Part two of my look across the NFL at the deepest position groups for every time continues with the NFC. (Look for part 1 here)
Linebackers: Arizona’s 3-4 scheme means they have a high number of linebackers in camp. Right now, they have enough to have a full fourth string and then some. But there’s quality along with quantity here. Andre Branch was just brought aboard as a rush linebacker behind the ageless Terrell Suggs. Branch isn’t guaranteed a roster spot. Looking at the third-and-fourth teamers, a couple names stick out: Tanner Vallejo and Hayes Pullard are both special teams mavens. Jeff Holland was recently picked up after being waived by Denver, and he showed well at times last season. Vontarrius Dora and Pita Taumoepenu are youngsters who could attract attention on the waiver wire. Undrafted rookie Dante Booker won’t crack the rotation, but his Ohio State pedigree could give him a practice squad opportunity.
Defensive Line: Curiously, the Falcons list five starters on the defensive line on their unofficial depth chart, and only two linebackers. Vic Beasley, one of the ends, acts as a hybrid pass rusher. Atlanta has a bit of starting experience among their backups, including Jack Crawford, an 11-game starter last year at tackle, and former Tampa Bay 1st round pick Adrian Clayborn. After a year out of football, 2014 2nd round pick Ra’Shede Hageman returns to try to make an impact. He’s battling with 2018 3rd rounder Deadrin Senat for a backup tackle spot. There aren’t many “name” rookie free agent gems buried here, but instead, a couple of second-year prospects in Austin Larkin (Purdue) and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner (UCLA). Given the five starters listed, it’ll be interesting to see how many bodies Atlanta keeps at this position.
Quarterbacks: Cam Newton has been dinged up over the years due to his aggressive style of play, resulting in some significant playing time for backups. Will Grier is a rookie 3rd round pick out of West Virginia, and he’ll almost certainly make the team. Will Carolina keep another backup as insurance in case the rookie isn’t ready to be the number two man? That battle will come down to Kyle Allen and Taylor Heinicke, two former undrafted free agents. Allen looked the part in his lone start last year, while Heinicke saw action in six games in 2018. Allen could have interest on waivers if he gets cut, while Heinicke may not. Either of the two would be solid options for XFL teams looking for a quarterback.
Special Teams: We have an honest-to-goodness specialist battle here. The placekicking job will be handled by either Eddy Pineiro, acquired in the offseason from Oakland; or Elliott Fry, who kicked in the AAF. Either man will have a lot of pressure to fill the void after Cody Parkey so publicly doinked the Bears out of the playoffs with his miss last season. On the long-snapping front, Patrick Scales hasn’t been as automatic as one would hope from the position, so he’s being tested by John Wirtel, a rookie out of Kansas. Wirtel was not a highly-ranked long snapping prospect in this year’s draft, but few snappers are challenged in camp and the XFL will need eight of them.
Defensive Line: There’s a good mix of youth and experience on Dallas’s front four, creating a lot of competition in camp. The Cowboys devoted three draft picks to the position this year. Seventh rounder Jalen Jelks is competing with 5th rounder Joe Jackson for a backup end spot. They’re getting an opportunity with DeMarcus Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford both on the physically-unable-to-perform list. Versatile veteran Kerry Hyder is in danger of not making the team. Two valued rookie free agents in Daniel Wise (Kansas) and Ricky Walker (Virginia Tech) may be battling for one practice squad spot. AAF alum Shakir Soto is also vying for a spot. Preseason game action may determine the rotation and roster spots.
Tight Ends: All six tight ends on Detroit’s camp roster are NFL-caliber players. Jesse James, a free-agent recruit from Pittsburgh, and 1st round pick TJ Hockenson are locks. The Lions will either keep three or four, depending on how numbers work out elsewhere on the squad. Logan Thomas is a converted QB who is still learning the position. Jerome Cunningham is a journeyman block-first guy, as is Austin Traylor, who can also double as a fullback. Isaac Nauta could end up being a steal as a 7th round pick this year; he tested poorly but produced in college. If the Lions like his long-term outlook, they may try to keep him either as the third or fourth tight end.
Green Bay Packers
Defensive Line: The starting three are set here; it’s now a competition for the final two or three spots. Speedy Fadol Brown, late of Oakland, is squaring off with practice squadder James Looney and 2019 5th rounder Kingsley Keke for one or two backup end positions. Keke has the advantage there. At backup nose tackle, it’s likely Tyler Lancaster’s spot to lose after he impressed as an undrafted free-agent last season. That means two large men will be on the street: 332-pound second-year man Deon Simon, and 331-pound rookie Olive Sagapolu (who is athletic enough to do a standing backflip). You can’t teach size.
Los Angeles Rams
Defensive Backs: The Rams boast a top cornerback tandem in Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters. Troy Hill and Nickell Robey-Coleman, two former AFC East denizens, back them up. Darious Williams and Donte Deayon duke it out for the backup nickel job behind Robey-Coleman. This year’s 3rd rounder, David Long, may end up getting a redshirt year due to the depth. At safety, Eric Weddle and John Johnson patrol the backfield, while heralded Taylor Rapp and Marqui Christian fight for playing time. Penn State 7th rounder Nick Scott may make it as the final safety, beating out Oklahoma alum Steven Parker and Iowa rookie free agent Jake Gervase. A team could keep up to three DBs on the practice squad.
Offensive Line: Three draft picks spent by the Vikings along the line are in three very different spots on the depth chart after the first preseason game. Center Garrett Bradbury, a 1st rounder, is already entrenched as a starter. Dru Samia, a 4th rounder, is on the third team, but has some upward mobility and will make the roster as a backup. And 6th round pick Oli Udoh has the look of a practice squad player at this point. Samia’s presence could spell the end of the line for third-year man Danny Isidora and former starter Dakota Dozier. Longshots like John Keenoy, Cornelius Edison, and Storm Norton also have some upside to their game.
New Orleans Saints
Running Backs: Rookie free agent Devin Ozigbo out of Nebraska has already made his way to second-team all-purpose back behind Alvin Kamara. He has passed Jacquizz Rodgers for that role and may put Rodgers out of a job. Fourth-year man Dwayne Washington is a valued special-teamer and if he makes the club, it’ll be via that route. Kerwynn Williams has bounced around the league and is another set of legs on the New Orleans roster. They may only keep three true running backs. This position is so deep that there’s even a battle at fullback between incumbent Zach Line and former Detroit Lions draft pick Mike Burton.
New York Giants
Linebackers: Once a sore spot, this position has been built into a strength by general manager Dave Gettleman. It’s expected the Giants will keep eight linebackers. On the inside, 5th round pick Ryan Connelly looks safe as a backup, leaving former starter B.J. Goodson and special teams stalwart Nate Stupar battling for the last spot. That would put former Bear Jonathan Anderson out as well. On the outside, there may not be as much competition. Rookie free agent Jake Carlock impressed in the first preseason game. Edge rusher and former 5th round pick in 2017 Avery Moss may not be locked in. Joey Alfieri and Keion Adams are also quality depth players who may find themselves without a home in September.
Running Backs: Some were surprised the Eagles spent a 2nd round pick this year on Penn State’s Miles Sanders, given their treasure trove at the position. The Eagles truly use a committee approach with their backs. Sanders and Jordan Howard are in. Corey Clement has been brought along slowly due to injury this summer, but he’s expected to make the team. Darren Sproles is also back for another year; hard to see Philly cutting him. They may be able to sneak one more in, but those four also might be it. That leaves Josh Adams, who led the team in rushing last year, off the roster. He’d be joined by Saints 2018 6th rounder Boston Scott, 5’9” Donnel Pumphrey (the all-time leader in Division I rushing yards), and 2016 5th round pick Wendell Smallwood. Those are some quality credentials to be without a home.
San Francisco 49ers
Defensive Line: As noted by The Athletic’s Matt Barrows, the 49ers may keep as many as 10 linemen here because three are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents next spring. Even so, some talent will end up getting cut. One name that stands out is Damontre Moore, currently listed as a fourth-team end. Moore was a 3rd round pick in 2013 and played in the AAF this spring. Tackle Jordan Thompson is already in the XFL’s rolodex after participating in one of the Summer Showcases. This will be a tough group for him to crack. Kevin Givens was a top undrafted signing at the tackle position. Sixth-year vet Jay Bromley and second-year man Jeremiah Valoga are in danger of not making the squad.
Defensive Backs: The Legion of Boom they are not, but Seattle still has talented depth in its secondary. While most of the attention of XFL fans is on the QB race in Seattle, former Miami 2nd round pick Jamar Taylor is battling to make the roster, just to show how competitive this unit is. Jeremy Boykins and Simeon Thomas are fringe NFL talent at the position. Longtime Seahawk DeShawn Shead was brought back this summer, but it’s not a lock he makes the team. Shead will try to leapfrog Shalom Luani, who was acquired in a trade with Oakland last season; and Jawuan Johnson, a rookie free agent from TCU. Most of the other spots on the depth chart seem set; just one or two corner and safety jobs may truly be on the line.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Quarterbacks: New head coach Bruce Arians was brought in to straighten Jameis Winston out. That remains a work in progress as does the battle to be Winston’s backup. Veterans Blaine Gabbert and Ryan Griffin could both end up making the roster if Arians chooses to carry three QBs. At this point, though, having both Gabbert and Griffin seems redundant. Neither has practice squad eligibility left, and neither are likely to cause other teams to run to their to their phones to sign them. The wildcard here is Nick Fitzgerald, who has spent the preseason on the Non-Football Injury List. Once thought to be a top prospect at Mississippi State, Fitzgerald went undrafted. If healthy, his skillset could match what XFL offenses are looking for. Tampa could also decide to stash him on injured reserve for the year.
Wide Receivers: The Athletic’s Ben Standig reports that starter and 2016 1st rounder Josh Doctson is in danger of not making the team. He’d likely be in demand from other NFL teams, but it shows how fluid the receiving corps is in Washington. This year’s draft picks Terry McLaurin and Kelvin Harmon are up to the second-team on the depth chart. Trey Quinn mans the slot. Brian Quick has never lived up to his 2nd round potential but could find new life in the XFL. Jehu Chesson and Robert Davis are interesting young size/speed guys and it’s likely one but not both will make the team. Steve Sims Jr. from Kansas is an interesting rookie free-agent making up the back-end of the position.
Greg Parks is a columnist for Pro Wrestling Torch (pwtorch.com). He covers the XFL and the Tampa Bay franchise for XFLBoard.com. He has written extensively about the XFL. He resides in Naples, Florida. Follow him on Twitter @gregmparks.