Opportunities have opened for several players to get more playing time this week due to injuries to starters. After connecting with my sources across the league and digging into the pertinent All-22 Coaches Film, I’m giving scouting reports on eight players who could take on bigger roles in Week 8.
Replacing: Odell Beckham (ACL tear)
Higgins, a fifth-year pro, is a savvy receiver who has chemistry with Baker Mayfield. A solid route runner with good hands, Higgins has 11 receptions on 12 targets for 163 yards and a pair of TDs this season (he’s played 31.1 percent of the offensive snaps). He makes quick, sharp cuts to create initial separation but does not possess breakaway speed. Higgins does make plays downfield using his length and ability to make adjustments on the ball. Coming off the first 100-yard game of his career, Higgins’ confidence is likely at an all-time high.
Peoples-Jones, a sixth-round pick in this year’s draft, has good size (6-foot-2, 212 pounds) and speed but is a better tester than player at this point. As a return man, the rookie has shown good instincts and aggressiveness as a runner but he hasn’t displayed long speed. He uses his body to catch the ball and struggles to make sudden cuts in his routes. Having played just 18.5 percent of Cleveland’s offensive snaps this season, DPJ broke out in a big way last week when hauling in the go-ahead, 24-yard touchdown reception with less than a minute left in the game.
Potentially replacing: Andy Dalton (concussion)
Rookie Ben DiNucci, a seventh-round pick out of James Madison this year, is in line to start if Dalton, who remains in the concussion protocol as of this publishing, is unable to go. DiNucci entered last week’s game after Dalton suffered the head injury and showed flashes of potential on his two completions. The first was a flat-footed, 32-yard pass to Amari Cooper down the sideline that displayed good arm strength. His second was a short completion to Cooper in the fourth quarter in which he correctly read the blitz. However, DiNucci often held the ball too long — most likely due to limited practice time and the inability to get through his progressions quickly — resulting in three sacks and a pair of fumbles (both were recovered by Dallas).
Last week provided a small sample size, but when evaluating his college tape, DiNucci showed athletic ability, decent arm strength and good touch. He needs to improve his footwork and focus on getting through his progressions in a timely manner. With an important division matchup against Philadelphia ahead, I would expect the Eagles to blitz and mix coverages to try to confuse the rookie quarterback, if he gets the start. He should be better prepared to play after a week of practice with the first-team offense under his belt. Look for coordinator Kellen Moore to help DiNucci by dialing up quick throws, play-action passes and plays that will move him outside the pocket with bootlegs.
Replacing: Mike Purcell (foot)
McTelvin Agim and Sylvester Williams haven’t played much in 2020 but could be in the mix to replace Purcell. Agim, a rookie defensive tackle who’s played in two games this year, shows quickness and the ability to win on the edge. He’s not productive or consistent in his play and rarely sheds blocks. The third-round pick is quick off the ball when rushing the passer but lacks counter moves after engaging with the blocker. The Broncos promoted Williams from the practice squad to the active roster this week. Back in Week 6 against the Patriots, Williams was involved in making a stop on a two-point conversion attempt on one of his eight total snaps.
Replacing: Yannick Ngakoue (traded to Baltimore)
Both defensive ends have played on at least 30 percent of Minnesota’s defensive snaps this season, but with Ngakoue exiting town last week via trade, both are in the mix to have bigger roles along the D-line. D.J. Wonnum, a fourth-round pick this year, is rangy with long arms and decent athletic ability. He shows potential as a pass rusher and works best on the backside against the run. He’s getting better every game but needs to continue to improve his strength, hand use and production, especially against the run.
Jalyn Holmes is a third-year pro who’s big, physical and shows strength at the point of attack. When watching the All-22 Coaches Film, he was often late to shed blocks and didn’t make many plays. He showed pursuit ability and played with good effort, but doesn’t have the burst or explosiveness to consistently beat blockers. Once engaged by a blocker (guard or tackle), Holmes lacked a second move to beat his man.
Replacing: Devin Bush (ACL tear)
Robert Spillane made the first start of his three-year career last week. He recorded three tackles on 43 defensive snaps vs. Tennessee. An above-average tackler, Spillane plays hard and relentlessly pursues the football. He takes on blocks aggressively and has good instincts. When looking at the tape, he is solid in zone coverage but lacks speed to match up with running backs in man coverage. I expect the Baltimore Ravens to challenge him in that area this week.
Follow Charley Casserly on Twitter @CharleyCasserly
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