Training camps have officially opened across the NFL, and that means at least 90 players on every single team are vying for a spot on the regular season 53-man roster. Some spots may be more set in stone than others, but everyone has a real chance to make an impression.
For rookies and other young players, that breeds excitement. On the opposite end of that spectrum, it could also mean the end for several aging players and long-time veterans.
Here’s a look at 15 NFL veterans who are on the bubble as training camps get underway.
15. Michael Johnson, DE, Cincinnati Bengals
Michael Johnson has meant a lot to the Bengals during his two stints with the team and was even their Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee in 2017. However, the NFL is a business, and at 31 years old with a diminishing snap count and a cap hit of over $6.1 million, his time in Cincinnati may be nearing an end. The Bengals have young players like Sam Hubbard, Jordan Willis and Carl Lawson who will push Johnson for playing time and likely render him expendable.
Through the first six weeks of the NFL season, several popular names still lead the fray when it comes to defensive production. However, key injuries to superstars like J.J. Watt have created a void that has been filled by some surprising players, many of whom are having career years.
Here’s a look at each NFL team’s best defensive player so far in 2017.
Arizona Cardinals — Tyvon Branch, S
There are a lot of talented defenders on Arizona’s roster, but through six weeks, it’s hard to argue that Tyvon Branch — who has been called a “wolverine” complement to the “honey badger” — isn’t the very best. He not only leads the team and is tied for the league lead with 55 tackles, but he’s also defended four passes, forced a fumble and was named to the Pro Football Focus First Quarter All-Pro Team. Branch getting the nod says a lot about his impact this season when you consider Arizona also has Chandler Jones and his six sacks.
Atlanta Falcons — Deion Jones, LB
Deion Jones has filled out the box score this year, leading the Falcons with 38 tackles. He’s also recorded a sack, three passes defended and an interception. Jones is also among Pro Football Focus’ top 15 graded linebackers this season, alongside teammate De’Vondre Campbell, who has also landed very high grades for Atlanta. Jones is blossoming well for Atlanta in his second NFL season.
As if watching his alma mater get destroyed by Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game wasn’t enough, JJ Watt also had to wear Buckeyes gear on Wednesday.
Watt, who became a star as a walk-on at the University of Wisconsin, made a friendly wager with Houston Texans teammate John Simon — a former linebacker at Ohio State — that the Badgers would beat the Buckeyes last Saturday. Ohio State ended up winning 59-0.