In the NFL, there are no guarantees. No one is certain to play all 16 games, no team is guaranteed to make the playoffs (it’s true, Patriots fans), and no player is assured a starting job for an entire season … for the most part.
A number of veterans who were starters in 2016 who aren't assured of maintaining that status in 2017. Either their play has declined or their team has added a potential replacement this offseason, leading to uncertainty with their standing on the depth chart.
These 12 players could lose their starting jobs if they don’t stand out in training camp and the preseason.
Alex Smith, QB, Chiefs
This is a bit of a long shot to happen, but you just never know when a team spends a high draft pick on your eventual replacement. Smith seemingly has a firm grip on the starting job, but Patrick Mahomes has as much raw talent as any quarterback in the NFL. He just needs time to develop and hone his skills. But what if Mahomes is more consistent and advanced than the Chiefs anticipated in training camp? Will they deny him the chance to start because he’s a rookie and Smith is a veteran? They shouldn’t.
Mahomes could wow coaches with his big arm and play-making ability, two things Smith lacks. If the Chiefs want to take the next step and make a run at the Super Bowl, they’ll need a quarterback capable of making throws deep down the field when they fall behind. Smith is more of a game manager, and it hasn’t worked out for the Chiefs in the postseason recently.
Getty ImagesGetty Images
Antonio Gates, TE, Chargers
Gates has been a staple of the Chargers’ offense for more than a decade, putting up numbers that warrant a spot in the Hall of Fame. He’s not the dynamic receiver he was when he was racking up 800-yard seasons consistently, but he can still make plays – just not as many as second-year stud Hunter Henry, who’s the team’s future at tight end.
Henry is going to play even more than he did as a rookie, when he caught 36 passes for 478 yards and eight touchdowns. Last season, he split time with Gates, but this year, Henry will supplant him as the Chargers’ No. 1 tight end and probably make the Pro Bowl. Gates won’t be phased out completely, but his snaps will be limited as the No. 2 tight end.
Ricardo Allen, FS, Falcons
Allen had a solid season in 2016, recording 90 tackles and two interceptions in 16 starts. He’s a fairly reliable starter, but he doesn’t make the big plays you hope to get from your center field free safety. The Falcons are providing some competition for Allen this summer in rookie Damontae Kazee, a converted cornerback who’s shifting back to free safety.
Brian Poole also warrants some consideration at free safety with the Falcons being deep at cornerback, so he could also get a look at that spot. Allen is a solid player, but the Falcons could use more turnovers from that position than they’ve gotten.
Getty ImagesSean Gardner
Reggie Nelson, FS, Raiders
Nelson is 33 years old and will be pushed for playing time by rookie Obi Melifonwu with Karl Joseph holding down the other safety spot. He’s still playing at a high level this late in his career, but a decline is sure to come and we could see it this season. Melifonwu is a playmaker with elite speed and good size, and his potential is far greater than Nelson's. Don’t expect him to take over right away, but if he becomes a more reliable tackler he’ll carve out a role early.
Nelson won’t make it easy for Melifonwu to win the starting job, but he’s going to stand out in camp with his freakish athleticism and ball skills.
Mark Ingram, RB, Saints
Ingram could not have been pleased about the Saints’ offseason moves at running back. Not only did they add Adrian Peterson – whom Ingram said he was excited to work with – but they also drafted Alvin Kamara. Ingram is still the best and most versatile back the Saints have, but it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see the Saints either move him this summer, or push him down the depth chart to give Peterson and Kamara more work.
It wouldn’t necessarily be a wise move with Ingram coming off of his best season, but training camp will be telling in regard to the Saints' pecking order. Sean Payton loves to split up carries among his backs, so look for that to happen this season.
Getty ImagesJoe Robbins
Chris Hogan, WR, Patriots
Hogan had a great first season with the Patriots, particularly down the stretch in the postseason. He started a total of 14 games in the regular season, catching 38 passes for a career-high 680 yards and four touchdowns. He became a true deep threat for Tom Brady, drawing coverage from safeties to open up underneath routes for Julian Edelman and Malcom Mitchell.
He could lose his starting job this season, though, after the Patriots added an even better big-play receiver in Brandin Cooks. He can absolutely fly and blow the top off of a defense, more so than Hogan. That’s not to say Hogan won’t get any playing time, it just won’t be as a primary starter with Cooks now in the mix.
Copyright The Associated Press. All rights reserved.AP
Greg Robinson, OT, Rams
Robinson technically lost his starting job when the Rams signed Andrew Whitworth to play left tackle. That move relegated Robinson to the right side, where he was expected to be the starter. However, he’s already gotten off to a rough start over there.
Jamon Brown received first-team reps in OTAs, which means Robinson has been pushed to a backup role already. Now, that doesn’t mean he’s going to remain a second-stringer from now until the start of the regular season, but it is an indictment of his standing on the depth chart. Don’t be surprised to see the 2014 No. 2 pick on the bench for much of this season.
Jonathan Stewart, RB, Panthers
The Panthers spent their first-round pick on Christian McCaffrey, who’s a different type of player than Stewart. He’s a versatile back who can split out wide as a receiver and still run between the tackles when asked. His skill set will allow the Panthers to get more creative on offense, keeping defenders on their toes when McCaffrey does get the ball.
It’s too early to tell which back will get most of the work this season, but the Panthers didn’t draft McCaffrey in the top 10 to have him ride the pine. He’s going to get his share of touches, complementing Stewart’s power running style. Stewart had his best season ever in 2009, when he split carries with DeAngelo Williams, but McCaffrey’s ability will be too hard to ignore in camp. He should win out as the starter.
Getty ImagesKevin C. Cox
Orlando Scandrick, CB, Cowboys
If I told you two months ago that Scandrick would be in danger of losing his starting job, you’d call me insane. The Cowboys lost Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr, leaving them extremely thin at cornerback. However, Scandrick could be relegated to a backup role by the time the season starts.
Dallas drafted Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis, two rookies capable of becoming starters early. They also signed Nolan Carroll and have Anthony Brown prepared to start on the outside, leaving few open spots for Scandrick. Being primarily a slot guy, Scandrick will need to hold off Lewis and Awuzie as nickel backs in order to get significant playing time – a difficult task in a now-competitive secondary.
APMark J. Terrill
Nelson Agholor, WR, Eagles
The Eagles had high expectations for Agholor when he was drafted in the first round two years ago. Unfortunately, he’s been a complete bust despite being a starter for much of his time in Philadelphia. In 26 starts, he has just 59 receptions for 648 yards and three touchdowns. The Eagles are seemingly losing their patience with him (and probably Jordan Matthews, too) after going out and signing both Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith.
Both newcomers should get a good amount of playing time, particularly Jeffery, so Agholor could become a third or fourth receiver. That doesn’t bode well for him, especially as he nears the end of his rookie contract. He simply hasn’t made enough plays to earn a starting job in 2017.
Jeremy Hill, RB, Bengals
Hill has become accustomed to sharing the backfield with Giovani Bernard, doing so for the past couple years. However, Bernard is mostly a third-down back who’s deployed in passing situations. Rookie Joe Mixon is not. He’s a combination of Hill and Bernard, possessing good power and hands as a receiver.
That should strike fear in both Hill and Bernard, particularly the former. Hill has struggled mightily the past two seasons after dominating as a rookie, averaging a paltry 3.7 yards per carry in his last 31 games. The touchdown numbers are still there, but that won’t keep him from getting his snaps limited. Expect Mixon to get significant carries fairly early in the season after pushing Hill in camp.
Chris Ivory, RB, Jaguars
Ivory was a big free-agent signing for the Jaguars last year after putting up big numbers with the Jets in 2015. He got off to a rough start when he was hospitalized just before the season opener, and he never quite recovered from it.
Now, he’s facing stiff competition to retain the starting job. T.J. Yeldon is still in the mix, and now Leonard Fournette – the fourth overall pick – is also in the backfield. Fournette has the best shot at being the starter in Week 1, and more likely than not, he will be.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Ivory on the bench for much of the season after putting up paltry numbers in 2016. He’s a decent receiver so he could get work on third down, but the Jaguars’ depth chart is crowded at running back, and he’s arguably the worst of the bunch.