The latest round of draft picks are primed to challenge veterans for jobs. Several vets will be outgunned from the start, while some will provide greater resistance. Here are a group of veterans whose starting jobs are at risk following the draft.
This could be a preseason demotion. The Buccaneers drafted Antoine Winfield Jr. in the second round to start. Although their defense enjoyed one of the quietest bounce-back seasons in modern NFL history last year — rising from 32nd to fifth in DVOA — neither of the Bucs safeties is a strong impediment to a hotshot prospect (hence the draft pick). Adams made 11 starts last season, joining Jordan Whitehead on Tampa Bay's back line. The Bucs have more invested in Whitehead, a 2018 fourth-rounder, though it is not a lock he isn't the one Winfield replaces.
The Cowboys may want some continuity in their starting lineup, after losing one of the league's best cornerbacks, Byron Jones, in free agency. But Dallas drafted Trevon Diggs in Round 2 and potential steal Reggie Robinson (Tulsa) in Round 4 and signed Daryl Worley last week. The Cowboys have discussed moving Awuzie to safety, where they have incumbent starter Xavier Woods and the recently signed Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. A former second-round pick, Awuzie has started for two-plus seasons. The Cowboys may be eyeing a more versatile role for their contract-year defender.
A Patriots starter in nine of the past 10 seasons, Chung will not be easy to unseat. But New England drafted safety Kyle Dugger at No. 37 overall. That is higher than the Pats have picked a safety since they chose Chung at No. 34 overall in 2009. This will be Chung's age-33 season, and the Patriots just extended Pro Bowler Devin McCourty. While Dugger may have issues adjusting to the NFL game, coming from Division II's Lenoir-Rhyne, he is already 24. Chung is signed for one more season. If he starts 11 more games, he will rank second in Patriots history for most starts by a safety.
A Davidson-for-Davison switch may occur in Atlanta. The Falcons drafted Auburn defensive lineman Marlon Davidson in the second round, and while Tyeler Davison could remain the nominal starter, the Falcons going with Davidson alongside Grady Jarrett in sub-packages would make sense. Atlanta lost Jack Crawford in free agency and now has a wage-scale contract to pair with Jarrett's lucrative deal. Davidson registered 6.5 sacks last season at Auburn, while Pro Football Focus graded Davison (this is becoming confusing) outside the top 65 interior defenders last season.
Since Aaron Rodgers sat for three years after being a 2005 first-round pick, 36 of the 38 quarterbacks taken in Round 1 started at least one game as rookies. Tua Tagovailoa has a chance to buck that trend, coming off injury and with the Dolphins in a full-scale rebuild. But odds are, the ex-Alabama southpaw will make the move at some point later in the season. Although, if the Dolphins do not trade or waive Josh Rosen, the chances of Tagovailoa ascending in 2020 take a hit.
The longtime Steelers right tackle did not play a down for the Cardinals last season, but the plan was for him to man the right side of Arizona's line. A preseason injury nixed that strategy. The Cards re-signed Gilbert to a veteran-minimum deal this offseason, but their lucrative extension for D.J. Humphries points to Gilbert being replaced if/when third-round pick Josh Jones is ready this season. The Cardinals were stunned the ex-Houston Cougar lasted until Round 3, and given Gilbert's injury history — which included an 11-game absence for the 2018 Steelers — it is likely a switch will occur.
Although Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks are the Vikings' three-down linebackers, Gedeon is a starter. He succeeded the retired Chad Greenway in 2017 and held that job until a concussion knocked him out for the season midway through 2019. Gedeon not only will face a challenge from Eric Wilson, who filled in for him last year, but the run-downs linebacker also will now have four-year Oregon tackles leader Troy Dye to contend with; the Vikings took Dye in Round 4. While he will not threaten Barr's or Kendricks' playing time, Dye is a candidate to be their base-defense wingman.
Buffalo's kicker of the past three years, Hauschka has failed to clear the 80 percent field goal accuracy bar over the past two. Although four of last year's six misses came from beyond 50 yards, the Bills drafted competition in sixth-rounder Tyler Bass. Hauschka's contract runs through 2021, and cutting him would cost the Bills over $1M. But if Bass beats him out in camp, the team will have no issue jettisoning its incumbent.
Perhaps the most obvious name on this list, albeit a lower-profile one. The Broncos used their top two draft choices on wide receivers whose games complement Courtland Sutton's. The slithery Jerry Jeudy and the explosive K.J. Hamler, the latter being Hamilton's former Penn State teammate, are primed to be Denver's Nos. 2 and 3 receivers early. Hamilton may hold off Hamler for the slot job in September, but the former's 540 career yards in 30 games point to a demotion to make room for higher-level investments.
The Chiefs' $16 million-per-year Sammy Watkins deal received more attention in 2018, but their $9M-AAV pact for Hitchens also represented a sizable overpay. The former Cowboys run-stopping linebacker has struggled in that capacity and has been targeted in coverage. The Chiefs used their second-round pick on Mississippi State linebacker Willie Gay Jr., and it is likely he will see time in the starting lineup for the defending champions. Hitchens, though, is not a cut candidate — thanks to a restructure he agreed to last year.
Johnson's yards per carry plummeted from 5.4 his rookie year to 3.6 last season. He has missed 14 games in a two-year career. The Lions drafted a higher-profile running back in Round 2: Georgia's D'Andre Swift. While this doubles as Detroit's fourth second-round running back pick in the past 10 years, Swift (career 6.6 YPC average with the Bulldogs) was on the first-round radar. And head coach Matt Patricia is on the hot seat. With Johnson having battled knee problems in 2018 and '19, he looks to have a slim chance to hold off the latest highly drafted Georgia running back.
This would be a major shift for the Redskins, but they may not have a choice. They drafted Montez Sweat in the 2019 first round, and he started 16 games as a rookie. Washington's rough season gave it the No. 2 overall pick, and Chase Young will be a Day 1 starter. He is one of the best pass rushers to enter the NFL in years. This represents a tough break for Kerrigan, a 10th-year veteran whose 90 sacks are one shy of Dexter Manley's team record. Kerrigan missed his first NFL games last season, ending the year on IR, but may soon be an overqualified specialist for a loaded Washington pass rush.
Going from the third-string tight end on a 6-10 Broncos team to Rob Gronkowski's replacement, LaCosse landed one of the stranger promotions any NFL team's given out in years. He might hold off third-round rookies Devin Asiasi (UCLA) and Dalton Keene (Virginia Tech) to start the season, but LaCosse's numbers actually regressed from his 2018 Broncos season, dropping to 13 catches for 131 yards. It will be hard to see him staving off more talented challengers as the season progresses.
This depends on the readiness of fourth-round pick Tyler Biadasz. The Cowboys tabbed Looney as Travis Frederick's replacement two years ago when the All-Decade center missed the season with Guillain-Barre syndrome and re-signed him this offseason. But Biadasz won the Rimington Trophy last season — given to Division I-FBS' best center — and fell to the Cowboys only because of concerns about offseason surgeries the past two years. Unless Biadasz cannot overcome his injuries, the soon-to-be 30-year-old Looney looks like a stopgap.
A former fourth-round pick, Mack succeeded Frank Gore as Indianapolis' starter and has played fairly well the past two seasons. But the Colts used a second-round pick on a player who not only accumulated the most rushing yards in a three-year career in Division I-FBS history but is also a prospect who displayed greater talent at the scouting combine. Wisconsin's Jonathan Taylor (6,174 rushing yards) ran a 4.39-second 40-yard dash at the combine and will be the Colts' starter in 2021, after Mack's contract expires. He has the talent to make Mack a 1-B back in 2020.
Chosen 10 spots earlier than Mack, Michael Pittman Jr. will be the favorite to start opposite T.Y. Hilton in Week 1. Frank Reich is high on the 6-foot-4 USC wide receiver, whom he compared to former Chargers and Bucs standout Vincent Jackson. A former UDFA, Pascal worked his way into Indianapolis' lineup because of injuries but posted 607 receiving yards last season. Demoting the Old Dominion alum to WR4 — perhaps behind 2019 second-round slot target Parris Campbell too — represents a sign the Colts have improved their depth at a position that was thin in recent years.
The Vikings drafted their heir apparent to Reiff late in the second round; their left tackle succession plan should either occur in the 2021 offseason or sooner. Reiff has put together adequate work during his three-year stay in Minnesota and will be 32 by year end. Ezra Cleveland received buzz as a potential first-rounder but fell into the second. While the virtual offseason will make it difficult for the Boise State product to challenge Reiff at left tackle in training camp (if training camps, in fact, occur), he may be up to that task during the season.
Teetering on bust status, Ross saw the Bengals potentially relegate him to their WR5 in this draft. While Ross has a gift few NFL receivers ever have — 4.22-second 40-yard dash speed — he has disappointed since being a top-10 pick in 2017. The Bengals did not pick up his fifth-year option, making this a contract year. Cincinnati drafted Clemson deep threat Tee Higgins and has A.J. Green back via the franchise tag. With Tyler Boyd entrenched in the slot and Auden Tate outproducing the injury-prone Ross last year, the latter could be a trade candidate. He will almost certainly lose his starting job.
Snead caught 62 passes in his 2018 Ravens debut season; that number plummeted to 31 last year. Snead may have competition from the second of the Ravens' receiver draftees. SMU's James Proche was a target monster at the mid-major program, catching 203 passes between his junior and senior seasons and catching 27 TDs in that span. Proche projects as a slot receiver and could become a key weapon for Lamar Jackson soon. Snead stands in his way now, but the 5-foot-11 youngster may be coming for the job by season's end.
Unlike Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert does not enter the NFL with injury issues. But he is also viewed as more of a boom-or-bust passer than the Dolphins' first-rounder. It is likely Anthony Lynn will begin the season with his former Bills pupil as the starting quarterback. But Taylor has not been a starter since being benched for Baker Mayfield in September 2018. Taylor now has another caretaker role, providing what the Chargers surely hope is a short bridge between Philip Rivers and Herbert.
This would be one of the stranger demotions/departures in recent memory, but the Saints have a bizarrely stacked interior offensive line depth chart. A Pro Bowl alternate in each of his three Saints seasons, Warford may be on the outs. The Saints re-signed Andrus Peat to a lucrative deal and drafted center/guard Cesar Ruiz in Round 1. They also have 2019 second-round center Erik McCoy and $6M-per-year backup Nick Easton, an ex-Vikings guard starter. All this depth may make Warford a trade chip, but his $12.8M cap number is second on the Saints' payroll. His time as their right guard may be over.
From Mike Wallace in 2009 to Diontae Johnson last year, the Steelers have made drafting Day 2 wide receivers a near-annual tradition. This year's is an unusual specimen. The Steelers took Notre Dame's Chase Claypool at No. 49 overall — their only pick in the first three rounds. Claypool is 6-foot-4, 238 pounds and ran a 4.42-second 40 at the combine. Washington took a big step forward in 2019, catching 44 passes for 735 yards without Ben Roethlisberger. But a soon-to-be 22-year-old Canadian monster has the tools to overtake him and become JuJu Smith-Schuster's top sidekick.
The Jaguars also landed a potential impact talent on Day 2, drafting Colorado wideout Laviska Shenault. Expected to be a first-round pick for months, Shenault saw injuries dock him. But he goes 6-foot-1, 227 — basically Leonard Fournette's dimensions — and can play outside and in the slot. The Jags plan to use him at multiple positions. Jacksonville's slot receiver, Westbrook saw his role reduced last season, as D.J. Chark and ex-Chief Chris Conley leapfrogged him in the Jags' pecking order. Westbrook could see a much larger receiver drop him further in Gardner Minshew's progression.
Williams may go from Super Bowl MVP runner-up (seems likely he landed here) to backup. Despite his status as the Chiefs' post-Kareem Hunt starting back, Williams is not an impact talent. The Chiefs ranked 23rd in rushing last season, and Williams did not eclipse 500 rushing yards in an injury-limited year. Andy Reid called first-round pick Clyde Edwards-Helaire better than ex-Eagle dynamo Brian Westbrook, and the 5-foot-7 LSU product was one of college football's toughest tackling tasks last season. And he added 55 catches in 2019. This figures to be Edwards-Helaire's backfield soon.
The Raiders guaranteed Williams' 2020 salary but drafted a player whom they'd presumably prefer replace him soon. Las Vegas chose South Carolina outside receiver Bryan Edwards in Round 3. Edwards was on pace for his first 1,000-yard season before an injury intervened and damaged his draft value. Despite Antonio Brown's ugly exit opening the door for endless targets, Williams barely cleared 650 receiving yards last season. If the 212-pound Edwards shows promise as a rookie, it would not be out of character for Jon Gruden to turn to his new talent and perhaps look to trade Williams.
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