Injuries are bound to happen in the NFL. A team cannot stumble or fall just because a few players do, or their season will be lost. However, great teams have that “next man up” mentality, meaning despite a player’s injury, there’s a chance for a new face to shine.
A roster is only as good as its weakest link, which could be a problem for some as the midway point of training camp approaches. The injury bug has caught on early and will only continue down the line. Some teams could be in for a rude awakening if the mentality fails to live up to par. Here are several names that could be needed to break out before the start of the season.
Which players will step up for injured veterans in 2020?
Dallas Cowboys DL Neville Gallimore
Gerald McCoy was paid $3 million for one practice down at “The Star” in Frisco. The Cowboys announced that the six-time Pro Bowl defender would undergo season-ending surgery on his ruptured right quadriceps tendon. The team also released him from his three-year, $18 million due to the injury waiver clause signed back in March.
McCoy’s departure will be missed, but the defensive line still has veteran talent with Dontari Poe and Everson Griffen. In Mike Nolan’s 4-3 front, either second-year pro Trysten Hill or rookie Neville Gallimore will need to expand their role entering 2020. Based on film alone, Gallimore might be the better option.
What seemed like another steal for Dallas last April, Gallimore shined as both a run-stopper and pass-rusher from the defensive tackle role at Oklahoma. Much like fellow Sooner alum McCoy, Gallimore fits well inside a one-gap system that allows him to win more in single-man blocking matchups than double teams. Despite being undersized, the junior graded out on the Relative Athletic Score (RAS) of 7.11 thanks to his low pad level and standout burst off the line.
McCoy’s loss will sting, but it’s not a deal-breaker for the Cowboys. If able to have a rookie make an immediate impact in stuffing the run, it only strengthens a promising unit for a team looking to make a push for the Lombardi Trophy.
Arizona Cardinals CB Byron Murphy
Byron Murphy will need a tremendous year in 2020 for the Cardinals in the slot or on the outside. Arizona is down a cornerback after the team announced that starter Robert Alford would miss the upcoming after suffering a torn pectoral during a training camp practice Sunday.
This should be a similar situation for Murphy, who stepped in place for Alford last season due to injury. However, the Washington product struggled immensely in coverage on the outside, allowing consistent deep plays on the outside that led to opposing touchdowns. Known for his playmaking skills for the Huskies, Murphy was excited to develop more inside against opponents better suited for his talents.
“He’s one of those ballhawk-type players,” Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said Sunday prior to the injury. “He always seems to be around the football, whether he is blitzing, making a tackle or just keeping his eyes on the quarterback, reading him and making an interception.”
The Cardinals could keep Murphy inside as the NFL becomes more accustomed to three-receiver sets. It still must be a promising season as the team cannot afford to allow big plays across the middle of the field. Drafted with the first pick of the second round, it’s time to see if Murphy can be that bonafide star in coverage that made him a high-value selection.
Miami Dolphins EDGE Emmanuel Ogbah
After what looked to be a standout a free agency class in South Beach, it might be time to see what they have in depth purposes. Edge defender Vince Biegel will miss the upcoming season after suffering a torn Achilles. For now, veteran talent Emmanuel Ogbah might be the best option to start.
Ogbah signed a two-year, $15 million contract as a situational pass rusher. During his tenure with the Browns and Chiefs, the 26-year-old developed a niche for adding pressure, tallying 18 sacks and 40 quarterback hits. No longer just a depth piece, his role as a veteran could help keep the Dolphins pass rush serviceable to begin the year.
Miami will have Christian Wilkins, Davon Godchaux and newly acquired Shaq Lawson up front. Jerome Baker, Raekwon McMillan and pass-rushing specialist Kyle Van Noy should add pressure from the linebacker position. If Ogbah can complement the run stoppage Biegel produced while winning off the edge, perhaps Biegel’s loss will be manageable in a more open AFC East division.
Chicago Bears CB Jaylon Johnson
Artie Burns never lived up to his first-round draft grade, but his veteran presence brings value to a roster. His season ended before it began with the Bears as he will be out with a torn ACL. The only saving grace, at least Chicago will get a front-row look at rookie Jaylon Johnson.
Drafted 50th overall, Johnson shined in his final season with Utah with 36 tackles, two interceptions and a career-high 11 pass deflections. Excelling in man coverage, Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano has been impressed with the versatility a player his age has brought through camp.
“Moving around out there, he’s been a little bit limited because he’s coming off of a shoulder deal and stuff,” Pagano said. “But he’s got a bunch of dominant traits that should equate because he’s got good work ethic and I think he’s passionate and loves football.”
The Bears will have Kyle Fuller slotted on one side while Buster Skrine should handle duties in the slot. If Johnson can replace the production of Prince Amukamara, Chicago should remain at top pass defense for another season. Based on his 7.78 RAS score, quality play is expected early on the outside for what could be a steal of the draft.
San Francisco 49ers WR Trent Taylor
The 49ers took a hit in the offseason when Emmanuel Sanders signed with the Saints. They doubled down when Debo Samuel was forced to undergo surgery on his foot. It looks like the wide receiver role could be cursed in the Bay as Jalen Hurd will miss the year with a torn ACL.
The 49ers are limited as experience now entering their second week of camp. Despite drafting Brandon Aiyuk early, one of the injured veterans will need to stand out in Santa Clara. Look no further than Trent Taylor to be that guy.
Taylor missed all of the NFC Championship season with a foot injury. After undergoing two surgeries and an infection, he’s looking to be back in the graces as one of the prime targets for the offense. Before George Kittle’s breakout season, it was the young slot target making headlines with 69 career catches, 645 yards and three touchdowns.
Samuel and Aiyuk can control the outside while Kittle commands double coverage up the middle. With his speed and agility, Taylor should enhance a talented offense inside on short passes. While Hurd was expected to break out this offseason, maybe Taylor becomes the next favorite target of Jimmy Garoppolo.
Cleveland Browns LB Jacob Phillips
The Browns felt comfortable releasing Christian Kirksey after drafting Sione Takitaki and Mack Wilson in 2019. One of those two will see the action while the other is likely missing the season. Wilson hyperextended his knee at practice Tuesday that could require surgery.
With little experience outside of B.J. Goodson, the Browns might be calling on their rookies to make an impact. Lucky for them, Jacob Philips comes from a winning culture down in the Bayou. Drafted in the third round, the LSU star was a perfect running mate alongside Patrick Queen on the team’s way to a National Title.
Philips, a two-year starter, was a tackling machine for the Tigers in both seasons, securing over 100 stops each year. Leading the SEC in tackles during his final season, he’s a sure-fire wrap-up player that goes hard until the whistle blows. According to his 8.21 RAS score, Philips’ speed could become his best factor when making plays in the backfield.
The Browns will have two young linebackers playing no matter what happens. If Philips can step up as Wilson’s temporary replacement, perhaps the team will have their future three-man set for 2021. In a year in which the Browns are looking to be competitors, having a mid-round pick shine could provide promise to the future of the organization.