Finding contributors: the names we hear about are usually not the right ones
From the time the 53-man roster cuts were due at 4 p.m. ET on Saturday, fans of all stripes have been wondering which of the released players from other teams should their team now pursue? Various articles have been posted by major media with lists of notable cuts or the “best” released players now available:
- USA Today: NFL roster-cut tracker: which big names were released?
- CBS Sports: Prisco’s 2016 All-Cut Team
- Around the NFL: What we learned: 18 takeaways from roster cutdowns
- Around the NFL: Notable cuts roundup
- Washington Post: Mark Sanchez, Justin Forsett lead list of notable NFL players cut
And so on...
The problem is these articles mostly talk about well-known players with names their readers will recognize. Sometimes it is because the player is a veteran with a reputation like Josh Sitton or Jahri Evans. Sometimes it is because the player was a high-round draft pick like Dee Milliner or Aaron Dobson. Yet other cases may just have been publicized as human interest stories like Moritz Boehringer. Regardless, most of those those articles tend to talk about the same players — many of whom would be expensive or older signings.
Those are not the players our readers are asking about when the post-cuts discussion revolves around where the Lions might find a backup swing tackle or linebacker depth players. The really interesting and difficult discussion is: how do we identify young under-the-radar players who barely missed the cut on another team’s roster but might make ours better? The very fact they are under-the-radar (nobody is talking about them on the national scene) is what makes them tough to find.
Just because you're not hearing about certain players from the teams' beat writers doesn't mean they're struggling and "bust" material.— Alex Reno (@alex_reno) August 15, 2016
Who would know about the value of the players each team just cut?
Well, let’s rephrase that question: who do you think would be the best people to ask about the quality of players that were just cut by the Detroit Lions? If you are like me, you would probably say that someone could learn a lot by reading what the community at Pride Of Detroit thought of anyone who did not make Detroit’s 53-man roster cut.
Logically, it seems reasonable to expect the hard core fanbases on each SB Nation NFL site to have a pretty good idea of which guys were the best players their teams just cut. So here is what we did: we went to every SB Nation blog and took a look at their 53-man roster deadline articles to see what surprised them, which cuts caused the most outrage among their readers, and which players were regarded as the best candidates for the practice squads.
If a player was expected to make a 53-man roster by the people most closely watching the team’s games and coverage (i.e. the kinds of people reading SB Nation blogs), that is a great signal that the player is actually pretty good despite being released. The next best group of players? The ones those rabid fans and SB Nation staff members believed were the most important players to bring back on a practice squad.
Taking into account the needs of the Lions, then, we scoured the SB Nation sites and tried to find situations where:
- The player fits a need for the Detroit Lions roster
- The staff or fanbase of the SB Nation site for the team that just cut the player is deathly afraid of said player being claimed on waivers
- The staff or fanbase of the SB Nation site for that team believed the player deserved to either make the 53-man roster or should have been a “lock” for the practice squad specifically because they were a talented player who could be developed
- The player is not a high priced star/veteran player who would be difficult to sign
What “needs” did we hunt for?
The five types of players being noted are cornerbacks, offensive line backups (both interior and tackle), blocking tight ends, linebackers of any kind, and power running backs. Each of those broad player categories showed up as a roster need at some point in the preseason:
- Jeremy Reisman pointed out how little depth Detroit has at cornerback:
Alex Carter hasn't done much to earn a spot on the roster, but neither has anyone underneath him. Charles Washington had a breakup or two on Thursday, but it just hasn't been enough to unseat Carter. The Lions aren't very deep at the position, so Carter will get another shot to develop in practice.
- My own reaction to the actual cuts talked about how shallow the roster looked at offensive line behind all five starters:
Well, Gabe Ikard was released in the first transaction leading to 53, so the team is going to roll with only the two rookies for the interior of the line.
Throughout the entire offseason, it was assumed Ola would be the primary backup tackle since he “performed just about as well as anyone could expect” in real games last year. By releasing Ola, the Lions are left with Cornelius Lucas (who Ola was brought in to replace in 2015) and untested former seventh-round pick Corey Robinson as the backups.
- At the 75-man roster cut deadline, Jeremy wrote about the “precarious situation at tight end”:
Considering the start of the season is less than two weeks away, this isn’t exactly where the Lions wanted, or expected, to be. There’s little doubt this unit needs to be upgraded quickly. With 31 other franchises cutting their teams down to 75 players on Tuesday, there is an entire batch of new players available on the market.
While most of these options include similarly inexperienced players to Wick And Fuehne, there are a few intriguing options the Lions may consider.
- Justin Simon counted poor linebacker depth as one of the 15 things he thought he knew about the 2016 Detroit Lions:
I think if any of the starting linebackers go down with an injury it’s going to be a long season. The top three guys look pretty well set with DeAndre Levy, Tahir Whitehead, and Kyle Van Noy — yes, him! Outside of that, it’s all a hot mess.
- Ryan Mathews noted the Lions are without a good second running threat to complement Ameer Abdullah:
A few things stand out from the numbers here, but what’s most noticeable is how only three playoff teams had their secondary rushing option run the ball fewer times than Joique Bell in Detroit.
I can recall various discussions with Ryan, Chris Lemieux, Alex Reno, and Kent Lee Platte about how this is specifically about the absence of an inside runner who can pound the ball between the tackles with power. Almost two months ago, Jeremy Reisman wrote a pretty convincing argument for bringing back Joique Bell to rectify the situation. Oh, and before you ask about Dwayne Washington:
That shot that Washington took is a good example of why he's not an inside rusher. Runs upright, gonna take big hits.— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) September 1, 2016
So there you have the five things we will look for. Now for some digging through SB Nation sites for viable candidates.
The selection of cornerbacks who might be poached from other teams was quite slim. One name that set off alarms at Cincy Jungle was rookie CB Darius Hillary. One of the last cuts on defense for the Bengals, Hillary appeared in practice squad discussions on their site and was thought to be a possible loss to waiver claims.
There was some buzz around CB Pierre Desir finally looking good on defense lining up at safety as part of a conversion in the fourth preseason game at Dawgs by Nature. It was thought to be too little too late to save him, but Desir’s size and flexibility to move between safety and cornerback puts him in the Tavon Wilson mold.
Over at Blogging the Boys, the Dallas Cowboys’ CB Deji Olatoye “was considered a roster lock by many Cowboys fans (and both Danny Phantom and Tom Ryle on their staff’s deadline predictions article), but was beat out by Dax Swanson for the final CB spot. He looked good in the preseason outside of the last game.” Olatoye missing the 53-man cut was one of their big surprises for the deadline.
At Pats Pulpit, New England’s CB Darryl Roberts had some support among the community members. It was noted that Roberts does not play special teams, which would limit his appeal to Bob Quinn.
Offensive line depth
Also thin, there were only three interesting players waived who appeared the meet the criteria. First, from the Cincinnati Bengals: G Trey Hopkins. A second year Texas Longhorn, Hopkins spent last season on Cincinnati’s practice squad. This year, both the staff at Cincy Jungle and some of their readers considered Hopkins a lock for the practice squad after playing well in preseason.
At Blogging the Boys, the staff thought T Bryan Witzmann played well in the preseason, and was staff member Jim Scott’s under-the-radar pick for a 53-roster spot. He was one of the cut Cowboys thought most likely to be claimed by fellow staff writer One Cool Customer.
Finally, C Eric Kush on the Los Angeles Rams was a shocker of a deadline cut for the folks at Turf Show Times. All the way up to the deadline, staff writer 3k had Kush as a possible keeper on the Rams’ 53-man roster.
Blocking tight end
Many of the released tight ends who made impressions with their teams were being lauded for their receiving ability; some were actually converted wide receivers who were decent route runners but still working on learning to block better. The Detroit Lions already had those kinds of guys in Cole Wick and Adam Fuehne.
If there is interest in acquiring another tight end with that kind of skill set, the Carolina Panthers cut TE Marcus Lucas. A former WR who was converting over to tight end, Lucas’ blocking was questionable but at least decent for where he was developmentally. A lengthy discussion among Cat Scratch Reader users in the comments section of their roster cuts tracker went back and forth between favoring TE Beau Sandland and Lucas.
The best backup-quality blocking tight end available for poaching is probably TE Austin Traylor from the Dallas Cowboys. At Blogging the Boys, Traylor was mentioned in their 53-man deadline surprise cuts for what the Lions need: at one point ”it appeared like the team could keep Traylor around for his blocking ability.” When the guy “seemed to be a stud for our identity of smashmouth football” and it’s a running team like the Cowboys, that’s a sign there may be some good blocking to be had.
Easily the deepest pool of cut players thought worthy of either 53-man roster or practice squad consideration, we’ll go through the linebackers fairly quickly with only a handful of notes. There were so many that we leave it to the reader to dig into whether they are a scheme fit for the Lions or not.
Both the staff and readers at Battle Red Blog had ILB Reshard Cliett pegged as one of the top backup inside linebackers to make the 53-man roster of the Houston Texans.
The note on LB Terrance Smith in Arrowhead Pride’s deadline cuts roundup post had praise for the UDFA out of Florida State: “Inside linebacker and special teamer. He has enough upside to make the 53-man roster next year as an injury replacement this year.” He was a talented guy coming back from an injury and the only undrafted starter off the FSU national championship team. A skilled player returning from injury who can play special teams? Sounds like someone Bob Quinn might be interested in.
It was interesting to find ILB Tyler Matakevich from the Pittsburgh Steelers on this list, because I distinctly recall wanting the Lions to select him on day 3 of the 2016 draft. Alex Reno described the Temple product in his top 10 off-ball linebackers draft preview using the same kinds of terms you would expect to see in a blurb for Stephen Tulloch. It turns out this was a solid prediction, and both the staff and the fans at Behind the Steel Curtain wanted him to make the 53-man roster. The most common observation from Steelers fans? Matakevich was always around the ball making plays. That’s the kind of football player we can use at linebacker.
Edit: As pointed out by Josh Carney, Matakevich actually made the Steelers’ 53-man roster. This is what I get for trying to write this big an article at 4 in the morning!
At Baltimore Beatdown, there was some speculation that OLB Victor Ochi may have been held back a bit by the Ravens in their fourth preseason game to help sneak him through waivers: “Many believe they limited his role to land on the practice squad. With Ochi being released he is eligible for the practice squad, but he must clear waivers first. Most don’t see him sticking around with his skillset and upside.”
Mile High Report was extremely high on two linebacker prospects that were cut from the team at the deadline: OLB Vontarrius Dora and OLB Sadat Sulleyman. Dora is the better pass rusher of the two:
One of the stars on defense this preseason, but the Broncos can only keep so much talent at one position and the outside rush position is the deepest on the team. Back in early July, I predicted Dora would benefit immensely from a year on the practice squad and his play has only confirmed that assertion. However, he is probably one of the few players the Broncos cut that other teams might be targeting.
Sulleyman is a smart player who may be a good fit on the strong side:
What I liked most about Sulleyman when I wrote about him back in June is his attention to film study. He talks about studying film a lot and if there is one play a young player can rapidly rise in the NFL is through increasing his football IQ. I believed he was a strong practice squad candidate from the start and I see no reason to change my position.
Either way, Broncos fans endorse them heartily. One Mile High Report reader described both Dora and Sulleyman by simple stating: “beast.”
The Indianapolis Colts also released two young outside linebackers at the deadline who may be worth checking out: OLB Earl Okine and OLB Trevor Bates. From Stampede Blue’s roster cut reactions:
At outside linebacker there also were some surprises. Earl Okine (the team’s best pass rusher in preseason) and Trevor Bates (a leading special teams contributor) were both cut, while Ron Thompson was placed on injured reserve. That leaves just Curt Maggitt among the young outside linebackers, in addition to Robert Mathis, Trent Cole, and Erik Walden. You’d have to think the team might be monitoring that position and thinking about bringing in extra help, while both Okine and Bates are practice squad candidates.
Depending on where Detroit thinks Kyle Van Noy is in his development, Bates may actually be the more interesting of the two. Love that special teams ability, right?
Naturally, we have to feature a Patriots player who was acquired for special teams play, right? That name is LB Kamu Grugier-Hill. From the Pats Pulpit staff, here’s Rich Hill on KGH in their site’s summary of New England’s early cuts:
The Patriots drafted KGH in the 6th round of this draft and he was expected to make the team as a special teamer. Unfortunately, he was outplayed on defense by rookie Elandon Roberts who could still sneak on the roster. It’s possible the Patriots extension of Jonathan Freeny is related to this release.
Power running backs
The first name to be highlighted in this article that may have actually appeared in some of the regular media “notable cuts” type pieces is HB Andre Williams from the New York Giants. He was considered the biggest surprise release by the Big Blue View staff, but the fans seemed to be quite down on the fourth-round pick from 2014. While he had not produced on the field during his time with the Giants, he has the right body type and running style to fill the Joique Bell role for the Lions (insert low yards-per-carry joke here).
Finally, i’m just going to let these quotes by Mike Bar at Field Gulls tell you about Seattle’s recently-released HB Troymaine Pope:
Who else? Pope has been the most consistently impressive, high-volume player throughout Seattle’s entire preseason not named Christine Michael. After not receiving much opportunity against the Cowboys, he reminded us Thursday of the reasons why he belongs on an NFL roster. The impressive burst and above-average decision-making he showcased against the Vikings was on display in Oakland.
While he hadn’t previously shown a knack for running people over or breaking tackles, Thursday changed that
I know what many of you are thinking. These are third-string defenses that Pope is running against. Well, he can only trample over the eleven men that are across the line from him. It’s not his fault that Seattle’s running back depth chart is stacked, resulting in fewer opportunities. When he’s on the field, he shines, and that’s all that matters.
In any case, I hope my ‘maine man Pope is free to live out his dream and roam the field for an NFL team during 2016, be it with the Seahawks or not. He deserves it.
And I think John Schneider knows that.
That is one heck of an endorsement from a staff that surely knows good power running when they see it. Their fans are dreading the Patriots or Ravens snatching Pope away from the Seahawks. WHY NOT THE LIONS?