahawks' 10th-ranked passing attack with wideouts DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett on the perimeter. The Vikings cannot afford to surrender easy scores if Breeland needs time to figure out his issues in coverage. Dantzler could step into a prominent role and attempt to slow down quarterback Russell Wilson and his weapons.

New England Patriots: TE Jonnu Smith

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    The New England Patriots need to do everything possible to help rookie quarterback Mac Jones.

    Though the Patriots beat the New York Jets 25-6 last week, Jones finished with 186 passing yards and no touchdowns.

    With an accurate arm (74 percent completion rate), Jones can build a rapport with an athletic big-bodied target at tight end. Jonnu Smith fits the bill.

    In two games, Smith has caught nine of his 10 targets for 70 yards, but he played only 50 percent of the offensive snaps in Week 2 compared to 73 percent for Week 1. 

    At tight end, Smith has to share time with Hunter Henry, who's been on the field for at least 72 percent of the plays in each of the first two games. The Patriots can feature both pass-catchers in 12 personnel, but the former poses more of a threat against linebackers because of his quickness.

New Orleans Saints: QB Taysom Hill

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    Until wideout Michael Thomas recovers from ankle surgery, the New Orleans Saints need to exercise creativity to generate some offense. They've accumulated the fewest yards through two weeks.

    In a Week 1 victory over the Green Bay Packers, quarterback Jameis Winston threw for five touchdowns, but he only racked up 148 passing yards with the help of the defense setting up the offense on short fields for multiple drives.

    Head coach Sean Payton can use his Swiss Army knife in Taysom Hill to ignite the offense. He's accounted for a combined 22 touchdowns as a passer, ball-carrier and receiver.

    With Winston under center, Payton can experiment with Hill in the passing game and on the ground. The 31-year-old logged 19 catches for 234 yards and six touchdowns during the 2019 term. In Week 2, he moved the ball on two rush attempts for seven and nine yards—one resulted in a first down.

    Hill doesn’t have to become the lead receiver or ball-carrier, but if he's a decent playmaker, the Saints can take some pressure off star running back Alvin Kamara.

New York Giants: OLB Azeez Ojulari

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    Last season, defensive end Leonard Williams led the New York Giants in sacks with 11.5. Though he had a breakout year, Big Blue needed more pass-rushing help on the edges. Kyler Fackrell, who signed with the Los Angeles Chargers in the offseason, led the outside linebackers with four sacks.

    Azeez Ojulari can fill that void.

    Ojulari has recorded a sack in both games. With some speed, active hands and second effort, the rookie edge-rusher looks like the disruptive force who led Georgia in sacks (9.5) last year.

    Between Weeks 1 and 2, Ojulari saw a slight uptick in defensive snaps from 52 to 63 percent. Defensive coordinator Patrick Graham should unleash him for about 70 percent of the plays.

    Perhaps Ojulari can use his playmaking skills to stop the run as well. He's 6'2", 249 pounds but strong at the point of attack. 

New York Jets: RB Michael Carter

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    The New York Jets' top three ball-carriers have almost the same number of carries. Ty Johnson (16), Michael Carter (15) and Tevin Coleman (14) allow Gang Green to use a solid rotation on the ground, but the rookie fourth-rounder has made the biggest contributions in the passing game. 

    Carter has caught three passes for 43 yards in addition to 65 yards on the ground. He's second on the team in scrimmage yards.

    Through Week 2, Zach Wilson and Trevor Lawrence have thrown the most interceptions (five), and the former has taken the most sacks (10).

    Offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur must design plays to keep Wilson out of harm's way. The BYU product has to get rid of the ball quickly. Carter can become a reliable outlet for him on dump-offs and in the flat.

    While the Jets may prefer a three-man committee that features a trio with similar skill sets, Carter has shown the ability to make defenders miss in space, which should earn him more playing time. 

Philadelphia Eagles: DE Josh Sweat

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    Josh Sweat isn't a household name, though he's one of the best backup defensive ends in the league, logging 10 sacks between the 2019 and 2020 terms. The Philadelphia Eagles signed him to a three-year extension Saturday.

    Yet Sweat played only 40 percent of the defensive snaps in the Eagles' previous outing, down 15 percent from Week 1. Looking ahead, we'll likely see him play a more prominent role on the edge.

    In Week 2 against the San Francisco 49ers, defensive end Brandon Graham tore his Achilles, which will sideline him for the remainder of the season. Based on the Eagles' commitment to Sweat, he'll likely soak up some of those snaps along with Ryan Kerrigan.

    Sweat recorded six tackles in the season opener. Now, with more opportunities to rush the passer, he could top his career high in sacks (six).

Pittsburgh Steelers: Edge Alex Highsmith

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers have one of the league's best edge-rushers in T.J. Watt, who leads the club in sacks (three). With that said, the coaching staff may choose to limit his snap count for a few weeks as he battles a groin issue.

    In Week 2 against the Las Vegas Raiders, Watt exited early, which left Melvin Ingram III and Alex Highsmith to man the edges. The former took the field for 86 percent of the snaps compared to 67 percent for the latter. 

    As a pass-rusher, Ingram had a more productive outing than Highsmith, logging three quarterback hits and a sack. The second-year outside linebacker recorded three tackles, one for loss and continues to show promise in flashes.

    In both games, Highsmith opened with the first unit, though Ingram has played more overall snaps. The former could see a breakthrough with more time on the field while Watt recovers from a groin injury.

San Francisco 49ers: WR Brandon Aiyuk

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    In Week 1, Brandon Aiyuk only played 47 percent of the offensive snaps, and he saw a slight uptick (54 percent) during the previous outing.

    ESPN's Nick Wagoner suggests that Aiyuk's hamstring injury, wideout Trent Sherfield's emergence and head coach Kyle Shanahan's motivation tactics might have been reasons for the second-year wideout's limited role in the first game:

    "Aiyuk having just one week of practice coming off a hamstring injury and the emergence of Sherfield. But it's naive to think those are the only reasons. Could Shanahan be looking to light a little fire under Aiyuk after he tailed off in the second part of training camp? It's worth noting that Aiyuk started camp strong but had some drops in preseason games and then had the hamstring issue."

    Sherfield has caught three passes for 32 yards and a touchdown, so he's not a major factor in the passing attack. Meanwhile, Aiyuk has recorded one catch for six yards through two outings.

    In Week 2 against the Philadelphia Eagles, Aiyuk opened with the starters. Perhaps his return to the first unit and increased workload are signs that he's done enough to get back into Shanahan's good graces.

Seattle Seahawks: DE Kerry Hyder Jr.

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    The Seattle Seahawks will likely employ a bigger defensive front against run-heavy offenses, which may explain why strong-side linebackers Darrell Taylor and Alton Robinson played limited roles in last week's matchup against the Tennessee Titans, who ran the ball with Derrick Henry 35 times.

    At 6'2", 275 pounds, Kerry Hyder Jr. can play an every-down role because he has the size to clog running lanes and provides enough push in the pass rush.

    Through two weeks, Hyder has played 56 percent of the snaps. The Seahawks should keep him on the field for about two-thirds of the plays. He's been a disruptive defender up front, logging seven tackles, one for loss, three quarterback hits and a fumble recovery. 

    Hyder has to share a role with L.J. Collier, who has just one tackle and a quarterback hit for the season. While the latter could build off a solid second term (22 tackles, four for loss and seven quarterback hits), the Seahawks should favor the former to tighten up their run defense, which has allowed 4.6 yards per carry (ranked 23rd across the league).

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Edge Joe Tryon-Shoyinka

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    Within the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' front seven, Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul have starting roles on the edge. Sooner or later, Joe Tryon-Shoyinka could see more pass-rushing opportunities behind them.

    Tryon-Shoyinka had a strong offseason showing and followed it up with a solid pro debut. Head coach Bruce Arians seemed satisfied with the rookie first-rounder's first outing.

    "Yeah, I was very, very pleased with his first outing going against a really good bunch of tackles. He performed really well. Out in space he did well, rushing the passer. He stayed in his gap in the running game, which has been a problem because he likes to go make the play all the time. Yeah, I was very pleased with his progress."

    While on the field for 26 percent of the defensive snaps, Tryon-Shoyinka has recorded four tackles and a quarterback hit. Even though those numbers don't stand out on paper, the coaching staff is aware of the energy he brings to the pass rush and his ability to fit the run defense.

Tennessee Titans: DE Denico Autry

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    Thus far, the Tennessee Titans have allowed an average of 34 points per game. With a remodeled secondary, the pass defense ranks 28th in yards allowed and has surrendered six touchdowns.

    The Titans have inexperienced defenders at cornerback. On the perimeter, Kristian Fulton has suited up for just eight games. Rookie third-rounder Elijah Molden mans the slot. A stronger pass rush could help the young cover men on the back end. 

    Denico Autry has recorded 1.5 sacks and three quarterback hits. He's playing 55 percent of the defensive snaps this season, which is slightly lower than his count from the 2019 (60 percent) and 2020 (61 percent) campaigns.

    With Autry commanding some attention on the interior, edge-rushers Bud Dupree and Harold Landry III could make a bigger impact in the pass rush, which would work hand in hand with coverage downfield. If quarterbacks have less time to throw, the cornerbacks would have a more feasible task in winning their individual matchups.

Washington Football Team: LB Jamin Davis

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    Terrance Williams/Associated Press

    Jamin Davis had some Defensive Rookie of the Year buzz going into the 2021 campaign but made little impact in his debut with just two tackles while on the field for 56 percent of the snaps. 

    In Week 2 against the New York Giants, Davis' snap count dropped to 39 percent, but Ron Rivera had an encouraging assessment of the rookie linebacker's outing. 

    "Much better...vast improvement. Saw some quickness and speed in coverage...making strides," Rivera told reporters.

    At the end of the second quarter, Davis had a key stop on third down in the red zone that forced the Giants to kick a field goal. He shadowed wideout Sterling Shepard and tackled him short of the first down.

    Davis could cover shallow zones and reroute receivers who try to attack the middle of the field. With more playing time, he could rack up some pass breakups and possibly an interception or two as a key playmaker on the second level of the defense.

             

    Statistics and snap counts via Pro Football Reference unless otherwise noted.

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