Every NFL team’s key role player
Every NFL team has a series of superstars on both offense and defense who steal the limelight, but in order for a team to be successful, they need quality starters at every position and strong reserves/role players.
Often, it’s those role players who are ultimately the difference between a championship run or a story about what could have been.
Here’s a look at every NFL team’s key role player.
Arizona Cardinals – John Brown, wide receiver
This spot could have just as easily have gone to wide receiver J.J. Nelson, but John Brown has been an under-the-radar gem for the Cardinals several years running. He finished fourth on the team in all purpose yards (697) in 2016 despite starting only six games, and did his damage through the air, on the ground and returning both kicks and punts. Unfortunately he is currently being limited by a quad injury.
Atlanta Falcons – Adrian Clayborn, defensive end
After starting for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers over four seasons, Adrian Clayborn joined the Falcons as a reserve and like many others on defense, plays a key role. A rotational defensive end with quality experience, Clayborn recorded 7.5 sacks with Atlanta over his first two seasons and provides a solid third-and-long option. The 29-year-old has one sack this season, and made his presence felt with a big hit on Aaron Rodgers in Week 2.
Baltimore Ravens – Justin Tucker, kicker
Kickers may start all 16 games for a team, but there’s no denying how they play a very specified role. And for Justin Tucker, he’s long been a solid option for the Ravens, but that was never more evident than in 2016 when he connected on all 10 field goals beyond 50 yards and was named to the Pro Bowl. The streak of perfection on attempts from 50-plus ended in Week 2, but few kickers in the NFL are more reliable than Tucker.
Buffalo Bills – Ryan Groy, offensive lineman
Ryan Groy is your typical O-line reserve, having spot started 10 games throughout his career. However, when called upon, Groy has been as good as anyone else. In 2016, Groy took over for an injured Eric Wood and didn’t allow a single sack on 291 pass-blocking snaps. Groy is listed as a backup center and also can fill in at right guard for the Bills.
Carolina Panthers – Julius Peppers, DE
Even at 37 years old, Julius Peppers remains a major factor. The future Hall of Famer is part of Carolina’s rotation on the defensive line and is already having an impact. He was credited with half a sack in the team’s season-opening win over San Francisco, and then he added two sacks in a win over Buffalo. Peppers says this Carolina defense is the best he’s ever been a part of.
Chicago Bears – Deonte Thompson, wide receiver
Deonte Thompson started six games for the Bears a season ago, but rarely saw time on offense. He did haul in 22 of his 36 targets however, gaining 249 yards at an average of 11.3 per reception. Beyond that, he was a more than capable kick returner, adding an additional 804 yards. His 1,053 all-purpose yards were second-most on the team. This season, Thompson has five catches for 72 yards, a touchdown, and 90 kickoff return yards.
Cincinnati Bengals – Alex Erickson, wide receiver
Alex Erickson was among the best return men in the game of football a season ago, gaining 1,076 all-purpose yards. Only 71 of those yards came through the air (six receptions on eight targets). His kick return average of 27.9 ranked near the top of the league and his punt return average of 7.0 wasn’t too shabby, either. This season, he’s becoming more of a factor in the passing game. Erickson has five catches for 62 yards, nearly matching his season total from last year.
Cleveland Browns – Duke Johnson, running back
The Browns have very little to offer when it comes to top-end talent or under-the-radar quality, but Duke Johnson has been an unsung hero for them. On the ground, through the air or as a return man, Johnson gets the job done. He’ll even throw a pass on a trick play if asked. He was third on the team in all-purpose yards (1,003) a season ago. This year it’s been more of the same, as Johnson has 21 rushing yards and 79 receiving yards.
Dallas Cowboys – Cole Beasley, wide receiver
Cole Beasley really is a do-it-all man for the Cowboys and has been for several years. He’ll throw a pass on a trick play, run the ball if called upon, play all over the field at receiver and add a valuable asset on special teams. In 2016, he finished the year with 843 all-purpose yards, which was second on the team. He started only six games. He was a favorite target of Dak Prescott as he caught 75 passes. He has seven catches for 65 yards in two games this season.
Denver Broncos – Bradley Roby, cornerback
Bradley Roby is well known to Broncos fans, but perhaps his fame doesn’t extend much further than that. He’ll get a start or two throughout the year depending on defensive formation, but more often than not, he’s just a silent talent for one of the league’s best secondaries. In 2016, Roby hauled in two interceptions and brought each back for a touchdown. He also recorded a sack, forced a fumble and totaled eight passes defensed. He has seven tackles and an interception already this season.