Every NFL team’s key role player
Detroit Lions – Theo Riddick, running back
Riddick saw a fair amount of carries last season, but Ameer Abdullah has really taken up the featured back role for the Lions this season. Riddick still is a factor in the passing game for Detroit though. Riddick caught six passes for 27 yards and a touchdown in Week 1, and he picked up 37 yards in Week 2 for Detroit. He’s not as shifty and doesn’t have the big-play ability of Abdullah, but he is a reliable asset for Detroit.
Green Bay Packers – Ty Montgomery, running back
Ty Montgomery may be inching closer to a stranglehold on a starting position in Green Bay, but entering the 2017 season, he served as one of the most explosive role-players in all of football. He finished 2016 with 805 yards from scrimmage, a catch rate of 78.6% and a yards per carry average of 5.9. He’s equally effective as a rusher and receiver. Through two games in 2017, he has 89 rushing yards and 114 receiving yards.
Houston Texans – Alfred Blue, running back
The Texans go heavy with Lamar Miller on the ground, but when he needs to be spelled, Alfred Blue is more often than not the man who gets the call. He finished second on the team with 420 rushing yards a season ago and actually averaged more yards per carry than Miller (4.2 to 4.0). And while he’s not targeted out of the backfield often, his 75% catch rate is also quite impressive. Blue has been unavailable at the start of the 2017 season due to an ankle injury.
Indianapolis Colts – Malik Hooker, safety
Malik Hooker opened up the season as the backup safety to Darius Butler in Indy after the Colts made him a first-round pick in the draft. The rookie got his first start in Week 2 because of an injury to Butler, and he quickly recorded his first career interception. He covers tons of ground as a safety and will likely hold onto the starting job for Indy.
Jacksonville Jaguars – Chris Ivory, running back
A former 1,000-yard back with the New York Jets, Chris Ivory has taken on a reserve role with the Jaguars behind rookie Leonard Fournette. That sort of value can not be overstated, and not only does Ivory now serve as a tutor and a mentor, but has the ability to start on a moment’s notice and play productively. He’s ahead of former second-round pick T.J. Yeldon on the depth chart and has over 100 combined yards through the first two games of the season.
Kansas City Chiefs – Tyreek Hill, wide receiver
Tyreek Hill may be the most famous name on this list and the most obvious addition. As his role continues to increase, he won’t be a role player, but for now, he belongs. Although he started only one game in 2016, he finished the season with a team-leading 1,836 all-purpose yards and scored 12 total touchdown (three rushing, six receiving, two punt return, one kick return). He opened the 2017 season with 133 receiving yards and a touchdown in a win over the Patriots.
Los Angeles Chargers – Hunter Henry, tight end
Although Hunter Henry does get the starting nod on occasion, he’s not an every-week starter for the Chargers, who still give veteran Antonio Gates the bulk of starts. Still, Henry has proven to be a valuable asset behind Gates, putting up 478 yards and eight touchdowns a season ago. He had 7 catches for 80 yards in the Chargers’ Week 2 contest. Arguably, he’s the best reserve tight end in football.
Los Angeles Rams – Johnny Hekker, punter
Johnny Hekker is arguably the best punter in football, so that alone warrants his placement here. And while many dismiss special teams as a whole, much less the job of a punter, Hekker continuously helps to sway the battle of field position in the Rams’ favor. A three-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro, Hekker averaged nearly 48 yards per punt in 2016.
Miami Dolphins – Mike Hull, linebacker
Another special teams ace, Mike Hull finished second in the NFL a season ago with 13 special teams tackles — almost all coming on kickoff coverage. In limited defensive snaps, he recorded an additional seven tackles and an interception. Hull’s impressive play when called upon earned him much more playing time this season. In Miami’s first game, he had 10 tackles including one for a loss. He’s a little bit of a liability in coverage, but still a good player.
Minnesota Vikings – Jerick McKinnon, running back
Yes, we know Jerick McKinnon is only Minnesota’s third-string running back behind rookie Dalvin Cook and offseason signing Latavius Murray. Even with that the case, McKinnon is still valuable. He fits into Minnesota’s offense as more of a change-of-pace back and good receiving option out of the backfield. He had 43 receptions last season for 255 yards and two touchdowns. He has six catches on eight targets for 41 yards this season, along with 21 rushing yards through two games.