The 2018 National Football League season could be a franchise-changing campaign for multiple clubs. A handful of teams are looking to hand the figurative keys to their offenses over to young and unproven signal-callers who are hoped-to-be future All-Pro quarterbacks and, in some cases, potential Hall of Famers. In some cases, NFL starters will lose their jobs because a person lower on the depth chart will force the hands of coaches and earn spots in lineups. Injuries that sideline starters for several weeks or longer will also affect these types of decisions, although nobody can predict those occurrences as of the beginning of training camp practices.
The old adage in the sports world is that no athlete, however great he is, can escape Father Time. Thus far, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is doing his best to prove that wrong, and there is no indication in the summer of 2018 that he is close to losing his job. Others, however, are not so lucky. Former first-round picks, not to mention a Super Bowl champion, are all on the hot seat heading into Week 1 of the upcoming campaign for one reason or another. The NFL is a business that is largely about what a player achieves on the field week in and week out. Resumes and past accomplishments don’t mean much to coaches or general managers.
24 Lose job: Jameis Winston
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have plenty of reasons to want to stick with 24-year-old quarterback Jameis Winston after Winston comes back from a three-game suspension that he earned after he allegedly violated the league’s personal conduct policy. Publicly, Winston’s teammates and others working for the organization are only going to say the right things regarding the future of the signal-caller. There are, however, whispers that some behind the scenes may already be thinking about life after Winston, especially if the man who is second on the depth chart gets the job done during September games. Tampa Bay may be the league’s most interesting non-playoff contender in the summer.
23 Replacement: Ryan Fitzpatrick
Nobody, not even the most optimistic Tampa Bay Buccaneers supporter, can believe that Ryan Fitzpatrick is the long-term answer at quarterback for the club. After all, the veteran journeyman turns 36 years old during the season, and there are reasons why he never became a franchise QB during his career. Heading into the campaign, he is the No. 1 option at the position for the Bucs, and history suggests that he will not get himself into trouble or cause any distractions with off-the-field activities. It’s possible the Bucs will determine that Fitzpatrick will be the best man to lead the offense even after Winston is eligible to return to action.
22 Lose job: Carlos Hyde
According to Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area, the San Francisco 49ers believe that running back Jerick McKinnon will be an upgrade over Carlos Hyde, who the team allowed to leave via free agency earlier this year. Obviously, the Browns don’t agree with that assessment, as the club acquired Hyde to, theoretically, become the club’s No. 1 option at the position. The Ohio State product with Ohio roots is coming off an impressive season, during which he rushed for eight touchdowns and averaged roughly four yards (3.9) per carry. Hyde also proved himself to be an affective weapon in San Francisco’s passing attack. He should, however, be looking over his shoulder during the summer.
21 Replacement: Nick Chubb
As Joel W. Cade of Dawg Pound Daily wrote, radio personality Colin Cowherd named Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb as a candidate to win Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. That’s high praise, particularly from somebody who is often negative regarding a team that, admittedly, went 0-16 last season. There is a belief among some media members, as of the start of training camp, that Chubb could win the starting role ahead of Hyde for all that he can offer to the Browns right out of the gates. Most notably, Chubb is viewed as a potential every-down back who could relegate Hyde to short yardage situations.
20 Lose job: Josh McCown
New York Jets quarterback Josh McCown is a warrior who has shown throughout his career that he is willing to sacrifice his body and well-being to get the job done and win for those around him. He’s well liked in locker rooms across the NFL, and he’s a makeshift coach who has seen anything defenses can throw at a QB. McCown also turned 39 years old on July 4. There were rumors following the 2017 season that he could retire this past winter, and he has to see the writing on the wall and the light at the end of the tunnel. His future replacement is on the roster, but that man may not be the one who takes his job this fall.
19 Replacement: Teddy Bridgewater
When the New York Jets took a flier on former Minnesota Vikings starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, the plan was probably to see what Bridgewater has in the tank during his lengthy return from a knee injury that still threatens his career before potentially attempting to trade him. This may be wishful thinking, but the possibility exists that Bridgewater is actually the best QB on the depth chart. The Jets wisely want rookie Sam Darnold to sit and learn behind McCown. That can still happen if Bridgewater impresses in preseason games to the point that Gang Green feels the team has to start him over McCown in Week 1 or later in the year.
18 Lose job: LeGarrette Blount
There’s just something about LeGarrette Blount that causes him to lose his job with teams. Blount went undrafted, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers eventually traded him to the New England Patriots. New England allowed him to leave the club, and he ultimately signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Blount’s stint in Pittsburgh was short-lived, and he returned to the Patriots, where he found success before he signed for the Philadelphia Eagles in the spring of 2017. Philadelphia traded for Jay Ajayi during the campaign, and the Eagles let Blount walk earlier this year. Blount is now with the Detroit Lions, where he may find himself competing with a first-year pro for some carries.
17 Replacement: Kerryon Johnson
Take a spin around NFL season preview pieces and fantasy football outlooks, and you’ll find that many are high on Detroit Lions rookie Kerryon Johnson. As Erik Schlitt of Lions Wire/USA Today pointed out, Kay Adams of NFL Network show Good Morning Football named Johnson as her candidate to win the Rookie of the Year award. Adams went so far to compare Johnson to Pittsburgh Steelers superstar Le'Veon Bell. That may be a dark-horse pick, but it’s not one that is beyond the realm of understanding. Schlitt is forecasting that Johnson will take a lead role in the backfield during his first season in the league.
16 Lose job: Sam Bradford
There’s a popular Internet meme that includes the caption “Do you ever look at stuff and wonder how it got there?” That’s fitting for Sam Bradford joining the Arizona Cardinals on a contract that, according to Spotrac, will guarantee the 30-year-old $15 million. Bradford was sidelined during the 2017 season because of his knee, to the surprise of nobody who has followed his career, and he ultimately lost his job to Case Keenum before the Vikings allowed him to enter free agency. Bradford will be given a chance to start for the Cardinals in August. We all probably don’t have to guess what will happen.
15 Replacement: Josh Rosen
Quarterback Josh Rosen falling down to the tenth overall pick was a surprise on the first night of the NFL Draft. The Arizona Cardinals moving up to get Rosen was not all that surprising. Maybe Rosen, who ridiculously had his dedication to playing at the highest level questioned ahead of the draft because NFL people are often absurd, will win the job from Bradford after the preseason. Even if that doesn’t happen, it would not be a risky bet to wager that Bradford will suffer some setback during the campaign that leads to Arizona giving the gig to Rosen. From there, Rosen will have to show that he can keep the gig for longer than a few weeks.
14 Lose job: Chris Thompson
Football, like life, is often unfair. At the start of the 2017 season, running back Chris Thompson appeared to be a perfect fit for the offense of the Washington Redskins. Along with being a solid ball-carrier, he also possesses great hands. His campaign ended in Week 11, however, after he suffered a fractured fibula. Recently, multiple reports have confirmed that Thompson will be ready to go by the team’s first preseason game. That’s great news for the player, but the Redskins, understandably, had to add depth at the position during the offseason. One young man, in particular, could take carries and touches away from Thompson later this fall.
13 Replacement: Derrius Guice
There are suggestions that the Washington Redskins could feature the previously mentioned Chris Thompson and rookie Derrius Guice as an elite one-two punch. That will probably happen, but usually one of the men involved in these scenarios breaks out as the key figure and top back. Guice likely would have been a first-round pick had supposed character concerns hovering over his status not caused him to fall off the radars of some teams. The Redskins grabbed him in the second round, and the 21-year-old will be looking to prove his critics wrong and show that the Redskins acquired one of the best value selections of his draft class.
12 Lose job: Tyrod Taylor
Cleveland Browns head coach Hue Jackson is telling anybody who will listen that Tyrod Taylor is his starting quarterback. That’s fine for the springtime and for training camp. It will even work for fans ahead of exhibition contests and Week 1 of the regular season. Unless Taylor is playing at an All-Pro level and/or the Browns have a winning record halfway through the campaign, local sports talk radio hosts and people who still spend money on the worst franchise in North American professional sports throughout the decade are going to ask questions about the young man who is second on the depth chart as of the final week of July.
11 Replacement: Baker Mayfield
Predicting that Baker Mayfield will replace Tyrod Taylor as the starting quarterback of the Cleveland Browns does not mean somebody is suggesting the first overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft should be a favorite to win Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. It’s not saying Mayfield should be capable of guiding the Browns to the playoffs his first season. Hue Jackson is coaching to save his job, a tenure many think should have ended even before the conclusion of the 2017 season. Keeping Mayfield sidelined if the Browns are stumbling could be the last straw for an unpopular coach who probably should have jumped into Lake Erie in January when temperatures were below zero.
10 Lose job: New England starting running backs
We’re not even going to try to pretend to guess who New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick will feature in the backfield on any given Sunday. Fantasy football owners know exactly what we are talking about. Mike Gillislee, Rex Burkhead and James White are all still on the roster. Jeremy Hill could have a shout at becoming the feature back during the preseason. For all we know, Belichick could look to buy low once again if somebody suffers an injury setback. A rookie could end up costing multiple starters their jobs if he impresses his coach and becomes as much of a bellcow back as Belichick is comfortable with having during the campaign.
9 Replacement: Sony Michel
Using a first-round pick, even the 31st overall selection, on any running back seemingly goes against how Bill Belichick would view such an asset. Belichick did just that when the Patriots grabbed Georgia back Sony Michel. As with any back who is on the New England roster come September, Michel will have to earn his carries and touches. The previously mentioned James White could take targets away from him in the passing attack, and Belichick may choose to use any number of weapons in short-yardage situations depending on his mood that week. Michel should be awarded with chances to rise to the top of the depth chart. What he does with those opportunities will determine his role in 2018.
8 Lose job: AJ McCarron
Maybe current Buffalo Bills quarterback AJ McCarron will be able to show why teams have been obsessed with retaining or obtaining his services even though the University of Alabama product has achieved next to nothing in the NFL over the past several seasons. The Cleveland Browns allegedly botched a trade with the Cincinnati Bengals for McCarron during the 2017 season, and he had to file a grievance to earn the right to become an unrestricted free agent. At least the Bills didn’t break the bank for McCarron, and the franchise could move on from him next year without suffering too much of a hit against the salary cap. That could happen if the next man on the list is ready to play.
7 Replacement: Josh Allen
Even before he was selected by the Buffalo Bills with the seventh pick of the 2018 NFL Draft, the belief was that Josh Allen would be a project for the future for any team. Patience is not always a virtue in a league where coaches loses jobs following a couple of months of poor performances. Opinions on Allen vary per observer and scout. Now that he has (finally) signed his rookie contract with the Bills, he should receive an opportunity to challenge for the starting gig in August. Allen may not be ready to walk into the starting lineup in Week 1, but a couple of September losses could change the situation and lead to the rookie getting the nod.
6 Lose job: C.J. Prosise
One of the hottest takes in this piece involves third-year running back C.J. Prosise, who could find himself looking for work once the preseason comes to an end. Prosise has flashed signs of being able to become the top back for the Seattle Seahawks, but injuries have halted his momentum whenever he had acquired any such lift. According to Spotrac, the Seahawks would lose next to nothing as it pertains to salary cap space if the club decided to part ways with Prosise. His contract is inexpensive, but he isn’t worth much to the Seattle offense if he is not able to remain an active member of the roster for longer than a couple of months, at most.
5 Replacement: Rashaad Penny
The Seattle Seahawks not only used a first-round pick to land San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny. Seattle moved up late in the round to get him. Penny, obviously, is a lock to make the final roster unless disaster strikes or he decides that he no longer wants to play professional football. Somebody is going to lose his job when all is said and done. Prosise seems to be the man on the hot seat as of the start of training camp. An injury or other occurrence may be required for Prosise to save his gig. Even if he does remain with Seattle, Penny will take carries away from the third-year pro.
4 Lose job: Joe Flacco
Baltimore Ravens starting quarterback Joe Flacco and the supporters he (still) has in the region may not want to admit it, but the Super Bowl champion is playing for his job. Flacco has not been elite — joke intended — for several seasons, and the Baltimore Ravens could look to move the veteran who turns 34 years old next winter for assets. This is not just speculation. Baltimore went out of the way to begin planning for life after Flacco earlier this season. That time might come sooner than some expect if certain individuals making bold predictions are accurate, and this roster move would lead to the end of an era for the franchise.
3 Replacement: Lamar Jackson
The Baltimore Ravens moved up to the final pick of the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft to take quarterback Lamar Jackson. Jackson is a polarizing figure among some scouts, but there is some speculation that he could take the starting job from Flacco even before the regular season starts. Jackson’s biggest fans may want to pump the brakes a bit here, as Flacco is a proven commodity who has more than a few friends in the locker room. If, however, the Ravens flounder during September and October games, the club could have nothing to lose in seeing where Jackson is in the early stages of what the team hopes will be a tremendous career.
2 Lose job: Ereck Flowers
Even those who do not actively follow the New York Giants on a weekly basis may be familiar with how poorly left tackle Ereck Flowers has played throughout his pro career. Yes, Flowers has honestly been that bad. The new New York front office realized that the club could not start Flowers at left tackle in front of Eli Manning for what may be Manning’s last season with the Giants and in the NFL, in general, so the team overpaid to acquire Nate Solder. As of late July, head coach Pat Shurmur is planning to play Flowers at right tackle to try to salvage whatever can be saved of the player’s career.
1 Replacement: Chad Wheeler (or anybody else)
Fans of the Giants have seen this movie before regarding Ereck Flowers. Flowers arrives to training camp in great shape and motivated, he performs well in practices, and he then flops when facing real competition. Why should they believe things will be different now that the Giants have moved him over to the right side of the offensive line? Flowers is starting ahead of Chad Wheeler in practices, but it is anybody’s guess how long that will last. Odds are either Wheeler or somebody who is currently not playing for the Giants will start at right tackle before Week 17 arrives; at least Eli Manning probably hopes that will be the case for the sake of his health.
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