It’s fair to say that for most NFL teams, they have a pretty good idea of who the starting offensive skill players are going to be heading into training camp. While they can certainly change in some situations, it’s rare that a team doesn’t know who the first few spots on the running back and wide receiver depth chart are going to belong to. The starters are almost always a lock to begin the season. They’ve been determined by the coaching staff months in advance more often than not.
That doesn’t mean they’re a lock to maintain their role throughout the season, though. The success of these skills players is vital for just about any offense to succeed. If they struggle early, their in-game reps will be cut in favor of younger or newer talent. It’s the constant threat of a replacement that keeps some players going, and some ultimately succumb to it. It will be the same case in the 2017 season, as we see supposedly confirmed starters lose their job sometime during the season. Let’s see who this applies to for the upcoming campaign.
Ranked below are 8 NFL running backs and 7 wide receivers who will lose their starting job in 2017.
15. Doug Martin
Martin is already on thin ice, with the Buccaneers actually admitting that he’s no guarantee to retain his starting job after his 3-game suspension to start the upcoming season. Despite a career that’s seen him notch a pair of 1,400 yard rushing seasons, Martin’s injuries have made him woefully inconsistent. There are real questions circulating right now regarding his future in Tampa Bay.
If everything breaks right for Jacquizz Rodgers, who will likely be seeing the lion’s share of the carries in Martin’s absence, he could have a leg up on the starting job as soon as week 3 hits. The end of the Doug Martin era in the Bucs’ backfield may be coming sooner than we anticipate. With a set timetable for this one, it’s worth keeping a close eye on at the start of the season.
14. Mohamed Sanu
While the elite Julio Jones is a lock as number one target in the Falcons’ offense, Sanu was expected to play the role of the 2nd wide receiver, and did for the most part. However, there were emerging options in the Atlanta offense that makes it a question mark as to just how many targets Sanu will get in 2017. Chief among them was Taylor Gabriel, who proved his worth as a speedy compliment to Jones’ overall length and catching ability.
It’s not likely that Sanu will fall off the wagon completely, but moving down the depth chart is certainly a possibility. He was solid last season for the most part, but largely unspectacular. Some will say that doesn’t matter with Jones in this offense, but with other intriguing young talents at hand, it could factor Sanu out of his current role.
13. C.J. Anderson
The Broncos have a lot of questions circulating their backfield right now, but perhaps most of all, they need to figure out how Anderson fits into their long-term plans. He’s showcased some great play at times as a featured running back, and other times has been underwhelming, or not available to play all together. Devonta Booker may not have had the best rookie season, but the team may figure he has more upside at the moment. Then there’s the signing of Jamaal Charles, and the question of whether or not he can get back on track.
Anderson is likely to start the season getting the majority of the carries, but it’s going to be a short leash on his starting job. The smart bet says that Booker will eventually take over the predominant role in the backfield, and if Charles has fully regained his health, then he could be in line to be the second option.
12. Kenny Britt
While there’s an argument to be made that says Kenny Britt will post his 2nd straight 1,000 yard receiving season, there are also a few that says he’ll regress to his career averages. Britt will be joining a Cleveland offense with no other established receiving option, but with several young players with a lot of upside who could unseat him. Don’t be surprised if Corey Coleman is able to become the go-to target for whoever is playing quarterback for the Browns this year.
Britt has been a disappointment during his career, though in fairness he has been a part of some truly bad teams. He’s looking to prove that he deserves a chance as a primary receiver, but given his age and penchant for inconsistency, he’s likely to fizzle out to the 2nd or 3rd spot on the depth chart, even on a team as bad as Cleveland.
11. DeMarco Murray
Last year was a redemption year for Murray, who left Philly for Tennessee in a season that saw him make a full return to form in a run-first offense. He was one of the league’s best once again in 2016. Though he figures to start the season as the Titans’ lead running back, there’s also former 2nd round draft pick Derrick Henry waiting in the wings, which could present a position battle sooner than people think.
Murray has been used extensively over his career, and could be wearing out sooner than his age says he will. At the very least, you can expect the Titans to split the backfield work more often than last year between Murray and Henry. Eventually, Henry should command the starting role, it’s just a matter of whether it happens this season or not.
10. Marvin Jones
The Lions signed Jones to a hefty contract prior to the start of the 2016 season. After a torrid start that looked like he was going to be one of the steals of the offseason, he quickly faltered and turned in an overall so-so season. The pressure will be on this season, as he looks to show that last season was just the result of joining a new offensive system. With Matt Stafford throwing him the ball, there’s little reason to not put up at least solid numbers.
Some may argue that Jones was overpaid to begin with coming off his stint with the Bengals. But the wide receiver market has been inflated for a while now, and Jones is just a product of it. He’ll need to take several steps forward to prove that he was worth the money.
9. Carlos Hyde
With the Kyle Shanahan regime now entrenched in San Fransisco, the 2017 season is all about roster evaluation. It comes as an important time for Hyde’s career, going into the final year of his rookie deal. Shanahan has no ties to Hyde, so he’s not going to give him the benefit of the doubt with anything. The 49ers brought in several new players to the backfield this year, and Hyde will undoubtedly be replaced if he can’t produce early and often.
There’s no doubt he’s an intriguing young talent who could potentially transform into one of the game’s best, but this transition of a coaching staff comes at a bad time for him. Hyde will either see his play regress or have trouble staying on the field. Overall, it looks like he’ll relinquish snaps to another option, and this will b his last year in San Francisco.
8. Mike Wallace
Wallace may have been the best target on the Ravens’ roster last season, but that isn’t saying much. He’s a veteran option, but he’s also been inconsistent throughout his career, and it’s unlikely that Baltimore rolls with him as the top dog for the majority of the season. The acquisition of Jeremy Maclin was huge during the offseason, and he figures to work his way into the first spot on the depth chart, if he isn’t there already.
Then there’s the presence of Breshad Perriman, who hopefully can remain healthy for a full season this time around. Despite how little he’s played during his 2 seasons in the league, he’s still a threat to win over John Harbaugh with his ability, and play a big role in the passing offense. Wallace has significant competition this year, and whether Joe Flacco is healthy or not, he’ll need to earn his spot as a top-level contributor.
7. Frank Gore
Is this the year that Gore finally falls off? Perhaps its foolish to bet that it will be the case, but there’s only so much longer someone his age can continue being a lead running back. Last season wasn’t a bad effort from Gore, but it was a bit of regression compared to his career averages. It’s clear that the Colts are at least going to have to mix in some younger backfield players to take the pressure off of Gore.
Gore’s bruising running style doesn’t do any favors for longevity from here on out. He can still contribute, but Indy will need to figure out a solution that doesn’t force him to carry the ball at the level that he has for the past few years. Expect more of a split in the Colts’ backfield this year.
6. Sammy Watkins
Nobody questions Watkins’ level of talent, but the receiver situation in Buffalo is murky to put it lightly. Robert Woods was signed by the Rams in free agency, and Zay Jones was selected in the 2nd round, figuring to be a starter this year. If Watkins goes down with yet another injury, or falters early, new head coach Sean McDermott will have no problem keying in on other receivers for the majority of the targets.
Watkins’ rookie contract is up after the season, though he does have a 5th-year option attached. If McDermott isn’t convinced that he can stay on the field long enough to be the go-to receiver for the long-term, Jones or one of the other young players are going to see an increase in targets.
5. Jeremy Hill/Giovani Bernard
Hill and Bernard have formed a quality tandem in the Bengals’ backfield over the last several years, each splitting time as the starter. They’ve been productive as a duo, but it seems to be coming to an end with the acquisition of Joe Mixon in the draft. With Mixon set to take over what will likely be the lion’s share of the carries, one of Hill and Bernard will be on the chopping block for sure.
The one that remains will likely play second fiddle to Mixon for his duration as the starter in Cincinnati. This is just a matter of time. Hill and Bernard will have to find a new home if they have any hope of being a starting running back in the future, unless Mixon is a draft bust of the highest order.
4. John Brown
A combination of injuries and a crowded receiving corps in Arizona has prevented Brown from getting maximum targets over the past few seasons. With Michael Floyd’s absence, he’ll now be a certified starter to begin the season. The question is, how long will his leash be on the starting role? We’ve seen Brown struggle with injury before, and Bruce Arians reduce his targets on a weekly basis as a result.
If Brown plays consistently well and avoids injury, he should be able to hang on to the starting job. But there’s just too much possibility that someone like J.J. Nelson could unseat him if he gets hurt by mid-season. It’s a toss-up, but right now don’t expect Brown to be the Cardinals’ consistent starter as an outside receiver.
3. Matt Forte
For some reason, the Jets decided to hang on to Forte, despite getting rid of the majority of their effective veteran players during this offseason. There was a time when he was one of the best running backs in the NFL, but now in his early-30s, Forte is clearly on the decline. If he’s getting the majority of the carries at the start of the season, it’s only a matter of time until the Jets put a younger runner in that role, since this is clearly a rebuilding year for them and they project to be one of the league’s worst teams.
Frankly, Forte’s career could be over after this season. There’s just not much reason to keep feeding him carries when that time is better used to develop. younger player that could conceivably be a part of the Jets’ future.
2. Martavis Bryant
Bryant still hasn’t been cleared to return to the Steelers after missing all of last season with a suspension, but they believe that will change before the start of the regular season. What isn’t certain however, is his role with the team going forward. Bryant was lined up to be the main complimentary option to Antonio Brown for the long-term, but his unreliability surfaced instead. Yes, Mike Tomlin still has Ben Roethlisberger under center, and will throw the ball, but is Bryant going to be one of the main players in line for targets?
The Steelers have some intriguing young players in Eli Rogers and JuJu Smith-Schuster in the receiving corps, so there are no guarantees here. They likely won’t hesitate to demote Bryant if he struggles in the early going. There’s too much talent to be married to the idea of starting him no matter what. There’s a good possibility that he’ll fall off after missing an entire season.
1. Mark Ingram
No team in the league upgraded their backfield as much as the Saints did in the offseason. Pass-catching and running threat Alvin Kamara was taken in the 2nd round out of Tennessee, and figures to be one of the best running backs from the previous draft class. Adrian Peterson was also signed after falling out in Minnesota. If New Orleans can get him to stay healthy, they’ll have the advent of one of the greatest running backs in the history of the league.
Where does this leave Ingram? Well, he’s certainly going to get playing time, but it could turn out to be substantially less than he’s been used to over his 6-year career. If Peterson can show a distinct return to form, and Kamara can prove that he’s a consistent passing-down threat out of the backfield, then Ingram’s playing time will be in jeopardy. At the very least, expect his numbers to drop somewhat this season, and it very well may signal the beginning of the end for his run in New Orleans.
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