Every NFL team’s key role player
New England Patriots – Nate Ebner, defensive back
Nate Ebner isn’t just an Olympian, he’s also a two-time Super Bowl champion and arguably the best special teamer in the NFL. Ebner led the league with 14 special teams tackles in 2016 and also played the role of punt protector. For good measure, he added two forced and an additional five tackles. Unfortunately, he’s been limited by a shoulder injury in 2017, but he’s still a valuable part of the Patriots.
New Orleans Saints – Willie Snead, wide receiver
Snead is suspended the first three games of the season, and you can see how much the offense misses him. Ted Ginn has become the No. 2 option behind Michael Thomas, with Coby Fleener seeing increased targets. Snead, a Ball State product, has been a valuable member of the Saints’ offense the past two seasons. He caught 69 passes for 984 yards and three touchdowns in 2015, and followed that up with 72 catches for 895 yards and four touchdowns last season. He’s not the primary target for Drew Brees, but he’s an important one.
New York Giants – Zak DeOssie, long snapper
Running back Shane Vereen could have filled this space for the Giants, but the value of long snapper Zak DeOssie can not be overstated. One of the team’s captains, DeOssie is the second-longest tenured Giant behind quarterback Eli Manning and consistently performs at a high level. He’s not only a leader and solid long snapper, he’s also usually the first down the field on punts.
New York Jets – Marcus Williams, cornerback
Marcus Williams is a do-it-all man for the Jets, playing multiple defensive back positions and contributing on special teams. He’s recorded nine interceptions and 23 passes defensed in his young career, and has proven to be an effective blitzer, picking up 2.5 career sacks and two forced fumbles. He’s fallen behind on the Jets’ depth chart this season but could be seeing more playing time in the future.
Oakland Raiders – Cordarrelle Patterson, wide receiver
Cordarrelle Patterson may not start, but his impact is felt in nearly every game he’s played since 2013. Not only can he contribute through the air when called upon, he’s a unique athlete capable of being used on reverses and in any variation of a trick play. On special teams, he’s even more valuable, averaging over 31 yards per kick return three times in his career. He’s had over 1,000 all-purpose yard in each season in the NFL and is well on his way to repeating those numbers in 2017 for the Raiders.
Philadelphia Eagles – Trey Burton, tight end
Trey Burton didn’t do much for the Eagles offensively over his first two seasons, but came on a bit in 2016 when needed. But beyond his occasional production from the tight end position, he’s arguably their best special teams player. He finished second in the NFL with 13 special teams tackles a season ago and wasn’t penalized a single time. And as fans saw in Week 2, he came up with a big onside kick recovery against Kansas City.
Pittsburgh Steelers – Chris Hubbard, offensive lineman
Statistically and analytically, not much stands out about Chris Hubbard. However, in breaking down the scheme and film, it becomes apparent how valuable he is to the Steelers’ offense. Hubbard is the top reserve at both tackle positions, will lineup at tight end and serve as an extra offensive lineman in heavy sets. He’s about as versatile as it gets.
San Francisco 49ers – Kyle Juszczyk, fullback
Kyle Juszczyk is such a versatile player that the 49ers actually created a position — “offensive weapon” — for him when they signed him. He blocks like a traditional fullback, catches like a tight end, runs like a power back and contributes on special teams (specifically on the hands team). Juszczyk is very literally a Swiss army knife for San Francisco.
Seattle Seahawks – Tyler Lockett, wide receiver
Tyler Lockett is one of the best special teams players in the game of football, making a name for himself in 2015 with a series of long kick returns and punt returns — one was a 105-yard return for a touchdown. He also contributes offensively with his hands and legs, as well as occasionally taking a snap as a fullback. Lockett was a big factor in the passing game in Week 2 with 64 receiving yards on six catches.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Cameron Brate, tight end
Tampa Bay used its first-round selection this year on a tight end, but that doesn’t mean you should sleep on Cameron Brate. Brate went undrafted in 2014 and signed with Tampa’s practice squad that year. He played in one game that season for Tampa Bay, 14 the next, and then he became a factor last year. Brate broke out with 57 catches for 660 yards and eight touchdowns. He had two catches for 24 yards in the team’s first game against Chicago this season while splitting snaps with rookie O.J. Howard. The Bucs will continue to develop Howard, yet Brate will continue to have a strong role in the team’s offense thanks to his abilities in the passing game.
Tennessee Titans – Derrick Henry, running back
DeMarco Murray may have rekindled his career with the Titans, but Derrick Henry is a back who makes the most of every opportunity. He compiled 627 yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns a season ago, adding an impressive catch rate of 86.7%. In Week 2, he showed what he can do as a feature back. He led the Titans with 92 rushing yards on 14 carries while getting the bulk of the action due to a hamstring injury for Murray.
Washington Redskins – Kendall Fuller, cornerback
Not every role player will put up noteworthy numbers, and such is the case for Redskins cornerback Kendall Fuller. The first-round talent who slipped in the 2016 NFL Draft due to injury concerns has proven a valuable asset for the Redskins. He is one of the most efficient tackling cornerbacks in football and has steadily seen his coverage improve. He also adds versatility, with an ability to play outside and, primarily, in the slot.