It’s Week 16, so you know the drill by now (or at least I hope you do). So after connecting with my sources across the league and digging into the All-22 Coaches Film, here are five players poised for bigger roles in Week 16.
Replacing: Chris Hubbard (knee)
The rookie is tasked with filling in for Hubbard, who filled in for Wyatt Teller, who was having a career-best campaign before suffering a high ankle sprain against Baltimore in Week 14. When scouting Harris in college, he was viewed as an undersized player (6-foot-1, 302 pounds) with good quickness and athletic ability who would fit best into a zone system at center, as he lacked the strength and bulk to block bigger defensive linemen. When watching Harris play 61 offensive snaps at right guard in relief last week against the New York Giants, I saw the same player. He showed good technique and feet in short areas but lacked the bulk to hold his ground against bigger D-linemen in pass protection. In the run game, Harris showed the quickness and aggressiveness to block in Kevin Stefanski’s zone run scheme along with the athletic ability to pull, but was not consistent sustaining his blocks. He also could not move defenders off the line of scrimmage when asked to in short-yardage situations.
Prior to Week 15, the fifth-round pick saw some snaps on special teams but only played one offensive snap in 10 game appearances. His play could steadily improve with more experience — and the Browns could use whatever stability Harris can provide, especially if the line is also dealing with the absence of left tackle Jedrick Wills, who was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list (but could still potentially start).
Replacing: Michael Gallup (hip)
Gallup has been limited in practice but has a chance to play in Sunday’s NFC East showdown with the Philadelphia Eagles. If Gallup can’t go or is at all limited, Brown could get the nod. A seventh-round pick by the Cowboys in 2017, Brown is a quality backup who hauled in just one reception on a season-high six targets in Week 15. On tape, Brown, who has good size (6-2, 225 pounds) and strength, has improved as a route runner since his days at Ohio State by making very sharp cuts to initially get open; however, he doesn’t possess the burst to separate after the initial move. The Cowboys have used him a number of times on slant routes, in which he showed toughness catching the ball inside. He’ll be used as a short-to-intermediate receiver who does not pose a major threat to the defense.
Replacing: James Robinson (ankle)
The Jaguars’ rookie sensation has been limited all week after suffering an ankle sprain, but there’s optimism that he’ll play Sunday. “We’re going to rest him and be cautious with him,” head coach Doug Marrone told the media Wednesday. “But obviously, he obviously feels like he will play and wants to play.” So while we could see the NFL’s No. 3-ranked back in rushing yards on the field against the Chicago Bears on Sunday, fourth-year pro Ogunbowale could see an increased amount of snaps if Robinson’s injury flares up. Last week after Robinson exited, Ogunbowale had just two carries for 17 yards.
In watching limited tape on Ogunbowale, he’s primarily used as a pass catcher out of the backfield. He’s a high-quality backup with no outstanding traits, and though he’s a smart and instinctive runner, he’s not a threat to make big gains in the run game. Ogunbowale is good in pass protection and as a short receiver, showing some ability to separate on his routes.
Kansas City Chiefs
Replacing: Clyde Edwards-Helaire (ankle/hip)
With the rookie expected to miss the rest of the regular season, Bell slides in as the featured bell cow. Bell has just 224 rushing yards and a pair of rushing TDs thus far in eight games with the Chiefs, but his production should see an increase as he fits seamlessly into his expanded role as a runner and pass catcher. The veteran running back is a very instinctive runner, not only behind the line of scrimmage but at the second level, and while he’s better than Edwards-Helaire in this area, the latter is more explosive and, thus, capable of making bigger plays. Bell is a patient rusher and slow to the hole, which helps him set up his blocks, and though he’s not going to give the Chiefs the explosive plays they’re accustomed to, Bell does show burst through the hole and to the corner.
Bell will be the effective runner we’ve seen in the past with the Pittsburgh Steelers, along with being a big asset for Patrick Mahomes in the passing game, with the potential to make big plays after the catch.
New England Patriots
Replacing: Stephon Gilmore (quad)
The Patriots lost the reigning Defensive Player of the Year for the season and now will look to J.C. Jackson as their new CB1. Along with Gilmore and Jackson, Jason McCourty and Jonathan Jones have each seen at action on at least 65 percent of defensive snaps this season. Both could take on bigger roles, but so could Williams, a second-year corner who’s played 11.4 percent of the Patriots’ defensive snaps this season. A healthy scratch in Week 15, Williams has played a majority of his snaps on special teams.
In limited action at cornerback, it’s tough to truly evaluate him this season. Coming out of college, I thought the Patriots drafted Williams to be a matchup corner vs. tight ends and size receivers due to his good size (6-3, 212 pounds), speed (4.55-second 40-yard dash) and ball skills. He’s not quite quick enough in his change of direction to play against quick or fast wide receivers. The Patriots have used him (although sparingly) the same way I thought they would.
When watching the All-22 Coaches Film on him from Week 1, when he matched up with Miami Dolphins’ Mike Gesicki, Williams wasn’t challenged much, because the tight end was not targeted much. Williams did have a PBU and covered Gesicki well in the end zone to help force an interception. He was very physical in his coverage — maybe too physical at times — and I thought it was a positive outing for him overall.
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