The NFL can be a wonderful land of opportunity – a place where young, talented players can break into the land of professional football and secure themselves a coveted roster spot in the best football league in the world.
After several years, though, the mileage begins to pile up, the wear and tear begins to set in. The legs that wowed scouts at the combine begin to feel weary and don’t allow the player to reach top speed as frequently as they once did. The upper body strength that made lineman unblockable begins to fade away, while the ferociousness of a wide receiver going up for a ball or streaking across the middle of the middle might dwindle after one too many big hits.
Where the NFL giveth opportunity to fresh blood, it taketh away from the established veteran. All the reasons mentioned above are compounded by the issue of money – the NFL is still a business, and if the talent is cheaper and younger, 99% of the time it will win out over the pricey veteran.
This year is no different. A fresh crop of rookies has sauntered into training camps across the league with the purpose of establishing themselves immediately. Second and third-year pros are chomping at the bit for their chance to validated their high selection in earlier drafts – all while the veterans try and trudge through the next couple of days, praying that their name is one of the 53 on the final roster come Saturday, the deadline for teams to trim down their rosters.
While veterans may be breaking out into full-blown sweats, there are also some younger players who should be wary heading into this weekend. It’s one thing to be old, overpaid and under-productive – it’s another thing entirely to be young, healthy, and cheap, but also doing nothing for the team other than taking up a roster spot.
At the end of the day, almost no one is safe. The players on this list, young or old, are no different. Established names like these might start the year lining up with the ones, but just might end the year chatting it up with the backups on the bench by the end of the year.
20. Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers
A surprise right off the bat. There won’t be any scrubs on this list, so buckle in.
Antonio Gates will be spending the first month of the season watching from the sidelines after being suspended for using PEDs. We won’t get into whether he knew or didn’t know – what we will get into is his job security. Gates is now 35 years old, has had injury problems of late, and is backed up by a young, promising (albeit underachieving) Ladarius Green. Green will finally get an unimpeded chance to take over Gates’ role (though he might already be injured), and if he succeeds early, Gates might spend more time on the sideline than he originally anticipated.
19. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
Another big name, although probably not as surprising to some. Yes, Andy Dalton has been to four straight postseasons. Yes, he’s been solid in the regular season (for the most part). Overall, however, the numbers are not sterling – they’re fairly average, save for his 33-touchdown season in 2013. We all know about his troubles in the playoffs.
Dalton took a step back last season and if that trend continues, his ongoing slump, combined with growing impatience from Bengals fans, might land him on the bench before the season is over.
18. Owen Daniels, Denver Broncos
When Owen Daniels landed in Denver, fans and pundits alike were raving about the possibilities (especially in the fantasy football world) for the former Texans star. Daniels is past his prime, however, and hasn’t shown much rapport with Peyton Manning thus far. If the younger, unproven Virgil Green shows he can be more productive, Gary Kubiak won’t hesitate to sit Daniels.
17. Ryan Fitzpatrick, New York Jets
Ryan Fitzpatrick lands on this list for a couple of reasons.
For one thing, he plays for the Jets, and we’ve seen the kind of quarterback carousel that can go on New York. There’s also the matter of Geno Smith, who will eventually return from his broken jaw and while Fitzpatrick won’t have to cede his spot to Smith right away, there’s a good chance he’ll do something that’ll land him back on the bench.
After all, he’s still Ryan Fitzpatrick – and it’s still the New York Jets.
16. Sam Bradford, Philadelphia Eagles
Sam Bradford is a bit of a tough one to add this list. While all signs point to Bradford having a good grasp of the offense in Philly, and while it appears that Chip Kelly has complete confidence in Bradford, one thing is still making everyone wary – his health.
While Bradford is reportedly 100% healthy, his bad luck with injuries has many wondering if he’ll be able to hold up through an entire season, especially considering how many plays the Eagles are going to run each week.
15. Victor Cruz, New York Giants
Like Bradford, there are serious injury concerns with Cruz. Not only with his surgically repaired knee, but with the general wear and tear on a diminutive player who’s had trouble getting through this preseason. With Odell Beckham Jr. the new “man” in New York, Cruz will likely end up fighting for targets with Reuben Randle – and eventually others, if he can’t stay on the field consistently and produce the way he once did.
14. Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers
Most are projecting the 49ers to be one of the worst teams in the NFL this season, and with good reason. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a step back last season and nothing done this offseason suggests that this year will be much better, especially if he has to bring the team back from behind should the defense (which was shredded this offseason) let teams get ahead early in ball games. Kaepernick doesn’t have a threat in the form of a young quarterback behind him, but he might still end up on the bench if the Niners start losing early and often.
13. Alfred Morris, Washington Redskins
Alfred Morris is as consistent as they come in today’s running back landscape, but after awhile plodders get boring to watch and become easier for defenses to handle. Morris’ numbers have gone down each year since he broke into the league a few years back – that, combined with the arrival of rookie Matt Jones and the general ineptitude of the Washington Redskins might result in Morris riding the pine while the rookie takes over his starting spot.
12. Andre Smith, Cincinnati Bengals
Andre Smith has been a staple at right tackle for the Bengals over the past few seasons, but an injury derailed his 2014 season and there is uncertainty hanging overhead heading into 2015. The Bengals selected Cedric Ogbuehi of Texas A&M and Oregon’s Jake Fisher with their top two picks in the Draft, a clear sign that the Bengals may soon be moving on from at least one, if not both of their tackles – and if the rookies shine while the veterans falter, one of the them could take over Smith’s job this season.
11. DeAngelo Hall, Washington Redskins
If you watched HBO’s Hard Knocks over the summer, you saw the hard knock DeAngelo Hall’s ankles took when they were broken by Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins in a joint practice.
Besides the fact that Hall just might not have “it” anymore, the additions of some new blood in the Redskins secondary, combined with Hall’s Achilles issues, make him a prime benching candidate.
10. Leon Hall, Cincinnati Bengals
Like DeAngelo, Leon Hall was once considered one of the league’s top end cornerbacks. Now, he’s listed behind Adam Jones in Cincinnati, and while he’ll still be a “starter” (likely as a third corner), he might just lose that position before long, too. The emergence of Dre Kirkpatrick and Jones’ career revival have bumped Hall down the depth chart, and that slide figures to continue this season the way things have been shaping up for the former star.
9. Vernon Davis, San Francisco 49ers
Can you name the San Francisco 49ers backup tight-end? Probably not. I had to look it up. It’s Vance McDonald. Not a name that pops off the page.
Does it matter? No.
Vernon Davis was a shell of his former self last season and while he seemingly got his act together over the past few seasons, we all remember the “old” Davis, the one who Mike Singletary blasted following a Niners loss. If the losing starts early and often for the Niners, and Davis continues to under-perform, he might find himself on the bench – he might even just bench himself again.
8. Josh McCown, Cleveland Browns
It’s the Cleveland Browns. It’s Josh McCown. Are you really surprised?
There’s not much to it. McCown has proven he is not a starting quarterback in the NFL. The Browns messed up when they selected Johnny Manziel over Teddy Bridgewater or even Derek Carr last summer, but they’ll eventually have no choice but to give him a shot once McCown’s true colors shine through at some point this season.
7. Roddy White, Atlanta Falcons
Roddy White has been a stud for the Atlanta Falcons for years now, but this might be the one that truly wraps up his tenure as an elite NFL receiver. White has too many health issues to overcome this year – not to mention sporadic draining of his bum knee – and will no doubt miss some time during the year. When that happens, his spot will be scooped up, be it by Leonard Hankerson or even Devin Hester. Then again, the Falcons could get away with lining up Julio Jones against an entire defensive backfield, so will they really miss White that much?
6. Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins
This spot originally belonged to one Robert Griffin III, but Kirk Cousins stole that away from him, too. Cousins was handed the starting job by Jay Gruden, but if the preseason was any indication it won’t be his for long. It might be as a result of Cousins poor play, although it’s more likely to come from the bungling of yet another situation the Redskins will undoubtedly be forced to deal with – or Cousins will simply get trampled by opposing defenses that will have be getting through Washington’s five turnstiles – sorry, offensive linemen.
5. Riley Cooper, Philadelphia Eagles
Riley Cooper has essentially lost his starting job already, but he’ll get pushed even further down the depth chart before long. He might “start” games, but his pass-catching role will diminish further and further as Nelson Agholor blossoms into a receiving threat in Chip Kelly’s high-octane offense, whereas Cooper will be relegated to solely blocking until someone cheaper comes along and gives the Eagles the incentive they need to cut ties with Cooper. Until then, though, the bench will have to do.
4. Marques Colston, New Orleans Saints
Marques Colston has been a stud in New Orleans for quite some time, but his reign as Drew Brees’ top receiving option (outside of Jimmy Graham) may be coming to a rapid end. Colston lost targets to rookie sensation Brandin Cooks last season, but this year his starting job is in jeopardy thanks to the emergence of Brandon Coleman. That, combined with the miles on Colston’s aging body, might relegate him to the sidelines.
3. Andre Ellington, Arizona Cardinals
Experts and pundits can rave about Andre Ellington bouncing back this season, but I, for one, am not buying it. Ellington proved last season he can’t handle the duties of a No.1 running back and while the Cardinals will still find ways to use him effectively this season, a small, broken down back isn’t likely to rebound as gracefully as a true No.1 can. That, combined with the acquisitions of rookie David Johnson and veteran speedster Chris Johnson can only lead to one thing – the fazing out of Andre Ellington (unless he gets injured beforehand, which will make it all much easier for head coach Bruce Arians).
2. Joique Bell, Detroit Lions
Joique Bell has been a tad unlucky during his time with the Lions. First it was Jahvid Best. Then it was Reggie Bush. He beat them both out for carries and was good enough for the Lions to let Bush walk. Instead of rewarding him by putting their faith in him, the Lions went and got Ameer Abdullah, who is shaping up to be an electrifying, Barry Sanders-like back (although were not comparing the two in terms of production and greatness just yet). Bell, like Morris, is a plodder – and plodders break down. Bell has been hurt all summer and it allowed Abdullah a chance to shine. Before long, he’ll be handling most of the carries while Bell watches from the sideline.
1. Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears
Surprised? Didn’t think so.
We’ve been talking about the downfall of Jay Cutler for over a year now, and it’s bound to happen sooner or later. John Fox might try to fix Cutler, but he probably won’t have much success doing so. Combine Cutler’s general quarterbacking issues with the fact that Bears pitiful defense will let up a ton of points can only mean one thing: more throws from Cutler. And that can only mean one thing: more interceptions thrown by Cutler.
And that, of course, will lead to a lot of bench time for Cutler.
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