Veteran players on notice after 2014 NFL draft include BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Nick Fairley
With the 2014 NFL draft now in the rear-view mirror, teams will turn their focus toward the battle for roster spots and playing time. Mini-camps begin in short order, followed by full training camp and the preseason, with the exhibition opener less than three months away.
Not every draft pick will be able to storm the depth chart out of the gate. More than a few, though, have a shot to swipe playing time from a returning starter. And these veterans make up just a handful of those in danger of losing their jobs to incoming rookies:
• BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB, Bengals: Teams generally don't use second-round picks in back-to-back drafts on the running back position ... and keep a third, slightly high-priced back on their roster. So, Green-Ellis may not be long for Cincinnati's roster after the team nabbed Jeremy Hill on Saturday.
MORE COVERAGE: 2014 NFL draft grades for every team
Green-Ellis did lead the Bengals in carries and rushing yards last season, but then-rookie Gio Bernard was more explosive out of the backfield. Not only Hill is capable of doing a lot of inside running Green-Ellis handled for Cincinnati, he can do so with more oomph. There are no salary-cap issues here, so the veteran back can stick around for a bit. Just don't expect the partnership to last much longer.
• Brandon Gibson, WR, Dolphins: Better read this quick before Gibson is cut. Miami drafted a replacement for the perennial underachieving former Ram in Jarvis Landry, one of the draft's most reliable receivers. Between Landry and incumbent fill-in slot guy Rishard Matthews, it's hard to see much space left for Gibson, who is coming back from a season-ending knee injury. The only thing that may save Gibson is that Miami would be on the hook for about $2 million if it released him.
• Matt Cassel, QB, Vikings/Matt Schaub, QB, Raiders: A pair of rather obvious inclusions after their teams drafted Teddy Bridgewater and Derek Carr, respectively. Brian Hoyer of the Browns probably falls into this category too as the early consensus is that job is Johnny Manziel's to lose. But that opinion separates it from the situations in Minnesota and Oakland, where the rookie QBs may open the proceedings playing catch-up.
"There is no pressure for this kid to come in and play," Vikings GM Rick Spielman said Thursday night. "We're comfortable with Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder right now. He has plenty of time to sit there and develop."
Schaub's presence may afford Carr the same buffer zone before he's thrown onto the field. Regardless, both the Vikings and Raiders clearly are trending toward starting their new QBs sooner rather than later.
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• Jeromey Clary, G, Chargers: Clary has just one year left on his current contract at $4.5 million and he ineffective last season, so the third-round selection of Chris Watt probably has Clary feeling quite uneasy right now. The Chargers may be able to wait and let this one play out into camp, just to see if Watt -- a talented prospect with a somewhat low ceiling and past injury issues -- can stand the test as a potential starter.
• Daniel Kilgore, C, 49ers: Another interior lineman who could be on the bench or looking for another gig soon. The 49ers just signed Kilgore to a three-year extension a few months back, with the expectation that he would step in as the starter for Jonathan Goodwin. The plans may have changed this weekend when Martin, the top center in the draft on some boards, landed in San Francisco's lap.
• Nick Fairley, DT, Lions: Fairley ought to be on notice already thanks to Detroit's decision not to pick up his fifth-year contract option for 2015. The Lions' fifth-round selection of Caraun Reid, one of the draft's better sleepers, piles on even more pressure. Reid will not be ready to battle for a starting job in camp, but he has enough upside to be considered a potential Fairley replacement down the road. The Lions clearly have concerns about Fairley's work ethic; the hard-working Reid falls on the opposite end of the spectrum.
• Erik Pears, RT, Bills: Pears' job was in jeopardy heading into the draft, before the Bills even did anything to address his position. Buffalo then used two picks on OTs: a second-rounder on Cyrus Kouandjio and a seventh-rounder on reputed malcontent Seantrel Henderson.
Kouandjio is the real threat for Pears and Chris Hairston. He was flagged by several teams for a lingering knee ailment, but a healthy Kouandjio brings far more pop up front than either of the returning options. For a team that wants to run the ball and needs to protect its young QB, being able to use Kouandjio as a starter would be an absolute gift.
• Steven Jackson/Jacquizz Rodgers, RBs, Falcons: Hard to say how the Atlanta backfield will shake out (and Freeman may never be a true No. 1 runner in the NFL). It is safe to assume, though, that the Falcons were very dissatisfied with their run game last year, considering that it finished dead last in the league paced by a measly 543 yards from Steven Jackson. The porous line was to blame for the most part, but certainly the Jackson-Jacquizz Rodgers pairing was not free of fault. Hence, the Freeman selection.
• Stephen Paea, DT, Bears: Chicago was invisible against the run last season, finishing 32nd out of 32 teams in yards allowed. As a remedy, the Bears drafted 315-pounder Ego Ferguson in Round 2 and then doubled-down by stopping Will Sutton's fall. Both will have a shot to hammer down a starting spot next to Jay Ratliff, where Paea, a 2012 second-rounder earned 10 starts last year. A change was needed here, so a rotation should be on tap if nothing else.
• Craig Robertson, LB, Browns: A one-time practice squad player, Robertson started 14 games at an inside LB spot for the Browns last season. He might be one-and-done as a full-time starter with the arrival of ex-Iowa Hawkeye Christian Kirksey, picked in Round 3. Kirksey displays far more athleticism than Robertson -- see: a sub-4.5 40 time -- and will be much more of a force alongside Karlos Dansby in Cleveland's second level. • Brandon Flowers, CB, Chiefs: Not so much a risk of falling from the starting lineup here as an increased possibility that Flowers may be dealt before the start of the season. Those rumors were percolating even before the 2014 draft arrived this weekend, and then the Chiefs spent a third-round pick -- their second selection overall -- on lanky Rice cornerback Phillip Gaines. A straight swap of Gaines for Flowers in the lineup would be a downgrade, at least for a bit, but the signs keep pointing toward Flowers playing elsewhere soon.