Arizona Cardinals : Running Back
Gambling that oft-injured Beanie Wells will be able to carry the load at halfback could be a huge mistake. Arizona was banking on rookie Ryan Williams as his backup when they traded Tim Hightower a few weeks ago, but now Williams is lost for the season with a knee injury.
Larod Stephens-Howling and Alfonso Smith is what is left on the depth chart, not exactly what many NFL teams would want to play an entire season with. Stephens-Howling is a diminutive third down specialist, while Smith sat mostly on the Cardinals practice squad last year.
When Wells has been healthy, he has been a bit of a 2009 first round draft pick failure. He averaged just 3.4 yards per carry last year, and has started just twice in his career.
The Big Red needs at least one more running back in camp now, but they will have to wait until a quality back becomes available. Teams like the New Orleans Saints are loaded with experienced backs, so the Cards maybe should wait until the Saints start to trim their crowded backfield.
Atlanta Falcons : Wide Receiver
The Falcons are certainly set with their top three pass catchers, but depth beyond that is questionable and mostly unproven. Eric Weems is a Pro Bowl return specialist with 13 career receptions over three years, but Atlanta may prefer not to throw the tiny Weems too many passes to keep him healthy.
Kerry Meier, a fifth-round draft pick last year who spent his rookie season on injured reserve, might get the job. Yet the Falcons will rely on 2011 first round draft pick Julio Jones heavily, so there is a chance the Falcons would like one more veteran on the depth chart.
Roddy White is the top target in the passing attack for Atlanta, but the fourth receiver has an important role in the high powered Atlanta offense. Bran Finneran, who spent 11 seasons with the team until retiring after last year, caught 19 passes and three touchdowns in that role last season.
The New York Giants have 10 receivers with NFL experience in camp, so maybe the Falcons should keep an eye on the Jints when they start cutting players.
Baltimore Ravens : Defensive Back
Baltimore lost three key players to free agency, none bigger than strong safety Dawan Landry. Yet the other two, Josh Wilson and Fabian Washington, were starters at cornerback. Chris Carr is the only returning starter at cornerback.
Drafting Jimmy Smith in the first round helped, as will the return of veteran Domonique Foxworth. Foxworth missed 2010 because of an injury.
Getting steady veteran Bernard Pollard to compete with Tom Zbikowski at strong safety was a good move. Free safety is set with future Hall of Famer Ed Reed backed up by versatile Lardarius Webb and Haruki Nakamura.
Yet the looming question is if to continue with Cary Williams or look to get an upgrade. The 13 games he appeared last year was a career best for the third-year pro. 2010 practice squad member Danny Gorrer and 2011 fifth round draft pick Chykie Brown, the third Texas Longhorn cornerback drafted this year, are also vying for this key job.
Baltimore carried five cornerbacks last year, and all were needed in a pass-happy NFL. Brown might have an edge on the job, but getting a proven veteran to add depth would not be a bad move either.
Buffalo Bills : Wide Receiver
Trading top receiver Lee Evans was a move for the future, but he will be missed this year. If you look at the group of receivers in the Bills camp now, it is hard to be impressed.
Steve Johnson, who caught 82 of his 94 career receptions in 2010, broke out last year. The fourth-year pro is now the primary receiver who is expected to have Roscoe Parrish as his bookend.
Questions begin after the starters. Brad Smith is a former college quarterback who is versatile enough to line up at receiver or running back. Yet he has always been a complimentary player instead of relied upon heavily.
Buster Davis never lived up to expectations with the San Diego Chargers for four years after the Bolts wasted a first round pick on him. Phil Hubbard is a fourth-year pro with one career catch whose career highlight is getting in trouble with the law a few weeks ago. Felton Huggins has been with the Bills practice squad since 2007.
David Nelson is a tall receiver who had some impact last year after making the team as an undrafted free agent rookie. Donald Jones, also undrafted last year, had five starts and 18 receptions for the Bills. Marcus Easley, drafted in the fourth round last year, spent 2010 on injured reserve.
Local product Naaman Roosevelt, yet another undrafted rookie, had nine catches and a start. Kamar Aiken is an undrafted rookie the Bills signed this year. He is a big kid who was last seen sending veteran Denver Broncos safety David Bruton to the hospital after Bruton attemped to tackle him after a catch.
Not exactly an inspiring group of receivers, on paper, that will put fear into opponents. Buffalo was 28th in scoring last year, and they will be hard pressed not to duplicate that feat in 2011.
This team should take a long look at the waiver wire, because gambling that the current corps can carry the team to victory in 2011 could end up being a huge mistake.
Carolina Panthers : Defensive End
Carolina has eight defensive tackles in camp and six defensive ends. Depth behind projected starters Charles Johnson, who had 11.5 sacks and 62 tackles last year, and 2011 first round pick Everette Brown is questionable.
Greg Hardy is good enough to challenge Brown for the staring job. In limited play during his 2010 rookie year, he got 30 tackles, three sacks, and a safety.
Eric Norwood, an undersized player drafted in the fourth round of the 2010 draft, gave Carolina three tackles last year. He is the only other veteran defensive end in camp behind the starters.
The Panthers had a difficult time trying to stop the run last year. Their starting safeties had to come up often to help and combined for 163 tackles last year. They drafted defensive tackle Terrell McClain in the third round of the 2011 draft to help out inside.
The team has pass rushers at defensive end, but checking the waiver wire for a veteran who is good at stopping the run would help.
Chicago Bears : Blockers
The 2011 free agent signing of Chris Spencer was a good move, but the Bears first preseason game showed that the offensive line could still be an issue like last year. Quarterback Jay Cutler's few plays were of him running for his life whenever he wanted to pass.
Robert Garza has been a Bear since 2005, and the team knows they can rely on him. After that, there are a lot of unknowns in the unit.
J'Marcus Webb was a 2010 seventh-round selection who ended up being a starter at left tackle because 2008 first-round draft pick Chris Williams had to move to guard after not panning out at the position. 2011 first-round pick Gabe Carimi is expected to start at right tackle.
Besides the versatile Edwin Williams, depth has questions. Lance Louis has been with the Bears since 2009 and has four starts in 16 games in his career. Frank Omiyale has been in the league since 2005, yet has appeared in just 43 games.
The rest of the group consists of practice squad players and undrafted free agents. Chicago should see if any serviceable offensive linemen get released to improve the overall quality of depth on this unit.
Injuries often happen in the trenches, making reserves key players here. Chris Williams has already missed 10 games in his three years, further making it necessary for the Bears to look at the waiver wire intently.
Cincinnati Bengals : Defensive Line
Losing starting quarterback Carson Palmer this year is a tough, but necessary, move for the Bengals. The team looked so out of kilter in their preseason games, pundits are already predicting a miserable season for the team.
Their defensive line is full of players sought after out of college, yet quite a few haven't done well in the pros. Players like Jason Shirley and Victor Adeyanju are mid-round draft picks who have spent the bulk of their careers on practice squads.
Frostee Rucker has given Cincinnati only 61 tackles since being a third-round selection in 2006. Clinton McDonald, a seventh-round pick in 2009, has two career tackles. Jonathan Fanene has given the Bengals just 79 tackles since being drafted in 2005.
Geno Atkins is slated to start at defensive tackle and had just 16 tackles during his 2010 rookie year. Pat Sims is challenging Atkins for the job, but Sims has not exactly been stout against the run always. Domata Peko is the other projected starter at defensive tackle
Defensive end might be the best area along the Bengals defensive line. Michael Johnson's starting job might be in jeopardy this year after Carlos Dunlap had 9.5 sacks in 12 games during his 2010 rookie year. Robert Geathers, who has started in five of his last six years, is the nephew of former pass rushing great Jumpy Geathers.
The inside, besides Peko, is a question mark for a team that was 26th in points allowed in 2010. Depth at every position is certainly an issue, in terms of proven quality guys.
As the Bengals move into 2011 without offensive stars Palmer and Chad Ochocinco for the first time since 2003. The defense needs to pick up the slack, but the questions all along the defensive line may prevent that. The Bengals need to be active when the waiver wire becomes filled with free agents.
Cleveland Browns : Quarterback
Colt McCoy has Cleveland exited because he is a very promising quarterback capable of leading the Browns far one day. His backup is veteran Seneca Wallace, who has starters experience.
Yet that is as far as it goes. Undrafted rookie Troy Weatherhead and journeyman Jarrett Brown are not the answer as the third quarterback.
While Brown fans prefer Wallace doesn't even play, because that would mean McCoy was healthy all year, history has shown many teams requiring the services three or more quarterbacks in a season. The Arizona Cardinals and Carolina Panthers both used four quarterbacks last season, and several teams saw three quarterbacks in action.
There will be serviceable quarterbacks cut during training camp. Players better than Brown or Weatherhead. Cleveland needs to recognize history and upgrade this situation as soon as possible.
Dallas Cowboys : Trench Help
When you look on both sides of the Cowboys trenches, it is hard to be impressed. This has been the weakness of the team for a few years and it appears it will be yet again in 2011.
Dallas did draft 20-year old rookie Tyron Smith in the first round this year to start at right tackle, and the Cowboys have hopes for him. Phil Costa, who made the team as an undrafted free agent rookie last year, is slated to start at left guard with only four career NFL games on his resume.
Left tackle Doug Free, center Andre Gurode, and guard Kyle Kosier return as starters for an offensive line that had their running backs ground out just 1,443 yards and eight scores last season.
The reserves consist of undrafted free agent rookies, 2011 fourth round choice David Arkin, journeymen Montrae Holland and Jeremy Parnell, and Sam Young, who appeared in just two games during his 2010 rookie year.
It doesn't get a lot better on the other side of the ball for Dallas either. Besides nose tackle Jay Ratliff and defensive end Igor Olshansky, there defensive line is riddled with questions.
Marcus Spears is expected to start at defensive end, but he has not given Dallas much since they used a first-round pick on him in 2005. The reserves are even more questionable.
Jouneyman Kenyon Coleman returns to Dallas since leaving them after the 2006 season. He is the only known commodity on the Cowboys bench for the defensive line.
Clifton Geathers is the younger brother of Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Robert Geathers. Dallas is his fourth team since being drafted last year. He is battling Jason Hatcher, who has been on the Cowboys bench since 2006, for the right to back up Olishansky.
Nose tackle is even worse. Sean Lissemore, Josh Brent, and Jimmy Sadler-McQueen are all fairly inexperienced players trying to back up Ratliff. This area could be an issue if Ratliff gets hurt, though he has hasn't missed a game in each of his last three Pro Bowl seasons.
Dallas will get pushed around again if they do not get better players along the line. This will force them to rely too heavily on the pass like last year. There will be NFL-caliber linemen cut in training camp, so getting these types in a Cowboys uniform would most likely represent an upgrade that their respective positions.
Denver Broncos : Defensive Tackle
While ESPN and all non-journalists huddle around the locker of third-string quarterback Tim Tebow, Denver has more important issues to address.
The Broncos were excited when they signed free agent defensive tackle Ty Warren this year, but that recently changed because Warren suffered a triceps injury and many think he will not play this season.
Marcus Thomas, who lost his starting job in 2008, will now be challenging journeyman Kevin Vickerson now to start next to Broderick Bunkley on a team that ranked last in points allowed last year. Denver was also second to last in run defense in 2010.
Vickerson played well at times last season, so he is expected by many to start. After that, the interior of the Broncos defense is a huge question.
Journeyman DeMario Pressley joins former defensive end Ryan McBean with undrafted rookie free agents Mitch Unrein and Ronnell Brown as the only defensive tackles left on the roster.
Denver has a lot of pass rushing defensive ends not known for being stout against the run, so the run stopping abilities from the defensive tackle position becomes even more important. The Broncos definitely need more proven players at this position, so watching the waiver wire may be their best option right now.
Detroit Lions : Running Back
Losing 2011 second-round pick Mikel LeShore hurts an up and coming team some think has what it takes to reach the playoffs this season. Detroit lost seven games in 2010 by eight or less points, an experience that typically matures teams and makes them better the following season.
LeShore was expected to be the "Mr. Inside" to Jahvid Best's "Mr. Outside." Best had a nice rookie season in 2010 when healthy, which wasn't very frequent. It became quickly apparent that Best is best used in passing downs with 10 to 15 carries a game.
Now with the loss of the back expected to pick up the slack, Detroit is scrambling for a replacement. Maurice Morris is a 10-year back whose best days are long behind him, which can also be said for journeyman Mike Bell.
Aaron Brown and Jerome Harrison are like Best, small backs best used in the passing attack. All that is left in camp is Ian Johnson, who has bounced around on several practice squads since entering the NFL in 2009.
All that is out there now is guys like Lendale White, Clinton Portis, Tiki Barber, Brian Westbrook, and Laurence Maroney. White is a back who specializes in carries between the tackles, so he may be an upgrade over Morris and Bell.
Detroit might have to wait until the final cuts to see what is out there, because it is doubtful the current backs in their camp offer much relief for Best.
Green Bay Packers : Defensive End
It is hard to pick a position on a defending champion that is bringing back nearly everyone after winning it all with seemingly half the roster injured.
Losing Cullen Jenkins to free agency hurt, considering the Packers haven't really replaced him. They did draft Lawrence Guy in the seventh round of this years draft, as well as invite free agents Chris Donaldson and Elisha Joseph to camp.
Green Bay general manager Ted Thompson might be fine with the current group of defensive linemen and do nothing. But it is a group that, other than B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett, is comprised of young unproven players like Mike Neal, C.J. Wilson, and Jay Ross along with veteran journeyman Howard Green.
Houston Texans : Wide Receiver
After Andre Johnson, one of the best in the game, there is a big drop in talent at wide receiver for Houston. This will make the tight end a very key member of the passing attack.
Kevin Walter is a nice possession type who works best in the slot, he and Jacoby Jones both caught 51 passes in 2010. Yet both combined to average just over 11 yards per reception. While both are solid, they are best as complimentary players as opposed to starters.
Journeyman Devard Darling has six NFL years under his belt, but spent last year in the UFL. He has the ability to stretch the field, but consistency has always been his issue. The same can be said for Paul Williams, who also didn't play last year after four years with the Tennessee Titans.
Dorin Dickerson is a former collegiate tight end who was drafted in the seventh round last season. He spent 2010 on the practice squad as he makes the transition to wide receiver. The rest of the wide receivers unit is practice squad types and undrafted free agents.
There may not be superstar quality to hit the NFL waiver wire in the coming days, but there could be players who represent an upgrade over what the Texans have on their roster right now. Getting a solid receiver to bookend Johnson would help the team a lot.
Indianapolis Colts : Defensive Linemen
The Colts signed free agents Tommie Harris, Tyler Brayton, and Jammal Anderson to help their porous defensive line. They also selected defensive tackle Drake Nevis in the third round on the 2011 draft.
The returns have been less than promising so far in preseason. The run defense has given up 384 yards, 19 first downs, and three touchdowns in their first two games. This is cause for concern, even the casual fan tries to write it off as "just preseason."
The Colts seem to go as far as quarterback Peyton Manning takes them, but Manning will have difficulty if opponents run down his teams throats and control the clock each week. As great as the future Hall of Famer is, time of possession control typically wins games in the NFL.
Getting better players to stop the run is needed by Indianapolis. They have two undersized pass rushing defensive ends in Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, yet neither is exactly stout against the run.
Colts general manager Bill Polian will need to watch the waiver wire and hope a run stuffing defensive lineman becomes available. If not, the Colts will suffer much of 2011 with their current group.
Jacksonville Jaguars : Linebacker
The Jags plunked down $45 million on oft-injured free agent middle linebacker Paul Posluszny, a tackling machine when healthy. They also signed Clint Session, who has played all 16 games just once in his four years.
Daryl Smith, drafted by the Jags in the second round of the 2004 draft, has the most tackles in team history. He has played every linebacker position for Jacksonville and seems to get better yearly. Smith is expected to start with Posluszny and Session.
After that, the questions begin with this unit. Important questions considering two of the starters have histories of not finishing seasons because of injury.
Russell Allen made the Jacksonville roster in 2009 as an undrafted rookie. He has nine starts, so the Jaguars feel comfortable with him backing up Posluszny.
Gerris Wilkerson is a veteran outside linebacker entering his sixth year. He earned a Super Bowl ring in 2007 and brings a winners attitude to the team.
He will compete with a pair of undrafted players who made the Jags roster last year in Jacob Cutera and Kyle Bosworth, the nephew of former NFL player Brian "The Boz" Bosworth, for the backup position.
Slade Norris has minimal NFL experience, having spent most of his two years in the NFL on practice squads. Aaron Morgan is the third undrafted linebacker who earned a spot on the Jacksonville roster last season. Promising Scott Lutrus and Michael Lockley are a pair of undrafted rookies also trying to make the team.
Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio played 12 years in the NFL as a linebacker. Mark Duffner, a former head coach of the University of Maryland, is his linebackers coach. The pair, along with defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, know what they are doing.
Yet a group of undrafted and unproven players backing up starters known to get hurt frequently does not look good on paper at least. Perhaps grabbing a linebacker or two, with sound NFL experience, off the waiver wire would help upgrade the Jacksonville linebackers unit.
Kansas City Chiefs : Quarterback
The story of Chiefs starting quarterback Matt Cassel is like straight from a movie. A career backup in college. he made the New England Patriots team in 2005 after being drafted in the seventh round. He got to back up future Hall of Famer Tom Brady with the Patriots as he learned his craft.
All of his schooling came to fruition in 2008, when he was thrust onto the field after Brady was hurt in the first game. Cassel won 10 games that year, forcing New England to place a franchise tag on him.
He was then traded to the Chiefs, and Cassel has won 14 games in his two seasons with the young and improving Chiefs. While he has yet to get hurt, the backups on Kansas City are far from being considered excellent.
Tyler Palko is fighting 2011 fifth-round draft pick Ricky Stanzi for the right to back Cassel up. Palko has just a little more experience, having bounced around on six different professional football teams since 2007.
Yet neither are what experts would consider ready to lead the team if Cassel goes down to injury. Kansas City may want to check that waiver wire for veteran quarterbacks cut in the next few weeks, if there will be any in a league that has very few good ones at the position despite all the rules that try to help the quarterback succeed.
Miami Dolphins : Wide Receiver
Miami has Brandon Marshall, who has had a drama-filled career in the NFL, and Davone Bess as their starting wide receivers. Third-year pro Brian Hartline, who started 12 games last year, also had a decent season in 2010.
It is an uncertain group after them. Journeymen like Patrick Carter and John Matthews are fighting second-year undrafted players like Roberto Wallace and Marlon Moore for roster spots.
Julius Pruitt is a practice squad player who also wants a job, as does undrafted free agent rookie Phillip Livas. Speedy Clyde Gates, who the Dolphins selected in the fourth round of the 2011 draft, is also in the mix.
The top three receivers are set in Miami, but the inexperience that follows has to be cause for concern. Miami want to snag a veteran off the waiver wire just in case one of their starters gets hurt.
Minnesota Vikings : Defensive Tackle
Losing run stuffer Pat Williams to retirement forced Minnesota to draft Christian Ballard. The Vikings have a huge contingent of players in camp after losing several key players from last season.
Not only did they bring in eight defensive ends, Minnesota has seven defensive tackles in camp. The only defensive tackle that is a known commodity is Pro Bowler Kevin Williams.
Letroy Guion was drafted by the Vikings in 2008, but it took until last year for him to contribute. Fred Evans has been a Viking five years and has 34 tackles. Minnesota is the seventh team Remi Ayodele has been on since 2006, but he did win a Super Bowl ring with the New Orleans Saints in 2009 and has been a starter the last two years after bouncing around the NFL.
Tremaine Johnson has spent the last two years on the Vikings practice squad. Colby Whitlock is an undrafted free agent rookie trying to stick.
Losing a Pro Bowler who clogged the middle of the defence since 2005 hurts, and getting a player with any semblance of those abilities is a daunting task. Ballard was a bit of a steal in the fourth round, since some draft pundits had him gone in the second round.
Ayodele is capable of starting for the Vikings, but it would not be a bad idea looking at the waiver wire for a proven veteran to flesh out the rotation on the depth chart.
New England Patriots : Outside Linebacker
It is hard to point out any kind of weakness on a team as loaded with talent as the Patriots, yet the outside linebacker position has typically been the spot of New England in many of the 11 years Bill Belichick has been their head coach.
Jermaine Cunningham was a second-round pick last year who collected just 34 tackles in his rookie year. After playing in just eight games in his first three years for two teams in the NFL, Rob Ninkovich has played in 31 for the Patriots since 2009. He started 10 games last year and is expected to start again this season.
The reserves are a potpourri of unknowns. Dane Fletcher gave the Pats a pair of sacks in the 13 games he appeared in during his 2010 rookie year after making the team as a undrafted free agent.
Eight-year veteran Niko Koutouvides is hoping to add quality depth, as is 2011 sixth-round draft pick Markell Carter. It is a young group that will be mentored by defensive coordinator, and former NFL linebacker, Pepper Johnson, Patrick Graham, and Belichick.
While Belichick may add a veteran to this unit from the waiver wire, he may be content with what he has now on his roster.
New Orleans Saints : Defensive Line
After watching the Houston Texans gain near 150 yards on the ground, while averaging about 10 yards per carry in the first half, the Saints newly acquired defensive linemen looked like last years group.
Aubrayo Franklin, Shaun Rogers, and Turk McBride were brought in as free agents, as was 2011 first-round draft pick Cameron Jordan. The Saints are hoping the performance against the Texans was a one time thing.
Journeymen Mitch King and Tom Johnson join unproven players like Junior Galette to try to help out. Fifth-year pro Jeff Charleston had the best year of his career in 2010 with the Saints.
Veteran defensive ends Alex Brown and Will Smith start, and the pair combined for 77 tackles and 7.5 sacks last season. Not exactly superb numbers from a pair that should be in their prime right now.
New Orleans has allowed 344 yards and three scores at an average of over 5.5 yards per carry during the preseason so far. Getting better is a must, and it may take getting a few guys off the waiver wire for them to do so.
New York Giants : Tight End
You'd think that losing Terrell Thomas, Brian Witherspoon, and Bruce Johnson for the year would have the G-Men looking for cornerbacks. You may be correct but the team has depth there. Aaron Ross and Corey Webster have starting experience.
Joe Burnett has NFL experience, and Brian Jackson has been on practice squads since 2009. Factor in 2011 top pick Prince Amukamara, the Jints look decent here if he returns soon from a foot injury.
But losing starting tight end Kevin Boss to free agency might hurt. Journeymen Daniel Coats and Bear Pascoe are known mostly for their blocking. Jake Ballard spent his 2010 rookie year on the practice squad as an undrafted free agent.
This possibly leaves the pass catching onus on Travis Beckum, who was a third-round selection by the Giants in 2009. Beckum has just 21 receptions so far in his career.
While the Giants are filled with excellent wide receivers on their roster, getting a tight end who can do even half the job Boss once did would help. New York thought they had that when they signed free agent Ben Patrick, but Patrick suddenly retired five days after joining the team.
Getting an upgrade for tight end or conerback off the waiver wire might be the way to go.
New York Jets : Wide Receiver
Getting free agents Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason were good moves, even if both are 34 and 37-years old respectively. Their experience should mesh well with Santonio Holmes in the receivers corps.
Yet there are questions after this trio. Third-year pro Patrick Turner has two career receptions, and fifth-year veteran Logan Payne has three.
The rest are rookies. Scotty McKnight was a seventh-round pick this year, and Jeremy Kerley was selected in the fifth round. Undrafted free agents Courtney Smith, Dan DePalma, and Michael Campbell are also trying to make the team.
If any of the veteran trio gets injured, the Jets could be in trouble if they decide to go with the unproven youngsters. Claiming a proven veteran off the waiver wire may be a wise move.
Oakland Raiders : Wide Receiver
The Raiders have a young group at wide receiver, so inconsistency has been prevalent with this group. Darrius Heyward-Bay has just 35 career receptions since being the seventh overall pick in the 2009 draft.
Louis Murphy, picked in the fourth round of the same draft, has 75 receptions. Chaz Schilens was drafted in 2008 and has 49 career catches. Shaun Bodiford, who has bounced around the league since 2006, has one career reception.
Derek Hagan has 64 receptions since joining the NFL in 2006. Chad Jackson, who also entered the league in 2006, has 14 career receptions. Nick Miller, now entering his third season with the Raiders, has three career receptions.
Jacoby Ford electrified the NFL in his 2010 rookie season by setting a Raiders team record with three touchdowns off kickoff returns. He also found time to catch 25 balls at an impressive 18.8 yards per catch average.
Raider wide receivers gave the team just 112 receptions in 2010, three less than both Andre Johnson and Roddy White had by themselves last year. This unit needs to step up in 2011 if Oakland wants to seriously compete for the AFC West title.
It is very rare a team gets a player off the waiver wire who can contribute a Pro Bowl performance with their new team, but Oakland could settle for a savvy veteran who knows how to get open running crisp routes. Newly hired offensive coordinator Al Saunders will have his hands full if the Raiders decide to go another season with a group of youngsters trying to learn on the fly.
Philadelphia Eagles : Linebacker
Vince Young put a target on the Eagles early by dubbing them the "Dream Team." The rest of the NFL had already seen the team load up their roster with top free agents, so Young's words provide them nothing but inspiration.
Yet this stacked team still has areas of concern. None are bigger than linebacker. The three linebackers Philadelphia plans to start has 132 career tackles combined.
Moise Fokou is the graybeard of the starters, having been selected in the seventh round of the 2009 draft. Jamar Cheney, who was selected in the seventh round of the 2010 draft, will bookend him at outside linebacker.
The starting middle linebacker with be rookie Casey Matthews, who comes from one of the NFL's most famous families. His grandfather Clay Matthew Sr. played offensive tackle in the 1950's. His dad, Clay Jr,, played 19 years as an NFL linebacker. His older brother, Clay Matthews III, is a Pro Bowl linebacker for the world champion Green Bay Packers.
If that wasn't enough legacy, his uncle is Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews. His cousin, Kevin Matthews, is being coached by Bruce as a center for the Tennessee Titans.
At 6'1" 231, Casey Matthews is not the prototypical size to play middle linebacker. Yet he has more than his expert family to learn from. Linebackers coach Mike Caldwell played 11 years in the NFL as a linebacker.
After this young trio, the backups are even more questionable. Akeem Jordan has been with the team since 2007 and has 178 career tackles. Rashad Jeanty has been in the NFL since 2006 and has 214 career tackles.
Keenan Clayton was drafted in the fourth round last year and had 11 tackles in the seven games he played in. Greg Lloyd Jr., the son of former Pro Bowl linebacker Greg Lloyd Sr., was picked in the seventh round of the 2011 draft. Brian Rolle was selected in the sixth round of this years draft.
This young unit is unknown by everyone but the Eagles coaching staff. The team may go with these kids, but it wouldn't be a bad move to snag any veteran linebackers who finds their way on the waiver wire.
Pittsburgh Steelers : Tight End
The Steelers are loaded with talent, so picking the tight end position in need of depth upgrade is reaching.
Heath Miller is the starter, as he has been his entire six seasons since drafted by Steelers in 2005. Veteran John Gilmore has played since 2002 because he is an excellent blocker.
After those two, Pittsburgh basically has H-Backs. David Johnson is used as a blocking fullback, as is Jamie McCoy. These two are vying to become the starting fullback.
Undrafted free agents Miguel Chavis, Vaughn Charlton, and Weslye Saunders are all trying to make the team. Saunders is an intriguing prospect.
He was rated a first-round talent by some with his 6'5" 267 frame and soft hands, then was told he would be ineligible for the draft because he violated team rules in college and did not play in 2010 after lying to the NCAA. He was reinstated later on, but went undrafted.
Yet Pittsburgh may want to take a look at any veteran tight ends on the waiver wire to add more quality depth.
Saint Louis Rams : Defensive Tackle
The young Rams are just about everyone's list as the next surprising team to make the playoffs in 2011. They have built a strong team in their rebuilding process over that last few years, and are just lacking in experience in some areas.
The one area that could use more proven bodies is at defensive tackle. Fred Robbins and Justin Bannon are a pair of wily veterans who should start this year. Darell Scott, entering his third year with the team, will try to back them up.
Gary Gibson, who started last year but gave the team just 18 tackles, returns. Daniel Muir has been in the NFL since 2007 and has 23 career tackles. Jermelle Cudjo had 13 tackles as an undrafted rookie last year.
Undrafted rookie John Henderson is the other defensive tackle in camp. Looking at the depth chart at this position, it is hard to get excited past the starters. The Rams may want to consider upgrading here by checking the waiver wire in the weeks to come.
San Diego Chargers : Running Back
Ryan Mathews had a tough 2010 rookie season, missing four games because of injury. The Bolts turned to fullback Mike Tolbert to carry the load, and he responded by leading the team in rushing and scoring 11 times.
San Diego lost Darren Sproles to free agency, so their best pass catching back left on the roster now may be Tolbert. Jacob Hester has given next to nothing since the Chargers reached on him in the third round of the 2008 draft.
Curtis Brinkley made the team as an undrafted rookie in 2009, but wasn't able to play until the next year after being shot by unknown assailants. He has just two career carries. Frank Summers was signed as a free agent, and he is a lot like Tolbert and Hester in that fullback who can play some halfback mold.
Jordan Todman slid to the sixth round of the 2011 draft, but the diminutive back is leading the team in rushing and receiving this preseason. Shawnbry McNeil, Dean Rogers, Brandon Sullivan, and Isaac Odim are all free agents trying to make the team.
If Mathews has another season interrupted by injuries this year, Tolbert will be the main rushing weapon. Yet there doesn't seem to be much behind him if he gets hurt. San Diego might want to watch the waiver wire to improve the quality of their reserves.
San Francisco 49ers : Defensive End
Signing veteran journeyman Josh McCown just barely took quarterback off this list here, but this is a weak position for the team because their starter is inconsistent and their rookie project will take several years to be ready.
After starting defensive end Justin Smith, who has made the Pro Bowl the last two seasons, the other end position has opened up. Isaac Sopoaga moves back to nose tackle to replace the departed Aubrayo Franklin after playing defensive end for the past three years.
Ray McDonald, who has mostly been a reserve since the Niners used a third-round pick on him in 2007, is expected to start. Will Tukuafu, Demarcus Dobbs, and Brian Bulke are all undrafted and unproven.
To say San Francisco is dreadfully thin at defensive end is a kind understatement. This team really needs to scour the waiver wire to upgrade the depth at this position.
Seattle Seahawks : Middle Linebacker
David Hawthorne moves back to middle linebacker after playing on the outside last year. The fourth-year pro, who made the team as an undrafted rookie, had 116 tackles and four interceptions playing in the middle during the 2009 season.
If he gets hurt, Seattle has two unknowns behind him. Rookie K.J. Wright, who was drafted in the fourth round, and Michael Johnson, who tried out for the team last year, are trying to backup Hawthorne.
It may be a good move for Seattle to get a proven player behind Hawthorne. Since Seattle was 21st in rushing yards allowed last season, this would be smart in case one of their better defenders season is cut short by injury.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers : Running Back
Losing reserve halfback Cadillac Williams may hurt more than expected. LeGarrette Blount resurrected his career last season by gaining 1,007 yards at a five yards per carry average. Earnest Graham, who was the teams feature back in 2007, has become a blocking fullback.
After those two, the questions begin. Kregg Lumpkin, who has been in the NFL since 2008, has two career carries. Allen Bradford was drafted in the sixth round this season and leads the Bucs in rushing this preseason. Yet he and Blount are averaging just two yards per carry so far.
Tampa Bay is gambling Blount is not a one-year wonder. If he is, there could be problems unless the Buccaneers grab a proven running back off the waiver wire to back him up.
Tennessee Titans : Outside Linebacker
Signing underrated free agent middle linebacker Barrett Ruud helps fill the huge hole the departed Stephen Tulloch left. But the outside linebackers of the Titans are a mix of experience and unknown youth.
Will Witherspoon enters his 11th season in the league. He is solid at every linebacker position, and has been a consistent tackler wherever he has played. He will have Akeem Ayers, the Titans second-round pick this year, bookending him.
Gerald McRath, Tim Shaw, Patrick Bailey, Rennie Curran, John Stokes, and Jonathan Cornell vie for the reserve jobs. McRath has started 12 games since being drafted in 2009 by Tennessee.
Shaw is on his fourth team since 2007 and is mostly a special teams contributor. Bailey has also contributed mainly on special teams since he joined the NFL in 2008, and has a Super Bowl ring. Curran was drafted in the third round by Tennessee last year, and collected just seven tackles all season.
Ayers is a raw prospect who left college a year early to join the NFL. McRath is a good backup for him in case the youngster isn't ready to start. Yet the rest of the reserves are an unknown commodity.
Tennessee may decide to go with Curran an the other main backup, but it isn't a bad idea to see if the waiver wire can produce more quality depth.
Washington Redskins : Inside Linebacker
London Fletcher appears ageless, but the 36-year old will have to retire eventually. Rocky McIntosh starts next to him, but some critics feel he is a better fit as an outside linebacker in a 4-3 defense.
The Redskins are using converted defensive ends as outside linebackers, so the middle linebackers ability to tackle sideline to sideline becomes even more crucial. The people who back up the starters here are questionable.
Perry Riley was drafted in the fourth round last year, and it appears he is being groomed to one day take over for Fletcher. Keyaron Fox and Horatio Blades are mostly noted for their special teams contributions. Evan McBride is an undrafted free agent rookie trying to make the team.
If an experienced middle linebacker hits the waiver wire, the Redskins should seriously consider signing him. Fletcher and McIntosh rarely get hurt, but having an emergency backup plan isn't a bad idea in case Riley isn't up to the job just yet.
2017 Allen & Ginter: Box 4: Packs 1 - 8
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