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It’s difficult to admit when we’re wrong. In the NFL, it’s twice as hard when coming to terms with a whiff on a premium draft pick. Everyone can see your mistake.
As we approach the final cuts on September 1, front offices have started the process of trimming their rosters. But every player waived or released isn’t necessarily a poor acquisition.
Sometimes, a younger, cheaper talent shows enough upside to take a veteran’s spot. This often happens to high draft picks from previous classes who haven’t lived up to expectations.
We’ll focus on former first-, second- and third-round picks and veterans with ample starting experience. What pushed them to the brink of the depth chart, and why are they cut candidates?
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The Detroit Lions added veteran LeGarrette Blount and rookie second-rounder Kerryon Johnson to the backfield during the offseason, which has brought Ameer Abdullah’s future into question. MLive.com reporter Kyle Meinke listed the fourth-year ball-carrier as a player on the roster bubble going into training camp:
“With Theo Riddick on solid ground because of his ability in the passing game, plus one fullback expected to make the roster, there is maybe one job left in the offensive backfield. Abdullah has a serious chance to win it because of his athleticism and experience, but Zach Zenner is in play too because of his versatility on special teams.”
Abdullah logged four carries for 16 yards and a touchdown against the Oakland Raiders in Week 1 of the preseason, but fumbled twice in the second outing against the New York Giants, first on a handoff from starting quarterback Matthew Stafford and then on a kickoff. It’s not a good sign when ball-security issues have plagued him throughout his career.
Nonetheless, head coach Matt Patricia talked about Abdullah’s overall improvement in handling the football, per the Detroit Free Press‘ Dave Birkett. Despite his strides, Blount and Johnson will likely handle early-down responsibilities while Riddick retains third-down duties.
Against the Tampa Bay Buccanneers on Friday, he had seven carries for 30 yards, getting some run alongside the starters and playing well into the third quarter.
But with Johnson likely being brought along slowly, the 25-year-old Abdullah may not have a clear-cut role in the backfield.
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Gary Landers/Associated Press
The Baltimore Ravens’ overhaul at the wide receiver spot should help quarterback Joe Flacco, but it has put 2015 first-rounder Breshad Perriman on the bubble. Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic explained the fourth-year wideout’s preseason production could be too little, too late:
“If it were just based on preseason production, Perriman would have a decent chance to make the team. But there just appears to be too much working against him. While Perriman has done some special teams in practice, Ravens coaches clearly haven’t felt comfortable to use him in that capacity in a game. Reserve receivers need to play special teams, and Perriman doesn’t.”
Through three preseason contests, Perriman leads the team in receptions (six) and yards (99), but his production may serve as an audition elsewhere.
Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead should have the top three spots locked up. The Ravens also selected Jaleel Scott and Jordan Lasley in the fourth and fifth rounds of April’s draft, respectively. Assuming the coaching staff keeps both picks, there’s no room for Perriman, who has a history of untimely drops and knee injuries.
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ESPN.com’s Mike Reiss appeared on CBS Boston to discuss wide receiver Eric Decker‘s shaky standing with head coach Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots. Reiss talked about Decker’s drops and highlighted the team’s third preseason game against the Carolina Panthers as a critical outing for the 31-year-old.
In Friday’s game, Decker had just two catches for 12 yards.
Multiple reports have chronicled the receiver’s struggles during practices, and he dropped one of his two targets in the last preseason contest. In the telecast with Reiss, WEEI’s Christian Fauria suggested a late start to camp wasn’t ideal for the ninth-year veteran.
New England needs depth at the position after parting ways with Malcolm Mitchell, Jordan Matthews and Kenny Britt. Julian Edelman’s four-game suspension has also created an early void in the starting lineup. There’s a clear opportunity for Decker to secure a significant role, but he must show there’s something left in his playing career.
Decker signed a one-year deal, so if there’s no improvement in the last two preseason games, the Patriots could simply cut him and search for another Band-Aid at wide receiver.
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The San Francisco 49ers’ previous regime selected right guard Joshua Garnett in the first round of the 2016 draft. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise if the current decision-makers decide to part ways with him if he’s unable to lock down a starting role on the offensive line.
In June, Matt Barrows reported for the Sacramento Bee that Garnett was the most prominent 49ers player in danger of getting the ax. The third-year offensive guard suffered a knee injury during training camp—the same knee that cost him the entire 2017 campaign. In his absence, Mike Person caught head coach Kyle Shanahan’s eye as a strong candidate to start on the interior, per NBC Sports Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco.
“He’s got some experience,” Shanahan said. “He’s been around the league. I think he’s gained some confidence, and I thought he looked similar to how he always looks in the game. I thought he did a good job.”
Garnett returned to practice August 12 and saw the majority of snaps at right guard in the second preseason contest, but he didn’t fare well in action, allowing some pressure on the interior. Person looked solid at guard and center. It’s tough cutting a first-rounder, but the 24-year-old could potentially hit waivers if he loses the position battle.
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Offensive guard Chance Warmack came into the league as the No. 10 overall pick in the 2013 draft and started 51 of 59 games with the Tennessee Titans and Philadelphia Eagles.
According to The Athletic’s Sheil Kapadia, Warmack’s future could go in three directions.
“The Eagles could cut or trade Warmack and save some money,” Kapadia wrote. “I’m not ruling out that possibility. But they may opt to play it safe and keep him on board as a backup guard.”
Warmack’s top-10 draft status likely keeps coaches interested in his potential despite underwhelming results in pass protection early in his career with the Titans. However, Philadelphia selected former TCU guard/tackle Matt Pryor in the sixth round of this year’s draft, and 2016 third-rounder Isaac Seumalo remains on the roster as a developing asset with upside.
According to Over The Cap, Philadelphia can cut Warmack and recoup approximately $1.2 million. He’s not as versatile as Seumalo who continues to show his ability to play at guard and center. If the coaches like what they see in Pryor, the front office may take the cash and dismiss the sixth-year veteran.
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Defensive end Randy Gregory’s return puts the squeeze on Kony Ealy. According to the Dallas Morning News‘ Jon Machota, he’ll compete for a spot with 2016 fourth-rounder Charles Tapper.
Machota thinks Ealy takes the spot on the back end of the roster, but the Cowboys would have to part ways with Tapper, who logged seven sacks for Oklahoma in 2015. If he can stay healthy, the defense could potentially have a playmaker with two years left on his rookie deal.
Ealy has bounced around the league over the last two years. The Patriots acquired him from the Panthers in exchange for a second-round pick, then released him before final cuts. He suited up for the New York Jets through the 2017 term and signed with the Cowboys as a free agent during the offseason.
Despite his 2014 second-round draft status, Ealy has only started 19 games in his career. He’s not a high volume solo tackler, which limits him in run defense. The 26-year-old logged fewer than 20 in all four of his campaigns.
The fifth-year veteran comes off a season with just one sack. With his limitations and recent lack of production in the pass rush, the Cowboys may opt to develop Tapper, who’s more familiar with the defensive scheme, for a contributing role.
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Cornerback Jason McCourty has started every game he’s appeared in since the start of the 2011 campaign. He’s also logged 16 interceptions and 86 pass breakups in nine seasons.
The Patriots acquired him in a trade with the Cleveland Browns in March, but despite that, Reiss reports the 10th-year veteran’s place on the 53-man roster looks uncertain because of the young, versatile talent at the position:
“I would put McCourty on the roster bubble, as I view the cornerback locks as Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe and second-round pick Duke Dawson. What is working against McCourty, assuming everyone is healthy, is that the No. 4-5-6 cornerback spots (depending on how many stick) are often determined with special-teams contributions in mind and he has a limited role in the kicking game.“
Similar to Perriman, younger players capable of covering kicks could decide whether a veteran survives the final cuts.
If the Patriots feel comfortable with Rowe on the boundary, McCourty would have to settle for a reserve role. Rookie cornerback Duke Dawson’s second-round draft status and J.C. Jackson’s solid summer impression also give the coaching staff alternative options.
McCourty allowed a touchdown pass to Eagles wide receiver Shelton Gibson in the corner of the end zone during the second preseason contest, but didn’t have any other glaring mistakes. Nonetheless, he’s fighting a tough battle at a position crowded with youngsters who possess upside and the ability to adapt to special teams roles.
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The Green Bay Packers selected Quinten Rollins in the second round of the 2015 draft. He broke into the rotation as a reserve during his rookie campaign, then started 10 games the following year with mixed results. The Miami (Ohio) product landed on injured reserve with a torn Achilles last October, which ended an abysmal third year in which he took just 139 defensive snaps.
The Packers signed Tramon Williams, who’s played well through two preseason games in his second stint with the team, and selected Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson in the first and second rounds of April’s draft, respectively. All three should make the roster along with 2017 second-rounder Kevin King and Davon House, who re-signed on a one-year deal after starting 12 games last season.
Rollins will have an uphill battle to make the cut at cornerback.
According to Michael Cohen of The Athletic, the coaching staff moved Rollins to the slot during organized team activities, then to safety, where he’s played in exhibition action. Still, the Packers beat writer feels the fourth-year veteran has a tough road to the final 53-man roster:
“The path to a roster spot is still murky for Rollins, but it’s not unreasonable to think he could provide more depth and positional versatility than the likes of Jermaine Whitehead and Marwin Evans, who were at the bottom of the safety depth chart last season.”
Green Bay could use Rollins’ versatility for depth in the secondary, but the 26-year-old must showcase his ability at safety in the last two preseason outings. If he doesn’t, it could cost him a roster spot.