NFL teams must get down to the 53-player active-roster limit by 4 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 30. The final week of preseason games is important for fringe roster players to audition for not only their current team, but also the other 31 franchises. Players who do not make the 53-man roster will be susceptible to the waiver system, which means they can be claimed by any other team in order of worst to best record last season. If the player goes through waivers unclaimed, then the initial team has the right to add that player to the practice squad.
If a team has a need to fill and is not willing to wait and see if a player of interest reaches them in the waiver order, then they could be inclined to execute a trade. A total of 23 trades occurred in August 2021, including defensive tackle B.J. Hill and running back Sony Michel, who played meaningful snaps last postseason for the Super Bowl representative Bengals and Rams, respectively. There has only been two trades this year. It is uncommon to find starters through the waiver system but it is more common to identify depth or role players.
Below are some of the units across the league that could be under the watchful eyes of personnel evaluators:
Dolphins wide receivers
Wide receivers Jaylen Waddle, Tyreek Hill and Ced Wilson Jr. would seem to be entrenched in their respective roles. Most teams keep five or six at the position, which leaves Mohamed Sanu, Preston Williams, Lynn Bowden Jr. and fourth-round selection Erik Ezukanma vulnerable. In fact, there has already been a report that Williams and Bowden have been the subject of trade discussions. Bowden has a history returning punts and kicks in college so teams may be more comfortable taking a chance on the former third-round pick knowing that he could fulfill a secondary role.
Cleveland makes sense as a possible destination for the Youngstown native following an injury to wide receiver and kick returner Jakeem Grant.
Patriots defensive backs
Every head coach in the NFL covets depth and talent in the secondary but few are capable of cultivating it the way Bill Belichick has over the years. Malcolm Butler, Myles Bryant, Jonathan Jones and J.C. Jackson, to name a few, were originally added as undrafted free agents. Jackson signed a lucrative contract with the Chargers this off-season whereas Butler had returned to play a key role for the Patriots this season prior to sustaining an injury. New England may not have a star in the secondary but they have numbers.
At cornerback, the team has Terrance Mitchell, Jalen Mills, Justin Bethel, Shaun Wade, draft picks Jack Jones and Marcus Jones, and the aforementioned Bryant and Jones. At safety, the team has Adrian Phillips, Devin McCourty, Jabrill Peppers, Kyle Dugger and some younger additions.
Scouring rosters in preparation for this article, it became evident that there is a shortage of quality cornerbacks in the NFL. The Falcons, Cardinals, Lions, Giants, Commanders, Texans, Colts and Steelers were among the teams with a potential need at the position.
Browns running backs
Cleveland's dynamic one-two punch of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt could be in danger for the upcoming season. Hunt requested a trade under the assumption that the Browns were not going to give him a new contract. To this point, the northeast Ohio franchise has been unwilling to meet his demands. Third-string running back D'Ernest Johnson played an integral role in the team's victory over Denver last season when Hunt and Chubb were sidelined with injuries. In fact, he had three games in which he rushed for 99-plus yards. Rookie Jerome Ford has been fantastic in training camp thus far. Last year's sixth-round pick, Demetric Felton Jr., is of a smaller build but has been a contributor in both the run and pass games. Considering most teams do not retain more than four running backs, it is hard to fathom Cleveland finding room for all five unless Felton is moved to wide receiver.
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Jets offensive and defensive lines
Personnel executives who have spent time in Philadelphia with executive vice president and general manager Howie Roseman often have a strategy to build depth in the trenches. Andrew Berry in Cleveland and Joe Douglas in New York have followed a similar model. The Jets' starting offensive line, from left to right, is Duane Brown, Laken Tomlinson, Connor McGovern, Alijah Vera-Tucker and George Fant. Beyond the first wave, reserves Caleb Benenoch, Conor McDermott, Nate Herbig, Chuma Edoga, Ross Pierschbacher and Dan Feeney all have meaningful playing experience. Fourth-round selection Max Mitchell should add functional depth on the corner. There is simply not enough room on the roster to keep them all.
On the other side of the ball, New York drafted edge rushers Jermaine Johnson II and Michael Clemons to compete with Carl Lawson, Jacob Martin and Vinny Curry. Sliding inside, the team has Quinnen Williams, John Franklin-Myers, Sheldon Rankins and Solomon Thomas; three of which were first-round draft choices. Tanzel Smart and Nathan Shepherd have also logged professional snaps.
Buccaneers wide receivers
Not only did Tampa Bay retain Chris Godwin, they signed Russell Gage and Julio Jones this off-season to go along with four-time Pro Bowl selection Mike Evans. Scotty Miller, Jaelon Darden, Breshad Perriman and Tyler Johnson are also rostered. Those are the names of eight wide receivers before factoring in whether or not undrafted free agents Deven Thompkins, Jerreth Sterns or Kaylon Geiger could develop into a product worth continued investment.
Chiefs defensive line
Kansas City has had an interior defensive line rotation featuring Chris Jones, Tershawn Wharton, Derrick Nnadi and Khalen Saunders the past two years. The Chiefs experimented with Jones on the edge last season before ultimately moving him back to his most proficient position; the presence of first-round edge rusher George Karlaftis should ensure he remains there. Veteran additions Danny Shelton and Taylor Stallworth mean that the franchise is three-deep along the interior defensive line and a potential match for an opposition looking for help.
49ers edge rushers
Nick Bosa is the crown jewel of San Francisco's defense but the team has become known for taking on athletically gifted players yet to reach their potential in the NFL. Defensive line coach Kris Kocurek and the team's usage of a wide-9 alignment are appealing to young players looking for a fresh start. Some of this year's projects include Charles Omenihu, Kemoko Turay, Jordan Willis and a second stint with Kerry Hyder Jr.
A second-round pick was used on Drake Jackson, whose talent could allow him to be special in time. There is little professional production behind Bosa but teams like Pittsburgh and Miami are in need of depth on the edge.
Patriots running backs
The revolving door has been turning a bit in New England but there remains one constant among the franchise's running backs: depth. Despite James White announcing his retirement during training camp and Michel being traded this time a year ago, the Patriots return Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson and J.J. Taylor. They signed veteran Ty Montgomery and drafted Pierre Strong Jr. and Kevin Harris. A year ago, five running backs and a fullback made the initial active roster.
Eagles defensive line
One would assume that Javon Hargrave, Fletcher Cox, Milton Williams and first-round selection Jordan Davis have secured their respective positions on the opening day roster. Philadelphia has some intriguing young players beyond that standout interior core, including Marlon Tuipulotu, Renell Wren and Marvin Wilson. With the branches of Roseman's executive tree stretching across the league, there are reasons to believe another franchise may be willing to dip its toes in the talent pool.
Raiders defensive line
Last week's release of veteran defensive tackle Vernon Butler certainly impacted the depth of that front assembly, but there are additional options that could help fill out another team's roster. Rookies Neil Farrell Jr. and Matthew Butler are going to be given every chance to make the roster. Johnathan Hankins and Bilal Nichols probably have the upper hand to start if healthy. They also have veterans Andrew Billings, Kyle Peko, Kendal Vickers and Tyler Lancaster; each having varying levels of success at this level.