We love the NFL draft because it welcomes more than 250 picks into the league, along with a few hundred undrafted free agents who should not go overlooked. But it's also a time when teams start shedding their skin a bit and moving on — either now or eventually — from some veteran players who no longer fit their needs.
Here are some vets who might be in danger of losing their starting spots or, worse yet, their roster spots:
Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder — Not a stunner, but his future in Minnesota is murky. It was that way a year ago when Ponder was benched, apparently once and for all. There was no way the Vikings were passing on a quarterback in the draft, and they got their guy in Teddy Bridgewater. Matt Cassel must fight him off for a starting job, but Ponder will not be part of that competiiton realistically, and Cassel can keep a job for the next 2-3 years as the bridge guy. The career of Ponder, once the 12th pick in the draft, hangs in the balance.
Bengals running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis — We've been bashed over the head with talk about how running backs are worth about as much as a chewed-up wad of Dentyne, and yet the Bengals went ahead and drafted a talented (but character risk) runner in Jeremy Hill in Round 2. As effective and fumble-proof as BJGE has been of late, the feeling was that he was slowing down Gio Bernard and not complementing him or augmenting the offense. Now, with new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson on board, Bernard and Hill look like the fire/ice tandem of the future and Green-Ellis looks like a cut candidate.
Packers receiver Jarrett Boykin — It's highly unlikely that Boykin, who came on during the middle part of the season and put up 681 yards in 2013, will lose his job with the Packers. Just his spot in the pecking order. Boykin was a revelation in the middle of the season when they most needed him, stepping up after Aaron Rodgers went down with injury. But he faded late and now must fend off more talented second-rounder Davante Adams for the coveted No. 3 role in this offense. With no proven pass catcher at tight end, there is room for four wideouts on the field much of the time. But the Packers' WR depth chart is suddenly neck deep with the additions of rookies Adams, Jared Abbrederis and Jeff Janis, plus holdovers Myles White and Chris Harper.
Titans left tackle Michael Roos — Credit Roos, who had to understand what the drafting of Taylor Lewan with the 11th pick in the draft meant to his future with the Titans, for showing up to work Monday for the team's voluntary minicamps. That's the mark of a true pro, who rarely is mentioned among the top tackles in the league and yet has been a rock since his rookie season of 2005, missing a mere one start the past nine seasons. Could a tackle-needy team such as the Panthers come calling? Perhaps. But it's clear that Lewan likely has a bead on a starting job immediately, and it's not going to be at right tackle, where free-agent addition Michael Oher will work.
Patriots O-lineman Ryan Wendell, Dan Connolly and Marcus Cannon — The Pats love to accumulate depth up front, which is why they spent three middle-round picks on Bryan Stork, Cameron Fleming and Jon Halapio. But that doesn't mean that they all will be bench and/or developmental players. There's a new offensive line coach in Dave DeGuglielmo, who takes over for longtime fixture Dante Scarnecchia, and DeGuglielmo might be more interested in working with the new blood over some of the holdovers. There will be some interesting battles with Tom Brady's protectors, especially on the interior, this summer.
Buccaneers tight end Timothy Wright — You might be surprised to learn that Wright actually finished 12th at the position in the NFL in receptions (54) and touchdowns (5) last season. But he doesn't appear to be a great match for the personnel the Bucs want to put there with the new coaching staff. Heck, Wright is now smaller than both projected starting wideouts, Vincent Jackson and rookie Mike Evans, at 6-3 and 220 pounds. With the drafting of Austin Seferian-Jenkins, the Bucs appear to be going bigger there, and he'll likely battle with more traditionally sized Brandon Myers, Tom Crabtree, Luke Stocker and others for the position. Wright could be a square peg in Tampa now, but his rookie performance suggests he has some NFL skills — for a different team.
Bears defensive tackles Jay Ratliff and Stephen Paea — The Bears had a clear mission to emerge from the draft with two defensive tackle picks, and they did that with second- and third-round picks Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton. They're interesting picks because neither appear ready to step in and start immediately, but both have flashed first-round ability at times. Ferguson only has started one college season, and Sutton took a step back this past year after a breakout 2012, but that doesn't mean they can't apply firm pressure on the standing of Ratliff and Paea, both of whom are eminently replaceable in the big picture. It will be interesting to see how the Bears work the kids into the rotation over the course of the season.
Eagles linebacker-defensive end Brandon Graham — What a strange career it has been for Graham, a former first-round pick who has been beset by injuries and underachievement but who remains a player who feasibly could contribute readily (based on the signs of life he showed in 2012) in the right system. It just doesn't appear that the Eagles' hybrid front is the best place for him to do so, and his reduced role and the semi-reach drafting of Marcus Smith in Round 1 appears to seal that fate. Graham was dangled quietly on the trade block in mid-April, with little apparent interest. Now he's a candidate to be cut, although we think he could play in a 4-3 system (as an end) that better suits his skills.
Rams cornerbacks Trumaine Johnson and Brandon McGee — The Rams are not afraid to draft at positions they have addressed in recent years by adding depth and competition, and they did that with the picks of Lamarcus Joyner (second round) and E.J. Gaines (sixth), who could be a steal. It's not clear how it's all going to shake out on the back end, but the Rams must identify a starting nickel back and a safety. Joyner will be tried at corner, but he also said at the NFL combine he liked safety because he could survey the field. He has nickel experience and certainly could jump right into that role. But Joyner also could vie for a starting spot and force his way into the lineup the way Tyrann Mathieu did a year ago with the Cardinals — and Mathieu and Joyner are similar players. Janoris Jenkins likely starts at one corner, and Johnson and McGee will get their cracks at prominent roles, but don't be surprised if Gaines push them or if Mo Alexander ends up better than either T.J. McDonald or Rodney McLeod at safety. A young group in need of some clear answers for Gregg Williams' defense.
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